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KEN NICOL – Tidings (MVS Sound Limited MVS CD002)

I suppose it’s probably a little early/late for this review but anyone who knows me knows I can’t get enough of Ken Nicol’s accomplishments as a guitarist…another thing is my enjoyment of nostalgia particularly at Christmas time. Well here’s a recording that hits the mark on both counts. Coupled with his consummate instrumental skills Ken has managed to encompass practically every favourite Christmas song and carol on one album in an instrumental tour de force. Included on this recording are the traditional offerings “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”, “We Three Kings”, “Good King Wenceslas” and even a sprinkling of more ‘modern’ numbers “Winter Wonderland” and “White Christmas” not forgetting his own – ‘in the idiom’ title track. If that doesn’t wet your appetite then I don’t know what will. A cracking album that can be played at anytime of the year to impress your friends! PETE FYFE

JIM MALCOLM – Jim Malcolm’s Bard Hair Day (BELDVD101)

This DVD is a gentle parody on the life and times of Robert Burns as seen through the eyes of Scottish singer-songwriter Jim Malcolm. Staging this tribute to the great man in Perthshire’s Soutar Theatre was an inspired choice of venue for filming as it proves just the right setting for Jim’s lavish costume (just don’t mention the hair!) coupled with over an hour of genuine ‘entertainment’ and singing from Jim and his audience. In this year (2010) celebrating his 250th birthday Malcolm’s take on Robbie and how he views the passing years proves a highly amusing experience drawing on anecdotes about the Scottish culture (drinking, womanising etc) and more contemporary references neatly segueing the subject of whisky with “…Glenmorangie, Glenfiddach but at all costs avoid Glenn Miller…You have to be in the mood”. Perhaps we have a budding Tim Vine in our midst although, a little more controlled. Of course, for those of us that have been following Malcolm’s career (by the way have I mentioned his jig-doll skills?) over the years he stands alongside such artists as Dick Gaughan, Andy M Stewart, Rod Patterson etc and, with an established wealth of poems, songs and stories to choose from including “Ae Fond Kiss”, “Rantin’ Rovin’ Robin”, “Auld Lang Syne” (which is sung to the far better original melody) and the added bonus features of Rabbi’s Big Day Out and the obligatory Out-Takes you indeed have a well produced package. PETE FYFE


“For me it was a pinnacle in 40 years of broadcasting. I counted it a privilege and still do.” John Tams – music director

“The social documentary nature of the Radio Ballads and their attempt to honour those very experiences is precisely what folk song is all about.” Karine Polwart – musician

A brand new Radio Ballad entitled ‘The Ballad of the Miners’ Strike’ will be broadcast on BBC Radio 2 on Tuesday 2nd March, marking the 25th anniversary of the end of that bitter year-long dispute. With specially commissioned new songs from John Tams, Julie Matthews, Ray Hearne and Jez Lowe and featuring musicians such as Andy Cutting, Barry Coope, Bob Fox and Andy Seward, its transmission has been highly anticipated.

To coincide with this, Delphonic Records are proud to announce the digital reissue of all six Radio Ballads (each one an hour long) that made up the 2006 series:

THE SONG OF STEEL : the decline of Sheffield and Rotherham steel industries
THE ENEMY THAT LIVES WITHIN : modern stories of people living with HIV/AIDS
THE HORN OF THE HUNTER : both sides of the story of hunting with hounds
SWINGS AND ROUNDABOUTS : the travelling people who run Britain’s fairgrounds
THIRTY YEARS OF CONFLICT : sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland
THE BALLAD OF THE BIG SHIPS : shipyards of Tyne & Wear and Clyde

A stunning and important documentation of modern British history and culture, the 2006 Radio Ballads were a year in the making, the process beginning when producer John Leonard, tape editor Annie Grundy and interviewers Vince Hunt and Sara Parker selected six issues that had dominated the half-century since the original groundbreaking Radio Ballads of Ewan MacColl, Charles Parker (father of Sara) and Peggy Seeger were broadcast on the BBC Home Service in the late 1950’s.

The original eight documentaries had been masterpieces of radio, weaving the voices of rarely heard communities with songs written from and about the recorded experiences of the interviewees. With a similar modus operandi for the 2006 Radio Ballads, Hunt and Parker began visiting steelworks, shipyards and fairgrounds, crossed the countryside with fox and hare hunters, talked to musicians who had been caught up in the Troubles and to people living with HIV/AIDS, and gathered location atmosphere and sound effects, eventually speaking to hundreds of people

These interviews were subsequently edited into themes, with layers of recollections and memories, which were then sifted by Leonard and arranged into groupings for songs to be written. Musical director John Tams assembled a team of professional musicians drawn mostly from the current folk scene (including Karine Polwart, Julie Matthews, Jez Lowe, Ray Hearne and Ian McMillan), and they gathered at his studio to work out parts and hone the songs while Leonard edited each new stage into the overall Ballad. As this Ballad series was commissioned as part of the BBC’s Voices project, the musicians used dialect, slang and shared experience to inform their songs. Long days and weeks of studio production resulted in the six-part series originally transmitted from February to April 2006.

“The original Radio Ballads are a crossroads in radio history as pioneering broadcasts that remain forever the benchmark for any documentary maker who has a care for working lives – culture – music. Fifty years on we made the 2006 Radio Ballads. I hope we honoured the originals but moreover those ‘life-tellers’ who gave us their stories. The series is theirs. I was just a part of their storytelling. I count my blessings that I was invited to their tables. These ballads remain for others to come after. But for me and I know for the writers, musicians, recordists and everyone involved they hold a special significance. For me it was a pinnacle in 40 years of broadcasting. I counted it a privilege and still do.” John Tams – music director

“I’m a huge fan of the original Radio Ballads recordings and the quality of songwriting and innovative broadcasting that they represent, so I felt very privileged to be involved in contributing to the 2006 series. It’s a considerable responsibility to draw upon other people’s experiences and stories in any kind of writing or creative work, without getting in the way of what people are perfectly able to say for themselves in their own words. To me, the social documentary nature of the Radio Ballads and their attempt to honour those very experiences is precisely what folk song is all about and why it remains a relevant, powerful and contemporary form of expression.” Karine Polwart – musician

“The Radio Ballads are a triumph of honesty. They take memory, music, atmosphere and imagination and create a special environment where emotions told true are amplified by the music and the personal experience is the absolute focus of attention. It was a dream come true for a reporter, tracking storytellers down through word of mouth and good old fashioned legwork. My instructions were simply to keep going until I found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow: once there all I had to do was get the treasure home. Sometimes I’d be in a chicken coop on top of a hill near Huddersfield; in a tiny village near Newry; in the middle of a council estate in Sheffield or in a Glasgow hotel, with a corridor-full of burly Scottish shipbuilders queuing up to tell me their stories. Gathering the interviews for the Radio Ballads was an unbelievable year, and I think we made a radio series that sounds like no other.”

Vince Hunt – interviewer

If you would like to order a copy of the radio ballads, preview/ download them (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the banner link below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website.







WEST OF EDEN – Travelogue (Zebra Art Records ZAR 851)

The nomadic life of the wandering minstrel comes vividly to life on this the fifth release by the excellent Swedish band West Of Eden. This is an album that in many respects is a retrospective of their touring life and allows the band Jenny Schaub (lead vocals/accordion/tin whistle), Martin Schaub (guitar/mandolin/keyboards), Kenneth Holmstrom (bass), Ola Karlevo (drums/bodhran), David Ekh (electric guitar) and Lars Broman (fiddle) to explore their rights of passage on the ‘folk’ circuit. Having toured extensively throughout Europe taking in Ireland and Scotland and soaking up both countries Celtic culture the band utilise a strong ‘roots’ connection that is apparent from their use of predominantly acoustic instrumentation. Talking of which, the deceptively cool mandolin accompaniment on “Buttercup Meadow” brings to mind a performance by the sadly missed Louis McManus (of the Bushwackers Band). Meticulous, studied treatments (although not clinical in anyway) in how to play to a song’s strength is the band’s forte whether from flowing acoustic settings to pop-rock that wouldn’t seem out of place on a recording by The Corrs. This is seriously ‘easy listening music’ and if there’s any justice should be championed by the likes of Mike Harding or Terry Wogan. PETE FYFE

ASHLEY HUTCHINGS & KEN NICOL – Copper, Russet And Gold (Park Records PRKCD109)

Ashley Hutchings proves a fine songwriter on the strength of this recording and opening with “I Am Prologue” there’s a sense of pomp in the lyrics that suits the image hinted at on the superbly subtle cover of the CD booklet. Not one to rest on his laurels Ken Nicol, a great all-rounder makes use of his musical skills in the role of multi-instrumentalist (guitars, mandolin, percussion and keyboards) underpinned by Hutchings bass guitar. The ‘music scene’ in general also owes Mr Hutchings a debt of gratitude for the theatrical overtones that run throughout this recording extending to the track “Five-barred Gate” where he utilises the spoken word sparring with Nicol’s not inconsiderable vocal talents. With contributions from Becky Mills on “Wink Of An Eye” and “Raggle Taggle Lad” and Abbie Lathe on “Never The Same Again” this is the kind of CD that you will gain something from on each repeated play. Of course, for those of us that have followed Ashley’s career from the early days of “The Complete Dancing Master” and “Rattlebone & Ploughjack” narrative plays a huge part in the creation of many of his projects and the collaborative efforts of both artists should be commended and one that we should happily bestow the time honoured quote “Quintessentially English”. PETE FYFE

RICHARD DIGANCE – BBC Radio Devonfolk 14.02.10

Well, I must admit it’s taken me ages to get around to listening to the radio with any real conviction and to be honest the first time in probably 20 years since I heard any ‘folk’ music programme all the way through apart from the occasional Mike Harding Show. Imagine my surprise then when I found myself tuning into Richard Digance “Devonfolk” on the BBC’s iPlayer the other day. I know I don’t live in ..Devon.. but even with half the show dedicated to a live performance in the studio by a local singer-songwriter it was Digance’s approach to broadcasting with the emphasis on the word ‘broad’ that kept me listening to all two hours of the show. Instead of the tried and tested it was the sometimes-tenuous links that made it all fascinating listening. Anecdotes pepper Richard’s life and let’s face it he’s had a more eventful one than many of us ‘folk-o-philes’. Regaling us with stories of his first meeting in ..Glasgow.. with a certain Iain McGeachy and how they both wound up sharing digs together in ..Richmond.., ..Surrey.. before Iain found International fame as John Martyn (represented by playing “May You Never”). In fact Digance’s story reads like a who’s who of the ‘folk’ world like the time he performed at Paul Simon’s (yes, that Paul Simon!) folk club at the Red Lion in Barking before Simon returned to America to hit the big time. Rick Wakeman, Paul Brady, Eric Clapton and David Bowie who ran the Tree Tuns Folk Club in Beckenham, Kent all got a look in so I think you’ll agree that in the space of a couple of minutes Richard captures the listeners’ attention and he manages to hold it with ease…to me, the sign of a brilliant broadcaster. If you’ve got a computer do yourselves a favour and check out “Devonfolk” for yourself. You won’t be disappointed. PETE FYFE