THE TWISTED TWENTY – The Twisted Twenty (Penny Fiddle Records)

Twisted TwentyThe Twisted Twenty are a septet of string players whom I suspect to be proper musicians. What makes then unique is their use of baroque instruments and their research in music of the 17th and 18th century. So what? I hear you say. Well, instruments of the period have a distinctively different timbre from modern instruments and when you have three fiddles, cello, double bass and cittern all of the period you have a very special sound. And before you start reading the sleeve notes and arguing, the bodhran probably originated in the 17th century in Ireland but the form is undoubtedly much older.

The material here is what we would call “traditional” but The Twisted Twenty go deeper. Five of the tunes come from James Oswald, court composer to George III, including his setting of one of two songs, Burns’ ‘John Anderson, My Jo’ and the saucy ‘She’s Sweetest When She’s Naked’, which I obviously missed when Blazin’ Fiddles recorded it. The other song is ‘The Three Ravens’, a setting by Thomas Ravenscroft who apparently collected ‘Three Blind Mice’.

An oddity is ‘Arthur McBride’ arranged as an instrumental by the band’s electronics specialist, Alexis Bennett. The modern sounds are restricted to some deep rumblings and the, presumably sampled, sounds of the sea. Lucia Capellaro’s cello gets a big part here.

The Twisted Twenty’s debut is enjoyable although rather short at only eight tracks. There are a couple of hidden minutes at the end, though. I thought I told you to stop this sort of thing.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: https://www.thetwistedtwenty.com/

‘Fáilte Na Míosa’

Martin Simpson announces his 20th solo album

Martin Simpson
Photograph by Elly Lucas

World renowned guitarist, singer and songwriter Martin Simpson releases his 20th solo album in 40 years Trails & Tribulations on September 1st 2017 via Topic Records. The brand-new studio album, his first new solo work since 2013’s widely praised Vagrant Stanzas, will be available in standard and deluxe CD, digital download and standard vinyl (the latter through Vinyl 180).


Trails & Tribulations
is a collection of songs about nature, about travels and about real life stories. There are traditional songs, poems and contemporary songs by great writers, and songs that I had to write because nobody else knew what I wanted to say. I travel, I learn songs, I write and try to get better at the skills required for me to do my job. I look at the world as I pass by, on the road, out of the train window, or as I stop and pay close attention to the square foot under my nose. There is so much to see and to hear and to inspire and to try and understand. I had a huge amount of fun playing and recording these songs, using different instruments, different noises, old friends and new ones, all of whom brought so much to the mix. Martin Simpson, April 2017.

Produced and engineered by Andy Bell, Trails & Tribulations features some of Martin’s most inventive playing yet, showcasing his virtuosity on a variety of instruments including acoustic guitars, resonator guitars, Weissenborn lap steel guitar, electric guitars, 5 string banjo, ukulele – and voice.

Guest musicians on the new album are: Ben Nicholls (string bass and electric bass guitars), Toby Kearney (drums and percussion), Nancy Kerr (fiddle and viola), Andy Cutting (diatonic accordion and melodeon), John Smith (electric guitar and backing vocals), Helen Bell (strings), Amy Newhouse-Smith (backing vocals) and his daughter Molly Simpson on vocals.

Martin will tour extensively this year, including a headline set at Cambridge Folk Festival in the summer and London’s Kings Place in autumn, following the release of Trails & Tribulations.

Hand in hand with his long and storied solo career, Martin has been central to seminal collaborations like The Full English, The Elizabethan Sessions and Simpson Cutting Kerr. He has worked with a dazzling array of artists from across the musical spectrum: Jackson Browne, Martin Taylor, June Tabor, Richard Hawley, Bonnie Raitt, Danny Thompson, David Hidalgo, Danú, Richard Thompson and Dom Flemons, to mention a few. He is consistently named as one of the very finest acoustic, fingerstyle and slide guitar players in the world and is the most nominated musician in the history of the BBC Folk Awards, with a remarkable 31 nods. A true master of his art.

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 Martin Simpson – Trails & Tribulation 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]

Artist’s website: http://www.martinsimpson.com/

‘Blues Run The Game’ – audio stream:

BEAU –When Butterflies Scream (Cherry Red BEAUWBS1)

When Butterflies ScreamWhat with the likes of Steve Pledger and Will Varley the last couple of years have seen quite a resurgence in the protest song album on the UK’s contemporary folk/Americana circuit, but some have been doing this for years. I’ve written about Trevor Midgley aka Beau on these pages before and it’s good to report that his latest album, When Butterflies Scream, ably keeps up the standard. Sounding more than ever like Jake Thackray in his vocal delivery, it is, as ever, a no frills musical affair, predominantly just him and acoustic guitar, that allows the comments and commentary to take front of stage.

It opens with ‘Who Pays The Ferryman?’ not, you’ll be relieved to hear, a Chris De Burgh cover but, set to a slow mazurka rhythm etched out on accordion (one of the most elaborate instrumentations on the album) and drawing on Greek mythology and the figure of Charon who ferried the dead across the River Styx if they had the coin to pay, his take on the refugee crisis and the traffickers who exploit it. It’s a theme to which he returns on the closing seven-minute lyrically harrowing ‘The Immigrant’ with its recounting of mass executions, genocide rapes and those consigned to risk their lives in taking flight to see, those who survive being herded into camps while the politicians debate their fate (“We’re not in the business of profit and loss!” “Sort out the doctors and leave out the dross!”).

If that’s about effect, then ‘Kill The Idea’ looks at cause and how military attempts to eradicate an idea in the name of freedom more often causes it to drift “into different shapes that were harder to shift.”

The album’s title comes from a disturbing image in ‘Gerrymander Street Blockade’, a story of murky political goings on and cover ups, followed by the waltzing ‘The Song of the Pox Doctor’s Clerk’, a surely cynical suggestion that some of the Honours List gongs are handed out to, a she puts it, those who know where the bodies are buried (“It would be remiss for me here to disclose all names and addresses, but yes, there were those with reasons to quaver and even to quail; My peerage, it seemed, had been lost in the mail!”).

Government politics resurface with ‘The Mandarin’, an observation on those who ensure ministers are all singing from the same hymn sheet in the service of doctrinal mandates (“Alas we can’t claim to be wholly immune from bribery, sleaze and the inopportune. So, best we desist from our scheduled schemes, toppling dictators from dishonest regimes”).

One of the most pointedly barbed numbers is ‘The Promise’, a timely reminder of how badly the country and the MoD in particular, often treats those injured in the service of their country once they return home as it tells of how a hero survivor of his unit suffers from PSTD and ends up a down and out committing suicide by walking into the sea because “somehow, the Military Covenant’s promise had simply gone out through the door; And all that remained was a shirt on his back and the ribbons he steadfastly wore.

Elsewhere he turns his eye on the use of armed military drones with ‘The Fire’, calling on Newton’s law that for every action there’s an equal opposite action and, basically, if something can go wrong it will (“Missiles pack a punch, and this one didn’t mess around – The fireball arriving above the speed of sound. In the end, they called it an “unfortunate event”; chances of it happening? Around fifteen percent”).

Taking an aspiring Stravinsky as an example, ‘Ben & Jerry’s Coca-Cola Tarantella’ is about selling out your soul (or ideals) to the devil, or in this case the commercial imperative while both ‘The Nightmare’ and ‘It’s Only Just Begun’ both sound an apocalyptic note, the former a talking blues response to the election of Donald Trump and the latter, with references to Nero, Genghis Khan, the bombing of Dresden, the Falklands conflict, Bhopal and the morning after 10/11, a tale of the Devil fuelling man’s proclivity for death and mass destruction.

The remaining number, ‘Smilin’ Billy Lye’, is less obvious, ostensibly the story of a dirt track rider who, envious of Motorcycle Show stunt champion Crash Donovan (the name a nod to the 1936 Highway Patrol movie) takes up his Tunnel of Fire challenge with enigmatic results, but there’s a cautionary string in its tale.

It’s sadly unlikely that this is going to attract the sort of attention and acclaim accorded the current crop of folk’s socio-political commentators or find an audience much beyond Midgley’s fanbase, but those who do seek it out will be well rewarded.

Mike Davies

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 BEAU –When Butterflies Scream 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 website:   http://beausrecordings.blogspot.co.uk/

There are no videos from the album available yet but here’s the opening track, ‘Who Pays The Ferryman’ in glorious living sound.

MIDSUMMER – The Stories You Tell (own label)

Midsummer - The Stories You TellA new Birmingham acoustic folk outfit, Lizzy Daniel-Sam and Chris Taylor (who also plays guitar and mandolin ) are the Midsummer vocal and writing core, the line-up augmented by Ben Kyte (bass), Jenny Chen (violin), J Clay (trumpet) and Andy Gordon (accordion, uke, guitars, percussion) They’ve only been going a couple of years, but their debut album brims with the confidence of seasoned performers as well as the freshness and enthusiasm of new blood.

They cite Fleetwood Mac, Frank Turner and Carole King among their influences, though it’s only the Mac, or more strictly Buckingham-Nicks, that are in evidence, perhaps a more pertinent comparison being early Mumfords, The Dreaming Spires and Goodnight Lenin. Having said that, album opener ‘I’ll Wait’ has Lizzy, backed by oohing harmonies, sounding not unlike Lucy Spraggan. It’s an inviting opener, but the real pleasure comes, for those who don’t know the band, with the arrival of trumpet midway. The instrument features throughout and, while the quality of the songs, the infectious melodies and the vocals are more than enough to distinguish them, this really sets them apart from the crowd,

With Chris on mandolin and chorus vocals, the breezy second track, ‘1000 Days’, which features fellow Birmingham folkie Joanna Karselis on fiddle, just makes you feel good to be alive and, in my book, is officially the song of the summer. Keeping the tempo brisk and the mandolin rippling, ‘Stoney Face’ jogs along with a folksy jaunt and a hint of Dolly Parton before they take the pace down for the dreamy sway of the traditional flavoured title track ballad (about seeing a clearly troubled singer-songwriter at a gig), Lizzy accompanied by just acoustic guitar and delicate strings.

Things remain in similar vein for the five minute ‘Don’t Be Anxious’, the tempo gathering towards the end and then comes the playful ‘I Was Made In Birmingham’, the pair duetting on a mandolin and trumpet led hoe down stomp in a bouncy, feelgood celebration of their hometown that also mentions Coventry and is probably the only song to feature the word actuary.

Accompanied by watery guitar and melancholic trumpet, ‘Wasted Time’ is a reflective pastoral ballad about recovering from a broken relationship, the album hitting the final stretch with the equally reflective and affirming ‘Come And Rest’, strummed guitar joined by trumpet as it builds towards the end. Again backed by strummed guitar, the penultimate number, ‘You Got It’ Then is a gorgeous love song (“I don’t always understand the joke, but I love how you tell it with confidence”) with a trace of Elton John’s ‘Candle In The Wind’ to the tumbling melody refrain, the album ending on the optimistic seven-minute ‘Summer’s Over’, the opening accordion drone giving way to guitar as Chris sings about how everything’s connected, the need for change, rebirth and the observation that “September has more sunny days than June”, trumpet joining again for the final bucolic flourish.

Unquestionably not just one of the year’s finest debut albums, but the heralding of a band I feel are going to become a very important part of the folk fabric. In the final lines, Taylor sings “What we’ve had and what we’ve lost remembered through the music we’ve played…though the miles and differences I’ll find a way so we can be with you.” Put a light in the window to guide them to your door.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website: www.midsummerfolk.com

LORELEY – The Frozen North (own label LRL001)

The Frozen NorthI specifically asked to review The Frozen North because I was interested in the concept put to me as “a collection of traditional songs by Sheffield based duo Loreley. As a project with the aim of exploring archives of mostly forgotten folk songs in order to breathe new life into then with a variety of new tunes and arrangements completely composed by Loreley themselves” – Interesting!

I quote Loughton Folk Club In Essex, “The most dramatic performance I’ve ever seen at a folk club”. I have to assume that ‘Loreley Live’ is more exciting then ‘Loreley recorded’ Maybe I am missing something but I can only describe this CD, The Frozen North, as interesting.

Tracks one and two are sung at such a speed that I could barely make out the lyrics, despite several listens. I was especially disappointed to be told that track three, ‘Storm In The Holy Ground’, referred to Cobh in County Cork. It has always been my belief that the ‘Holy Ground’ as sung originally by The Clancy Brothers was an Australian song about a brothel, possibly in Cobh.

Track four is an instrumental, ‘The Blinky Set’. I am afraid the musicianship does not match up to the standard necessary to compete in the current instrumental scene. I have to say that I am confused by this entire album because I would not consider Maddy Glenn as a great vocalist either so, all in all this is a very specialist CD that may appeal to a particular type of fan. Maybe they are a better  ‘live’ act.

Unless I am honest in my reviews then they would have no value. I did not enjoy this CD. It is slightly ‘bonkers’. Loreley claim that they would use “mostly forgotten”  material but ‘The Oak And The Ash’, ‘The Snows They Meet The Soonest’, ‘Ilkley Moor Baht’at’ and ‘High Barbaree’ are still heard regularly around folk venues.

Their rendition of ‘Ilkley Moor Baht’at’ is the low of the CD but the track, ‘High Barbaree’, The high point. All of this is, of course, only my opinion and I am sure Loreley fans will enjoy the CD and Loreley themselves would not have released the CD The Frozen North unless It achieved what they were aiming for. I do like the cover, simple but lovely.

Fraser Bruce

Artists’ website: https://loreley.bandcamp.com/

‘Blow Northerne Wynd’ – the single:

Thea Gilmore announces new album and single

Thea Gilmore

Thea Gilmore has announced the release of her new album The Counterweight, which will be released June 2nd through Cooking Vinyl. The first single to be taken from the album, the rallying anthem ‘Sounds Good To Me’, is out now.

“I like to think of it as a bit of an anarchist’s polka…” says Thea of the single. “Calling the dispossessed, the downtrodden, the weary to arms. Lighting a fire… remembering there’s more than one way to live and who wants to walk when you can dance!”

It’s been 13 years and eight albums since Thea released Avalanche, her critically acclaimed fifth release and the album deemed to be her breakthrough record. The then 23-year-old was writing with a fire inside her post 9/11 about global anxiety and the increasingly vacuous celebrity culture.

Calling upon the spirit of this predecessor, Thea is back with the album she feels follows it. Having never entirely lost her voice of protest, on subsequent albums Thea was looking inward more, singing songs about the depression she had been diagnosed with, love songs in uncertain times and songs about parenthood.

Now though, she is back with The Counterweight, an album full of passion and fire inside to protest, and an album that echoes the rapid change in our social and political landscape that 2016 brought with it.

When finishing the album in September, Thea was forced to look back at the spring and summer recording period and the tumultuous times that happened throughout the year including working on ‘Reconcile’ as Britain voted to leave the EU, and recording ‘Johnny Gets A Gun’ three days after the Orlando shooting.

That day was also most harrowingly of all, the day when the world was watching the tragedy of Jo Cox’s murder unfold and at the very eleventh hour became the inspiration for the final track ‘The War’, with the first and last verses directly referencing her.

Thea quotes “I was throwing a cautionary message in a bottle into the shifting tide, but also singing a reminder that acts of kindness and humanity are never in vain: ‘You can cut that stem, but wild flowers grow again, all you can do is just tend to them and know that you tried’”

“I’d finished the album pretty much. All the shit that had gone down in 2016, the world changing moments… everything had shifted and this song fell out of me on one of the last mix days. The first and last verses directly reference Jo Cox and in between. I like to think it shines a light on these dark days, but also offers hope.”

The track is also possibly the mission statement of the album, going to war on the negativity and bleakness of the current world mesmerized by fake news and futility.

The Counterweight tries to be exactly that. A redressing of the balance, a tool of pressure, an exertion of opposite force and as such, a flag of hope.

Thea Gilmore will be heading out on a UK headline tour to support the album, with full details to be announced soon.

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 Thea Gilmore – The Counterweight 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 website: https://theagilmore.net/