Katie Spencer – in praise of live music

Katie Spencer
Photograph by Mike Wistow

Saturday night I find myself in a church in a small village. This settlement is so tiny that to describe it as a small hamlet overstates it. The best part of fifty years ago I came here on an archeological dig to see if there really had been a Roman settlement, on the edge of a river crossing now too deep and polluted for anyone to risk going in the water (though I was talking to a retired farmer last night who’d swum over in what he described as his foolish youth).

And in the church is a folk concert. Whoa – a folk concert in this place which I associate more with Roman Rome than the modern world; and also whoa – a folk concert in a church – wouldn’t have happened fifty years ago when my great aunt played the church organ in the village on the other side of the river. Even worse (albeit better for me last night) we brought our own alcohol. Fifty years ago the only red wine allowed in the place would have been for communion. The roof didn’t fall in (and see later).

Photograph by Mike Wistow

I knew nothing about the gig before – I’ll go and watch anything live and just said yes when asked to go. What a setting – as the photos show. Three sessions, two artists. Joe Clark, first on, played a mix of covers and own songs. Clever guitar playing from his adeptness in both classical and folk guitar, notably on John Martyn’s ‘May You Never’ and Ralph McTell’s ‘From Clare To Here’ as well as on his own stuff.

Being this kind of venue, there’s a break to stretch the legs and catch up with people. As well as friends who were part of the group I came with, I met an old mate I played cricket with in rural and industrial Nottinghamshire more than thirty years ago in the midst of the miners’ strike and all that went with it. He’s now retired, more into jazz, but happy for his land to be used annually for a folk mini-festival.

Katie Spencer, on the link below and pictured above played two sets. Lovely voice, lovely picking. She’s from Hull, where I lived for ten years or so – a great city of the arts long before it became a (capitalised) City of Culture. If you click on the link below to Spencer’s website and flick through the videos you’ll see why I bought the CD. Mostly her own songs – I particularly liked ‘Drinking The Water’ – but including Spencer the Rover, in recognition of the tradition, the folk revival versions of the song, her own surname and the life of the travelling musician.

So, folk is live. In the break, I learnt folk isn’t just live, the money raised is going to repair the church roof (which still hadn’t fallen in). What more could you want – not just a good evening, but a good cause. Wise also – you don’t even notice you’re raising money because you are simply here enjoying yourself.

There were fewer than a hundred of us. And at venues all over the country, this kind of acoustic music is keeping folk live. For me last night a church, songs of life, stories of Hull, a catch up with old friends, memories of an archeological dig, memories of the formerly thriving pit towns and villages and memories of family long gone – and the same kind of thing is going on in pubs, clubs, halls, fields, house concerts across the country.

Within a ten mile radius of where I live, I knew of three events the same night, Boo Hewerdine in one and Daisy Chapman in the other. There may have been more?

So…in praise of live music – and many thanks to all those artists and promoters who are keeping it live.

Mike Wistow

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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Katie Spencer ‘s website: http://www.katiespencer.net

Katie Spencer – ‘Can’t Resist The Road’ live:

NATHAN BELL – Loves Bones And Stars, Love’s Bones And Stars (Angry Stick Recording Company)

Loves BonesIn case you’re wondering, the title of the album is correct. Loves Bones And Stars, Love’s Bones And Stars is due for release on September 24th and is the fourth album in Nathan Bell’s Family Man series – and it’s rather good. The album is full of songs rather like his self-description of his life, “Utterly ordinary, always extraordinary”.

The style is Americana-ish, but the voice and the lyrics raise this album above the ordinary. Try the lyrics first. The opening track, ‘I Would Be a Blackbird (for Leslie Irene’ is a song for his wife whose favourite bird is, I gather, the Red Winged Blackbird (I’ve just looked on Google, it really is quite splendid) “If I was a word I would be your name/I would be your name/I would be a song/And if I was a song/That would still your heart/I would be a Blackbird”

How’s that for an expression of love? But good as the lyric is in its simplicity, it is made by the vocal. Bell has a gravelly voice and sings these lines gently. Just as a strong man with nothing to prove can be the mildest parent or nurse, the lyric, “If I was a word, I would be your name” becomes the softest touch of a fierce expression of love.

Right through, the album is consistently good. There are no promo videos yet so the link below is to Bell playing live in Edinburgh a year ago but on this raw-ish video Bell’s singing and playing come through pretty well.

To pick a few of the other tracks. ‘Whiskey, You Win’ is a cracking country song telling of drink, losing the woman, the truck, and the singer reflecting on his life – all wrapped up in a great tune and lyrics like “Now all of my dreams/Fit into the suitcase/That you threw into his pickup truck”. ‘Faulkner And Four Roses’ is another whisky song, but this time as a cure for insomnia in a song written for a friend who lost his wife of fifty years. ‘My Kid’ captures that point where we listen to our children and realise that they’re growing into the insightful adults we’ve been trying to raise them to be “Damn, damn, damn/Where’d he learn to talk [think, act in subsequent verses] that way/Damn, damn, damn/My kid’s going to be okay”. “Metal” is a track he describes as “a song of hoping that I will die well and knowing there’s no way of knowing if I will” with a refrain sung in that gravelled voice, accepting that this is the nature of things “I know this to be true and I don’t mind” as he thinks of his love, of his friends, and of the next generation coming along.

A couple of songs are on the album in alternate versions, ‘A Day Like This’ and the title track. Unusually, I find I listen to both versions, rather than stopping the album before they come on. I’ll let Bell describe the title song, “….By now I was writing songs about my own love. They were songs about the bones that keep us upright, that keep us moving. They were songs about how we look longingly toward the stars, yet we (I) love and cherish most the ordinary things within our reach”.

Mike Wistow

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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.

Artist’s website: https://www.nathanbellmusic.com

Nathan’s tour schedule is now online at https://nathanbellmusic.com/schedule

Nathan Bell live:

 

Michael Chapman – autumn tour dates

Michael Chapman

Legendary guitarist and songwriter Michael Chapman first turned professional more than 50 years ago and he concludes another busy year of recording and playing concerts with a short UK tour.

Michael Chapman first became known on the London and Cornish folk circuits in mid-1966. Playing a blend of atmospheric and autobiographical material he established a reputation for intensity and innovation. While living in Hull, East Yorkshire, in late 1969, he signed to EMI’s Harvest label & recorded a quartet of classic albums. LPs like Fully Qualified Survivor, Rainmaker, Window and Wrecked Again defined the melancholic observer role Michael was to make his own, mixing intricate guitar instrumentals with a full band sound.

Michael Chapman is one of the UK’s best known finger picking style guitar players. As part of a continuing musical lineage that includes the likes of Ralph McTell, John Martyn, Davey Graham & Bert Jansch, Chapman is still active touring and recording and his playing is on top form. Michael continues to release new recordings at a phenomenal rate and is thought to have recorded nearly 60 albums throughout his career. 50 – 2017, Paradise Of Bachelors (Format: Vinyl LP, CD & Download) Homages 2016 –VDSQ –guitar instrumentals (Format Vinyl & Download only) Fish –2015, Tomkins Square (Vinyl LP, CD & Download ) Live At Folk Cottage -2013, Treehouse – (Vinyl LP & CD) archive recordings from 1967 Classics from the Harvest / EMI era include Fully Qualified Survivor, Rainmaker, Window, Wrecked Again and Playing The Guitar The Easy Way and they have all been reissued by USA label Light in The Attic as a complete series of his early work .

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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.

Artist’s website: http://www.michaelchapman.co.uk

‘Sometimes You Just Drive’ – live on Later:

Tour Dates

SEPTEMBER

Sunday 23rd September- Old Cinema Launderette, Durham 7.30 pm £16

Friday 28th September- Ukranian Centre, Doncaster 7.30 pm  £10 + £1 booking fee

Saturday 29th September- St Mary’s Creative Space, Chester 7.30 pm £14

Sunday 30th September- The Keep, Guildford 7.30 pm £14

OCTOBER

Monday 1st October- The Running Horse, Nottingham 7.30 Ticket price tba

Friday 5th October- Seven arts, Leeds 7pm £12.49 inc booking fee

Saturday 6th October- Cafe Oto, London 7.30 pm £10 members, £12 advance, £14 door

Thursday 11th October- The Trades club, Hebden Bridge 8pm £12 / £14 plus 10% booking fee.

RICHARD DURRANT – Stringhenge (Own Label, TheBurningDeck003CD)

StringhengeJS Bach’s elaborate baroque isn’t necessarily folk’s obvious partner, but for guitarist Richard Durrant they are simply links in a lengthy musical chain. In his new album, Stringhenge, landscape and music are tightly bound, including in his instruments: a guitar made from 5000-year-old bog oak and a tenor guitar decorated with a silver Uffington Horse.

A Sussex classical guitarist trained at the Royal College of Music, Durrant embraces other styles and traditions joyously, with a playing style that wears its intricate skill with light ease. What’s quickly obvious from Stringhenge is his attention to detail, taking pleasure in tiny adjustments to resonance or plectrum, just as much as key or rhythm.

This is Durrant’s first double album, with the first CD recorded on Shoreham Beach (unless it’s also the name of a super-hip studio?). It largely features JS Bach pieces re-imagined for guitar, and occasional ukulele (he reserves one just for playing Bach). He’s creative with style and mood, adding classical Spanish touches to ‘Anaerobic Prelude’ which perfectly suits Bach’s bubbling, tumbling-over-themselves motifs. ‘Under Downham’ is unabashed English pastorale, and there’s even a harpsichord-like resonance on the strings in ‘The Reefknot Gavotte’. A swingy jazziness pervades ‘The Deep Dark Woods’, with touches of syncopation chopping into the rhythm. However, shorn of its cello mood-swings, the much-loved ‘Prelude In G’ lacks power.

Among the Bach nestle traditional tunes, with the jaunty light baroque frolic of ‘Speed The Plough’ linking them. ‘The Skye Boat Song’ pits two distinct key moods against a bagpipe-drone strum, while ‘Sorton’s Hornpipe’ (aka ‘Jacky Tarr’) slowly builds up the rhythm but remains oddly melancholic. ‘A Brief History Of Wood’, Durrant’s original composition, is strong and punchy, with sliding falls and hard picking.

The studio-recorded CD two is surprisingly different. It’s a funny, strange, slightly hallucinogenic experience, like rediscovering an obscure folk-rock concept album from the late 1960s/early 1970s. ‘Kenneth The Hedge’ has more than a hint of early Pink Floyd about it and ‘Frank Bough’s Allemande’ is amusingly odd. Elgar-derived ‘Edward The Good Angel’ is a slightly sinister 1960s caper movie theme that overindulges on a Greek holiday and passes out while listening to a beautiful blackbird. Bang on trend with the current birdsong vogue, then. Two minutes of joyous skylark song rounds off the disturbing ‘Morris Dreams’, which frequently teeters on parody’s cliff edge. Suddenly, we’re safely harvest home and, like looking back across a landscape, we can contemplate the distance travelled.

Su O’Brien

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Artist website: www.richarddurrant.com

‘My Lady Jane’ – official video:

A DIFFERENT THREAD – On A Whim (own label)

On A Whim

Originally a duo comprising Staffordshire’s Robert Jackson and North Yorkshire classical cellist Isaac Collier, last year they were joined by North Carolina songwriter and fiddle player Alicia Best, she and Jackson now the mainstays, although she remains based in the States. Following on from the High Time EP, on which Best made her first fully-fledged appearance after being one of the backing musicians on the earlier Home From Home, On A Whim is their debut album, all save for two numbers being self-penned.

Musically, it straddles English folk and Americana influences, Jackson taking lead on the mid-tempo, brass brushed waltzing (and whistling) title track about a kind of indolent restlessness. Jackson still on lead, they cross shores for the friskily scampering bluegrassy banjo number ‘Hold Me Down’ with Best showing off her fiddle frills.

She steps up the microphone for her self-penned traditional sounding ‘Potter’s Field’, Collier’s mournful cello and Jackson’s acoustic guitar underpinning a number about a pauper’s burial, and remains there for equally American folk shaded but slightly the more uptempo strum of ‘Rosa Rosa’. That’s followed by the sole actual traditional number, the the much covered ‘The Prickly Bush’, here with Jackson’s voice upfront and Best harmonising, although this offers a strikingly different arrangement that leans to fingerpicked gypsy jazz and Balkan mazurka influences with Alan Best on accordion and Jackson playing harmonica.

The slow strummed march beat ‘Honey And Fire’ has the feel of early Dylan and the Band, jazzy flugel horn and brushed snare colouring the shared wearied delivery of the frayed relationship song ‘Chairs Instead’ which harks to vintage Laurel Canyon days, while ‘Carolina Song’ is a lovely melancholic rootsy slow waltz that shows Best’s slightly dusty Gillian Welch-like vocals to good advantage.

It’s back to a traditional folk flavoured fiddle blazing stomp for the playful ‘Farmer’s Mistress’, Jackson also on lead for the simple acoustic fingerpicking of ‘High Time’, a slightly faster and slightly lyrically different re-recording from the EP.

They end with Dobro and upright bass on the moodily bluesy ‘Charlotte’, the duo sharing verses on the album’s most electric number, and, backed by strings and a circular acoustic guitar pattern, Best singing the simpler folksy ‘Not Good With Words’. A hugely impressive debut; buy it on a whim, keep it as a treasure.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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.

Artists’ website: www.adifferentthread.com

‘Hold Me Down’ – live/official video:

NORTHERN FLYWAY – Northern Flyway (Hudson Records, HUD013)

Northern FlywayThis eponymous album from Northern Flyway is a beautiful addition to a rapidly growing body of music prominently featuring birdsong. Northern Flyway is Jenny Sturgeon and Inge Thomson’s new audio-visual project, featuring Magnus Robb’s bird recordings. Subtly drawing parallels with human migration and diversity, it’s also an alarm cry of disconnection from our natural world.

The rhythms and patterns of birdsong create audible landscapes of seasonal change, starting with the honking geese of opener, ‘Flyway’, which suggests the drone of an invisible aerial motorway of migration. The dawn chorus’s bubbling crescendo is transformed into a delirious, giddy fairground ride in ‘We Are The Morning’.

‘Rosefinch’ is the first of many songs dedicated to particular species. It’s a warm, bright song, with Jason Singh’s churring beatboxing and an accordion motif to mirror the bird’s phrasing. ‘The Gannets’ is a perfect example of how the album intertwines interview snippets and birdsong, often digitally manipulated to form beats and punctuations. The birds’ eerie, scratchy cry cuts through the airy, chant-like vocal, as a gently curling flute breaks free, soaring over a dully metallic percussion.

‘Lost Lapwing’ with its rather brusque, mantra-like vocal takes the bird’s eye view; the manipulated birdsong at times adding a whale-song-like melancholy before eliding into Robbie Burns’ delicate ‘Sweet Afton’. The richly-layered ‘Curlew’ evokes the bird’s wide-open-skies call (like a bleaker, saltier skylark), and the wisdom attributed to ‘The Owls’ (inaccurately, say some who work with them) is contemplated over a delicious curvy, sinuous beat.

The powerful ‘fragment of the past’ that is ‘The Eagle’ sees mediaeval touches added to Tennyson’s poem fragment. More early music influences, plus Singh’s menacing animalistic beatboxing, feature in closing track, ‘Huginn And Muninn’ (the names of Odin’s ravens), in celebration of the darkly intelligent corvid.

‘No Barriers, No Borders’ makes a pointed comment on migration, its breathy atmosphere faintly calling to mind The Unthanks’ Mount The Air (no bad thing). Sarah Hayes’s lovely, plangent piano lead on this and the rather more autumnal ‘Nomad’.

As a high, shimmering wave of sound moves across ‘Loch Carron Flame’, the listener’s viewpoint plunges from migrating geese down into the flame shell reef of the murky Scottish waters. Videos of the reef are available to watch online: it gives the song’s repeated ‘goodbye’ an added pathos that is almost unbearable.

Northern Flyway portrays the beauty of these birds and their often precarious environments without preachiness. Original and multi-layered, this is an enigmatic, gorgeous piece of work.

Su O’Brien

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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.

Artists’ website: https://en-gb.facebook.com/northernflyway/

‘Curlews’ – official video: