In September 2014, three songwriters met for the first time in a cafe in East Nashville. By the next morning they had put the finishing touches to their first song, ‘Applewood Road’, which they recorded live to tape at Nashville’s all analogue studio, Welcome to 1979.
The song’s nostalgic air, along with the clear, sparse arrangement of three vocals accompanied by double bass, drew immediate positive response, and they decided to expand the idea into a full album.
Six months later, they reconvened to write, rehearse and record songs for the self-titled album Applewood Road. The songs were again performed live around a single microphone at Welcome to 1979 and recorded to two-track tape with minimal accompaniment from some of Nashville’s finest session players, including Aaron Lee Tasjan, Josh Day, Fats Kaplin, Jabe Beyer, and Telisha Williams.
The tapes were assembled at London’s most exclusive high-end mastering suite, Gearbox Records, mastered through their vintage analogue outboard, and lacquers cut in-house on their own Haeco lathe.
Applewood Road is Emily Barker, Amber Rubarth and Amy Speace.
Phil is one of the most popular ambassadors for acoustic roots music. A dazzling instrumentalist, he is perhaps best known as a top flight fiddler and plays in the all-star line-up, Feast of Fiddles. But his skills don’t stop there; he also plays slide, Spanish and tenor guitar, mandocello, viola, mandolin and South American cuatro, not to mention contributing rich vocals.
Born in Exminster, Devon, he started to play fiddle, guitar and mandolin while still at school in Teignmouth and habitually credits Davey Graham’s Folk, Blues & Beyond as his inspiration for acoustic music.
He played his first gig at 14 and started working as a duo with Paul Downes in 1974 (their re-union Live At Nettlebed CD was released on the Talking Elephant label). He was then in the Arizona Smoke Revue and a key member of Johnny Coppin’s band. His impressive track record also includes touring with Mike Oldfield and being a member of the feted Albion Band from 1984-1991. Show of Hands became a full-time partnership in the early 90s, a band that has gone on to sell out the Royal Albert Hall five times and who were voted Best Live Act, by the public, at the 2004 Folk Awards.
Phil, who also has his own Phil Beer Band, famously guested on the Rolling Stones Steel Wheels album and Steve Harley’s Poetic Justice.
As a composer, Phil has written many numbers including the stunning instrumental ‘The Falmouth Packet’ for SoH’s album Witness.
As a solo artist he released Rhythm Methodist in 2004, a double album of songs and instrumentals. He ran the Show of Hands Riverside studio until 2011 when he moved to a residential setting in order to concentrate on editing a series of solo and band albums.
Phil is also in demand as a producer, co-producing (with Steve Knightley) Jez Lowe’s Jack Commons Anthem among others. Six years ago Phil created a label, Chudleigh Roots, producing Jackie Oates’ highly acclaimed second album, The Violet Hour and an album by Singer Songwriter Tom Palmer. He is now once again building a new studio in a very wild and beautiful Devon setting in anticipation of a large amount of commissioned recording work next year including film and TV.
Said The Maiden are Jess Distill, Hannah Elizabeth and Kathy Pilkinton, three friends who discovered a mutual love of folk music when they reunited several years after spending their school years together in St. Albans, Hertfordshire. The group sing traditional songs from around the UK and America, often in three part acapella harmony but also using guitar, violin, mandolin, woodwind, accordion and percussion to embellish their sound.
From tentatively performing a few songs at their local Redbourn Folk club in 2012 and later being asked to appear at one of the club’s guest nights, the group soon secured support and headline slots at folk clubs and festivals around the country, including Folk By The Oak, Folkeast, Gate to Southwell, Shepley and Bunkfest. These opportunities have in turn led to invitations to support many fantastic artists including The Fisherman’s Friends, Jim Moray, Megson, Martin Carthy, Sam Carter, Hannah James and Sam Sweeney, Treacherous Orchestra and Clannad. They were also honoured to join legendary fiddler Dave Swarbrick on a successful UK solo tour in the spring of 2014, and released their debut album A Curious Tale in June of the same year.
In May 2015 Said The Maiden was awarded Bristol Folk Festival’s prestigious Isambard Folk Award, and as a result opened for folk super-group The Full English at the 2015 Bristol Folk Festival. Most recently the group was voted for by festival-goers at the Great British Folk Festival 2015 as ‘best act’ on the Introducing Stage on the opening night, and will be performed on one of the festival’s main stages in December 2016.
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.
Damien Dempsey’s debut album in 2000, They Don’t Teach This Shit In School, set him apart as a unique and important voice, championed from an early stage in his career by Sinéad O’Connor. The follow-up, Seize The Day, marked the beginning of his relationship with producer John Reynolds, picking up many awards and leading to extensive international tours. Commercial and critical success continued with the release of the No. 1 album, Shots (2005), backed by Brian Eno, and To Hell Or Barbados (2007), which debuted at No.2 in the Irish charts.
An award-winning artist in his home country of Ireland – he has several prestigious Irish Meteor Awards to his name including Best Irish Male and Best Traditional Folk Award – and seventeen years into an astonishing career, Damien Dempsey releases his seventh studio album, Soulsun, possibly his most exciting work to date.
The record features a stellar cast of female guest vocalists, referred to in the sleeve notes as ‘the mighty Celtic Warrior High Queens’. Dido joins Damien on a tender love song, ‘Beside The Sea’ and fellow Dubliner, Imelda May, appears on ‘Big Big Love’, an anthemic mid-tempo rock love song, showing a bolder, more contemporary sound that Dempsey explores on the album. Finally, ‘Pretty Bird Tree’ features Dingle singer Pauline Scanlon, a regular collaborator over the years.
Soulsun was recorded with long-term producer and collaborator, John Reynolds in north London. Damien lived in the English capital for months, immersing himself in writing songs and soaking up inspiration from London’s rich tapestry of all human life.
‘This might sound strange but London is a real retreat for me” he explains. “I don’t know too many people in London, so I don’t go out raving or partying. When I go to the pub, it will usually be somewhere around Kilburn, sitting on my own with a notebook.”
The striking cover art was created by renowned Dublin graphic artist Maser, who Dempsey worked with on large-scale mural works and the title track is accompanied by a colourful and life-affirming video directed by legendary rock photographer Steve Gullick, who has shot iconic images of Nirvana, Beck and Nick Cave over the years.
Amidst all the plaudits Damien Demsey has won over the years, one of the most notable is contained in Morrissey’s Autobiography where he describes Dempsey performing at a session in Dublin’s Four Seasons Hotel : ‘Damien captivates and enchants with all the love of one blessed and unselfish’ Morrissey writes, ‘I see myself crying at his funeral, missing him already.’
‘I’m not sure exactly what I did to deserve such praise,’ Dempsey says. ‘I had absolutely no idea I was in it until the book was published, but it’s nice to be appreciated by such an incredible artist and writer who’s unquestionably an absolute genius …. When you think of something like that, it can really help if I’m getting a bad time off someone.”
Perseverance and not allowing oneself to be consumed by negativity are consistent themes of Dempsey’s songwriting. At the beginning of his career, he said that making music was about saving his own life ….. healing himself. These themes are even more pertinent in 2017
“There’s music for everything; getting up and dancing having a good time, music to think deeply to…you name it, absolutely everything under the sun. There’s music for all situations, but my music is about healing and hope”.
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Pete Coe is one of the old guard, one of the last. He’s been in this business for more than forty-five years and still has all the moves. I expected The Man In The Red Van to be something of a political work, akin to It’s A Mean Old Scene. It would be appropriate but even Pete couldn’t have known what is lying in wait for us in June. This album is a collection of songs, most of which will be familiar in some form. And that’s the key – halfway through the second track I was hooked.
That track is ‘The Spanish Lady’. Pete learned it from Al Donnell, was given extra verses by Mary O’Connor and added the chorus from Frank Harte, so this is a combination of at least three versions, but it is Pete’s treatment of the song that lands the killer punch. Forget the rollicking folk club chorus version; Pete slows it down, plays it on acoustic guitar and includes more verses than I’ve seen in a single text before. There’s an odd, noirish feel about the finished product and I’d be prepared to say that this is what Pete does best.
The opener is ‘King Henry’, a variant of the ‘Lord Randall’ story with poisonous toads instead of eels, and I’ve heard versions of the song many times but not this one. The same is true of ‘World Of Misery (Shenandoah)’, a song I wouldn’t mind not hearing again. Except that Pete’s version comes from Saint Vincent and includes lines I’ve never heard before. It’s nice to be surprised.
Pete includes two of his older songs. The first is ‘Joseph Baker’, which he has been performing live recently, and the second is the song that flagged him as a songwriter, ‘Farewell To The Brine’, about his home town of Northwich, and two covers; Terry Conway’s ‘The Walls Of Troy’ and Vic Gammon’s ‘Ash And Alder’ which come the closest to making political points.
Musically, the album is deceptively simple. Pete plays most of the music with sparing support from Andy Peacock and producer David Crickmore plus a chorus of colleagues and friends. He doesn’t need any more than that.