VARIOUS – From Here: English Folk Field Recordings (From Here Sitw005)

From HereThey may be newcomers to the scene, but Stick In The Wheel are certainly making their mark, not just with their own recordings and associated artifacts, but in their involvement with the folk world in general, and the traditional in particular.

Band members Ian Carter and Nicola Kearey serve as curators, collaborators and producers for this collection of new live recordings by both the great and good and some of the lesser known luminaries in the genre. The remit for those involved was to record songs that explored either place or their musical identity, culminating in a gathering of field recordings captured in locations as diverse as a stone cottage in Edale, a bank vault and a garden at Robin Hood’s Bay using just two stereo microphones and with no subsequent overdubs.

As you would imagine, the tracks are stark and raw, first up being ‘Bedfordshire May Carol’, chosen by performer Jack Sharp, leader of psych-folk outfit Wolf People, as it supposedly originated just a few miles from where he grew up. Next up, Eliza Carthy leads a flurry of more familiar names with a self-penned number, ‘The Sea’, a new setting of the broadside ballad found in Manchester’s Chetham Library and featuring on her current album, the initial pizzicato fiddle giving way to more robust playing. She’s followed by one of the veterans of English folk, John Kirkpatrick, applying his accordion to a song from his lengthy repertoire and a folk club staple ‘Here’s Adieu To Old England’, while his sometimes musical partner, Martin Carthy, also chose a number he’s recently reintroduced back into his sets, ‘The Bedmaking’, a familiar tale of the abused and cast aside servant girl. fingerpicked here to a halting rhythm.

Sandwiched in-between is one of the rising stars of the few folk firmament, the Peak District’s Bella Hardy, who went to 19th century collection The Ballads and Songs of Derbyshire for ‘The Ballad of Hugh Stenson’, setting it to a more upbeat tune than the hymnal adapted by Jon Tams, while, another member of folk royalty, Jon Boden puts his squeezebox to work on a contemplative take on 19th century drinking song ‘Fathom The Bowl’.

There’s a couple of spokes from the Wheel, both unaccompanied, Kearey delivering glottal version of the much covered ‘Georgie’ and Fran Foote ‘The Irish Girl’. They’re not the only numbers to be sung naked as it were. BritFolk alumnus Lisa Knapp has a lovely treatment of the tumblingly melodious ‘Lavender Song’, while, also from the female side, Fay Hield tips the hat to Annie Briggs with her choice of ‘Bonny Boy’.

On the other side of a capella gender fence, Geordie folkie Stew Simpson mines his Newcastle roots for ‘Eh Aww Ah Cud Hew’ (which the accompanying booklet helpfully translates as “Oh Yes, I Could Pick At The Coals”), Sam Lee turns the evergreen ‘Wild Rover’ on its head to transform it into a slow, sad lament rather than more familiar rollicking rouser of Dubliners and Pogues note, and, from Wales, a deep-voiced Men Diamler closes the album with ‘1848 (Sunset Beauregard)’, a self-penned political protest ballad about Tory policies. The remaining unaccompanied track is actually a duet, Peta Webb and Ken Hall joining voices for an Irish in London in the 50s marriage of Ewan MacColl’s ‘Just A Note’, about the building of the M1, and Bob Davenport’s account of the dangers of ‘Wild Wild Whiskey’.

The three remaining tracks are all instrumentals. Bristol’s acoustic instrumental quartet Spiro are the only band on the collection and provide their self-penned ‘Lost In Fishponds’, apparently about getting lost en route to a gig, joined here by North Wales violinist Madame Česki, while Sam Sweeney brings his fiddle to bear on two tunes. ‘Bagpipers’, one of the first things he played with his band Leveret, and ‘Mount Hills’, an English dance tune from the 17th century. Which leaves Cumbrian concertina maestro Rob Harbron to provide the third with a pairing of ‘Young Collins’, a Costwolds’ tune learned from Alistair Anderson, and, another from the Morris tradition, ‘Getting Up The Stairs’, which, by way of a pleasing synchronicity, he actually learned by way of John Kirkpatrick on the influential Morris On album.

It more than does the job it set out to achieve, and, likely to loom large in end of year awards, fully warrants a place in any traditional folk fan’s collection.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website: www.stickinthewheel.com

Stew Simpson – ‘Eh Aww Ah Cud Hew’:

CAMBRIDGE CITY ROOTS FESTIVAL – Various artists and venues, 3-11 February 2017

City Roots Festival
Photographs by Su O’Brien

The 2017 inaugural City Roots Festival is kind of like an expansion pack for the Cambridge Folk Festival: a winter top-up with lots of bonus features. Aiming to expand the relationship between folk/roots music and the city, the Folk Festival organisers lined up a diverse roster of artists over one week at assorted venues across the city.

Home-grown talent Steven James Adams opened the week with his new band The French Drops, providing witty and lively songs with a conscience. Then there was a choice between Mary Chapin Carpenter (with Edale’s finest, Bella Hardy, in support) with her classic country-infused songs or the edgier sounds of Jim Moray.

A day of workshops on working in the music industry, hosted by Anglia Ruskin University’s music department, was considered, by one attendee at least, to have been very useful. The evening could be rounded off in the evening by some folk club sessions in the Cambridge University Union Bar, or at The Transatlantic Sessions, a melting pot of Celtic and Americana sounds. Or, like me, you might choose to take in an entertaining evening in the company of singer-songwriters Amy Wadge and Luke Jackson.

Replicating the Folk Festival’s “up & coming” stage, The Den, at local venue CB2, was a two-night showcase including Janet Devlin, SJ Mortimer, Honey and the Bear, Mortal Tides, Ben Smith and Jimmy Brewer, and Kerry Devine.

The riotous Mad Dog McCrea returned as headliners, following their support slot for New Model Army just a few months ago. Noble Jacks, their support act, look like being a band worth watching, too. On a completely different tack, skilful guitar playing with a twist was provided by Paolo Angelli & Derek Gripper.

On the final day, the bitter sleet was braved by a staunch group of great musicians who’d rashly agreed to busk around the city, including five-piece band Morganway, Pat Crilly & Greg Camburn, Ben Smith & Jimmy Brewer (whose delicious harmonies almost made it feel like summertime: almost) and guitarist Matt Hammond. And these were just the ones I managed to see, so my apologies to those I missed out. Luckily, there was a warm welcome from the folk clubs inside the Union Bar, a place to retreat and thaw out red-raw fingers to play some fine indoor sets, too.

Sadly, the headliner for the closing night, Salif Keita cancelled due to illness, but Sona Jobarteh stepped up, with Muntu Valdo in support.

There is no question about the quality and diversity of the artists taking part, and Cambridge has the range of venue sizes to manage internationally renowned stars and breakthrough acts. Just a bit of housekeeping needs attention, if – as the organisers hope – this is to become an annual event. Several gigs had no visible City Roots branding at all, leaving a lack of any feeling of cohesion that an umbrella, multi-venue festival like this really needs. In established Cambridge tradition, laminated posters were cable-tied to railings around town and local press published articles, but details of updates to the schedule were often only sketchily available online, like the re-organisation of some of the final day activities. Attention to small details like these would make big improvements to the overall experience, but there’s no doubt that City Roots will be a welcome addition to the festival calendar.

Su O’Brien

Festival website: https://www.cambridgelivetrust.co.uk

BELLA HARDY – With The Dawn (Noe Records NOE08)

BELLA HARDY – With The DawnLike Songs Lost And Stolen, Bella Hardy’s new album is a set of her own songs. However, With The Dawn has none of the folkiness of its predecessor, which was essentially a collection of her best unrecorded songs one of which, ‘The Herring Girl’, won a Radio 2 folk award. These songs were written about a year in Bella’s life; life on the road, life plagued with personal difficulties. My first thought was that it was a bloody awful year but Bella prefers to think of it as the sort of period everyone goes through at some time. It’s about turning thirty and leaving the years of youth behind, tackling grown-up problems.

Most of the fiddle we hear is plucked, Bella’s preferred way of writing. Indeed, most of ‘Lullaby For A Grieving Man’ was recorded on an iPhone before producer Ben Seal added the finishing touches. Echoing the plucked fiddle are three banjo players including Cara Luft, giving the record its feeling of fragility. The strength and much of the decoration is brass and drums heavy on the cymbals but an image of Bella on the sofa with her violin remains.

The opening track and single is ‘The Only Thing To Do’ in part the story of a failed love affair and in part a reflection on her career. “So should I hide a broken heart? Or let the world tear me apart again?” she sings. Again? An impartial observer would say that Bella has had it pretty good so far. Other songs tread similar ground and ‘Another Whisky Song’ and ‘Oh! My God! I Miss You’ could be pages from the Morrissey song-book. The only song written for a commission, ‘Jolly Good Luck To The Girl That Loves A Soldier’, fits the mood perfectly. There are moments of optimism like ‘The Darkening Of The Day’, ‘Time Wanders On’ and ‘And We Begin’ – flashes of light that aren’t really the train signal masquerading as ‘First Light Of The Morning’. Bella seems to be searching for signs; is it morning or night that brings solace?

There is a long tradition of soul-searching and confessional albums and With The Dawn certainly belongs to it. But I can’t decide whether it is truly cathartic, a spontaneous outpouring of ideas and emotions, or carefully remodelled. The arrangements and Bella’s singing are both superb and Ben’s production does enough to grab the attention without dominating the songs.

Whatever you or I may think of it, With The Dawn will be in the frame next awards season.

Dai Jeffries

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.

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

‘The Only Thing To Do’ – the official video:

Songs For The Voiceless – Album release

SFTV_logo

Some of the UK’s finest folk artists formed a collective to release this autumn album marking the WW1 centenary and unlocking myriad muted voices of that time. Songs For The Voiceless (released October 13), will also be toured as a live show in the run-up to Remembrance Sunday. It brings together some of the brightest British roots talents, BBC award winners and nominees, including Bellowhead frontman Jon Boden and 2014 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards Folk Singer of the Year, Bella Hardy.

The brainchild of Sheffield musician Michael J Tinker, of the Bright Season trio, it also features 2013 Folk Awards Best Duo nominees Katriona Gilmore & Jamie Roberts, elegant songstress Josienne Clarke, Ian Stephenson (KAN, 422, Baltic Crossing), Tom Oakes (Ross Couper and Tom Oakes) and Hartlepool’s popular The Young ‘uns (Sean Cooney, David Eagle, Michael Hughes.)

SFTVartists

Says Michael: “There are so many First World War stories to tell and with the passing of time more and more will be lost. Our aim was to use song to bring some of these stories to a wider public. We wanted to tell the tales of real people, whatever their opinions of the war, with all the passions and emotions they might have felt.”

In the skilled hands of top folk music producer Andy Bell, the end result is nine poignant original narrative songs and a bonus track, from the perspective of both soldiers and civilians, set in locations from English villages to the trenches. Inspired by poems, diaries, memoirs and books, the songs give a voice to the unheard – “everyman” stories from a period of history that impacted the lives of so many and left us mourning a lost generation of husbands, fathers and sons. Some of the tracks were inspired by the artists’ ancestors.

SFTVThe album release will be supported by a five day tour starting at Bury Met on Wednesday, November 5 followed by a London date at Kings Place, shows in two cathedral cities (Winchester and Salisbury) and Chatham’s Brook Theatre in Kent. The tour finale at the Salisbury Arts Centre will be on Remembrance Sunday.

Due to other commitments, the touring band will see BBC award-winning fiddle singer Jackie Oates replace Josienne Clarke while Matt Downer (bassist with Jamie Smith’s Mabon) will step in for Ian Stephenson at some gigs.

With many songs dedicated to individuals and all proceeds going to The Poppy Appeal the album is released on the Haystack Records label and distributed by Proper Music.

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.

Project website: www.songsforthevoiceless.co.uk

THE ELIZABETHAN SESSION out now

LizSessionFeaturing Martin Simpson, Nancy Kerr, Bella Hardy, Jim Moray, John Smith, Hannah James, Rachel Newton & Emily Askew

This 14 track CD showcases the multi-artist commission from Folk by the Oak and the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) inspired by the music, the people, the myths and the stories of the Elizabethan age.

From John Smith’s darkly brooding track ‘London’ reflecting on life as a peasant in Elizabethan England to Nancy Kerr’s deeply moving ‘Shores of Hispaniola’ examining the era’s slave trade; The Elizabethan Session is a ground breaking album of exceptional new music that beautifully conjures up the spirit of the age. It reflects the collective talent of some of the cream of the contemporary folk world, who lived and worked together for five days in March 2014, absorbing the spirit of the era and translating it into outstanding new music. Continue reading THE ELIZABETHAN SESSION out now

THE ELIZABETHAN SESSION – The Elizabethan Session (Quercus Records QUERCUS001)

LizSessionThere is an assumption common in some quarters that history is all about the past”, says Dr Ian Mortimer in his sleeve note. “In reality, history is about you and me.” That view was certainly taken on board by the “folk supergroup” (Dr Mortimer again) who were locked up at Monnington House until they had written an album. In this case the gaolers were The English Folk Dance And Song Society and Folk By The Oak.

This is a sometimes revisionist view of the first Elizabethan era sometimes applying 21st century values to 16th century events. I’m no historian and cannot comment on the accuracy of the songs in The Elizabethan Session but I can’t help feeling that few songwriters would have penned ‘The Oak Casts His Shadow’ or felt the need to. That it was Nancy Kerr who did so shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise and she almost immediately has a sly dig at Richard III – or at least the Tudor propaganda version – in ‘Suspicious Mind’ written with John Smith. Nancy also opens the proceedings with ‘The Shores Of Hispaniola’, a brilliant song which considers the slave trade from the point of view of a woman left behind, presumably in West Africa. You might get the impression that Gloriana doesn’t figure as a feminist role model for her.

The Elizabethan Session @ Folk By the Oak in 2014
The Elizabethan Session @ Folk By the Oak in 2014

The song that perhaps best encapsulates Mortimer’s dictum is ‘Hatfield’. Bella Hardy begins from a childhood memory of her sister playing Elizabeth at the house to consider the queen’s troubled childhood. For the most part, however, the view is that of the underdog. Martin Simpson contributes a short, bitter song on the death of Kit Marlowe – Shakespeare doesn’t get look-in – and the countryman in John Smith’s ‘London’ dreams of the great city and wishes for a better life. Continue reading THE ELIZABETHAN SESSION – The Elizabethan Session (Quercus Records QUERCUS001)