UK folk and Americana latest news from

April highlights at Cecil Sharp House


Aly Bain & Phil Cunningham
Saturday 1 Apr, 7.30pm Tickets: £18 / £10 under 26s

Artree LiveHaving toured together since 1986 to packed concert halls all over the world, Scottish duo Phil and Aly recorded their first album The Pearl in 1994 and followed it with many more highly acclaimed albums including Five And Twenty CD to celebrate their 25th Anniversary. They also have two Best of collections released of their work.

Aly was a founder member of the Boys of the Lough and his passionate fiddle playing has also found its way onto recordings by the likes of Eddi Reader and Richard Thompson. He was responsible for launching the Transatlantic Sessions TV series in which both he and Phil continue to feature.

Accordion player Phil has been named as one of Scotland’s 25 most influential people and his mastery of the instrument has led to him working with the likes of Mark Knopfler, James Taylor, Rosanne Cash and Midge Ure.

“They are simply the best traditional musicians you are ever likely to hear” The Herald (Glasgow)

National Youth Folk Ensemble
Wednesday 12 Apr, 7.30pm ​Tickets: ​£10 / £6 under 26s

The National Youth Folk Ensemble launched in October 2016, bringing together 18 of the most talented young folk musicians from across England. Following three intensive weeks in Somerset, Lancashire and the Chilterns, working with folk luminaries such as Sam Sweeney (Artistic Director 2016-17), Rob Harbron, Jack Rutter and Sarah Hayes, the Ensemble performs its first full-length concert.

Expect modern arrangements of folk tunes from England and beyond, alongside new compositions drawing on traditional music, all created and performed by these rising stars.

To find out more information, including how to join the Ensemble, visit The ensemble is supported by Arts Council England.

Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar
Thursday 13 Apr, 7.30pm ​Tickets: ​£12 / £10 under 26s

A welcome return for the two-time BBC Folk Award winners. Greg Russell’s strong singing and guitar and Ciaran Algar’s lyrical fiddle playing give:

“everything that folk music should be about. There is tradition, there is musical invention and evolution of the tradition and there is the sort of protest on which the revival was based” (Folking).

Soon after the joining of the pair, the duo signed to Fellside Records and in July 2012 released their debut album, The Queen’s Lover. Numerous tours followed as the duo developed and honed their stagecraft, becoming one of the most sought after young acts on the English Folk Scene.

“The press coverage and folk club reports have been glowing and rightly so” (R2 Magazine). 

The duo hail from musical households and both began to develop their musical skills long before joining forces. Algar, originally a member of TRI, became All Ireland Champion and All Britain Champion on numerous occasions before the age of 16, and Russell had begun a career as a solo musician supporting acts such as Karine Polwart and Lau, amongst others.

Oh Susanna
Wednesday 19 Apr, 7.30pm Tickets: ​£14 / £10 under 26s

Suzie Ungerleider began performing as Oh Susanna in the mid-1990s, crafting a persona that matched the timeless qualities of her music, sounds that drew from the deep well of early 20th Century folk, country and blues, yet rooted in her finely-honed storytelling skills.

This Canadian songstress has a voice that can pierce a heart of stone and tonight she celebrates the release of her brand new album. Her superbly crafted songs often tell stories of troubled souls who rebel against their circumstances to attain a quiet dignity. These are tales of longing and love, of small town joys and pains, of our simple feelings and strong passions. These are tales that look into our beautifully flawed human hearts.

Saturday 29 Apr, 7.30pm ​Tickets: ​£12 / £10 under 26s

Nominated in the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2014, RANT is the meeting of four of Scotland’s finest fiddle players, two from the Shetland Islands and two from the Highlands.

Bethany Reid, Jenna Reid, Sarah-Jane Summers and Lauren MacColl join forces to create a sound rich and vibrant, evocative of the exciting scene they create music in. Using just their fiddles, they weave a tapestry of melodies, textures, layers and sounds. Known for their work as soloists and with various bands, this is a celebration of the instrument they all have a passion for. Four fiddles: one beautiful sound!

Room For All: Shrewsbury Folk Festival launches new cultural diversity project

Room For All

A new project to celebrate cultural diversity and highlight the plight of refugees has been launched by Shrewsbury Folk Festival.

Organisers of the annual four-day music festival have secured a £95,000 investment from Arts Council England for the 18-month Room For All initiative that will include a new music commission featuring refugee musicians and a programme of education and outreach work in the county. Shropshire Council has awarded the festival a £1,000 Arts Revenue Grant.

Room For All follows on from the festival’s successful All Together Now programme that focused on introducing a new audience to world music and dance during 2015 and 2016.

The new music commission will be led by duo O’Hooley & Tidow and an ensemble of refugee musicians and will premiere at this year’s festival.

Room For All will include performances by culturally diverse musicians at the 2017 and 2018 festival, an outreach talent development programme for young people led by inspiring artists to pass on different folk traditions and nurture new talent, music workshops in Telford schools giving young people an introduction to folk music, Indian Kathak dance workshops in schools, continued support for the Shropshire Youth Folk Ensemble and for Shropshire’s only school rapper side at Ford Trinity School, which is a legacy from All Together Now.

Festival Director Alan Surtees said the idea for Room for All came as a direct response to the racial hatred and opposition to refugees that emerged during the Brexit campaign.

“We felt so despondent and downhearted at the division, negativity and prejudice that surfaced during the campaign we decided to try and bring some decency and optimism to the plight of refugees, if only to our own small event,” he explained.

“Room for all to grow and thrive encapsulates the festival’s welcoming philosophy of celebrating diversity and fostering talent. Through this project, we are hoping to encourage understanding of different cultures in a world that can sometimes seem less that welcoming or tolerant and, with that deeper cultural understanding, we can build a better legacy for the future.”

Peter Knott, Area Director, Arts Council England, said: “We’re delighted to be investing in Shrewsbury Folk Festival’s plans to celebrate and promote cultural diversity through this new project.

“It’s essential that England’s diversity is reflected in our arts and cultural landscape, Room for All is a perfect example of how that can be done. By collaborating with traditional and refugee musicians as well as hosting workshops and promoting outreach work this project will inspire new artists and nurture talent in rural Shropshire.”

Project Manager Joy Lamont said the festival’s growing commitment to education and outreach work had been widely welcomed by the schools it had reached so far.

“We recognise that in many rural parts of Shropshire it can be hard to promote cultural diversity and understanding through the arts. Room for All aims to continue the work we started with All Together Now and provide high quality and multi cultural arts activities to schools and young people in Shropshire.”

This year’s festival runs from August 25 to 28 at the West Mid Showground and tickets are available at

STEAMCHICKEN – Look Both Ways (Chicken Records STEAM16/3)

Look Both WaysSteamchicken began life as a ceilidh band but have expanded their horizons considerably with a brass section and a powerful vocalist in Amy Kakoura. Look Both Ways is something like their fifth album and is possibly the definitive statement of jazz-folk.

The album kicks off with the powerful spiritual, ‘Jericho’ and follows that with the stunning ‘Brigg Fair’ with the brass and Becky Eden-Green’s clarinet (or is it Matt Crum’s soprano sax?) leading the way. This track is worth the entrance money by itself – if you want to know what can be done with folk music just listen to this. ‘When I Get Low I Get High’ was first recorded in 1936 and later covered by Ella Fitzgerald. Steamchicken mix the sound of a 1930s plinky piano with a middle-eastern feel and it’s another knockout track. The same feel informs ‘Gypsy’, another traditional song that has never sounded like this before.

‘Oh Mary’ takes us back to spiritual territory – with a reggae beat. The cover isn’t terribly helpful so I have to guess that ‘Western Approaches’, ‘Big Tin Horn’ and ‘Foot Falling’ are all Steamchicken originals but they weave so many influences into their music that it’s hard to be sure. Certainly ‘Mary And The Soldier’ is traditional with the best-known version being by Paul Brady.

Look Both Ways is an excellent album, mixing so many styles and ideas in a bewildering stew of exciting music.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website:

Not a great video but a great song. ‘When I Get Low I Get High’:

SHORTSTUFF – Big Blue (Blonde On Blonde DCT16BB01)

Big BlueWhen I first played this album I assumed that Shortstuff were American and had been playing the blues for years. Big Blue has a confident swing about it that invites you in and settles you down. In fact Dave Thomas and Hugh Gregory met in London and once enjoyed a residency at the Half Moon. That was in the mid-70s and their debut album has taken forty-two years to emerge blinking into the light.

The earliest tracks here were recorded in 1975 and the rest in 1992 but the vintages are not revealed on the album. I’d guess that the later ones feature Steve Jinks on percussion and bass and have the feel of more modern recording technology but I could be wrong. The nine songs are all covers and come from a mixed bag of sources.

The opener is Johnny Cash’s ‘Hey Porter’ a single by the Man In Black in 1958. The original had all the hallmarks of Cash’s country style with that familiar bass riff. Shortstuff dispense with all that and turn the song into a lazy blues with two guitars playing contrasting parts and Thomas’ harmonica in the break. Next is ‘I Sing ‘Em The Way I Feel’ by J B Lenoir and again Shortstuff strip away the African influences of the original and almost take the song back to Lenoir’s early New Orleans style instead of the Chicago funk of his original. Even as “cover artists” Thomas and Gregory brought something of themselves to their choice of material.

There are two songs by J J Cale, including the gorgeous ‘Magnolia’ and other sources include John Mayall, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee and Dan Hicks. ‘Honeybabe’ is traditional and ‘Sitting On Top Of The World’ is credited to Terry and McGhee rather than Vinson and Chatmon but it may be that Shortstuff just borrowed their arrangement.

Word has it that Shortstuff will reunite to tour this year.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website:

Meet hazeyjane – ambient guitar experimentalists


Creation of Northamptonshire-based composer, acclaimed acoustic guitarist and singer Chris Brown, hazeyjane is the vehicle for the live musical expression of his own original songs and adaptive arrangements of celebrated pieces of poetry. Chris’ voice is often said to resemble that of David Sylvian and his ambient acoustic guitar style uses unusual tunings and spider capos to create exquisite guitar figures and motifs that give his songs distinctively airy, graceful and spacious qualities.

The soundscape settings of his songs are enriched by the accompaniment provided by the signature singing sound of Kevin T Ward’s fretless bass and his use of harmonics, stopping and chords to add rhythmic expression, texture, and colour.

The hazeyjane line-up was bolstered recently by the addition of percussionist David ‘Hopi’ Hopkins and his myriad nuanced, percussive textures, which contribute greatly to the overall mood of the hazeyjane sound.

Most rewarding to a listening and discerning audience, hazeyjane aim to produce mellow and melodic music that is, in turns, intense and intimate, dreamy and dynamic, relaxing in its mellifluence but hauntingly atmospheric; music that, ultimately, seeks the sublime.

Chris plays Taylor, Maestro and Takamine acoustic guitars and Kevin uses Roscoe and Sandberg 5 string fretless bass guitars.

Their debut album release, One, was recorded and mastered at Tu-kay Records in Stoke Bruerne, and released July 2016 to a series of glowing reviews.

Artists’ website:

‘Things Behind The Sun’:

Nick Ellis – spring tour dates

Nick Ellis

Nick Ellis is a Liverpool-based singer and guitarist who released his debut album Daylight Ghosts via Liverpool label Mellowtone Records in November 2016.

Ellis blends streetscape narrative-noir with a classic British acoustic approach. Using a blend of rhythmic attack and finger-quick lucidity, his sound has been described as “a conversation between Elvis Costello and John Martyn”. On his songwriting Ellis says:

“I see my songs as chapters and scenes, my albums as movies and books. Except, in this film, these stories are true”. Ellis has a strong urge to give a voice to the voiceless,

“I try to write from the stance of the ignored, unloved, the defeated, those on the fringes of society who are isolated socially due to such challenging everyday issues like mental health, education, opportunity and confidence. Hence, the title of the album, Daylight Ghosts”.

Ellis is greatly inspired by masters of musical story telling such as Gil Scott-Heron and Townes Van Zandt, writers such as Kerouac and the Beats, and exemplary articulators of gritty social commentary directors Mike Leigh and Ken Loach.

Daylight Ghosts was recorded in one six-hour stint on a cold, dark Sunday evening in January 2016. As Ellis explains “we wanted it to be as pure as possible in single takes. If anything, the room itself – Liverpool’s St. George’s Hall Crown Court Room – brought more to the songs than we could have possibly imagined. All that wood, stone and marble awoke a century’s worth of ghosts. Sounds danced with the room; characters came alive; streetscapes suddenly became three dimensional and words hung as heavy as the very hearts of those who had once stood in that room to be judged, condemned and even worse, sentenced to hang. In fact, the last British man to be sent to the gallows (21 year old Peter Anthony Allen – 13th August 1964, Walton Prison, Liverpool) was done so from that very court room. The weight of history in that room cannot be described, only felt and Daylight Ghosts is a document of that very essence. Times may change, but history never fades.”

This naked honesty and directness is felt in every note of the album, a testament to Ellis’ virtuosic talent as an instrumentalist and singer, as well as his incredible ability as a communicator.

Following the triumphant EP Grace & Danger in April 2016, Ellis now presents the final piece in the puzzle: “this music, these stories, have lived themselves into songs. Some are like discarded photographs, found upon the floor. Some like a strange encounter with a strange old face. Others, like those forgotten people who appear from out of nowhere and go straight back into it. Like Ghosts, Daylight Ghosts”.

Artist’s/Label website:

Tour Dates

LIVERPOOL 4th March – District. The Key Card Launch.

MANCHESTER 18th March, supporting Ian Prowse, with Ceremony Concerts
(Ian is formerly singer/songwriter with Pele, and also Amsterdam)

LIVERPOOL 1st April. Super Weird Happening at the Florrie.

LIVERPOOL – 22nd April – Jacaranda Records (Mellowtone Records Party, Record Store Day)

MANCHESTER – 22nd April – The Castle