KÍLA – Pota Óir (Kíla Records, KRDVD003)

Pota ÓirKíla, a band with a mutable line-up around the core of the Ó Snodaigh family has been around since the late 80s, with a prodigious output of band and offshoot projects over that time. Last year, the band released a live album, Beo/Alive to include some of their less-performed tracks and Pota Óir (Pot of Gold) is its accompanying DVD. Shot in atmospheric black and white by director Anthony White (a stylist in the mould of the great Anton Corbijn), it intercuts band talking heads with live and backstage footage.

Mercifully, that’s about where any relationship to a bog-standard music DVD ends. A faintly sinister opening section with a droning musical track over choppy edits of band members, like an outtake from a ‘found footage’ horror film, invites the bold viewer in. Kílaland is then gradually revealed as a curious, liminal place of tall tales and shifting perspectives, where even the band’s name is open to conjecture.

Right from the first track, ‘Matatu’, Rónán Ó Snodaigh seizes the eye with his intense physicality, ferociously pacing the stage with his bodhrán. Standing like a flamingo in ‘Pota Óir’ or brooding on his knees in the beautiful ‘Babymouse’ (Dee Armstrong’s stunning melody paired with Colm Ó Snodaigh’s tender lyrics), he’s a truly elemental presence.

There’s no real conscious ‘showmanship’ here, just a breathtaking intensity of performance between musicians working it out in real time. Guest vocalist, Polish singer Kayah, adds a rich throatiness to the intricate ‘Seo Mo Leaba /Am Reel’ as different parts and musical lines cross and intersect in a constant dynamic flowing stream. The band’s influences are prolific: there’s a jazz looseness, there’s funk in the bassline, soul and rap in the vocals, there are world influences from Africa to the Middle East – everything gets caught up in the Kíla tornado.

The film really captures the idea of music being a living entity, from its origins and gestation into a working piece, to feeding off the audience in order to attain spontaneity and transcendence in performance.

‘Raise The Road’, a rare song in English and a guide to growing up, features the line “don’t be afraid, be courageous and shine”. Sung largely a cappella, it’s a goose-bumpy moment but it also seems to sum up the band’s philosophy. There’s a casual bravery in their risk-taking, their willingness for things to be imperfect or under-rehearsed, as long as they create an energy. Kíla, then, is not so much a band, more an unstoppable force, cheerfully straddling chaos in order to craft magic.

Su O’Brien

Artists’ website: www.kila.ie

‘The Derry Tune’:

CHRIS TAVENER – Is He Joking? (own label)

Is He Joking?Recorded live over two sold-out nights in Manchester’s Three Minute Theatre, Is He Joking?, the debut album by satirical singer-songwriter, Chris Tavener is available now on CD and DVD. Cleverly, the show begins with an internal monologue (which the live audience are privy to) as Tavener tries to get himself prepared to go on stage. This is an ongoing gag which runs throughout the evening, with this “inner voice”, consistently second guessing, distracting and sometimes “talking for” the “real” Mr Tavener. That said, this is also something that works better as a DVD joke, as it is Tavener’s visual engagement with his psyche which makes this this technique work.

“Are we ready to rock, Manchester!?” asks Tavener to an enthusiastic audience, before confessing “This is a soft song” and performing, ‘Praise Him’; his ode to former One Direction heartthrob, Harry Styles.

While his on-stage banter and seemingly off the cuff one-liners are decent, Tavener has an undeniable talent for observational “it’s funny because it’s true” humour, and this really plays into his songwriting.

‘Let’s All Go To A Festival’, for example, is a scarily accurate summary of attending a weekend-long music festival, the charmingly vulgar ‘Modern Romance’ has some pretty relatable images but perhaps no lyrical observations are as accurate as ‘Postcard Home’; a song about travelling during a gap year, which is crammed full of hilarious imagery that feels completely true to life…even if one’s own experience of gap year activity has been vicariously lived through the persistent posts of an annoying friend on social media.

Another clever write, is ‘Phoney Supremacy’, written from the point of view of Tavener’s hammed-up mistrust of iPhone users, which starts life sounding as if it could be a close-to-the-bone right wing, Daily Mail rant:

“…When you see that they’re coming over here, there’s a million more in a single year/ They speak a different language and they’re not compatible with the rest of us, they look out for their own/The government won’t make it stop/I saw one in my corner shop near home/I just don’t like the people that use iPhones.”

It’s much funnier when he does it. Believe me.

Billed as a satirical singer-songwriter, it is part of Tavener’s remit that his lyrics are the standout part of his performance, yet I feel would be doing him an injustice to overlook his musical talents; the ragtimey ‘Apocalypse Prediction’ is wonderfully fingerpicked for example and ‘Cliché Blues’ uses a very convincing, drivey blues pattern, appropriately loaded with all sorts of clichés from the blues genre; from waking up this morning, to meeting the devil at the crossroads.

In short, Mr Tavener is very good at what he does, and his excellent observations, wonderful turn of phrase and musical ability make for a very funny, very engaging and very enjoyable debut album. While there isn’t that much in the way of bonus material with either the DVD or CD (extra track on DVD and lyric book with CD), the show itself is a strong enough selling point to take a punt on this. Good stuff.

Christopher James Sheridan

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).

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Artist’s website: http://www.christavener.co.uk/

‘Modern Romance (She’s So Drunk) – official video from 2016:

MERRY HELL – A Grand Night Out (Focal Media)

MERRY HELL A Grand Night OutThree albums to the good and a growing reputation, Merry Hell, have seen fit to release a live DVD. Having seen the band perform live and reviewed their last excellent album The Ghost In Our House and other stories…, I slipped the DVD into the player with some anticipation. I was not disappointed.

The selection of songs come from across the three albums and with exception of the elusive ‘No Money’, which I have yet to catch live, all my favourites are in evidence.

The first thing that hit me was the high quality of the sound recording. I actually wondered, initially, if the track was overdubbed, but could see after a few minutes that it was the actual live soundtrack. The performance starts a little restrained and then eases into more comfortable delivery. Not unusual for any live show.

So, what we have here is Merry Hell moving from jig, to light folk to Celtic rock and all colours between. Top of the list, for me: ‘Let’s Not Have A Morning After’, ‘There’s A Ghost In Our House’, ‘The Butcher And The Vegan’ and ‘BLINK… and You Miss It’. Although, I am sure you will all have your own favourites if you are a fan. If you have never heard any of Merry Hell’s music you really are missing out on some damn fine folk/folk rock.

Not seen Merry Hell live? Well, here is the next best thing. Support the band, buy the DVD and have a Grand Night In.

Ron D Bowes

If you would like to order a copy of the DVD then click below 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.

Artists’ website: www.merryhell.co.uk

‘The Baker’s Daughter’:

JAMES KEELAGHAN – new album

HistoryJAMES KEELAGHAN – Celebrating 25 Years Of Performing

History contains eighteen studio versions of James’ most beloved songs, while on the accompanying DVD we find James in the comfort of his home telling the stories behind the music

The CD booklet contains twenty eight pages of pictures and text from James’ own pen.   

Called Canada’s finest singer songwriter by the respected American journalist and historian Dave Marsh, James Keelaghan is an artist who has proven to be a man for all seasons. As the calendar pages have turned, for a quarter of a century now, this poet laureate of the folk and roots music world has gone about his work with a combination of passion and curiosity. His masterful story telling has, over the course of eleven recordings, have been part of the bedrock of his success, earning Keelaghan nominations and awards – including a Juno and acclaim from Australia to Scandinavia.

Possessed of an insatiable appetite for finding the next unique story line, Keelaghan forges his pieces with brilliant craftsmanship and monogrammed artistic vision, making him one of the most distinctive and readily identifiable voices on both the Canadian and international singer-songwriter scenes.

His songbook has enlightened, enthralled, and been embraced, by audiences around the world. “I’ve always had the urge to write,” says the Calgary native who now calls Perth Ontario home. “Some things weren’t being said in the way I wanted to say them, some things were not being written about at all. That’s why I started to write the historical material. That led me to writing my own personal narratives as well.” .

Admiration and respect for his work amongst his peers is reflected in the words of David Francey who recently stated that “James Keelaghan is a voice in contemporary Canadian songwriting that has helped us define who we are as a people. He writes with great humanity and honesty, with an eye to the past and a vision of the future. He has chronicled his times with powerful and abiding songs, with heart and eyes wide open.”

Terry Wickham, the producer of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, is one of many longtime admirers of Keelaghan’s music, and he sums up the artists appeal by saying, “James has become the complete artist. A brilliant tunesmith who has become one of the most engaging performers of our time. You always know the journey with James is going to be great, you just never know what all the destinations are. That is why the curve on his career continues to rise.”

