MAD DOG McREA – Live at Cambridge Junction (Cambridge City Roots Festival)

Mad Dog Mcrea

It’s a chilly Wednesday in February, but there’s the heat of a storming party going on from the minute the door opens into the Cambridge Junction. Those delightful friends of blacksmiths, Noble Jacks, opening tonight for Mad Dog Mcrea, are already onstage giving it their all, whipping the audience up with their infectious energy and fun.

Mad Dog Mcrea kick off as ferociously as they mean to go on, storming straight in with ‘A Longer Road’. The sonic whirlwind continues with a blast through ‘Raggle Taggle Gypsy’ (a song “older than Newton’s theory of gravity“), ‘Heart Of Stone’ from the superb Almost Home album and ‘Johnny No Legs’ (aka ‘My Son John’).

The band may be a banjo player down this evening, but there’s no loss of fullness of sound and no let-up in quality. Especial kudos are due to Dan Crimp’s extraordinary versatility on whistles/flutes and Nicky Powell’s muscular fiddle playing. They get to demonstrate their range on a couple of wild tune sets, that also feature jazzy breaks and funked-up basslines. Elsewhere, there’s a bit of hoedown fiddle on ‘Stupid Things’ and some ‘Zorba The Greek’ in the mid-section of ‘Black Fly’. The very non-PC, very funny ‘Pikey Killed My Goldfish’ is introduced gleefully as “folk drum and bass”. These Mad Dogs certainly love to throw in a bit of everything and the kitchen sink.

Always appearing just one drink away from complete chaos, they nevertheless manage to maintain control, pacing themselves tightly over a lengthy set. For an hour and forty minutes there’s no loss of momentum or drive, and the band engages warmly with the crowd at every opportunity, freely inviting song requests (which they happily fulfil without so much as a pause to remember the chords), onstage jam sessions and post-gig drinks aboard their legendary tour bus. Singer Michael Mathieson passes a bottle of cheap port around the audience, to their evident delight, since it comes back empty. But, as a slight edge seems to develop, threatening to cross over from boisterousness to aggression, the band deftly contains the crowd by switching mood, to a couple of slower numbers, including a surprisingly straight, lyrical cover of Richard Thompson’s ‘Beeswing’.

The Pied Pipers of Party close with a rousing finale of their anthems ‘Am I Drinking Enough’, followed by ‘Happy Bus’, its klezmer rhythms broken by a reggae mid-section that incorporates snatches of Gogol Bordello’s ‘Start Wearing Purple’. And if Eugene Hütz’s band seem at all close to Mad Dog Mcrea, it’s because they are both voracious musical melting-pots whose live performances retain a just-the-right-side-of-messy, edge-of-mayhem, sheer rabble-rousing vitality. Pondering this similarity for a moment, my husband (and photographer for the evening) leans over, “Guinness Bordello?” he suggests. The happy bus rolls on.
Su O’Brien

Artists’ website: www.maddogmcrea.co.uk  www.noblejacks.com

‘The Happy Bus’ – official video:

COVEN live at the West End Centre, Aldershot

Coven
Photograph by Dai Jeffries

Coven aren’t so much a group as a collective made up of three elements. On the one hand there is the musical delicacy of Lady Maisery and on the other the homespun Yorkshire charm that O’Hooley & Tidow exploit. In the middle is Grace Petrie, a thorn between two roses, and more of her anon.

They originally came together three years ago to celebrate International Women’s Day, which coincidentally was the date of this event, and their show still has that as its central theme.  Lady Maisery opened with ‘Sing For The Morning’ from their latest album followed by ‘Portland Town’, a remarkable arrangement featuring fiddle and feet before finishing with ‘The Crow On The Cradle’.

Next came Grace Petrie who I hadn’t heard before. She’s something of a fire-brand and the wit of her stage chat carries over into her writing. Her first song, ‘A Revolutionary In The Wrong Time’, describes her career: “not folky enough for Whitby; not cool enough for Cambridge” is her self-deprecating description. The second song, written for her niece Ivy, describes rushing away from Glastonbury to be home for her arrival. It is probably the most unsentimental sentimental song you’ll hear and Grace wrapped up her set with her contender for the new national anthem, ‘God Save The Hungry’. I really liked her and her crusade to prove that there are still protest singers around – and that there is still a need for them.

