UK folk and Americana latest news from folking.com

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

JIM CAUSLEY AND FRIENDS – I Am The Song (WildGoose Records WGS420CD)

I Am The SongYoung Jim Causley returns once more to the writing of his distinguished relative, Charles. I Am The Song, unlike the serious and sometimes mysterious Cyprus Well, is a collection of poetry written for children. As you might suppose many of the songs are quite short and Jim crams twenty-one of them onto the record. Equally, you might suppose that the poems are funny to the point of silliness and to an extent you would be correct but there are dark moments and the humour sometimes conceals a serious point.

The set opens with ‘Python On Piccolo’, a song about animals forming a band and typical of the surreal images in some of Charles’ poetry also represented by ‘Good Morning Mrs Croco-Do-Dile’, ‘Tabitha Tupper’ and ‘Mrs McPhee’. Next comes a bit of social observation in the shape of ‘Newlyn Buildings’ although the line “who had the top apartment no-one ever seemed to know” adds a frisson of mystery. ‘Here We Go Round The Roundhouse’ is a calendar song that will creep into the club repertoire before long I have no doubt.

Of the darker songs, ‘Lord Lovelace’ leads the way followed by ‘Lady Jane Grey’ and ‘A Mermaid At Zennor’, although Charles steers clear of being too explicit about the fate of the titular lady in the former or the churchwarden’s son in the latter. My personal favourite is ‘I Saw A Jolly Hunter’ which will make children laugh but says a lot about Charles’ views.

Jim’s accordion arrangements provide an appropriately jolly West Country lilt to the poems but he is exceptionally generous to his friends, notably Becki Driscoll and Nick Wyke, Keith Kendrick and Sylvia Needham and Mick Ryan who take a share of the lead vocals. Nick manages the most excruciatingly perfect flat notes on ‘The Money Came In’. Other players include Jeff Gillett who provides most of the finger-picked guitar, Matt Norman who plays various banjos and Mary Humphries and Anahata.

Charles Causley said that he could never decide which poems were for children and which for adults and this collection will prove that. The standard omission is ‘Timothy Winter’ which was included in the children’s collection but only because Jim recorded it on Cyprus Well. Buy this for the kids just before they grow out of nursery rhymes or buy it for yourselves because you’ll enjoy it too.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.jimcausley.co.uk

HARROW FAIR – Call To Arms (Roaring Girl RGO14)

Call To ArmsComprising Miranda Mulholland, violinist with Great Lake Swimmers, and Andrew Penner, Harrow Fair are a Canadian duo who first began working together as part of a Toronto theatre company and who take their name from an Ontario county fair. They both sing, while she plays violin and percussion and he does everything else, everything on Call To Arms including drums, guitar, banjo and assorted keyboards. They describe their music as an amalgam of early country, rock n roll and garage rock, opening number ‘Hangnail’ amply demonstrating their penchant for an urgent, echoey gothic stomp with pounding percussion and scraping fiddle. By contrast, ‘Told A Lie To My Heart’ is all a spare, percussive brooding mountain music adaptation of the old Hank Williams number while ‘I Will Be Your Man’ is a scurrying call and response thumping rusty blues with shaker, bass drum and rimshot percussion, the title refrain somehow sounding more like a threat than a declaration of love.

The melodically simple ‘Held Tight’ is a little different in that, Penner singing lead, it adopts a Celtic folk hue, gradually swelling towards the close, but then it’s back to grungey business with Penner growling and Mulholland getting sassy for the kick drum propelled title track boogie with pulsing fiddle and throbbing bass. At which point they decide to throw in a field recording titled ‘Harrow Fair Pig Auction’ which is exactly that, 82 seconds of two auctioneers selling some porkies while the pair provide distorted backing. It may have seemed like a good idea after a few drinks, but it’s unlikely anyone’s ever going to play it twice, at least not on purpose.

Getting back on track, ‘How Cold’ creeps up quietly and slowly, eventually announcing itself as a traditional sounding folk number with Mulholland on near acapella hymnal lead before the atmospheric, resonant backing builds behind her. It’s a transfixing number, headily reminiscent in sound and tone of Tim Buckley’s ‘Song To A Siren’.

They keep things mournful for the brooding bass and violin led dark folk ‘Emmaline’ (originally featured on her 2014 solo album), a brief fiddle and synth hissing instrumental, ‘The Hunt’, bridging the path to the prog-rock blues riffery of ‘Bite The Way’ with Penner’s distorted mixed back vocals, a number you could imagine being on Jack White’s mix tape. After this, it ends on a more tranquil note with ‘Been There Ways’, the pair sharing vocals while Mulholland provides a Celtic fiddle vibe to an overall lysergic folk ambience that may well have a touch of the Velvets to its DNA.

The actual Harrow Fair is a big thing in Essex County, the titular duo are likely to attract visitors from a far wider radius.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website: www.harrowfair.ca

‘Told A Lie To My Heart’ – live:

Keith James releases new solo album

Keith James

Keith James has become one of the most active and inventive concert artists currently performing in the UK.

A very accomplished sound man with a BBC Maida Vale background, he worked for more than a decade as a record producer (1991 – 2004), working on albums with many of this country’s profoundly talented musicians and writers.

Realising his definite preference for live performance and following a detailed study, 2001 witnessed Keith begin a UK wide tour of concerts based entirely on his love of the songwriter, Nick Drake. As Nick’s music had never been heard live by today’s music audience (he died in 1974) these concerts soon became a huge success; over the course of 15 years, Keith has played over 2000 of these shows in the UK, Ireland, Holland, Spain, Italy and France, all of Nick’s Colleges and almost every British acoustic music festival including Glastonbury.

On from this, Keith has performed many different concerts over the past 10 years. Each one centres on studies and transcriptions of revered poets and writers and includes a significant amount of biographical material. The most notable of these are two CD Albums and two hugely successful tours featuring the poetry of Federico Garcia Lorca set to music – The Gypsy Ballads 1928 and Poet in New York 1930. Other important projects are a CD album and concert tour featuring a collection of poetry by Dylan Thomas and an ongoing busy schedule of bio-doc concerts spanning over 6 years performing interpretive versions of songs by Leonard Cohen.

Keith is fiercely independent and therefore his career has for many years, existed in a parallel universe, almost under wraps, esoteric and secretive. He has enjoyed very little radio exposure, he doesn’t fit easily into any music category, he has never signed a recording or publishing deal. Despite this, he has released 13 CD Albums, all self-produced and self-published. The most recent from 2015 is entitled Always, a collection of his own poetry set to music along with one by Pablo Neruda from the 1930s.

He is about to release a brand new album, Tenderness Claws, all settings of poetry to music including work by Jack Kerouac, Pete Brown (1960s British beat poet) William Blake, Allen Ginsberg, Federico Garcia Lorca and some of Keith’s own. This time, and rather unplanned, he has teamed up with the amazing producer / sound artist, Branwen Munn.

Keith lives in a writing retreat, way up in the hills of Powys, Wales and some months of each year in Andalucía. Since the mid ‘70s, his third home has been the Island of Naxos, Greece. He currently performs around 100 concerts per annum in Theatres, Arts Centres and other inspiring boutique spaces such as Galleries and Arts Cafes. He is currently compiling a volume of his own poetry to be published in 2017 along with some sporadic work on a rather surreal and somewhat comedic novel.

Artist’s website: http://www.keith-james.com/

Not from the new album but we’re not counting. ‘Chelsea Hotel #2’ from the Songs Of Leonard Cohen tour:

Matt Gresham – first London headline show

Matt Gresham

Fresh from supporting UK’s James Arthur on his 16-date March tour, Perth born singer songwriter Matt Gresham has announced his first London headline show at The Islington on Friday 26 May. Tickets are on sale now.

Now residing in Berlin after signing to Warner Germany, Matt is delving into a new chapter of creativity. His recent single ‘Survive On Love’ which was co-written with up and coming LA based producer Jaymes Young (London Grammar), marks a new beginning for the Australian musician.

The last two years have been non-stop for the singer, with a sold-out Australian tour already under his belt plus several well-received performances at SXSW, winning ‘Song of the Year’ at the Western Australian Music Awards and not least playing to two sold-out crowds at Shepherds Bush Empire on the James Arthur tour, Matt has already built a strong and loyal fan base and this is only the beginning.

This show will undoubtedly mark Matt as one of 2017’s ones to watch and showcase his talent to a whole new audience.

Artist’s website: http://mattgreshammusic.net/home

‘Survive On Love’ – official video:

DONALD BLACK – Bho M’ Chridhe (own label DB05CD)

Bho m' ChridheScottish Celtic harmonica might seem like something of a niche market and that’s what I thought at first – but wait. Bho M’ Chridhe translates as From My Heart and that is exactly where this music comes from. The tunes come from all over Scotland and even further afield and feature tunes from Donald’s old friends and musical partners, some played by relatives of the composers, and a fiddle made by his great-uncle.

You know what harmonica sounds like, right? Forget all that – actually there are a few bars of train blues on ‘The Highland Express’, but let’s leave that aside for a moment. Harmonicas are free reed instruments like concertinas, accordions and many others and Donald treats them as such. Oddly enough, the bagpipes are not free reeds but several times I looked to see who was cheating by playing pipes. To put it simply, he is a virtuoso and though fans of blues harp and jazz players will point to their heroes in Donald Black’s hands the harmonica will sit up and beg. Not because of speed, although the second set ‘Pipe Reels’ could raise blisters, but because of flexibility and feel and an understanding of what the instrument can do.

Styles range from the old-fashioned dance band sound of ‘2/4 Marches’ and ‘Highland Schottishe’ to beautiful haunting slow airs like ‘Cumha Mhic Criomain’ and ‘Jimmy Mo Mhile Stòr’ through ‘Gaelic Melodies’, jigs, reels, polkas and waltzes. Donald has a fine cast of supporting musicians: melodeons, accordions, fiddles and keyboards and players include Runrig’s Malcolm Jones, Blazin’ Fiddler Alan Henderson and Skerryvore’s Alec Dalglish who plays the most beautiful electric guitar on Blair Douglas’ ‘New Island Waltz’.

So Bho M’ Chridhe isn’t a solo album in the strictest sense nor is it an academic performance of tunes. It is varied, beautiful, exciting and a whole lot of fun.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: http://donald-black.com/

This is an old film but it really shows off Donald’s playing of a slow air, ‘The Cuckoo’: