Folk Rock legends, Rev Hammer and Nick Harper wowed the audience at Unit 23 Live in Totnes, South Devon recently. The venue owner Simon has just taken over, and making a huge mark on this quirky venue in the middle of an industrial estate. Ex South Hams Radio presenter – Rob Wheeler, who has known Rev for years, put this gig on, so thank you Rob for doing this!
Ably assisted support by young up and coming Sam Ryan and Connor Walsh, the evening was a mixture of pure brilliance!
Connor Walsh kicked off the evening, although I had not seen or heard of him before, he was soon into getting audience reaction. Blue paint was drawn across his eyes like a mask, and I wondered what an earth we were going to hear! War paint?? He kicked off with a drinking song, and off we went! Very lively and we all sat up to listen to this talented young man. Shortly after we had an audience participation song, which went down very well! Connor’s mixtures of songs showed he has an awesome talent and will go far. I loved his set!
Next up came Sam Ryan, son of Rev Hammer, showing his Dad’s talent. Sam was as awesome as Connor but with his own style (not his father’s) kicking off with a lively number, ‘Men’ was just brilliant, and an audience participation song ‘Vikings’ had everyone shouting in unison with gusto when required! Self-penned songs and we will see more of Sam in his own right I’m sure. Sam wrote the title track ‘Skald’ on the new Rev Hammer album and performed on it.
Rev and Nick came on stage together and did numbers mostly individually. As Nick produced Rev’s new album he knew the guitar work as had played on it. Nick is an outstanding singer/songwriter, who just blew me away with his guitar playing. Rev joked he had Billy Bragg at his side! Two legends with attitude!
Nick passionately sang some cracking numbers including ‘Bloodsong’, a very bluesy, gritty number and his facial expressions told us he was away with the music. ‘Incredible Skies’ was just awesome, and we were all blown away by the tune and words, ‘I Will Carry You Always’ – a song about baggage, ‘Juicy Fruit Girl’ – which was kind of humorous, another bluesy track. ‘I Need You Now,’ ‘Peace, Love and Happiness’, ‘Real Life’ and Aeroplane was a great song to finish the evening. This got everyone off their seats more or less. Awesome!
Rev and Nick alternated to perform and when I asked Rev for a set list to do the review, I found out it was going to be random! He gave us ‘Punch Drunk’ to open his turn, love it and so many others did too, as linked to Rev’s association with The Levellers. A favourite Rev song of mine was on the list – ‘No One Or Nothing’, Rev also did a leg pull of Ralph McTell, which I hadn’t heard before, but as I like Ralph McTell, I won’t comment! ‘Garden of Gethsemane’ and ‘I’m Ready And I’m Waiting’ off Skald, ‘Drunkards Waltz’, which the Oysterband covered, and another of my favourites – ‘Every Woman’s Pain’, from his very successful folk opera Freeborn John and which he dedicated to his daughters!
An absolutely fabulous evening and look forward to hearing them all again soon. Check them out and buy Rev Hammer’s Skald album following the link from his website.
Smoke swirled over the darkened stage as four shadowy figures took their places. The sound began with the drone of a hurdy-gurdy, joined by fiddle, jew’s harp and voice and lastly bouzouki. Finally the lights came up to reveal Le Vent Du Nord in all their splendour. It was an uncharacteristically sombre opening to an evening that was full of laughs.
I usually come home from a gig with a fairly accurate set-list and other notes about who did what. No chance here. The band only introduced a few of their pieces and then usually in rapid French. I fell back on plan B and tried to blag a set-list from keyboardist Nicolas Boulerice but they don’t use one. He did offer to write one up for me, though, and that’s not an offer you get every day. They did tell us that most of the material would come from their most recent album, Têtu, as did ‘Confédération’, the first song they announced by name, having a dig at Anglophone Canadians in the process.
In fact, the announcements in the first half took the form of a debate, which apparently the band had, about whether Têtu should have a terminal “s”. Everyone had to have a say in turn and the running joke got funnier and funnier. I did figure out the unaccompanied ‘La March Des Iroquois’ and ‘Petit Rêve IX’, an almost orchestral piece which begins with a lovely guitar solo played by its composer, fiddler Olivier Demers and they closed the first set with an oldie, ‘Lanlaire’.
Several things stuck in the mind after the gig. The first is the interplay of the four voices. They can stack up harmonies, pick up lines from each other and occasionally sing over each other. The second is that they do the same with melodies, passing a tune from fiddle to melodeon, to hurdy-gurdy and even jew’s harp. Finally comes the energy and fun they bring to their music. Quebecois music is, to say the least, lively and they throw everything they have into it. I was surprised that Demers, who is responsible for most of the foot percussion, was still standing at the end.
The second set opened with ‘Le Cœur De Ma Mère’ and the time just flew past. There was a bizarre moment when Demers played us a country song in French – from his iPhone – before the band sang an unaccompanied and rather more stately version. ‘Forillon’ is one of their more serious songs and they did it full justice. This isn’t a history lesson but you should look up the story. Nico introduced a song with a long, involved story about a song he found in his attic in a hand-written manuscript, learned it and performed it in France only to be told that it was a famous Parisian song that may have derived from mediaeval English. It seems that his “manuscript” was probably copied down from the radio! It was a love song but Nico neglected to name it.
After a wild instrumental finish, they encored with the traditional ‘Vive L’Amour’ and another unaccompanied and unannounced song – perhaps I should have taken Nico up on his offer. Their performance richly deserved the standing ovation and the cheers they received. Do try to hear them while they are on tour here.
The dark stage is bedecked with an array of lamps (of the standard and table varieties), interspersed with rattan chairs. The grand piano and elegantly wrought music stands suggest a more genteel era of afternoon tea dances – if you overlook the modern paraphernalia of cables and microphones.
The voice of Gabrielle Drake reading her mother’s poem ‘Time’ penetrates the gloom and is followed by a recording of Molly Drake herself, singing the engagingly humorous and self-referential ‘Funny Little Tune’. Without any preamble, The Unthanks launch straight into ‘What Can A Song Do To You’, as good an evocation of the power of memory as any.
In fact, not a word is spoken to the audience until around two-thirds of the way through the first set. Wisely, the band focuses on allowing these songs and poems to speak for themselves. When they do finally break the wall, it’s mainly to reassure us that they’ve now got “the cheery songs” out of the way.
It’s true that this album, the Molly Drake oeuvre, isn’t exactly a barrel of laughs, and this is as introspective a set as they come, with more shade than light. Literally as well as figuratively: the set is deliberately kept low-lit throughout. As Molly Drake said, “The happy and enduring things do not evoke or provoke poetry”.
But these clouds do have silver linings. There is lightness and dry wit in the observations of life. There’s even a little optimism. ‘Never Pine For The Old Love’ is fine advice, as is ‘Dream Your Dreams’. ‘Poor Mum’ is a call to break the confines of a societal label. What’s more, the projections of stills and archive footage of Molly Drake encourage us view her as a person: a wife, a mother and – most of all – a woman of style and humour.
The set consists entirely of the ‘Diversions Volume 4: The Songs And Poems Of Molly Drake’ album (plus the 8-track ‘Extras’), thoughtfully re-ordered to evoke different moods in the audience. The darkest part of the set is at the start, with a gentle lightening of mood as the show progresses. There’s no adornment from their back catalogue, nothing to break the spell. And a spell is cast, the crowd seeming to hold its breath while Rachel and Becky sing their impeccable harmonies. Although they always seem transported somewhere else entirely when they sing, they are still delightfully grounded performers, briskly and unfussily brushing off a couple of minor fluffs to delighted applause.
The only non-Molly Drake song of the evening is Becky’s encore cover of Nick Drake’s ‘River Man’, followed by Rachel taking lead on ‘Dream Your Dreams’. A brief reprise of this song leaves us with the image of Molly Drake smiling and raising a glass to us all in the final frame.
Having been reverentially silent during the songs, the crowd delivers a standing ovation for the band at the end, and one richly deserved for such a beautifully realised performance of an eclectic set.
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 DIVERSIONS VOL4 THE SONGS AND POEMS OF MOLLY DRAKE 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.
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 reallymade 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).
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.
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.