Belinda and Heidi chose three songs about inspiring women: ‘Beryl’ and ‘The Pixie’ from Shadows and ‘Too Old To Dream’ from their first album. Three songs about three very different women in very different circumstances.

Coven only sang six songs as a unit, the six that appear on their EP, ‘Unholy Choir’, and I found that a little disappointing. The first of these closed the first half: Rowan Rheingans’ new setting of ‘Bread And Roses’ which dispenses with the martial rhythm of the more usual version.

The second set followed a slightly different pattern. O’Hooley & Tidow opened with ‘Gentleman Jack’ and ‘The Needle & The Hand’ before bringing the whole group together for ‘Coil & Spring’. Lady Maisery did likewise with ‘Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood’ and ‘Order And Chaos’ before ‘This Woman’s Work’. Grace’s two solos led into ‘If There’s A Fire In Your Heart’ to close the show.

Well, of course, there were two encores; The Roches’ ‘Quittin’ Time’ and ‘Never Turning Back’ and Coven really gave us our money’s worth with a show that lasted well over two hours and never outstayed its welcome. There are five gigs left on this tour and that will be it until next year unless the rumours of summer festivals are true. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ websites: http://ohooleyandtidow.com/
https://www.ladymaisery.com/about
http://gracepetrie.com/

Venue website: https://hampshireculturaltrust.org.uk/

‘This Woman’s Work’:

DARIA KULESH Live at Cecil Sharp House

Daria Kulesh live
Photograph by Tony Birch

February 23rd is a date that should be known in history.  On this day in 1944 the entire population of the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, those who weren’t away at war fighting for the Soviet Union, were told they were being deported for alleged collaboration with the enemy.  Many were children and resistance was met with death.

Move forward to 2017 and February 23rd was the date chosen by Daria Kulesh to launch her second album Long Lost Home at Cecil Sharp House in London. The location was appropriate because, as Daria said, CSH collects and stores folk memories so that they are available for future generations and Long Lost Home is more than just an album of songs as Daria through her Grandmother, Fatima Akhrieva, is Ingushetian. The evening was a celebration of her journey to find that link to her past.

February 23rd 2017 will also be remembered for Storm Doris, which provided a suitably tumultuous backdrop to the event but unfortunately disrupted travel and meant some audience members were unable to attend. They missed an evening of powerful, moving emotion that was also uplifting with its message of hope for the future.

The evening began with two well received pieces from Timur Dzeytov, People’s Artist of Ingushetia, including a song about the deportations followed by a traditional tune.  He played the dakhchan pandar, a form of the balalaika, and it was obvious even to me that this was not “Russian” music.  There were resonances of the near- and middle-east in the sound.  It was a suitably exotic opening.

Daria then took to the stage wearing a most beautiful dress that had been hand made and decorated in traditional style. She opened, as does the album, with ‘Tamara’ a dark song about sorcery and death.  The simple accompaniment from Timur and Evan Carson (percussion) emphasised the words well.  Evan came in as an emergency replacement but it certainly didn’t look that way, the sign of a very talented musician.

I’ve been fortunate to have seen some of these songs before, at least one on its debut, often with just Daria accompanying herself on guitar or shruti.  For the album launch we were treated to a full backing band which allowed the music to be fully expressed.  At various points during the evening we were also introduced to Jonny Dyer (piano and guitar), Kate Rouse (hammered dulcimer and piano), Vicki Swan (double bass, nyckelharpa and small pipes) and Phil Underwood (various accordions and guitar).

Daria Kulesh live
Photograph by Tony Birch

The evening followed the album so we were quckly enraptured with the ‘The Moon and The Pilot’, the story of Daria’s great-grandparents, Diba Posheva and Rashid Akhriev.  Diba was one of the deportees in 1944, two years after Rashid died a Hero of the Soviet Union in the battle for Leningrad.  It could not save his wife and their two young children, one of whom was Daria’s grandmother.  It was impossible not to be moved by Diba’s story of resilience and love for her children.

My personal favourite on the album came not long afterwards. ‘Amanat’ is the story of a relative even further back in time, Chakh Akhriev, who was born in 1850 and essentially fostered to Russian parents as a hostage.  It’s a story of a different time and place, yet of a man who never quite fitted in.  The song appeals to me, maybe for that reason, and it is also a fine example of Daria’s incredible vocal ability.  There’s so much power, range and control in her singing she entrances a room in the way very few other singers can.

This is not a review of the album so I will only mention one more song, ‘Heart’s Delight’.  This is Daria’s translation of the Ingush ‘Song of Mochkha’.  She also wrote the gloriously uplifting tune.  The first time I heard it I thought it was the Ingush National Anthem, and it possibly should be.

What is yours by right, May you always hold/May your heart’s delight become your fate.

To show how music can cross boundaries this was the tune where Vicki Swan played her small pipes, a suggestion which originally came from Timur Dzeytov.  It worked so very well; the drone of the pipes adding a frisson to the words that raised the hairs on the back of my neck.

For an encore we were treated to ‘Fata Morgana’, the opening track from debut album ‘Eternal Child’ and the start of Daria’s journey to her Long Lost Home in the Caucasus Mountains.  To complete the journey Timur Dzeytov returned to the stage to play a lezginka, a traditional dance from the Caucasus.  In the dance the man (on this occasion Anzor Aushev, who was one of Daria’s hosts in Ingushetia on her research trip for the album) is an eagle and the woman, whose name I don’t know, is a swan.  It was a beautiful insight to a different culture, the dance involved no contact between the partners but the courtship aspect was more than clear.  This is the dance which is also referred to in ‘Like A God’, the story of Daria’s great-great-uncle, and Diba’s brother, Aludin Poshev.  It was said he could dance like a god.

We also had a speech from Khairudin, the leader of the Vainakh (Ingush & Chechen) community in London  and I was left with the impression that Long Lost Home is a folk memory of Ingushetia that will become important to a country and people who are trying to reestablish their identity after many years of turbulence and suppression.

Tony Birch

Artist’s website: http://www.daria-kulesh.co.uk/

‘The Moon And The Pilot’ – official video:

AMY WADGE AND LUKE JACKSON live at Cambridge Junction

Cambridge City Roots Festival, 7 February 2017

Amy Wadge and Luke Jackson

What comes across so strikingly from an evening with Amy Wadge and Luke Jackson is their natural rapport. Both are hugely talented songwriters, singers and musicians with a constant drive to create new music. They work effortlessly well together and although they like to pass the occasional comment on their age gap, it’s plainly not all that relevant to them.

Wadge and Jackson are near the end of this year’s two-hander tour, cramming 15 dates into 3 weeks. No surprise that Wadge, taking the stage first, admits to feeling rather exhausted – although you’d never know it from the gusto and attack of her performance. She ploughs straight in with ‘Always’, ‘Scream’ and ‘Free Fall’, accompanying herself on guitar or on keyboards.

Luke Jackson joins Wadge for the first of the evening’s duets, ‘Thinking Out Loud’, the 2016 Grammy-award winner, co-written by Wadge with Ed Sheeran. It’s the song that made her an overnight success after 20-odd years of striving. Wadge appears to wear success lightly and with unaffected charm. Her between-songs chat is hugely entertaining, with a seemingly bottomless well of anecdotes that feel cosy and intimate, even when dropping stellar music business names.

The other thing of note is Wadge’s songs themselves, often with threads of personal experience woven throughout them. It’s this that really elevates them, making an emotional connection with the listener. She presents a new song, a kind of working-parent blues: a touching apology to her children, acknowledging that the need to follow one’s dreams is not always compatible with the demands of parenthood. Then there’s ‘One Last Dance’, a beautiful song with an equally inspirational source in her remarkable grandparents. There was definitely something in my eye during this one. The final song of her set is rooted in her mother’s illness, whilst also being a tribute to the strength of anyone struggling with life’s obstacles.

Having followed Luke Jackson’s musical progress for a few years, somehow tonight is the first time I’ve managed to see him live. His voice has matured, becoming richer and, thankfully, losing a few youthful quirks. His quiet confidence and talent simply shine out: he’s so firmly in control of his vocals and his guitar, changing pacing and volume with enviably fluid ease. An a capella verse of ‘Ain’t No Trouble’ builds into a bluesy roll. Slowing down only slightly, he segues straight into ‘Sister’, plucking effortlessly at his guitar with his right hand whilst his left-hand finger-clicks to mark the rhythm.

Amy Wadge returns, duetting with Jackson on ‘Finding Home’, a song written during their last tour, followed by the choppy ‘Is It Me?’ and ‘Better Man’. Finally, the pair move on to ‘Lucy And Her Camera’, an older Jackson song which he’s only recently recorded.

Back on his own again, Jackson runs through ‘Aunt Sally’ and ‘Kansas’, each song prefaced with funny, self-deprecating tales about how they came to be written. Jackson also somehow breathes freshness and meaning into Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ – no mean feat with such a very well-worn song. The set closes with Jackson stepping out front of stage to encourage a bit of crowd participation in the chorus of ‘On The Road’.

Wadge, who earlier provided a spiky piano accompaniment to expose the raw beauty of the Manic Street Preachers’ ‘Design For Life’ stripped of its rock bombast, joins Jackson one last time as the pair encore with a country-tinged take on Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’.

At time of writing, the tour is over and the pair are off to different destinations in the USA, but their social media suggests they’re keen to do it all again next year. With such a dynamic, creative and yet thoroughly level-headed and likeable duo, that’s got to be a fixture for the diary.

Su O’Brien

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 AMY WADGE 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 Tall Tales And Rumours, Luke Jackson’s latest [CD]

Artists’ websites: https://amywadge.com
http://lukepauljackson.com

STEVE PLEDGER live at Dunster Castle Hotel

Steve Pledger live

Friday 9th February 2017

A very chilly evening in Dunster, North Somerset was made glowingly warm by a lovely gig, courtesy of award winning singer songwriter Steve Pledger.

I had been looking forward to this event immensely, after attending his album launch at Dunster Castle itself in November, and was not disappointed. The room at the Dunster Castle Hotel had been set out bistro style with candles, and there was a very pleasant ambience about it. Very cosy and intimate.

Since our last meeting, Steve has won Folkwords Album of the Year by a male artist for Somewhere Between, and FATEA awarded Steve Best Album of the Year 2016 for the same album. Not bad for a rising star!

There were other avid fans in the audience who had come from far and wide. I saw a lady buy three albums which was great to see. As Steve had picked tracks to sing from all three albums, she didn’t want to miss anything!

Steve kicked off the gig with ‘If You Fall’, which is an unusual number for him to start with, but he had the audience hooked from the start. An introduction into the songs as he was about to sing them, told us how they came about, which was interesting. Very early on we had an audience participation tune – ‘This Land Is Poundland’ from his second album – Striking Matches In The Wind, Doing Well gave us a political swipe at Government v Benefits, ‘Quit Blubbin’ In The Cheap Seats’, again from Striking Matches, got us all singing again and before long it was time for the interval. More CDs flying out ensued in the break.

He returned with ‘I Spat Fire’ from his new album followed by Eva Cassidy’s fabulous track – ‘People Get Ready’. Further tunes were off all three albums and all were sung in the way they were written, the tune regarding depression – ‘Me And The Silence’ is particularly moving as is ‘Other’ which is about people expressing themselves whatever it may be.

And so it came to the end of the concert – much too soon. An encore was granted and ‘Hallelujah’ was giving the Pledger treatment. Goosebumps filled my entire spine and I might have had something in my eye. Just so love how he sings this amazing song.

The audience had thoroughly enjoyed it if the applause was to be believed, and afterwards Steve chatted to his public, signed albums sold by his very supportive and proud wife Becky, and was in no rush to get away. Steve is quietly political in his own way which shows in some of his lyrics, but also a very kind, generous, tremendously gifted soul, who deserves to soar up the ladder of success.

See you soon at another gig soon Steve!

Jean Camp

Go to www.stevepledger.co.uk to purchase his music and to see where he is playing near you.

STEVEN JAMES ADAMS AND THE FRENCH DROPS – live

The Portland Arms (Cambridge City Roots Festival,
3 February 2017)

Steven James Adams

Singer-songwriter Steven James Adams returns to home turf in Cambridge to play the packed, intimate venue at The Portland Arms, with support provided by the intriguingly angular sounds of indie trio Mammoth Penguins. This evening’s gig also kicks off the very first Cambridge City Roots festival.

City Roots, a week-long winter mini-fest held at venues across the city, is presented by the organisers of the Cambridge Folk Festival and provides an umbrella for a diverse series of gigs, buskers and workshops. It also aims to strengthen the relationship between the city and the folk/roots music scene.

As if that wasn’t enough to contend with, tonight Adams is also showcasing his new band, The French Drops, following a prolonged solo spell. He confesses to some nervousness about playing this first gig with a band again. Unused to being surrounded by these three “beautiful young boys”: Michael Wood (previously of Singing Adams), David Stewart and Dan Fordham (two members of The Drink), he confides that he’s become more used to doing it on his own. Cue many good-natured double-entendres from the crowd…

Many of the evening’s songs are taken from Adams’ two most recent solo albums, Old Magick and House Music, and without any preamble, the band launches straight into ‘Black Cloud’. The chattering crowd falls silent and attentive within a couple of bars. Adams self-deprecatingly comments on his “suitably upbeat” opener but he does seem to start off in a slightly reflective mood this evening. However, his wry wit shines through and defies any pessimism, as a romp through ‘Kings Of The Back Of The Bus’ ably demonstrates.

Judging from his introductions, the Adams song catalogue divides roughly into being “about, like, the world and stuff” – like bittersweet new song, ‘A Joke’ – or “a song about feelings” like ‘French Drop’. So the slower, “feelings” song ‘Ideas’ is immediately followed by the “world” song ‘Togetherness’. This tender song, with its gorgeous opening line “You are welcome here” seems all the more heartening in these chilling times. Offered a choice between another song about feelings or Satan, well, there’s no contest for this audience. Satan it is, and the band launch into ‘Tears Of Happiness’ with its delicious opposition between the brightness of the music, and darker lyrics referencing Kenneth Anger films and “mopping up blood from a silver plate“.

The second new song of the evening ‘Free Will’, another “world” song, takes a turn for the heavier, demonstrating that Adams and his band are capable of rocking out with the best of them. The hour or so long set is rounded off with ‘Drinking From The River’, ‘How We Get Through’, ‘You Broke My Fucking Heart’ (a Broken Family Band song) and ‘Sonny’, a real crowd-pleaser.

After the usual kerfuffle, Adams re-appears solo for an encore. Hopping down into the crowd with his guitar and strolling around like a mediaeval troubadour, he delivers a magnificent version of John Lennon’s ‘Working Class Hero’, just for starters. He weaves through the crowd, saying “hi” to friends, wiggling his hips and generally looking like he’s having fun now that the pressures of the evening are behind him.

Adams’s naturally relaxed, warm delivery and genuine rapport with the crowd is a delight and really lifts the evening into something extra special. If he’s not yet received the levels of success he so thoroughly deserves, it’s certainly not through any lack of talent as songwriter or performer. His lyrics are wickedly funny and astute, his melodies almost irritatingly catchy and if Steven James Adams and The French Drop are playing near you, go along. It’s going to be a great night.

Su O’Brien

Artist website: http://www.stevenjamesadams.com

‘Ideas’ – an official video: