Maria Kelly – single and video

Maria Kelly

Maria Kelly left quite an impression last year with debut single ‘Before It Has Begun’ – a mournful finger-picked song that shows off Kelly’s pin-drop vocals and beautiful lyricism. Her latest single ‘Black & Blue’ still feels vulnerable, with a hint of foolish optimism, managing to effectively captivate her talent for bittersweet storytelling – fans of Regina Spektor and She & Him will feel at home here.

 “‘Black and Blue’ is about foolish optimism; waiting around for something that’s never going to come,” Maria Kelly explains. “I wrote it as a kind of ‘see ya later!’ to a certain time in my teenage years. I spent so long waiting for something that was clearly not on the way and this song attempts to look at that situation, accept it, laugh at it and move on.”

Growing up in Mayo, Ireland, Maria spent many years crafting and developing her sound into a stunning combination of delicate indie-folk. She has been writing music since the age of 10 and has already played numerous shows in both the UK and Ireland supporting the likes of Orla Gartland and Wyvern Lingo. Maria has also received praise from various online publications including The Irish Times, Nialler9 and Beat Surrender to name a few. Maria is working in the studio on new tracks for her next EP and developing her live sound in preparation for a busy 2016.

Artist’s website:

‘Black & Blue’ – official video:

Catch Maria Kelly supporting Hawk live at the following dates:

June 15th – Roisin Dubh – Galway
June 16th – Cyprus Avenue – Cork – Tickets
June 17th – Carlow Arts Festival – Tickets

JOHN WORT HANNAM – Love Lives On (Rebel Tone JWH6152015)

Love Lives OnBorn on Jersey in the Channel Islands, but now resident in Alberta, Hannam gave up teaching in 2000 to follow a career as a singer-songwriter and performing musician, becoming a regular on the festival scene, both at home and in the UK. Describing himself as blue collar roots music, Love Lives On, produced by Leeroy Stagger, is his fifth album and, once again, features acoustic-based songs of ordinary working folk. Well, let’s refine that slightly – songs of ordinary working musicians. That is to say that much here concerns a gypsy soul life on the road (the uptempo ‘Roll Roll Roll’) and how that impacts on relationships, whether that the tug to settle down (barroom roots-rock ‘Over The Moon’), return home (the bluesy banjo and dobro accompanied ‘Gonna See My Love’) or the strain it can place on keeping a shared life together (the slow waltzing ‘Chasing The Song’). Some are just songs about relationships, such as the plea for forgiveness ‘Write Me Back In’ with its moody guitar and Hammond organ, and the soulful brass-accompanied ‘Molly & Me’ with its memories of a childhood sweetheart and the childhood dreams of “just dumb kids”. It’s not always about women either, Hannam’s love affairs also encompass places. On the twangy guitar sound of ‘Love Lives On’, a song about permanence that puts me in mind of Clive Gregson (elsewhere he recalls Gordon Lightfoot), he talks about his love for both the girl whose name is carved in the oak tree alongside his, but also the town in which he grew up, while both the gentle ballad ‘Labrador’ and the twinkling fingerpicked rhythm ‘Goodnight Nova Scotia’ are both songs about places loved, left and missed.

Lyrically, he has a nice line in wordplay (“we were under the stars, I was over the moon”) and many of the songs draw on images of nature, while the nimbly fingerpicked country shuffle ‘Heart For Sale’ is an extended metaphor where he playfully compares his heart to a jalopy on a used car lot, battered and its shine long dulled, but still capable of offering a sweet ride.

The album stand-out, however, isn’t to do with any of the above. Strikingly different in content and tone, ‘Man Of God’ is a quietly strummed, dusty-voiced song about the Canadian government’s forced education of First Nation children in Church-run residential in order to remove them from their indigenous heritage and assimilate them into white culture, in much the same way as the Australian government’s forced removal policy regarding the stolen generation of Aboriginal children. Some 150,000 children went through the system, many suffering physical, emotional and sexual abuse at the hands of the priests and other staff, some 4,000 dying in the process. Sung in the voice of one of the survivors, it’s a reflective, but angry and heartrending song that hits you hard as he asks “how could a Man of God do what he did, we were just children. Christ, we were just kids.” The song was also taken up by the Truth & Reconciliation Commission Of Canada and featured in the closing ceremonies in Ottawa. It alone makes Hannam well worth our attention, that he has even more offer the heart is an added bonus.

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 banner link below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on 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:

‘Love Lives On’ – live in Calgary:

Kaela Rowan announces second solo album

Kaela Rowan

Kaela Rowan’s second album returns to her roots in the Scottish Highlands, to the songs she learned as a young session singer, and to the sounds of those who inspired her. The Fruited Thorn contains 11 traditional ballads, ancient and modern, coalescing into a work of raw and powerful beauty.

Kaela co-produced the album with James Mackintosh, best known as the innovative percussionist driving the irresistible grooves behind Acid Croft pioneers Shooglenifty and Transatlantic Sessions. And together with third band member Ewan MacPherson (Shooglenifty, Salt House), they have amassed a dream team of guest musicians, all carefully chosen for their unique musical voice.

 “This album is really a homage to all the amazing ballads and ballad singers past and present. Those great singers who bring songs to life and helped awaken the young singer in me. No matter how often I sing these songs, they move me with their universal and timeless beauty. Sheila Stewart said, ‘You search and you find your soul and you put that into the singing’ – I think that is what makes a good storyteller.

“Part of the story involves several journeys to Rajasthan. James Mackintosh and I were first invited to perform at Jodhpur Riff in 2012 and have been back very year since. Two of the songs ( Eilean Fhianain and Grioghal Cridhe) are the result of out collaborations with the amazing Rajasthani singer Dayam Khan Manganiyar.

“In every one of these ballads, there is a mesmerising age-old story, as relevant today as the day it was written. These songs connect us to those before us and, in some moments, it’s as though time itself doesn’t exist.

“I am indebted to the uniquely talented instrumentalists who were so generous with their contributions to the album, not least my band mates James Mackintosh and Ewan MacPherson”. Kaela Rowan

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 banner link below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on 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:

‘Now Westlin Winds’ with James Mackintosh:

Yvonne McDonnell blogs about her new video

Yvonne McDonnell 2

I am going completely out of my comfort zone; I am doing a crowdfunder for my next music video. Being an unestablished/ unsigned musician, this is terrifying and I don’t expect to make a penny, so I thought I would write a blog explaining why I am doing this. Hopefully, everyone knowing the context will make this as effective as can be.

We are sisters, mothers, daughters, friends and lovers. There is so much more to us than what we are so wrongly often defined by. We are not just our layer of skin.

The video will challenge the shallow portrayal of women in the media, art and other influential outlets. It will celebrate the mind and substance behind women.

I am a 25 year old woman and the pressure on me and my fellow females to look a certain way is immense. It isn’t just annoying, it is dangerous. People are getting ill because of it. People die because of it.

The pressure is everywhere and I know so many people who have been affected – and those people are not shallow. It’s normal to want to look our best, and natural to want to be attractive (it’s part of how we continue as a species!) but our insecurities are being played on by people who want to make money. It isn’t ok. It’s dangerous and it’s subtle.

The project is so important to me because I have struggled in the past with pressure to be perfect, and I still do. I was completely taken in by the need to look a certain way and for a short while I was ill because of it. This is not uncommon in the slightest, and in an age where we are bombarded with images of perfection, it’s so totally to be expected. It has become normal to compare ourselves to the ‘best’ and most selected parts of people’s lives.

I am no longer embarrassed or ashamed by all of the emotions, being so ‘weak,’ and surrendering to how this pressure made me feel.

Just writing this song helped me face the whole thing head on and I began standing up to the industry. Then, I was performing the song and saw how many people felt the same. I saw how hard the words hit women and how angry they got when they were confronted with the reality of a situation which has become so ingrained in us a society.

The video is for every woman who has ever felt ashamed because they don’t look how the media says is right. There are still, and probably always will be, people who buy into that image as I did in my late teens and early twenties. I am tired of our vulnerabilities being exploited and want to start focusing my own art on what people should really be valued for. Even if one person decides to screw the system and feel better about themselves then I would have succeeded.

I should explain why no men are involved. I believe men experience the same insecurities; the same issues are relevant to them. I also believe the sexualisation of women can have an extremely negative effect on men in many ways.

People often associate feminism with men hating, or blaming. I don’t believe that and certainly don’t want to be associated with that notion. I have the best male figures in my life and think that our issues are just as important as each other’s, but they are different. I can’t speak for issues I haven’t experienced. I am first and foremost an artist and the whole project came from something I wrote. This song has come from the heart; it is completely personal. It would feel insulting and definitely arrogant to assume I can speak for people whose experiences I haven’t shared. They may be the same, similar, but who knows? It’s as simple as that.

I didn’t realise the project would come to this when I wrote the song. Deep down I hoped to take it further, but I wasn’t sure if I had the confidence to do it. I have to thank everyone who has helped me so far and the unbelievable enthusiasm from people taking part.

I’m working with Davide from 316 Queens, the same director from my last video for ‘Endless Soul’ (he is amazing!) and when I pitched the concept to him his first reaction was ‘this is an important message, let’s turn this into a positive project.’ Every reaction since has been similar, especially from the women I have asked to be involved. Their enthusiasm is what has inspired me to taking it further and I will be forever grateful!

The kickstarter is necessary; I am unsigned musician which is the furthest thing from lucrative. The budget has come to £700. Rewards will be listed on the crowdfunding website. Ultimately you will be helping to change the way women see themselves and reassess their value. You’ll be helping to bring attention to an issue that affects millions of women every day. I am hoping to bring positivity out of this project and would be so grateful to anyone who can help me and the team do that.

Artist’s website:

‘I’m Not This Layer Of Skin’:

Wren Music founders to receive national award for their contribution to folk music

Wilson Tucker - Wren Music

The founders of a charity that has encouraged literally hundreds of thousands of people to sing and play music are to receive English Folk Music’s highest accolade at a star-studded event in July.

Marilyn Tucker and Paul Wilson set up Wren Music in Okehampton, West Devon, 33 years ago, since when it has reached out to pretty much every city, town and village in the county. In fact, Wren has spread its wings further afield to touch communities in the wider South West – but Devon is and always has been its heartland and it’s where, on a participant session basis, it reaches 30,000 people each year.

Paul and Marilyn’s initial vision in 1983 was to form a small team of professional musicians to take music into communities. Since then it has grown to a team of 12 – seven in the permanent team and five who help out in a ‘pool’.

The work that Paul and Marilyn have done for English folk music at grass roots level has now received national recognition with a prestigious Gold Badge award from the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS), and they’ll be presented with the badge at a special event at the Cygnet Theatre in Exeter on 22 July.

The award also recognises their achievements as performers in their own right and their work in collecting old West Country folk songs, including the long-hidden Baring-Gould collection. Making these songs available has helped to keep traditional music very much alive and kicking in the far South West: visit a pub in rural Devon and the chances are you’ll hear some of the songs being sung.

When Paul and Marilyn collect their EFDSS Gold Badge from Eliza Carthy, they’ll be in good company. The list of Gold Badge recipients since the first two were presented in 1922 reads like a who’s who of folk. Three of them will be at the award ceremony: Eliza Carthy is presenting the award, Doc Rowe is reading the citation, and US folk legend Peggy Seeger, a patron of Wren, will be performing. Previous recipients include Maddy Prior, Ewan MacColl and Cecil Sharp.

Marilyn said she was “astounded” when she heard they were to receive the award: “Because of where we are, we can fall under the radar sometimes when it comes to coverage and also, with the sort of work we do, Paul and I aren’t exactly household names, we aren’t folk superstars. We’ve taken a radically different view of the work, engaging people in communities. To be recognised for that work by the national body for folk music and to be given their highest award is a huge honour.”

Paul agrees that it’s the recognition of the value of their work that means the most to him: “The award validates the work we do and that’s the most important thing to me. We were talking to Peggy [Seeger] after her brother Pete died, and she said to us: ‘You two are what Pete was all about. You’ve reached the community, which is what Pete did’. And that sums it up, I guess.

“What we’ve tried to do is to move the experience of music away from passive to active, so people aren’t just listening to music, they’re singing or playing music. We don’t have auditions for our choirs and orchestras; music is for everyone,” he added.

Peggy Seeger has known Paul and Marilyn for approaching 40 years and says the work they’ve done is unmatched anywhere in the UK: “As far as I know, there’s no-one else like them, doing what they’re doing in the community, to the extent that they’re doing it.

“Community is so important and folk music was formed as a community tradition. It has disappeared under the weight of movement away from rural communities and also under the weight of popular music. Paul and Marilyn have re-established it from grassroots up. They’ve used music to create community and they’ve used community to create music.”

Wren currently has 16 community choirs, orchestras and youth groups dotted all around Devon. When you speak to members about their stories, a theme emerges: everyone is welcome.

Penny Avant has been in Wren’s Exeter Voices in Common Choir for over 20 years and gets to their choir sessions as often as she can. This year, she took part in Wren’s ‘Her Story,’ a performance about the suffragette movement to mark International Women’s Day. Yet, says Penny: “I was one of those who was always told I couldn’t sing. So finding Wren was a revelation.

“Being treated as though I could sing and being praised for my singing was a whole new experience. As Paul and Marilyn say, we all can sing. There’s something about the inclusiveness in the way that they work. Anybody can go to the choir. I’ve never heard either of them say ‘no, we can’t have you’.”

Penny added: “Singing has liberated me. It’s fulfilling and fun, I love it. I’ve gone on about it so much that my younger daughter has just joined a choir where she lives in Cornwall!”

For John Harle, joining the Folk Orchestra of Torbay in 2009 was a big step to take: “I got involved because I was recovering from depression and anxiety and I wanted to take up a hobby. This was completely new for me, my first connection with playing music since I left school. But my wife Tanya and her mum were singing in Wren’s Torbay choir at the time so I thought I’d give it a go.

“They said there were no auditions so there was no fear of not making the cut, so to speak. The first thing they did was give me a mandolin to play and I’ve been involved ever since.”

John and Tanya’s six-year-old son Christopher is the latest member of the family to take up music: “He’s been singing Wren songs since he was very little and he’s got his first guitar and mandolin. When you think about it, this is what traditional music has always been about, passing it on through generations.”

With a team of young professional singers and musicians taking on board much of the responsibility for Wren’s community groups as well as the work in schools and the annual Baring-Gould Folk Weekend and Song School, Paul and Marilyn are looking to do more of their own gigs again. Before setting up Wren they were in-demand performers and can claim to have played on every stage at the Southbank.

So does this mean it’s ‘mission accomplished’ when it comes to their Wren work? “I couldn’t say we’ll ever reach that point,” said Paul. “There are still so many things we want to do, it’s just finding the time to do it all! People in other parts of the country have said to us ‘can we have a Wren in our county please?’ which is great and we’re more than happy to offer advice on good practice,” he added.

On the day of this interview with Marilyn and Paul at Wren’s Devon HQ, they were, as ever, discussing several different projects and ideas – including further stage performances for their community groups and an exciting new link-up with Trinity College, London, to run a Certificate of Music Education course starting later this year.

On 22 July, they’ll actually be able to relax and enjoy a show being put on for them: “It’s going to be a lovely evening and we’re looking forward to seeing everyone,” said Marilyn. “It’ll be more than just a concert, it’ll be a celebration.”

The EFDSS Gold Badge award evening is a ticketed event – contact Wren Music for information.


KARA – Some Other Shore (Self-Released)

Some Other ShoreFronted by the Russian-born (but quintessentially English-sounding) Daria Kulesh who also plays guitar and bodhran, alongside Kate Rouse on hammered dulcimer, guitarist Ben Honey and latest recruit Phil Underwood on melodeon, the Hertfordshire quartet’s latest fusion of traditional English and Russian folk also features one-off contributions from fiddle player James Delarre and Lukas Drinkwater on double bass with producer Jason Emberton providing any undefined extra bibs and bobs.

For those unfamiliar with the band, such as myself, the first thing that strikes is the crystalline purity of Kulesh’s often soaring vocals, clearly a voice born to sing traditional folk, to be followed by the heady marriage of diverse cultural stylings, characterised by the musical interplay between Rouse and Underwood. This time round, the majority of the songs and tunes are self-penned, opening with the five minute, fiddle-featured ‘Tamara’s Wedding’, Kulesh’s lyric about a woman seduced to hell by a duplicitously consoling demon after the death of the bridegroom inspired by ‘The Demon’, a poem by Mikhail Lermontov, itself drawing upon Georgian folk legend. Next up is the first of Honey’s five contributions, the far more English folk influences of ‘Seaview’ which, in talking about how certain places hold collective memories, may well be about the Edwardian resort on the Isle of Wight.

A similar wistful and whimsical quality informs his second song, ‘Adrienne’, which the notes describe as being about a song fairy, but is essentially about those magical singers who sometimes pop up at folk clubs, dazzle everyone, and are then gone. On a somewhat darker note, the melodeon-led, Drinkwater-featuring ‘Carousel Waltz’ addresses the cycle of addiction with slang references to cocaine and heroin before giving way to the frisky urgency of ‘Stormteller’ with its “pitter-patter” chorus which is all about those dark rain clouds that sometimes seem to hover over only you, although here Honey seems to suggest that such folk warrant having the soul sodden. His final number, ‘Devilry Dance’, is a clarinet-coloured jazzy folk swirl tale of Faustian pacts and metaphorical femme fatales that lead you on, promising to lift you on high only to see you fall.

Underwood makes his mark with two tracks, ‘Leigh Fishermen’, a traditional-flavoured tribute to those who risk their lives trawling the seas on which he harmonises behind Kulesh on the chorus, and the two sprightly- and, as you would expect, melodeon-led – English folk tunes ‘Hollingbourne/Broadhurst Gardens’, the titles referencing the village in Kent and his London suburb home.

Not to be left out, Rouse (who also appears on Ange Hardy’s Esteesee album) is featured, provides harmonies and arranged the six-and-a-half minute ‘Lovers’ Tasks/Black Tea Waltz’ which pairs a gently waltzing Appalachian version of ‘Scarborough Fair’ with her self-penned coda.

Of the three remaining tracks, Kulesh is wholly responsible for the haunting ‘Goodbye and Forgive Me’, its spooked musical box intro introducing a dark murder ballad, inspired by “Lady Macbeth of the Mtensk District”, about a woman trapped in an imprisoning marriage who conspires with her lover to have the husband killed, only for the crime to be exposed and her lover to take up with another woman, the end echoing the novel’s finale where both women drown.

Things are no cheerier on the dulcimer-based ‘Misery and Vodka’, her translation of a lugubrious Russian drinking song, sung in both English and the original, set to a Russian Gypsy tune (known as ‘Two Guitars’) by Ivan Vasiliev, though not the ballet dancer of the same name. The final track is also a traditional Russian tune and lyric, again translated by Kulesh, the title, ‘Ataman’, being the name given to Cossack military leaders, Rouse’s dulcimer solo precluding a mournful Russian and English sung story of a group of soldiers contemplating their fate (“rain will fall upon my bones…crows will feast upon my eyes”) in the coming battle. Not, perhaps, something to send you off into the evening full of the joys of life, but a terrific conclusion to a fine album but a band that deserve much wider recognition.

Mike Davies

If you would like to download a copy of the album or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click on the banner link below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artists’ website:

The Kara showreel video (with Gary Holbrook on accordion):