Royal Albert Hall to Haslemere Hall – Phil Beer Band Gig Review

The Phil Beer Band rocking Haslemere Hall on 19th May – photo by Darren Beech

Phil arrived hot on the heels of the Show of Hands 5th sellout concert at The Albert Hall and the memory of winning the public vote for ‘Best musician’ in this years folking awards still fresh in his mind.

The night was put together by local promoters Auriol and Stuart who are best known for their intimate ‘meal and music nights’ at Applegarth Farm Grayshott. Phil had asked the pair to organise the event as part of his bands first UK Tour in 5 years.

Auriol said ‘for us music is about collaboration and fun, Phil sells out Applegarth every year just before Christmas with a seasonal celebration of music and friendship. So to be asked to promote his full band at Haslemere Hall was a pleasure and honour. We also asked our friend Julian Lewry to collaborate because he does an amazing job putting on live music regularly at Farncombe Music Club and occasionally Haslemere Hall, and like us has a lovely and loyal group of supporters. Stuart summed the evening up by saying that it was one of his favourite gigs ever.

The Phil Beer Band delved into the back catalogues of Phil’s beloved country, rock, folk and blues material which has become the PB Band trademark of the staple diet that have delighted audiences down the years. A rich tapestry of material with that unique PBB ‘folk n roll’ twist thrown in.

There were just too many highlights to name them all but favourites included:

Simon Smith And The Amazing Dancing Bear (Randy Newman) which came with a tale about Phil’s computer technician days when he managed a computer the size of a house and played records on the night-shift to keep the staff entertained. The Randy Newman track was a firm favourite of these sessions and dedicated to his boss at the time.

Devils Right Hand (Steve Earle) – A blistering full band version which had you leaping out your western salon seat, throwing you cards to the floor and shouting “Shot the dog down” at the appropriate point in the song.

Restless Highway (Richard & Linda Thompson) – A trip back to 1978 and the “First Light” Album – this came with a story about Phil calling RT to confirm the lyrics and RT referring Phil to a lyrics website as he couldn’t remember them.

Acadian Driftwood (The Band) – The whole story of a people displaced condensed into one song – special mention to the melodeon mastery of Gareth Turner that really made you feel part of the cinematic backdrop of the piece.

Photo by Darren Beech

The Fireman’s Song (D.Bilston) – Great to hear this again, I was first introduced to this song by Pete Coe, who also does a stunning version of it (unique in the fact that it contains a clog dance at the end). I’ve added the video below from the folking archive (Winchester May fest in 2006) so Phil can learn the steps for next time.

More Hills To Climb (Emily Slade) – It was so lovely to hear Emily sing one of her original songs from her first album “Shire Boy”. That finger style guitar method she uses is bewitching to watch and I felt myself drawn in to it again and again as the evening progressed. From where I was sitting, I decided not to annoy everyone by taking film clips of the performance but inspired, I searched my archive and found a performance clip from back in 2004 from one of the Folking live Farnham Maltings shows I did back then. I had to share it (see below). Apologies it not the whole song, my equipment at the time could not do videos over 3 minutes. How technology has changed…

For My Next Trick I’ll Need A Volunteer (Warren Zevon) and Next Best Western (Richard Shindell) were given the full band treatment and we got through both of them without being sawn in half or receiving a guarantee of a bed for the night!

Special mention also has to be given to Olivia Dunn (fiddle) who threw so much energy into the whole evenings performance, that it left you teetering on the edge, thinking that any minute, she was either going to spin out of control, or compose herself in that split second, just as bow and fiddle folk-rocked from one number to the next. 

Photo by Darren Beech

Greg McDonald (bass, vocals) had the impossible task of filling the much missed Nick Quarmby’s shoes and Phil told a lovely story of how they made sure that something of Nicks was left on stage every night. On this night, it was a guitar pick that gave you the impression that Nick was smiling down and tapping his foot along with the rest of us. Greg also came on for a solo spot and gave us a new song called “Night Shift” which I believe will be on his new album.

Can’t Keep From Crying Sometimes (Blind Willie Johnson) – This is a PBB blues classic which has to be included in the repertoire together with that firm favourite Willin’ (Little Feat) – I partially liked the story about the Dorset choir singing in harmony to “Weed, Whites and Wine”.

Perfectly Good Guitar (John Hiatt) –  Another great tale to introduce this rocking country classic – about the lunacy of Garth Brooks and Ty England smashing a $5000 Takamine guitars up every night on a 50 date tour in 1991 – you do the math!

The Border Song (Arizona Smoke Revue) – This was one of my favourite performances on the night with again another fascinating tale. Phil was part of this band (as was Steve Crickett) which was formed by Bill Zorn in the late 70’s/ early 80’s. Bill was commissioned to write a song for the movie Midnight Express and The Border Song was that song. In the end however, the song was eclipsed by a Jimmy Hendrix track so it never made the cut. However, the band had just enough money left to employ at “stunt guitarist” who took the form of Richard Thompson. The song appears on the “A Thundering On The Horizon” LP and is the last track on the second side.

Photo by Darren Beech

Before The Deluge (Jackson Browne) was the encore and special mention must also go to “The Hawthornes” who gave us a lively and entertaining start to the evening with Louisa Gaylard setting the pace for a vocal driven acoustic romp through a mariachi style upbeat of pop/rock hooks. The band also featured trumpet player, Greg Wilson-Copp from the Roving Crows, Jesse Benns (drums) and Gordy Partridge (Bass).