And these words from James:

 “I think that people who have no regrets have neither imagination or conscience. We can all look back over the arc of a lifetime and see things we might have done better or differently.

Hearts we would not have broken or ethical dilemmas we would have handled with more grace. The trick to not being bitter or overly nostalgic is to not dwell on regret.

Despite any regrets I have been able to spend the last 25 years of my life making the music that I wanted to make. I have known an army of friends who have helped me take that music to far flung bits of the globe. I have performed in the company of some of the most creative awe-inspiring musicians on the planet. I have participated in the creation of organizations focused on the furthering of music. Music is a vocation, not a vacation. I’m looking forward to the next 25 years”

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

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.

DVD Excerpt:

THE DEMON BARBERS – The Lock-In (Safecracker Pictures DVD SP059)

THE DEMON BARBERS The Lock-InHaving witnessed the ‘Celtic’ hit Riverdance on its opening night in London in 1995 and being absolutely blown-away (as was the sold-out audience) by the effervescent amalgamation of dance techniques I wondered if there might ever be a British ‘folk’ equivalent. Well, for me that long wait has now been answered with The Demon Barbers folk/hip hop theatre production “The Lock-In” formerly known as Time Gentlemen Please. Now, maybe it’s just me but the opening scene with its American Werewolf In London type pub set-piece being visited by three hip-hop dancers (and a particularly flash back-flip by one of them) perhaps seems a bit contrived as does the pantomime-ish rubbing of a pewter tankard in place of the obligatory genie’s lamp but bear with me, enter three clog dancers and the scenario is almost complete. As with Riverdance a battle of dance techniques ensues although this does appear slightly limited to the clash of hip-hop and traditional styles (Sword Dance, Rapper and Morris etc) and before anyone judges me of being ignorant about the other styles of modern dance technique I hold my hands up as accused. The inclusion of Grace Savage’s human beat-box is an interesting twist although I’m not sure about Ben Griffith’s ‘Jasmine’ the pub ‘landlady’…far too camp for my tastes and for those not into the Morris tradition it seems a pretty unusual character to include and a major distraction (for me anyway) from the rest of the performance. The song “Captain Ward” is a nice addition and the band carry this off with aplomb which leaves me somewhat surprised that they didn’t include quite a few more songs for good measure. While we’re on the subject of the musicians I was particularly impressed by Bryony Griffith’s fiddle playing and her understanding of the intricacies of ‘Morris’ tempos…so much more than just 4/4 or 6/8 rhythms! As for the sound engineering by Andy Bell and filming directed by Nigel Horne this is exemplary work and carries over to the excellent interview with Damien Barber and the other extra features. Even if you’re not particularly into dance but just into the mechanics of how a theatrical production evolves I’d suggest you purchase a copy of this DVD.

PETE FYFE

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Sunday For Sammy 2012

Over two and a half hours of entertainment and boy, do those Geordie lads and lasses know how to throw a party! Conceived to honour the memory of Sammy Johnson (Jimmy Nail’s mate “Stick” in Spender) in 2000 this bi-annual concert always manages to turn out the goods. The line-up features a North-East cornucopia of the music, stage and film world including Billy Mitchell, Ray Laidlaw, Kevin Whately, Tim Healy, Chris Fairbank, Chelsea Halfpenny, Denise Welch, Brendan Healy…sharp intake of breath….well, I could go on but the list would take up all of this review. The most notable additions for me this year were the impressive talents of comedian Josh Daniels (definitely one to look out for) and Nathalie Stern (originally from Sweden but now based in Newcastle) and her looped acoustic guitar and sultry vocals. Of course with members of the cast of “Auf Wiedersehen Pet” on stage writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais contributed the script of “Camelot…Not” with plenty of in-jokes and banter to keep the laughter level high whilst surprise guest Joe McElderry gave a performance of the classic “Big River”. It was also nice to see Billy Mitchell singing a duet with himself (courtesy of some back projected trickery) on Randy Newman’s “I’m Different” and leading a rousing finale with “Run For Home”. If I’ve whetted your appetite enough to purchase a copy of the DVD available from the link below then you’ll be pleased to know that you’ll also be contributing 75% of that amount to the Sunday For Sammy Trust. Finally…a bit of trivia for fans of Jez Lowe…the Camelot sketch features a cameo by Mike Neville as famously featured in Lowe’s song “Mike Neville Said It (So it Must Be True)”.

PETE FYFE

Order the DVD from the link below:

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.