Unreleased and original tracks from Bonnie Prince Billy,
Linda Thompson, Alasdair Roberts and more All proceeds go to MOAS (Migrant Offshore Aid Station)
Released on June 3rd 2016 through Brainfog Records
Refugee is a highly significant collaborative recording project which reflects, through song, the issue of the refugee crisis in its many forms, from Syria and beyond.
The concept came about from singer-songwriter Robin Adams who took on the challenging role of curator for this beautiful collection of music. Featuring the likes of folk familiars Linda Thompson, Bonnie Prince Billy, Rachel Sermanni, BMX Bandits, Richard Dawson and many more, each song stands with individual character, yet the delicate ties of each subject make this a well-formed and consistent body of work. As Adams says about the collection:
“What amazes me is that every song works. Every song seems to fit the sentiment of the record effortlessly even though the songs vary largely in subject and spirit.”
Although this is her third album, until now my only aural encounter with the Sussex-based folkie was her collaboration with James Yorkston, playing fiddle on a very brief a capella ‘My Doffing Mistress’ on the 2012 Daily Worker benefit album We’re All In It Together. However, my extended introduction fortuitously coincides with a new stage in her career. Working with such luminaries as Yorkston, Alasdair Roberts and, from Trembling Bells, Mike Hastings and Alex Neilson, the latter of whom has likened her voice to a cross between Lal Waterson and Nico, the album marks the first time she’s recorded her own rather than traditional material. Indeed, not only did she write it, she arranged and produced it too.
There is one traditional number here, a spare, plucked fiddle version of ‘Come Write Me Down’, taken from the Copper family songbook and from whence comes the album’s title. However, if you weren’t already aware, there’s several tracks that (were it not for some of the lyrics) you could be persuaded had been knocking round the folk archives for a century or so, particularly the fiddle-led relationships-themed ‘And Everything’, that almost imperceptibly gathers pace as it proceeds and the band join in, and the a capella ‘The Hired Hand’ (where she harmonises with herself under the name Dusty Springsteen).
Raised on the North Sea coast of Lincolnshire (which explains the accent), she’s perhaps inevitably drawn to songs of ships and the sea. Bearing a lilting melody reminiscent of Dylan’s ‘To Ramona’, featuring sax and melodeon, ‘This Ship Is On A List’ wittily uses a disintegrating ship as a metaphor for a collapsing relationship, launching into a full on trad-sounding shanty mid-way (though perhaps the line “Now the focsle is fucked”, isn’t perhaps one Fisherman’s Friends might include). Featuring Hastings on Jews harp, ‘Salt’, one of the albums many standout numbers, addresses the dangerous allure of fishing fleets, delivering a chorus of “In like a lion out like a lamb. Set sail a boy, came home a man” that fires up thoughts of classic Richard and Linda Thompson.
Again Jews harp and featuring Dan Quinn on melodeon, the same is true of ‘Toast (The Ballad Of Michael ‘Mini’ Cooper)’, a luminous fiddle waltzing number that tells the story of the titular 1970s child arsonist, a bright but troubled young 10-year-old from Co. Durham who set fire to his parents house, allegedly knowing his abusive father was asleep upstairs. The subject of two BBC documentaries, in 1974 (directed by Franc Roddam) and a decade later, after spending most of those years in psychiatric care at a series of high security special schools, he was sentenced to life in 1990 after setting fire to a bottling plant, Osborne cuts to the heart of his morally ambiguous story (the full details of which, including Cooper’s shattered dreams of a film and being a playwright, make powerful reading), seeing him as a victim as she sings “when you’re silenced with violence and you’re given no chance and no choice. And when you’re brilliant and bored and you’re beaten, fire is your vengeance and voice.” If this isn’t among next year’s Radio 2 Folk Awards Song of the Year nominees, then there’s no justice.
The album comes to a close with the traditional lyric styled ‘Undone’ (“Cut off my long yellow hair, dress in mans’ array, make myself unbeautiful, no more will I stay”), set to a backing of fiddle drone and Neilson’s unconventional percussion and drums with Osborne humming the playout coda, and, finally, ‘All One’, featuring just her and Hastings’ plangent acoustic guitar, which, her delivery of the ‘One small space and a letter between all one and alone’ refrain, putting me in mind of Sandy Denny.
However, perhaps because of the time of year and the fact that the cascading tubular bells recall Jethro Tull’s festive ‘Ring Out, Solstice Bells’, I have to say that my personal favourite is the album opener, ‘I Don’t Like Sundays’, a song that sets the theme of survivors and survival with the protagonist encouraging a friend to fight against their depression ( “I saw the cloud come like a shroud, stealing all your joy”) and reminding that “Sometimes all you can do is put one foot before the other and heed the conversation tween the future and the past.”
The album cover is a 1960’s picture of Osborne’s grandmother, Katharine Compton, in a Sidmouth Festival drinking competition. Having given The Watersons and Peter Bellamy their first club gigs, Compton is something of a legend in folk circles; with this album her granddaughter should become one too.
Blow Out The Moon is a five track EP from The Furrow Collective: Alasdair Roberts, Emily Portman, Lucy Farrell and Rachel Newton. All the tracks are traditional except for the tune of the title track which was written by Lucy for a children’s verse found in a book called Far, Far Away and it goes without saying that it isn’t anywhere near long enough.
It has to be said that The Furrow Collective don’t always pick the jolliest material and, indeed, the centrepiece of this record is Rachel’s version of ‘The Unquiet Grave’. There is, however, a sprightliness about this set that isn’t the band’s rather stately debut album, At Our Next Meeting. Lucy zips through ‘Poor Old Horse’ in under two minutes and Emily gives us a positively bouncy ‘Shule Agra’.
Alasdair can hold an audience spellbound with just his voice and an old ballad but here he contributes a bit of Irish gentleness in ‘Lament To The Moon’ from the singing of the late Packie Manus Byrne. The final track combines ‘Oh To Be In My Bed And Happit’ led by Alasdair and ‘Blow Out The Moon’ to send us happily to bed. Blow Out The Moon is a splendid set which whets the appetite for more.
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For those who are unaware, Bedford is the personal and professional partner of Paul Simmonds from The Men they Couldn’t Hang, so it’s not too surprising to find a similar political vein to her work. Plus, of course, she has a history of political activity, having been, for example, the Artists Liaison for Artists Against The Poll Tax. This is her third album and, as the title suggests, isn’t overflowing with stories of lover’s trysts and break-ups, although nor is it a hectoring collection of unfurled protest banners.
The template’s set with the opening track, ‘Davidson/Wilder Blues’, a traditional Tennessean union song about strikebreaking written by miners in the 30s and learned from Hedy West, one of Bedford’s seminal influences. With Dan Stewart on banjo and Bedford singing in an Appalachian twang, you’d not think she was born in Putney. She remains in traditional territory, but closer to home for ‘Gypsy Davy’, although, having said that, her approach is very much on the other side of the Atlantic, drawing on Jean Ritchie and Woody Guthrie, adding a chorus and inviting Justin Currie along for harmonies. Currie also shares vocal duties and plays piano on his own contribution, ‘We Are Not The People’, a stirring, fiddle accompanied ballad about those in power from the perspective of those who will never have it and don’t want it.
Other than the two traditional arrangements, Bedford only contributes one writing credit, a collaboration with Simmonds on ‘The Wild And Charming Energy’, a nervy folk blues number about machismo with handclaps, itchy percussion and a mariachi feel, other than that the bulk of the material is courtesy of Simmonds: ‘The Spider & The Wolf’’s fable about debt with Bedford again channelling West and Jackie Oates on fiddle, ‘Overseas’, a banjo dappled song about religious intolerance that centres on the Crusades; ‘Raise These Sails’, a clopalong duet between him and Bedford spun around the provisions taken aboard the Mayflower; ‘Junktown’, a loose loping blues duet that sounds like a nod to Johnny and June about corporate culture, market forces and the powerbrokers ghettoising the common herd and featuring the defiant line “a hand up is not a hand out”; ‘Fields Of Clover’, about the rise and fall of the baby boomers and on which she sounds like Baez circa ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’. The last of the Simmonds’ tracks, ‘The Old Abandoned Road’, offers a view of the pointlessness of the English Civil War through the eyes of a soldier in the Quaker army, set to acoustic strum, military drum beat and a Gaelic skirl of fiddle and mandolin.
The final cut returns to the traditional archives for ‘The Watches Of the Night’, the words taken from an optimistic poem about the rise of socialism by Tom Maguire, a British Trade Unionist, sourced and set to music by Alasdair Roberts, who sings and plays guitar, with Bedford on harmony, Ellie Wyatt on violin and Helena Ashworth on psaltery. Naomi’s name may not be as well known as others in the folk field, but, justly championed by the likes of Shirley Collins and Peter Buck, she most certainly deserves your listening attention. It would be impertinent not to.
If you would like to order a copy of the album, download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (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.
Lisa Knapp first emerged in 2007 with a remarkable debut album, ‘Wild And Undaunted’ and quickly established herself as a highly distinctive, creative artist, merging a radiant style of traditional folk and self-penned song with vocal, fiddle, hammer dulcimer, strings, banjo and contemporary production.
The John Langan Band formed in Glasgow in 2008 after John had spent years travelling the globe gathering and writing songs, honing his performance on the streets and searching for the perfect band. Ironically it wasn’t till he came home to Glasgow that he found what he was looking for in Dave Tunstall (double bass/backing vocals) and Alastair Caplin (fiddle/backing vocals). In their first year they won the prestigious Danny Kyle Award at Celtic Connections and have since been unfailingly making crowds dance like maniacs at gigs and festivals all over the UK and Europe. Dave Tunstall is also well known for being a member of Orchestra Elastique and Alastair Caplin also plays alongside Alasdair Roberts and is currently working on a film score with Lou Rhodes. Continue reading New release from The John Langan Band…