The Phil Beer Band on the night were: Gareth Turner (melodeons), Olivia Dunn (fiddles), Emily Slade (guitar, vocals), Greg McDonald (bass, vocals) and Steve Crickett (drums).

Photo by Darren Beech

Artist web links: http://www.philbeer.co.uk/about/phil-beer-band/ & http://www.thehawthornesmusic.co.uk/

Reviewed by Darren Beech

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

FAY HIELD live at the West End Centre, Aldershot

31st March 2017

Fay Hield live
Photograph by Dai Jeffries

Fay Hield and The Hurricane Party started their spring tour at a brisk pace – seventeen songs, including two encores, in a tight ninety minutes. I can imagine there being a bit of tension in this situation particular as Fay announced that ‘Fair Margaret And Sweet William’ had been arranged by Sam Sweeney, Rob Harbron and herself only that afternoon. We probably wouldn’t have known if nothing had been said but it is rather impressive to write an arrangement and play it from memory a few hours later. Still, I do think they need to relax a bit.

Fay began, as his her custom, with ‘Willow Glen’ accompanied only by Harbron. The rest of the band appeared (Ben Nicholls being fashionably late) for the unusually jolly ‘Tarry Trousers’ and ‘The Weaver’s Daughter’. Fay did promise us a fair share of misery later and had also promised that she would bring her banjo on this tour. She was as good as word and proved to be a melodic player in what I suppose we must call the English style.

After ‘Old Adam’ it got an outing on ‘The Old Grey Goose Is Dead’ with a new sombre tune. I suppose that it’s a generational thing but Fay was surprised to learn that most of us knew it from childhood as ‘Aunt Nancy’ or ‘Aunt Rhody’ and I was surprised to learn that she didn’t. The geese got another name check in ‘The Grey Goose And The Gander’ and the first set closed with ‘Raggle Taggle Gypsy’.

The second half began in upbeat fashion with ‘Pretty Nancy Of Yarmouth’ and got back to the misery with ‘Green Gravel’ and the aforementioned ‘Lady Margaret’. The band took its turn with a version of ‘Bold Princess Royal’ before ‘Go From My Window’ with Roger Wilson handling second vocal and Sweeney switching to nyckelharpa. ‘The Lover’s Ghost’ made a suitably mournful closer.

The first encore saw Fay solo and unaccompanied with ‘Young Maid Cut Down In Her Prime’ with the Hurricane Party returning for ‘Long Time Ago’. The music was as splendid as ever and sometimes us oldies like to get home at a decent time but please guys, slow things down a bit.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.fayhield.com

‘Raggle Taggle Gyspy’ live:

PETER KNIGHT’S GIGSPANNER live at Forest Arts, New Milton

Peter Knight's Gigspanner
Photograph by Dai Jeffries

30th March 2017

During Vincent Salzfaas’ enforced absence from this tour, Peter Knight’s Gigspanner have replaced him with not one but two percussionists. On duty tonight was Gary Hammond of The Beautiful South and The Hut People – he’s got quite a track record – but the question remained: how would it sound? During the opening ‘She Moved Through The Fair’ the percussion was low and suitably sombre and it seemed that Gary isn’t as flamboyant as Vincent but during the course of the evening he proved that he has a huge arsenal of techniques and tricks to produce an extraordinary range of tones from a simple set-up.

Gary’s kit consists of two congas, a djembele and a cajon which concealed other items of interest including a modern version of a bullroarer which introduced the closing ‘Sharp Goes Walkabout’. Peter looks terribly fearsome these days – my first thought was “magisterial” superseded by “vengeful god” – and Roger Flack remains his imperturbable self and has now added a kick-drum and what seems to be a small synthesiser to his set up. And the music – the music rolls on evolving with every performance.

Second on the set-list was ‘Seagull’, now a far cry from the rather slight song that Steeleye Span recorded, followed by ‘Peggy And The Soldier’ and ‘The Blackbird’. While Peter went off to find a chair for the latter Roger and Gary indulged in a little settling into the groove. I probably haven’t said it often enough but I do enjoy Roger’s guitar playing and always look forward to his solos. ‘Too Late For Shadows’ opened with three solos; first Gary, then Peter and finally Roger with Peter joining in to bring the trio back together. The first set closed with the “bonny Biscay” version of ‘The Wraggle-Taggle Gypsies Oh’ which is where the kick-drum came in. It was almost folk-rock!

Part two began with ‘Hard Times Of Old England’, ‘Bows Of London’ and the erstwhile opener, ‘The Butterfly’, before ‘Bold Riley’, which we might presume is destined to appear on the band’s next album (due before the end of the year, in case you’re wondering). To highlight the evolution of Gigspanner’s music, take ‘Louisiana Flack’. Familiarity may be breeding contempt but Peter doesn’t look anywhere near as worried as he used too and has even taken to moving about to make Roger follow him. Roger seems to be ever more confident and, as far as I know, it never ends in tears.

The encore was ‘King Of The Fairies’ and everyone left feeling very happy. The final date of the tour is tonight in Alfriston with two percussionists. As Gary observed – “Drumspanner!”.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: http://www.gigspanner.com/index.html

‘Hard Times Of Old England’ – official video:

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’: