VIV LEGG AND THOMAS McCARTHY – Jauling The Green Tober (Brown Label TMVL0302)

Jauling The Green ToberI was handed this album with the warning that it was “hard-core folk music”. If your thing is experimentation and big arrangements, Jauling The Green Tober will not be for you; if your thing is real traditional folk songs sung the way they used to be sung, you’ll be very happy. Viv and Thomas both come from Traveller families but with different backgrounds. Viv is based mainly in Cornwall and is a descendant of the Orchard family while Thomas is an Irishman brought up in London. There is no messing about here; no accompaniments and no duets – that isn’t true to the tradition. Each singer solos a song, sometimes suggested by what the other has performed, so we have Thomas singing ‘The Widow’s Only Son’ and Viv singing ‘The Prisoner Lad’ on the same theme. Most of the songs come with a family story involving a confusion of parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. My favourite goes with ‘Good For Nothing Man’ which Viv attacks with obvious relish. It came from her aunt Betsy and how I wish I had heard her sing it.

Although the songs are well documented few are particularly well-known. In fact, only ‘The Dark Eyed Sailor’ bears a familiar title and, yes, it is the familiar song but others have relatives elsewhere. I’m hearing most of them for the first time, however, and I’m happy that they have been recorded in an authentic fashion. Two songs are not traditional although ‘The Young Rackly’, put together by Viv and her mother Sophie started out that way. ‘Romany Rose’ was written especially for Viv by Tony Truscott.

There are no recording tricks employed here and what you hear is what was sung. Viv’s style is direct and straightforward with all her vivacity poured into the light-hearted songs. Thomas learned the old style of the midland region of Ireland which takes a bit of getting used to. It’s packed with grace notes and an exaggerated vibrato with Thomas emphasising the “Irishisms” of pronunciation. I doubt that many others can still sing this way. In both cases I’m reminded of the lack of pretension displayed the first time I heard Fred Jordan sing – the song was all. These are family songs originally performed at gatherings and celebrations and we’re privileged to hear them.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: www.thomasmccarthyfolk.com (for orders)

Thomas McCarthy – ‘No Balls At All’ (parental guidance required):

JOHNNY CAMPBELL – Avalon (Subversive Folk SF001)

AvalonThere’s a long story behind Johnny Campbell’s second album Avalon. He is much travelled throughout Europe and the United States and although the record’s title suggests some sort of paradise the songs are inspired by the darker side of life, particularly in the Balkans. Here are songs of poverty and hardship drawing from diverse sources and recorded in a deliberately primitive style – it all makes sense when you hear it.

Avalon opens with the traditional ‘Banks Of The Roses’, fast and almost harsh. Johnny isn’t Irish; in fact you could call him “a citizen of the world” although his nominal base is Huddersfield. He follows that with his own song, ‘Wanderlust’, a song straight from the dust-bowl. In it he name checks Woody Guthrie and you might be reminded of the nostalgia of some of Tom Paxton’s early songs – ‘Ramblin’ Boy’ for example – except that ‘Wanderlust’ has harder edge. Welsh singer Efa Supertramp supplies backing vocals here and throughout the record. ‘Leaver’s Avenue’ is a modern political song – I’m sure I don’t need to explain its theme to you – and Johnny pairs it with the traditional ‘O’Keefe’s Slide’, acoustic guitar with support from Bethan Prosser’s strings.

‘Arthur McBride’ is well known and often over-complicated but here it’s pared back to basics and Johnny’s delivery is almost nonchalant as though seeing off a couple of squaddies is an everyday occurrence. ‘Showtime’ is the second of his US travelling songs and I have to confess that I don’t quite get it but it’s eclipsed by the superb ‘Last Year’. You may be surprised to learn that Johnny has recorded an EP of Robert Burns songs but it merely emphasises his understanding of the roots of traditional music. ‘Last Year’ is lifted from a Swedish folk song with Bethan sounding uncannily like a hurdy-gurdy although Tim Holehouse’s ebow may also contribute to the effect.

‘To The Begging I Will Go’ makes a contrasting pair with ‘The Dalesman’s Litany’; the singer of the former being happy with his lot, the latter not so much. The final ‘Tear Stained Letter’, after the delightful ‘Planxty Kateřina’, is not the Richard Thompson song – more Hank Williams, who gets name checked and Johnny evokes an undefined time of “whiskey soaked rivers” – what a great phrase.

Johnny Campbell has pulled together a remarkable number of styles and subjects to create this record and it all works. It’s an album I could keep on repeat.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.johnnycampbell.co.uk

‘Arthur McBride’ – described as spontaneous and shaky:

PURCELL’S POLYPHONIC PARTY – An Invitation To Dance (WetFootMusic WFM170901)

An Invitation To DanceA musician once commented on social media that the word he hated seeing in a review was “interesting”. I was as guilty as anyone and resolved to stop using it but have to say that An Invitation To Dance is a very interesting concept. Purcell’s Polyphonic Party combines the instrumental talents of Vicki Swan, John Dipper and Jonny Dyer and the album comprises twelve tracks mostly drawn from John Playford’s collections. The thing is that the tempos are strict and the repeats are listed for the dancers among us. The tracks run to between four and six minutes although ‘St Margaret’s Hill’ and ‘Softly Good Tummas’ may tax the stamina a bit.

Fans of John Dipper’s other band, Methera, will love this and as a non-dancer I also approached the album as a listener. Dipper restricts himself to the viola d’amore making it the principal melody instrument and as well as her nyckelharpa, Vicki demonstrates her skill on double bass and various aerophones, including bagpipes. Jonny plays harpsichord and piano as well as guitar, bouzouki and citole.

Inevitably strings dominate but the tracks to which Vicki adds flute, pipes or recorder provide sufficient variety for the listener. My favourite tracks are ‘Terpsichore’, taken from Michael Praetorious – I’ve always preferred early music to modern classical – ‘Mount Hills’ with lots of bagpipes and Jonny’s hand in the composition and ‘Kesterne Gardens’ with a remarkably modern sounding introduction on guitar and bass. There are a couple of maggots, which I discovered a couple of weeks ago is what they called earworms in the 18th century because the tunes go round and round.

I will confess that it’s taken me a couple of plays to get into An Invitation To Dance but now I’m there I can safely say that I’m very happy.

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 PURCELL’S POLYPHONIC PARTY – An Invitation To Dance 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]

Artists’ website: www.purcelltrio.co.uk

Teaser video:

ANGE HARDY – Bring Back Home (Story Records STREC 1701)

Bring Back HomeAnge Hardy’s new album Bring Back Home was released on November 28th. For the past few years, she has had nominations and awards a-plenty, both for her music and most recently her radio programme, Folk Findings.

If you’ve not come across Ange Hardy before (I was surprised recently to find an acoustic music promoter who hadn’t) Bring Back Home is her sixth album and her music is in the English folk tradition. Except, of course, she’s not predominantly a singer of traditional English folk songs. On this album only two of the fourteen songs (‘Claudy Banks’ and a lovely version of ‘Waters of Tyne’) are traditional. The remainder are written by Hardy. Lyrically, musically and through the arrangements, though, they are at the heart of the tradition.

Have a listen to ‘What It Is’ for Hardy’s recognition that in chasing awards, “I’d missed the point of music! Life is far, far too short to chase goals without enjoying the journey”. The track has a beautifully poised vocal on a song that, until I read the sleeve notes, I heard as a generic lyric about life rather than the specific meaning for a writer who has now come to understand that the clubs, singers and audiences, not the awards, are “the beating heart of folk”.

Hardy’s voice absorbs the listener. On ‘Sisters Three’ the different phrasings draw you in to a folk tale about the development of good and evil in the heart of mankind, whereas on ‘Chase The Devil Down’ the vocal dances with the guitar throughout the track. On ‘The Hunter, The Prey’ her voice breathlessly pulls us into the magical world of the song, but on ‘Once I Was A Rose’ it is more acapella and more delicate. I had the CD in the car last week and my passenger, a trained singer, described the voice as “fine”. Her meaning was not, as I would use the word to mean, ‘better than good’ (though it is); she meant it in the way a maker would use the word in describing fine needlework, fine silverwork et al – deft, delicate, precise (as well as rather good).

Ange Hardy arranged and produced the album and the arrangements bring in musicians (Peter Knight, Lukas Drinkwater, Evan Carson, Alex Cumming, Jon Dyer and Lee Cuff) who enrich the songs and centre them in folk music. Similarly, the lyrics generally deal with universal themes, set in the “fictional landscape that seems to permeate many of my songs. Willow trees and streams…dense woodlands….A sense of magic and mystery surrounding complex characters; each on their own journey” [sleeve notes]. This, too, is very much a traditional folk landscape.

I’m writing this in the first week of December. As a result, I’m particularly struck by ‘What May You Do For The JAM’. When the Prime Minister expressed her concern for those who were just managing, civil servants acronymed them into the JAM. The song knows people in this world and, as well as knowing the fear of failing, has detail, “The turkey alone would be more than our savings” humanity, “And so I play Mum…..I carry on making a home full of Christmassy cheer”, and positivity, “My point is the only rock left here to build on is that of a world which has hope”. It’s as far as you can get from an acronym. Watch the video below and you’ll hear that it’s a good song as well as one which makes a human and political point. It might be too late, but if you fancy the idea, there are under three weeks to get a folk song to Number One for Christmas.

In the next couple of months there are gigs and radio shows that will help take Bring Back Home to a wider audience. That’s good, it’s a fine album.

Mike Wistow

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 – Bring Back Home 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: https://www.angehardy.com

‘What May You Do For The JAM?”:

PETER FERGUS McCLELLAND – The Turn Of The Tide (Hobgoblin HOBCD1017)

The Turn Of The TidePete McClelland, if I may be so familiar to address him thus, has had a busy year. This is his second solo album of 2017 to sit alongside his contributions to Hobgoblin’s 40th anniversary collection. The Turn Of The Tide began as a stage show performed at Cornwall Folk Festival. It includes several well-known songs with singable choruses and went down well as you’d expect. Now it’s recorded with support from Pete’s friends and colleagues.

The album is divided into four sections but it wouldn’t matter if it were otherwise – I think it was a good excuse to get ‘Johnny Sands’ into the set. He begins with one of my favourite songs, ‘The Island Of  St Helena’, which isn’t heard anywhere near enough these days and follows that with another song from Nic Jones’ catalogue, ‘The Isle Of France’. Pete has a rich voice and isn’t afraid of showing off his impressive range which can be disconcerting when he takes a familiar tune off for a wander. His approach may be described as robust and his supporters follow his lead. That’s fine for a song like ‘Top Alex’ – about the burning of Southend pier – but sometimes it lacks a touch of subtlety.

The second section, Fishing, begins with Stan Rogers’ ‘Make And Break Harbour’ followed by Lennie Gallant’s ‘Peter’s Dream’. This is an inspired pairing mirroring the stoicism and resignation of Rogers’ fisherman with the anger of Gallant’s who finally shoots his boat full of holes. Choruses come with ‘The Herring’s Head’ and Bob Roberts’ ‘Candlelight Fisherman’ and the best song of the Rivers section is undoubtedly the country road-trip of ‘The Appalachian Way’

The album closes with Archie Fisher’s ‘Men Of Worth’. It’s not his best-known song but it wraps the project up rather neatly, exhorting both farmers and fishermen to work on the oil-rigs. It was also considered too controversial for the BBC back in the 1970s. You wouldn’t believe it.

The Turn Of The Tide has a nicely old-fashioned feel – mostly traditional with a thematic link that isn’t overemphasised. On one hand it’s an easy listen and on the other there are songs to make you think about the way the world is. I like it.

Dai Jeffries

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

ROB CORCORAN & THE NECESSARY EVILS – Inverse Alchemy (Sullen Link)

Inverse AlchemyThere is something instantly appealing about Rob Corcoran & The Necessary Evils’ debut album, Inverse Alchemy. Its songs are honest, relatable, lived, and the musicianship is almost without fault, making for a fantastically constructed piece of art. From the fiddle-laden, opener ‘Downtime Waltz’ to closing ballad ‘Pub On The Hill’, we are given something of a masterclass in Americana music…well, Americana with a Dublin accent.

In between these well placed bookends, several finely crafted originals stand out from the album. The sadly optimistic ‘Get To You’, the hobo dustbowl daydream that is ‘Train Song’ and the borderline blasphemous ‘What Did You Do With Joseph, Jesus?’; a number that is so catchy, its been stuck in my head, sending my Catholic guilt into overdrive.

But there are even stronger songs; ‘Black Hearted Man’, which is both an amazingly honest admission of personal shortcomings and a warning; “believing in me is gonna get you burned…” Corcoran revisits this notion of belief in ‘Tuesdays’, which sees our protagonist spending his Tuesday evenings playing to nobody, yet feels the evening to have been salvaged by returning home to a presumed lover, who not only “waited up” but “believed” in our songwriter’s “fading dream”. The record’s centrepiece however, has to be ‘Four In The Morning’ in which Basia Bartz violin and Corcoran’s lyrics intertwine to paint an instantly descriptive scene which unfolds as if it were happening before our very eyes:

It’s four in the morning, its already light,
Birds are singing farewell to the London night
A police siren woke me out of a dream
And I’m lying here in the afterglow
its slipping away, as the new light of day
Meet the murmur of late night radio…”

The subject matter for Inverse Alchemy is at times, dark, and at other times very dark, but in a weird way, it is also a very uplifting record. It is consistently well written, well played and I’m already looking forward to revisiting it again (and again) in the future. Bravo for this one.

Christopher James Sheridan

Artist’s website: www.robcorcoranmusic.com

‘Black Hearted Man’: