JOHNNY CAMPBELL – Avalon (Subversive Folk SF001)

AvalonThere’s a long story behind Johnny Campbell’s second album Avalon. He is much travelled throughout Europe and the United States and although the record’s title suggests some sort of paradise the songs are inspired by the darker side of life, particularly in the Balkans. Here are songs of poverty and hardship drawing from diverse sources and recorded in a deliberately primitive style – it all makes sense when you hear it.

Avalon opens with the traditional ‘Banks Of The Roses’, fast and almost harsh. Johnny isn’t Irish; in fact you could call him “a citizen of the world” although his nominal base is Huddersfield. He follows that with his own song, ‘Wanderlust’, a song straight from the dust-bowl. In it he name checks Woody Guthrie and you might be reminded of the nostalgia of some of Tom Paxton’s early songs – ‘Ramblin’ Boy’ for example – except that ‘Wanderlust’ has harder edge. Welsh singer Efa Supertramp supplies backing vocals here and throughout the record. ‘Leaver’s Avenue’ is a modern political song – I’m sure I don’t need to explain its theme to you – and Johnny pairs it with the traditional ‘O’Keefe’s Slide’, acoustic guitar with support from Bethan Prosser’s strings.

‘Arthur McBride’ is well known and often over-complicated but here it’s pared back to basics and Johnny’s delivery is almost nonchalant as though seeing off a couple of squaddies is an everyday occurrence. ‘Showtime’ is the second of his US travelling songs and I have to confess that I don’t quite get it but it’s eclipsed by the superb ‘Last Year’. You may be surprised to learn that Johnny has recorded an EP of Robert Burns songs but it merely emphasises his understanding of the roots of traditional music. ‘Last Year’ is lifted from a Swedish folk song with Bethan sounding uncannily like a hurdy-gurdy although Tim Holehouse’s ebow may also contribute to the effect.

‘To The Begging I Will Go’ makes a contrasting pair with ‘The Dalesman’s Litany’; the singer of the former being happy with his lot, the latter not so much. The final ‘Tear Stained Letter’, after the delightful ‘Planxty Kateřina’, is not the Richard Thompson song – more Hank Williams, who gets name checked and Johnny evokes an undefined time of “whiskey soaked rivers” – what a great phrase.

Johnny Campbell has pulled together a remarkable number of styles and subjects to create this record and it all works. It’s an album I could keep on repeat.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.johnnycampbell.co.uk

‘Arthur McBride’ – described as spontaneous and shaky:

Paul Brady announces new studio album, Unfinished Business

Paul Brady

With a career spanning five decades, Paul Brady, singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist is one of contemporary music’s most enduring popular artists.

Brady first came to attention as a teenager at college in the mid ‘60s, in a series of classic Dublin rock/soul bands. The world-wide folk boom of the time produced seminal groups like The Clancy Brothers, The Dubliners, Clannad and The Johnstons, with Paul soon joining the latter. He recorded seven albums with the Johnstons and moved to London then the USA, returning to Dublin in 1974 to join premier Irish folk band Planxty.

Following the band’s demise, Paul played as a duo with fellow member Andy Irvine; their Andy Irvine And Paul Brady album still considered one of the greatest of the genre as evidenced by the sold out 40th anniversary tour Paul and Andy completed in May 2017.

The late 70s saw Paul heralded as a superlative interpreter of folk songs. His definitive versions of the likes of ‘Arthur McBride’, ‘Mary & The Soldier’ and ‘The Lakes Of Pontchartrain’ influenced countless singers, including Bob Dylan who covered all three and wrote: “..people get too famous too fast these days and it destroys them. Some guys got it down – Leonard Cohen, Paul Brady, Lou Reed, secret heroes.”

After acclaimed solo album Welcome Here Kind Stranger (1978), voted Folk Album of the Year by Melody Maker, Paul surprised most observers with Hard Station in 1981. All his own songs, the album reflected personal changes amid a highly original combination of rock, blues, soul and pop and became a classic of modern Irish music.

Throughout the 80s and 90s Paul toured widely with his band in USA, UK, Ireland and continental Europe. Many highlights included European tours with Eric Clapton and Dire Straits. The albums True For You (1983), Back To The Centre (1985), Primitive Dance (1987), Trick Or Treat (1990) and Spirits Colliding (1995) further cemented his reputation as a songwriter and dynamic performer.

Celebrated by Ireland’s RTE Television with a six-part series The Paul Brady Songbook (2002), with Lifetime Achievement awards from The Irish Recorded Music Association (1999) and BBC Radio 2 Folk on 2 (2006), inducted into the British Composers and Songwriters Academy (2004), IMRO (Ireland’s Performing Right Society) Songwriters Academy (2013), and honoured by the President of Ireland with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015, Paul Brady is not only part of the cultural fabric of Ireland but a beacon to songwriters the world over.  Admired by his peers, recent double live album, The Vicar Street Sessions featured duets with Van Morrison, Mark Knopfler, Bonnie Raitt, Sinead O’Connor, Ronan Keating, Curtis Stigers, Gavin Friday, Mary Black, Moya Brennan, Maura O’Connell and Eleanor McEvoy.

Paul BradyPaul Brady releases his first new studio album in seven years, Unfinished Business, on September 8th via Proper Records. Brady’s 15th solo album and follow-up to 2010’s acclaimed ‘Hooba Dooba’, Unfinished Business features nine new compositions and two traditional folk songs and mirrors the eclecticism of Paul’s long and varied musical journey.

Unfinished Business was recorded at Paul’s studio in Dublin, with Paul engineering the record and playing most of the instruments himself. Of the nine new songs, Paul wrote three with Paul Muldoon, five with Sharon Vaughn and one with Ralph Murphy. The two traditional songs are: ‘Lord Thomas And Fair Ellender’, which Paul has sung ever since he heard Mike Seeger’s version back in the 60s, and ‘The Cocks Are Crowing’, which he learned from the singing of the late Eddie Butcher from Magilligan in County Derry.

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

Not from Unfinished Business, of course but this is Paul Brady’s real classic ‘Arthur McBride’: