ANGE HARDY – Esteesee (Story Records STREC1659)

ANGE HARDY – Esteesee (Story Records STREC1659)“Why Esteesee” asks Ange Hardy in her notes and it was a question I had asked myself in anticipation. The explanation is actually very simple. Esteesee or S.T.C. is Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the subject of Ange’s fourth album.

That Coleridge was what we might now call “a character” quickly becomes apparent as Ange picks out incidents from his life. ‘William Frend’ tells of Coleridge applauding during the trial of one of his college tutors who published a pamphlet condemning the Church liturgy. STC got away with it by blaming a one-armed man standing near him! His friendship with William and Dorothy Wordsworth is recounted in ‘Friends Of Three’; his relationship with his brother is explored in ‘George’ and a failed attempt to found a better life in America is examined in ‘Pantisocracy’.

Of course, Coleridge’s own writing plays a large part. The opening song, ‘The Foster-Mother’s Tale’, comes from a play and then we’re into The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner with two songs. The first, ‘My Captain’, is based on one of the few happy bits of the poem and will be claimed as traditional before long. It’s a song full of optimism and enthusiasm – complete with spoons by Jo May – and is in stark contrast to ‘The Curse Of A Dead Man’s Eye’. This is clever programming; the poem would be the elephant in room otherwise as would ‘Kubla Khan’ which is read by Tamsin Rosewell with accompaniment by Ange on guitar and whistle and Kate Rouse’s hammered dulcimer.

Other musical support comes from Steve Knightley, who takes lead vocals on ‘Mother You Will Rue Me’, Patsy Reid, Archie Churchill-Moss (of Moore Moss Rutter), Lukas Drinkwater (of Three Daft Monkeys), Jonny Dyer, Andrew Pearce and Steve Pledger. In her music Ange cleverly employs the rhythms and cadences of English traditional music, particularly apparent in ‘Along The Coleridge Way’ and the final ‘Elegy For Coleridge’. The packaging is equally good with excerpts from STC’s writing alongside Ange’s words. I’m not sure that every copy goes out with a greetings card, bookmark and “quill” pen but there have to be some perks in this job.

This is an excellent album. It’s rare that I’ll play a CD twice through without a break even for the purposes of a review. Esteesee is an exception.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), 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. 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.angehardy.com

STEVE PLEDGER – Striking Matches In The Wind (Story Records STREC1657)

SMITWBorn in Cambridge, raised in St Neots and now based in Somerset, Pledger’s been quietly building a following over the past 20 years, relying on just his voice, guitar and some damn fine songwriting. This is his second album and he describes the song as being concerned with “the power of the apparently powerless to achieve what often feels like an impossible task.” So, contemporary social protest songs basically, occasionally leavened with matters of the heart, Pledger’s fingerpicked and strummed guitar augmented here and there by Lukas Drinkwater on double bass, Tanya Allen on fiddle, and harmonica and accordion from Giles Newman Turner and Andrew Rock, respectively. The luminously talented Ange Hardy also joins him to add harmonies to the chokingly sung, heart-piercing end of a relationship a cappella number ‘There We Are’.

Listening to ‘People Who Care’ and the barbed ‘This Land Is Pound Land’ it’s impossible not to think of Martyn Joseph, one of Pledger’s acknowledged influences, and I’d suspect Martyn himself would be flattered by the comparison, though elsewhere you’ll also hear Don Maclean (the lyrically anthemic ‘take a stand’ ‘Matches In The Wind’), Woody Guthrie (‘The Parable of Intent’, a call to accept the reponsibility we have to the earth and those less fortunate than ourselves) and, on the bluesy mid-tempo harmonica blowing ‘Quit Blubbin’ In The Cheap Seats’ (a song about the real mindset of the austerity brigade), maybe also Billy Bragg, while the bluesy folk guitar playing on ‘Beneath The Sun’ suggests Davey Graham’s in the mix too.

Pledger’s songs have the ability to cut to the emotional quick, as potently evidenced by the strummed, fiddle-accompanied, slow waltz ‘A Heart Filled With Nothing To Do’, inspired by an old lady who, her care service withdrawn, died alone with nobody aware of her situation, and the simple vocal and guitar ‘Friends & Fathers’, a song that relates the impact that the post-traumatic fallout from war can have on a family as the narrator recalls his mother telling him how, before his father left, he used kneel at his bedside, crying and saying how much he loved him. It’s impossible to listen without welling up.

There are brighter moments too, ‘Loving Condescension’ with its account of seeing two lovers taking a selfie while he was driving along the North Devon coast’ and ‘Days Like These’, a fingerpicked love song written for his wife’s birthday, the album balancing the light with the dark, the hope with the anger to kindle a spark and keep the fire burning.

Mike Davies

If you would like to download a copy of the track or just listen to snippet of it then click on the banner link below 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.

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

‘Friends & Fathers’ from Steve Pledger’s new album:

Steve Pledger – Striking Matches In The Wind album launch

Tithe Barn, Dunster, Somerset 14th March 2015

Steve Pledger live

Dunster based singer/songwriter Steve Pledger stunned audiences with his Striking Matches in The Wind album launch in the wonderful setting of the Tithe Barn in Dunster village. It is Steve’s second album and eagerly awaited by his followers. He gained a lot more that night!

Very few of us had heard the album beforehand, but were all aware that this was going to be an extra special evening with snippets heard from local radio stations before the launch and press interviews and reviews which were all positive of the album. Steve deserves success – not only blessed with a unique voice. but a drive of promoting himself that is unsurpassed by anyone. A near capacity audience had gathered from locals to far and wide.

Special guests for the evening included BBC Radio 2 Folk Award nominee Ange Hardy who had contributed to the album track ‘There We Are’ and sang ‘John Ball’ – a capella duet with Steve, also fiddler Tanya Allen (‘A Heart Filled With Nothing To Do’), and Giles Newman Turner who ably assisted on harmonica on ‘Quit Blubbin in the Cheap Seats’, sadly Lukas Drinkwater was unable to attend as gigging elsewhere, but had also participated on the album.

Steve kicked off the proceedings with ‘Back to The Beginning’ off his first album – 14 Good Intentions – which was an up-tempo number getting the audience into the mood and setting the scene of what was to come. Emotions went up and down as Steve changed tempo and passion whether it be love or passion for the environment or issues which led us to ‘This Land is Pound Land’. The interval came too quickly – and so many people were talking in the bar area about how good the evening was. Steve’s lovely wife Becky was on the lights, selling CDs in the interval while supervising the bar, and generally everywhere! Totally supportive of her talented husband, Becky deserves a mention.

The second half contained tracks from both the new album and 14 Good Intentions, ranging from the amazing ‘Loving Condescension’ to ‘Beneath The Sun ‘ – I shouldn’t single out anything as every song brought its own identity with true grit.

The evening whizzed by and Steve had to come back for an encore which was Elvis Presley’s ‘If I Can Dream’. This had us all emotionally charged none the least Steve ,who could see his dreams were in reach, and he was on the rising ladder to them. We could all see that and all so very proud of him. The lad deserves it. A more gracious and caring man you couldn’t meet and it shows in his lyrics.

Both albums can be purchased from www.stevepledger.co.uk where you can also see where Steve is playing next and details of how to book him. A spring tour is being pencilled in for May/June time, so keep his website bookmarked!

Jean Camp

ANGE HARDY – The Lament Of the Black Sheep (Story Records)

angeHer second album in as many years after returning to the folk scene following time off to raise two kids, Hardy expands the sparse voice and guitar sound of Bare Foot Folk by introducing fiddle, double bass, flute, whistles, accordion and percussion on another 14-strong acoustic set of self-penned numbers that sound as they could have been in some dusty archive of traditional folk ballads.

She says they’re inspired by family (the cover photo is of her great-grandfather on his farm), tradition, personal experience and tales of West Somerset, with songs of heritage and of working the land. That said, she’s all at sea with the opening track, ‘The Bow To The Sailor’, a stirring shanty about the call of the sea and the feelings it invokes in men with salt in their veins. She’s firmly on dry land for the title track retelling of the nursery rhyme from the sheep’s perspective, a bleak reinterpretation about giving way everything you own and being left cold and alone, a metaphor that you could apply equally to King Lear or parenthood.

‘The Gambler’s Lot’ is one of the specifically Somerset songs, a lament for the way the sweat of generations to build a rural foundation could be swept away by one person’s foolish actions, her voice looped to provide close harmony backing on the chorus, but then it’s on to deeply personal territory as ‘The Daring Lassie’ recounts her running away from a Somerset care home to travel to Ireland, living rough in Dublin and Galway under an assumed name, a spirited duet with fiddle player James Findlay with the sort of refrain designed for club singalongs. She returns to the theme for ‘The Lost Soul’ as, to a stark, almost medieval arrangement, she recalls the end of her time in Ireland and the open-heart epiphany of the mistakes made and lessons learned.

‘The Sailor’s Farewell’ is the second of the album’s nautical numbers, a poignant song inspired by a story told her by a man at one of her concerts, about how his mother, Mabel, would hang a picture called The Sailor’s Farewell when her husband went to sea and one called The Sailor’s Return when he came home. Except that, on one fateful voyage, she was never to rehang the second picture.

Being a folk album there are, of course, songs about foolish or unfortunate women. An unaccompanied duet between Hardy and Findlay, ‘The Wanting Wife’ recounts how a woman sends her husband out poaching and thieving to bring back her weight in gold only to realise he was her real treasure while, again using vocal loops and backed solely by rippling guitar, ‘The Foolish Heir’ tells of a girl lured with promises of a new life overseas only to be drowned on her father’s land by her false lover, fated to wander the place she wanted to escape as a ghost. There’s ghosts the haunting ‘The Young Librarian’ too, a multi-tracked vocal, a song supposedly about how people live on through their writing, but very much couched in horror imagery.

Three numbers relate to the farming life, all with very different tones. As you might surmise from the title, accompanied by melancholic flute, ‘The Cull’ isn’t exactly cheery. Inspired by the sight of someone protesting against a badger cull, dressed up as a badger, it tackles the serious problem of culling infected cows to save the herd and how those who do not live by the land often do not understand the demands it makes. On a rather lighter note, The lilting swayalong ‘The Tilling Bird’ uses the image of how chickens (here the rare Marsh Daisy) were used to follow the plough to help turn the soil to serve as a metaphor for love while, in decidedly playful mood, ‘The Woolgatherer’ is a delightful tumble of a song about how daydreaming is probably not recommended when you’re muck spreading. Again, you can imagine this as a club crowd participation number.

The final two songs return to motherhood. With accordion intro and featuring Jo May on spoons (made from the melted debris of bombs dropped in the Vietnam War, apparently), ‘The Raising And The Letting Go’ is a tribute to her own mother who raised her pretty much on her own as well as a recognition that your children with eventually fly the nest while the final number, the short and sweet a capella ‘The Lullaby’, was written for her two-year old son, an encouragement for him to go to sleep with which all parents will sympathise.

If last year’s album marked a triumphant return to the folk world, this firmly consolidates her position as one of the finest contemporary-traditional voices in the field, and were I Eliza Carthy or Cara Dillon I’d be looking over my shoulder very carefully.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), 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. 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.angehardy.com

‘The Bow To The Sailor’ is the first single from The Lament Of The Black Sheep: