The Men They Couldn’t Hang – Cook-A-Hoop + Skeggy Interview

I sit here two weeks after The Great British Folk Festival with a Whitstable Bay Organic Ale in hand and I’m in good company as I have the new The Men They Couldn’t Hang – Cook-A-Hoop vinyl spinning on my turntable.

The album has made quite a journey from when it was first given to me by the band back stage after the interview we did in the early hours of Sunday 2nd December. The vinyl started its journey on top of a pizza box as Cush insisted it came along to the Oysterband back stage gathering (The MEN were playing on REDS stage outside of the Skyline Pavilion and Oysterband were in the Centre Stage complex and on at the same time). Like us, the new album couldn’t find its way there either as everything was locked up.  It took 20 minutes in the rain with TMTCH in tow to realise that the best destination was now 109 Gull Court in The Keys area of Butlins Skeggy. This was the place where the album, the half-eaten pizza’s, The MEN and us hangers-on could be reunited with some more alcohol. However, not all of us made it to 109 Gull Court as the pizza was offloaded on to Simon Care who happened to be wandering past at 2am in the morning on his way to bed.

Anyway, I digress… so let’s get back to the fantastic new album and that late-night folking TMTCH interview.

Cook-A-Hoop has thirteen tracks, two instrumentals, and eleven songs, five written by Paul Simmonds, three by Swill and three by Cush. Cook-A-Hoop is both minimalist and musically expansive.

The songs start with ‘Sirens’, with revolution and a call to arms Pogue-MEN-Style followed by an escapism tale imagined at the speed of an ‘Arrow’ flight. Then a tremolo panther prowls, like a young Bobby Seale and gives his greeting by way of Sunday Soul ‘Salutations’ with trumpet heralding in the arrival of Marvin.

Next, ‘Three Ships Sailing’ haul away, plundering oceans, flying colours with far of canon-shot drum beat judging distance. While half the world is living on ‘Pone’, the unleavened maize bread, this rocking song with mental saxophone and growling vocals shoves it down your throat and reminds us that some people don’t have a choice.

Mantle then shrouds the tale of ‘The Queen of Crows’ who surveys the night to gentle pining fiddle. We journey then to the city of the ‘Archangel’, riding on camels, playing snake charmer grooves, telling tales of devils, demons and shotgun shacks.

Finally, Cush gives us a ‘Kings Street Serenade’ in green bomber jacket, and tight drainpipe trousers. A homage to the glory days of Joe Strummer, Pogue Mohon and being in heaven.

So, to sum the album up… Right Time, Right Place, Right Song. All packaged up in ‘The Amazing Carrier Bag’ of broken dreams and Brexit chaos.

Yes, its classic MEN, so if you’re already a fan, you’ll love it. If you’re not yet, then you are in for a treat as it stands shoulder to shoulder with the best of the rest of the back catalogue of 9 studio albums and over 139 songs.

Paul Simmonds has songs pouring out of him at the moment and Swill and Cush are on top song writing form. So, strap yourself in, fasten your seatbelts, you’re in for a TMTCH Cock-A-Hoop roller coaster of a ride of an album. The MEN continue to be, not just a band of brothers who have stuck together for 35 years through thick and thin but also a group that have survived their time and forged a new  musical strength out of the political, blood, sweat and tears of their glorious musical past.

However, the biggest revelation of all is that Swill wished he had written Bat out of Hell!

Darren Beech

Here is the interview that Paul Johnson and Darren Beech recorded with TMTCH after the show.

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://www.tmtch.co.uk/

Here is the video from the Gosport and Fareham Festival in 2008 that we mentioned in the interview.

REG MEUROSS – 12 Silk Handkerchiefs (Hatsongs HAT013)

12 Silk HandkerchiefsThis is not your typical Reg Meuross album. Not that it doesn’t have his consummate songwriting with its finely crafted melodies and emotive resonance and not that it isn’t beautifully sung; it’s just that, while he features on backing, Reg only sings two tracks. It is, in fact, a concept album, a song cycle about the Hull triple trawler tragedy when, in 1968, bad weather sank three separate trawlers in less than a month, with only one survivor from the total crew of fifty-nine men.

The album is based on Brian W. Lavery’s book, The Headscarf Revolutionaries, which documents the subsequent campaign of Lillian ‘Big Lil’ Bilocca, one of the trawlermen’s wives and her friends to bring about changes in the fishing industry. As such, it comprises both song and spoken word, the narration delivered by Lavery himself, while Hull folk singers Sam (as in Samantha) Martyn and Mick McGarry provide both vocal and spoken tracks.

There’s six songs, each preceded by Lavery’s scene setting, opening with the waltztime shanty ‘Wash Her Man Away, McGarry on vocals, Meuross providing harmonies and acoustic and Martyn on harmonium, a number rooted in superstitions about bringing back luck, here a meticulously tidy housewife not doing the laundry on the day before her skipper husband sets sail, the lyrics evoking such portents as the men leaving their small change behind.

The intro to ‘I Am A Fish House Woman’ conjures the fellowship of the women in the cold of the fish processing plant, detailing the work, talk of missing ships and introducing Lily, on her last shift for two years. This time, it’s Martyn on vocals, Meuross on strummed dulcimer, for a six minute, chorus-friendly anthem to the women, the conditions they work under (“my mother was a skinner ‘til the freezing took her lung”) in their nine-hour day, slicing the ‘silver darlings’ and how, while the men are away “fighting for their lives, we’re fighting for their rights”.

Sung heartbreakingly in the first person, ‘John Barry Rogers’ recounts the story of the eighteen-year-old deckhand who, when their ship went down in an Atlantic storm, saved the life of first mate Harry Eddom, the sole survivor, getting him onto the raft, before dying of exposure. Backed by harmonium and guitar, McGarry again sings lead on a classic Meuross lyric as the doomed boy talks of his mother and sweetheart, left behind in the siren call of the sea.

As you might guess, one of the two tracks sung by Meuross, ‘The Man The Sea Gave Back’, turns the focus on Eddom, a flavour of early Dylan to its brisk strum with Martyn adding flute, as he sings of Eddom watching the other two survivors eventually fall victim to the cruel sea.

Both the narrative and the lyrics to ‘Sleep You Safely’, sung by Martyn, turn the spotlight back on Bilocca, who was ejected from the campaign group she’d founded after appearing on the Eamonn Andrews show when, asked how the men spent their time on shore, talked of the single ones going to the pub “with their tarts”, a term that had a different meaning back home at Hessle Road to the one the studio audience assumed. The men she’d fought for also turned against her after a ban on fishing in bad weather meant they lost catches to Icelandic trawlers, but counterpointed by a meeting with a young galley boy on her way back from the meeting.

A melancholic, slow paced number, again featuring one of Meuross’s trademark uplifting choruses, it gives way to the lilting title track, the intro noting how, after her husband’s death, Lily moved home to a council house, weighed down by her treatment by the media and the feeling of being abandoned and her fight ignored, falling into ill health and eventually dying of cancer at 59 in 1988.

The title refers to her last request to her daughter to buy the handkerchiefs which, on the day before she died, she handed out to all those who had looked after her. Sung by Meuross with Martyn and McGarry on harmonies, the simply strummed song itself takes a more metaphorical approach, the handkerchiefs also symbolic of, as the chorus notes, the months of the year, “the twelve holy fisherman keeping her loved ones from fear” and “all the company men In their temples of greed she battled and beat in the end And for all the men and boys who are called by the sea…to bring them home safely to thee.”

It ends with ‘Times and Tides’, a reading by McGarry from Lavery’s book that, like the album, is a finely spun tribute testament to the men who risk their lives to harvest the ocean and the women “who never waved…Nor wavered” and the kids waiting for their fathers’ return “Christmas every twenty-one days.” It’s rich in honest emotion, deep humanity, resonant lyrics and infectious melodies. Typical Reg Meuross after all, then.

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.

Artist’s website: www.regmeuross.com

’12 Silk Handkerchiefs’ – live:

 

SIMON TODD – Half Empty/Half Full (Ginger Tom Music GTM002)

Half Empty/Half FullSimon Todd’s new release Half Empty/Half Full is his second CD, following from Contracts For The Sale of Land in 2009. It’s nearly ten years, but it’s worth the wait. Half Empty/Half Full has ten strong songs, Todd has an appealing voice, which has a good range and makes well written lyrics easy to hear.

The video below is of ‘Send Her Home To Me’. Todd describes the song as “The closest I get to a love song” – in that it’s a love song from the point of view of a cuckold “if I remember it right/it was a bright clear night/ when you took her away from me”. It’s rather classy – gentle singing from an unreliable narrator so that you’re torn between thinking ‘Ah, that’s sweet’ or ‘idiot’ or ‘Might the woman not have a say in this?’ Without hitting you over the head to claim your attention, this is rather good songwriting.

‘The Last Step’ is similarly clever – a series of idioms joined into an up-tempo track and held together by the concluding line “the last step that you take you take alone.” Wisdom or cliché? It doesn’t matter, it’s a good song and it works. ‘Judas Kiss’ is similarly lively and foot tapping.

If there is a wryness to these songs, the opening and closing tracks ‘Down To The River’ and ‘Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead’ show a different side to Todd’s writing – faster paced, more raw, a raspier vocal driving them forward. There is breadth as well as depth to Todd’s writing and playing.

‘And I Get Weak’ has my favourite opening line of the year “We laughed at the Dodo/Shot it where it stood” and builds into an anthem to challenge modern priorities (for example, “we build aquariums to simulate and please/whilst pumping toxic waste into the seas”. Genius). You could easily get a crowd singing along to this. ‘Poppy Fields’, an image we no longer associate with nature but with war and death, also has some stark images, this time of Douglas Haig’s trench warfare strategy “Sacrifices under fire/Virgin boys left screaming on the wire/Staring eyes that died alone/I’m sorry but your son’s not coming home”. There’s a punch in that juxtaposition.

Todd describes the album as having come from considering similar situations from alternative perspectives. ‘Think Of Me’, for example, takes the theme of a separated couple but gives a very different view to ‘Send Her Home To Me’. It is more equable, capturing day-to-day realities and summarizes “Just think of me/Maybe I’m still here”.

Although this pairing of perspectives may have been the creative source, and has led to the title of Half Empty/Half Full. I’ve heard the album as a collection of well written individual songs which stand on their own, from a man who “places equal importance on lyrics, melody and chord structure”.

A look on Todd’s website shows a history of gigs in the USA (mainly Texas) as well as the U.K. (mainly the north east). The website doesn’t show any planned gigs at the moment – which is a pity, as this album is well worth a listen and really ought to open up Todd’s songwriting and performing to a wider audience.

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: http://www.simontodd.co.uk

‘Send Her Home To Me’ – live:

BRIAN McALPINE – Mutual Imagination Society Vol 1 (own label CD001)

Mutual Imagination SocietyWhen did classical and traditional music become so intertwined? I suppose we must go back to the 15th century to find where it started but the definition of classical music didn’t appear until the early 1800s. In England, we can probably pin the blame on Ralph Vaughn Williams for nicking so many good tunes for Hymns Ancient & Modern and then Percy Grainger and George Butterworth. The purpose of this musing is to try to define Brian McAlpine and Mutual Imagination Society Vol 1.

Brian is first and foremost a composer, notably of music for film and television, where the accompaniment to a scene is so important and he’s contributed as arranger, composer and performer to almost seventy albums. He doesn’t borrow tunes but he does employ traditional styles so here you’ll find massed highland pipes alongside horns laid over the foundation of his piano. He doesn’t borrow tunes but ‘November 6th’, for example, sounds as though its origins lie deep in the past ‘Blue Grass’, which follows it, sounds much more contemporary with drones and massed keyboards. I’m just guessing here because Brian is a phenomenal multi-instrumentalist but modestly doesn’t list all his instruments and what I take to be synthesised strings could be the real strings of Jonny Hardie and Alison Smith multi-tracked. ‘Blue Grass’ is a particularly fascinating track because half-way through Brian suddenly switches to banjo overlaid with pipes before eventually returning to the drones.

All the tracks dance around ideas and forms. The eleven minute opener, ‘Suite #1’, is a sort of hors d’oeuvre allowing the listener a taste of what is to come. Brian uses a good deal of piano-accordion but he doesn’t do things in the obvious way. ‘Piobroch #1’ is initially a piano piece and just when you think it won’t happen, here come the pipes but not for long and we’re left with piano and accordion. ‘The Tumbler’, which comes next,opens with bluesy saxophone played Nigel Hitchcock but having established itself it wanders off for a while.

I’m not enough of an expert to say what Brian McAlpine does exactly or how he does it but he does say that each piece was composed to express an emotion and was inspired by the Scottish landscape and that, at least, I can recognise. I also know that it’s a rather wonderful album.

Dai Jeffries

 

Artist’s website: http://www.brianmcalpine.com/B/home.html

‘Soundtrack To Peace’- official video:

THE OUTSIDE TRACK – Rise Up (Lorimer Records LORRCD07)

Rise UpWhen Rise Up hit my doormat I realised that it was a long time since I’d heard anything from The Outside Track. In fact it has been six years since Flash Company but an international band based in Scotland is always going to be very busy. There has been a line-up change with Norah Rendell and Cillian Ó’Dálaigh leaving the band to be replaced by Teresa Horgan. Technically, it was an all-female line-up that recorded Rise Up but Michael Ferrie, who plays guitar throughout, has now officially joined them.

The album opens with ‘Dark Reels’, a mighty set of tunes opening gently enough with Ailie Robertson’s harp but getting a bit heavier than you might expect. Two of the three are by Robertson and the third is by Lauren MacColl and they make for an excellent starter. Next is ‘Sweet Lover Of Mine’, a variation of ‘Scarborough Fair’ sung by Horgan followed by ‘Road To Rollo Bay’, a set of three tunes from the band’s homelands: Canada, Scotland and Ireland. The first of these was written by Shirley (or Shelly) Campbell from Prince Edward Isle and the others are by Jenna Reid and Neil Vallely.

‘The Banks Of Sweet Dundee’ is an unusual tale of attempted matrimony and successful homicide while ‘The Wife Of Usher’s Well’ presents a slightly unfamiliar take on the story set over a pulsing arrangement. ‘Neillí Pluincéad’ is one of the few titles that seems better in English than Irish and it’s unusual to hear O’Carolan’s words as well as the tune of ‘Eleanor Plunkett’. This is perhaps most haunting track. In contrast to the opener, ‘The Happy Reels’ is a pair of tunes written by Horgan and Mairi Rankin to cheer us up and ‘The Silver Bullet’ is a set of rocking tunes from Cape Breton.

Finally, ‘Lady Diamond’ is a big take on another celebrated murder ballad in all its gory detail and a fitting end to another splendid album from The Outside Track.

Dai Jeffries

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.theoutsidetrack.com

‘The Banks Of Sweet Dundee’ – live:

WILLARD GRANT CONSPIRACY – Untethered (Loose)

UntetheredRobert Fisher, the band’s founder, singer and guiding force, passed away as a result of cancer in February 2017, but not before he’d laid down the tracks that now form this 10th and final album. Dusted down and hewn into shape by long-time viola player David Michael Curry, with contributions from such names as Steve Wynn and Chris Brokaw, Untethered is a terrific last testament, albeit the familiar melancholic and intimate mood given added resonance by Fisher’s death.

It opens, however, in more robust manner with the abrasive and distorted sound of the two-minute ‘Hideous Beast’ more recalling the work of Captain Beefheart. After this, things settle down into the band’s more familiar languid and melancholic style, perfect examples presenting themselves in ‘Do No Harm’, ‘Love You Apart’ and ‘26 Turns’ with its barely there semi-spoken vocals.

There’s four instrumentals, the poignantly titled ‘All We Have Left’, the simple, viola-based ‘Two Step’, the shimmeringly beautiful ‘Margaret On The Porch’ and the album’s pointedly titled six minute closer ‘Trail’s End’ which brings down the curtain in brooding and at times experimental almost improvisational style (much like the earlier ‘Chasing Rabbits’) with guitar distortions, reverb and effects that feels like being in the middle of desert electrical storm.

It is, however, Fisher’s voice, words and delivery that are the band’s legacy, and three numbers in particular stand out, the spare, forlorn viola-coloured ‘Let The Storm Be Your Pilot’ as he sings “your goodness will save us, you are my reason for waking”, the gorgeous warm and achingly intimate Lou Reed-like ‘Saturday With Jane’ and the simply strummed title track, the song he wrote after he was diagnosed, the semi-spoken lines “Take the last train to the station/Keep my eyes open while I can/Hope we get back home by morning/See the sunrise on the desert once again” suffused with the dignity of acceptance in a way that tears you apart.

The album never began as a farewell, but Curry has crafted it into a moving valediction as his late friend and musical partner sings himself away into immortality.

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.willardgrantconspiracy.com

‘Untethered’: