UK folk and Americana latest news from folking.com

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
www.shrewsburyfolkfestival.co.uk.

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: www.steamchicken.co.uk

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: http://davethomasband.weebly.com/

Meet hazeyjane – ambient guitar experimentalists

hazeyjane

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: http://www.tu-kayrecords.com/hazeyjane

‘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”.

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 Nick Ellis – Daylight Ghosts 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.

DOWNLOAD – [CD]

Artist’s/Label website: http://mellowtonerecords.com

Remaining Tour Dates

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

Shirley Collins talks to Dave Freak for Folking

Shirley Collins
Photograph by Eva Vermandel

“It’s been a sort of fairy story!” is how Shirley Collins describes her unexpected return to the spotlight with a studio album and live tour after 30 years of silence.

The singer and song collector was at the forefront of the so-called folk revival, releasing a string of well-received and influential albums in the 1960s and 1970s as a solo artist, and with Davy Graham (the seminal Folk Roots, New Routes), sister Dolly Collins, and the Albion Band. But the shock of her marriage break up to Fairport Convention and Albion Band’s Ashley Hutchings in the early 1980s led to dysphonia, and she effectively lost her singing voice.

But after 20 years of polite pestering David Tibet, of Current 93, managed to get Collins on stage in 2014, at London’s Union Chapel, and the (former) singer (and a hushed audience) discovered she could hold a tune after all!

“Then two filmmakers approached me at one of my talks about gypsies, and wanted to make a film about me, so this started up as well,” Shirley reports on her surprising return to the spotlight. “I guess people wanted to meet me before I died!” she laughs, before quickly adding: “No! I don’t mean that … but there seemed to be enough people out there that remembered me, and it all snowballed.”

Hence the home recording and release of Lodestar at the end of 2016 – via the ever excellent Domino label – and a run of hugely acclaimed live shows.

“I couldn’t tell you how, but it’s been such a surprise. I’m glad it happened, it’s lovely to sing again,” enthuses the 82-year-old. “Domino have been so supportive. They do help promote the album and support you, unlike some record labels that just put out a record and watch it slip away. They’ve all become such friends, I’m so happy to have made this at this point … I do feel so blessed by it all.”

After so long away from recording and singing (Collins says she didn’t even sing at home, in private), it was decided to record Lodestar in the comfort of the folk doyen’s own home in Lewes, Sussex. Pulling together a collection of English, American and Cajun songs from the 16th century to 1950s, highlights include ‘Death And The Lady’, which Collins initially recorded over 45 years ago on Love, Death And The Lady.

“Yes, that was recorded with my sister, Dolly, in nineteen-sixty-whenever-it-was. I always loved that song and I sang that at the Union Chapel, so it was my first song in public again. Of course the key had to be lowered. When it came to doing it Ian [Kearey, Lodestar’s producer] wrote a new arrangement – I love the slide guitar.

“I love Muddy Waters, I love the blues, and there was a point when it suddenly turned into a Muddy Waters song where I’ve spelt death – D.E.A.T.H.” she chuckles. I did that song at Rough Trade [store in London] for the record launch and I did ‘Death spelt … T.R.U.M.P! It got a great cheer! I shouldn’t do it to that song, it’s a bit of mischief … I love the song anyway. It felt so right with the slide guitar on it, it made it sound mysterious, but strong.”

Taking Lodestar out on tour, Collins has created a full show which sees her perform the album in its entirety, plus film shorts, Morris dancing, and guest musicians.

“We’ve had guests like Graham Coxon – it’s unbelievable. Here’s this guitarist from Blur, and he sings, and plays, so beautifully – who’d have thought he’d be so into folk music? When we visit Warwick Arts Centre [29 April 2017] we’ll have John Kirkpatrick [who] is just about my favourite singer, and Lisa Knapp – she’s a really gorgeous singer. At other shows, we’ve got Olivia Chaney, who is very good too, and others.”

In her time away from music, it would be wrong to suggest Collins was invisible. She published a memoir in 2004, America Over The Water, documenting her song collecting expedition with Alan Lomax; picked up an MBE for her Services To Music in 2007; curated a South Bank festival in 2008, and received a Good Tradition Award at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards the same year; and created a series of spoken word-based shows exploring Gypsy singers, Bob Copper, music from Sussex, and her trip to the USA.

Now back as a bona fide ‘recording artiste’, she’s full of praise for many younger performers (such as Knapp, Chaney, Alasdair Roberts and others), but finds the current popular use of the term ‘folk’ to seemingly describe anyone with an acoustic guitar somewhat misleading.

“People who write their own stuff – that’s not traditional music. I have to say that I don’t find it very interesting, I know that sounds harsh, but it’s not traditional folk music.”

Perhaps ‘singer/songwriter’ would be a better term?

“Exactly!” she agrees swiftly. “I get these messages from Amazon, and there was one about Folk Singers and number one on the list was Adele! Adele!” she repeats, exasperated. “I do like her as a singer … but she is not folk music!

“So I have to put proper folk songs in front of people – that’s my challenge. Folk … it gives us our music, it’s not global, it’s not about making money. I don’t like globalisation – everything is the same everywhere. I want variety. I want choice. I hear these kids singing with American accents and that saddens me … everything becomes a blur to me. I like difference, I like distinctiveness, I like the fact [folk is] still surviving, it’s working class music … and I don’t care if it’s not working class people recording, but I work to be part of that.

“It’s music from the labouring classes provided by people who’ve kept it going, learning it off by heart and passing it down. That’s a great achievement – people who’ve been exploited by the wealthy providing this glorious music.”

She agrees that the rise of gloablisation and dominance of pop music would make a song collecting exercise like she embarked on in 1959 virtually pointless today.

“Big business has encroached on everything and everywhere. I don’t think I want to go there now. It was bad enough in 1959, but now? I wouldn’t feel safe – would you? America feels sad to me now. It was dangerous in 1959,” she recalls of her trip as an outsider in her mid-20s. “It was right on the cusp of the Civil Rights Movement and we were going to places like Mississippi State Penitentiary, where we recorded these work songs, and black communities, but we were always welcomed, we always felt welcomed by the old blues men and the true, old mountaineers. They wanted to meet us, they wanted to meet people from the old country. But we were held up at gunpoint – we stopped to take a photograph of a chain gang. There we had a gun pointed at us and we were told ‘get those wheels rolling!’”

Collins also recalls a run-in with an aggressive Kentucky Baptist who took offence to her short hair and clothes

“I had to run to escape,” she says. “There was something scary … but if we’d been there a year later, I might have ended up as a pile of bones in the Mississippi mud. There was this sense that people were watching … always watching …”

Dave Freak

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 Shirley Collins – Lodestar 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 – [CD]

* Shirley Collins appears at Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, on Saturday 29 April 2017. For tickets and more information, see: www.warwickartscentre.co.uk

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