BLAIR DUNLOP – Notes From An Island (Gilded Wings GWR005)

Notes From An IslandNo artist is going to say their latest album isn’t as good as their previous ones, but when Dunlop says he thinks Notes From An Island is his best to date, he’s not just spouting press release clichés. Again produced by Ed Harcourt, who also contributes bass, and featuring long-standing regulars Jacob Stoney on keys and drummer Fred Claridge alongside guest musicians Archie Churchill-Moss on accordion and violinists Tom Moore and Gita Langley, it strikes both personal and socio-political notes, the Island of the title a reference to both himself and post-Brexit Britain (as well as a riff on Bill Bryson’s celebrated travel memoirs). It’s also the first on which he gets to show off the virtuoso new guitar skills inspired by acquiring the new Gretsch on which most of the songs were written.

It opens with the heady, musically and metaphorically layered ‘Spices From The East’, a five-minute number that initially offers an image of two people sharing their love in cooking a meal together, folding in their spirits with the different ingredients, drinking in the aromas and sharing a plate together. However, as the music gathers from muted beginnings, so too do the lyrics take on a wider vision as they speak of the country’s colonial past and the opening up of trade routes and sea networks into Asia, generally through conflict, that continue to provide access to the titular spices. As such, it speaks of colonial guilt but also, in this troubled refugee times, a call for a masala society in which “we are coalesced whenever we dine”. Interestingly, there are several references to the East throughout the album, with mentions of Persia and the rivers of Babylon.

Dunlop’s songs and frequently veined with melancholy, and mingling the sour with the sweet and here they predominantly centre around negative experiences with bruised and broken relationships. Even so, his take can often be wry. Cases in point being the next two tracks. Taken at a measured pace with simply repeated guitar riff throughout, the organ gradually filling out the sound, ‘Feng Shui’ deals with relationship breakup and the four walls that holds the memories and “the scars from when we threw things across the room”, his mom suggesting he try Feng Shui and rearrange the furniture in the hope of doing the same with his emotions, the song extending to concern the need to redecorate your lives when the relationship wallpaper starts to peel.

More playfully, opening with Harcourt’s jangling 60s folk-rock guitar, ‘Sweet On You’, the poppiest and most commercial thing he’s ever recorded, is about, as he explained at a live show I caught, about a misguided short-lived teenage crush (“Knew you for two years and by the end of the first the writing was on the wall”) on a self-absorbed friend (the lyric is actually ambiguous as to the gender, though he notes how they “started giving time to the girl I gave my heart to”) with a nose for trouble and who, more importantly, in its memorable references to Ry Cooder, didn’t share his musical tastes, the song ending with the confession that “If I had the choice between you and your mother, I know which one I’d choose”. I’d suspect a touch of Buddy Holly influences might have been at work here.

The mood shifts to a more late night bluesy ambience for ‘I Do’, plangent piano notes, bass and a sparse drum beat underpinning a song that revisits the break up in ‘Feng Shui’, an angsty confessional of wanting to be rid of “every liar I’ve been seeing in the mirror at the end of our bed” but wracked by the thought that “I’ll never find anyone fit to hold a candle to you”. In many ways it’s very stoically British, the affair deemed “rather regrettable” and with a deliberately overwritten line in ‘If only I’d lent her my ocular system’s true appraisal of that tight fitting dress” or, to put it another way, “yes, your bum does look big in that”.

Fingerpicked acoustic guitar carries along the folksier ‘One and the Same’, the drums making an entrance midway to beef it up alongside Langley’s violin that seeks to find common ground in shared pain, his voice soaring to falsetto at the end of lines, his intricate Thompson-influenced guitar work again in evidence on the musically uncluttered ‘Within My Citadel’, another infectious melody and bout of self-analysis about going with the wind in order to have a sense of belonging, of building walls to keep from hurt and of, perhaps, prolonged adolescence as he sings about “remnants of a boyhood in disguise.”

Returning to that broken home, the need to move on but being stuck in limbo and smiling for the camera, ‘Nothing Good’ is a slow waltz ballad that paves the way for ‘Threadbare’, another number, its Fleetwood Mac melodic groove enhanced by the West Coast-like guitar pattern, organ swirls, Moore’s violin and Brooke Sharkey’s backing vocals, about love unravelling (and with another mirror reference) and the need to get back on the horse as he sings “I don’t know what love is but I know that it’s out there”.

Melodeon to the fore, ‘Green Liquor’ has a choppy percussive guitar rhythm as he returns to political commentary, the song addressing the paradox of London’s East End where the homeless seek shelter and while buildings stand empty, “earnest for the ghost of a resident”.

It’s back, then, to the fraught dynamics of love with the sparsely arranged ‘Pallet and Brush’ that uses the conceit of him sitting for a painting “coloured by all of my ills” as a relationship metaphor, “our faces disfigured/Forbidding each other to speak.” Although sharing the imagery of distance, love of a different nature shapes ‘Wed To Arms’, a post-Brexit metaphor about conflicting feelings for his country (“I am wed to her charms… but she’s wed to arms”), an island on an island, and the course on which it is set as “we sail the seas of isolation” like “the North Atlantic Drift”.

Maybe it’s that disillusionment that leads the album to end with ‘Cobalt Blue’, an intimate voice and electric guitar that looks for, if not salvation and redemption, then to at least “both go down together” as he sings of his waking freewheeling from a dream of Melbourne and of ploughing Van Dieman’s Land, the penal colony island off south eastern Australia to which convicts from Britain were transported. You know the healing may have begun when you can see the sky and not the ceiling.

Paradoxically, an album that turns it mind to personal and national isolation it may well prove the one that expands the horizons of audience awareness and appreciation far beyond his present borders.

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.blairdunlop.com

‘Feng Shui’ – live:

Brooke Sharkey – new single and album

Brooke Sharkey

Brooke Sharkey will headline London’s Union Chapel and head out on tour with Blair Dunlop.

London based singer-songwriter Brooke Sharkey returns with the release of another outstanding single ‘Offida’. This illustrious song interlaces webs of dreams and fathoms the enchantment of cinema. A brave move for the young artist, but one that is sure to carry her higher in her ever growing success.

‘Offida’ born from Sharkey’s captivating album Wandering Heart, out now, seems to breathe light into the curiosity of love whilst simultaneously casting a haunting spell sending any listener into a dream like state of wonder.

Sharkey has seen plaudits arrive from across the UK and Europe with BBC Radio 2, BBC 6 Music, BBC Scotland along with French, Belgium and Dutch national radio all championing the song-smith and The Guardian naming Brooke among the FUTURE 50 most exciting artists in the world.

With a vocal style that switches effortlessly between lithely melodic and fiery, set against a deeply atmospheric musical backdrop and drawing comparisons with the likes of Kate Bush, Ane Brun and Cat Power, her unique sound can be described as:

“An introspective sound adorned with emotional vocals and sliding string sections that create a tense air of melancholy that few others can master so simply and so elegantly, Brooke Sharkey oozes a creativity that radiates emotion. She is a woman who bleeds artistry.” – Fresh Beats.

Busking since the age of 16 around Europe and the UK, most specifically in London, France and Italy, her broad music influences have connected with a multitude of audiences that include Cambridge Folk Festival, Glastonbury, Larmer Tree, Green Man, Secret Garden Party and Broadstairs Folk Festival.

The London based singer-songwriter is set to headline her biggest show to date at the historic Union Chapel, London the location for what is set to be a triumphant return to the capital as part of the London Folk & Roots Festival, 17th November.

Brooke is set to charm audiences across the UK this October and November on tour with Blair Dunlop.

Artist’s website: http://brookesharkey.co.uk/

‘Offida’ – official:

BLAIR DUNLOP – Gilded (Gilded Wings GWR001)

GildedThe son of Ashley Hutchings, Dunlop’s follow-up to House Of Jacks contains a dozen self-penned songs, all recorded as live with a basic instrumentation of Jacob Stoney on keys, drummer Fred Claridge and bass player Tim Thomas, that find him pushing deeper into the more radio-friendly and catchily melodic frontiers of contemporary folk. This is particularly true of the opening track, ‘Castello’, a song inspired by the experiences and dreams of a Balkan/Latin woman from Manchester he met while touring Europe and which, just as ‘45s’ referenced The Kinks and Dylan, namechecks Joy Division and James. He’s been likened to Jackson Browne and, while this holds true in places (most especially on ‘The Egoist’, a relationship-centred number that wouldn’t have been out of place on Late For The Sky) , listening to ‘She Won’t Cry For Me’, a song seemingly about a relationship fractured by his chosen career (“Your dreams were only ever big enough for two. My dreams are born from other people passing through”), I’m more put in mind of Don McLean playing Richard Thompson, who’s clearly an influence on the stunning guitar work.

Social comment is part and parcel of Dunlop’s work and this is no exception. Built around fingerpicked acoustic guitar and a repetitive, almost mechanical, drum pattern of just three clicks, ‘Eternal Optimist’ addresses the way our lives are dominated by our screens and the way it distances up from real interaction while, as the title suggests, the fingerpicked ‘No Go Zones’ concerns the way the news (and the BBC is specifically mentioned) and scaremongering can inculcate fear in the uninformed Western traveller as well as nodding to the way the ban on fox hunting is blatantly ignored. Which isn’t to say, of course, that some no go zones aren’t very real.

Then there’s ‘First World Problems’, a commentary on giving up control of the manufacturing process, whether that be in terms of a third world farmer’s forced concessions to economic trade (“we can always make it cheaper”) or musical compromise (“the words fall on stony ground without the roots to hold them down”). It’s the first of three co-writes, here with his former Albion Band colleagues, while ahab’s Dave Burns collaborates on the starry-skies mood of the love lost ‘I Don’t Know’ and he teams with Gita Langley for album closer, ‘Phoenix’, a keyboards-led bluesy exploration of the parallels between the mythological bird and someone close to Dunlop.

On a different note, tapping out percussion on his guitar, ‘356’ is a wry song about a man dreaming of buying a classic luxury Porsche sports car with just 40,000 on the clock from a Mayfair showroom before riding off on his bike, and perhaps subconsciously intentionally, reminiscent of Paul Brady’s ‘Crazy Dreams’.

Two tracks make very specific reference to historical figures. That said, the solo acoustic ‘Let’s Dance to Paganini’ is actually another relationship number, here at its birth, hearts sparking to the line “then I knew that it was fate. Let the violins arpeggiate”.

By contrast, and something of a lyrical departure from everything else, opening on an acoustic strum and adding drums and organ ‘Up On Cragside’ is essentially a folk rock potted biography and ode to engineering, sung in the voice of Lord (William George) Armstrong, recounting how he dutifully followed his father into the legal profession before giving it up to pursue his love of machines, first designing a piston for use with the Tyneside dockyard cranes, then setting up a company that forged a light field gun used in both the Crimea and the American Civil War before eventually building the first house (the Northumberland country pile of the title) to use hydroelectricity.

So, songs of the conscience, the heart, the human spirit and the lousy Manchester weather. Sounds like pure gold to me.

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: http://blairdunlop.com/

‘Eternal Optimist’ live in the studio:

Blair Dunlop – new album

Blair Dunlop

Blair Dunlop announces the release of his third studio album Gilded on May 6th 2016. An accomplished writer, guitarist and vocalist, Blair will also be heading out on a 16 date UK tour to promote the new record, kicking off April 20th 2016 in Shrewsbury, including a launch show at London’s Lexington on April 25th.

Gilded follows on from Blair’s highly acclaimed 2014 release House Of Jacks and his outstanding debut album Blight and Blossom in 2012, which saw him win the BBC Radio 2 Folk Horizon Award. Blair is a story-teller, known for his cerebral life affirming lyrics and the new record fares no differently – Gilded is a collection of stories and reflections, recorded in live takes at Manchester’s Blue Print Studios. On this record Blair remains true to his folk roots lyrically whilst continuing to push musically into new areas.

Album opener ‘Castello’ sets the tone for the narrative nature of the record with lyrics inspired by the dreams, lineage and experiences of a woman Blair met while staying at a 14th century Italian castle during a European tour. ‘Eternal Optimist’ was born of his frustration and intrigue at the digital world we now live in, “our real-world experiences seem increasingly subservient to the digital facades we are obsessed with maintaining and refining explains Blair.  ‘First World Problem’, which, written with Blair’s old Albion Band mates, also reflects on society and the lack of compassionate, consequence-based thinking in the Western world, he muses “money talks, at the expense of workers’ welfare, quality of produce, culture and the sustainability of the planet.

Some tracks on the album are more personal. ‘She Won’t Cry For Me’ is a reflective song about the intricacies of a relationship and how the attitudes within it change over time. Blair was also lucky to co-write some songs on the album, writing with Dave Burn from the band AHAB and also with Gita Harcourt-Smith, with whom he co-wrote album closer ‘Phoenix’ on which they explore parallels between the mythology of the Phoenix and someone close to Blair’s heart.

Blair’s career goes from strength to strength. He has won awards, toured all over the UK and overseas, collaborated with a variety of writers and musicians, moved to London and set up his own record label (Gilded Wings Records), all of which have informed, and are reflected in, his mature and astute musical musings. The Guardian described him as an increasingly adventurous songwriter, and it rings even truer now. Blair has the confidence and experience to make the music he has always wanted to.

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.

‘Eternal Optimist’ live:

 

The Armistice Pals

armistice pals header non internetEveryone remembers the charity version of ‘Perfect Day’ with its myriad of voices from the pop and rock world.

Let’s hope everyone will also remember the upcoming answer from the Folk World – ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone?’ – with a plethora of voices from across the acoustic folk and roots spectrum representing the great and the good, young and the old, seasoned and emerging, all on the same single. The group is called The Armistice Pals and is releasing a fitting tribute to Pete Seeger, who sadly passed away this year as well as marking the 100 years anniversary of the breakout of the First World War. All profits will be distributed between four peacekeeping charities.

However, perhaps it’s not a perfect world after all and the late Pete Seeger’s classic anti war song, ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone?’, points a finger at the carnage, supposedly ‘ the war to end all wars’ which tragically mislead us to believe it was worth the sacrifice.  The sacrifice, not only of the lives of those who died, but the resultant desolation and struggle of the loved ones who were left behind. Whole swathes of communities were left bereft of their young men-folk who trustingly signed up into ‘Pals Battalions’, many of whom were never to return, with those who did too often spending lives blighted by the experience.

Armistice Pals is the name of the folk community ‘super band’ who are all performing on this single, which is due out on Remembrance Sunday, 9th November 2014. It was the brain child of Damian Liptrot (manager of folk-rock band Merry Hell), who, as the project expanded, has invited Folkstock’s Helen Meissner on board as co-organiser. The project has attracted over 30 names including Chris and Kellie While, Julie Matthews, Judy Dyble, Christine Collister, Dave Swarbrick, Ray Cooper, Sally Barker, Peter Knight, Boo Hewerdine, Gavin Davenport, Blair Dunlop, Lucy Ward, Ken Nicol, Merry Hell, Luke Jackson and Kelly Oliver. A line up so good that, were it to be a festival, it would undoubtedly be the event of the summer.

The single will be released via the usual digital outlets as well as a physical CD and as a nod to the historical element, a limited edition vinyl 45, on new community label, Folkstock Records.

As this is intended to be a community project, we are inviting Folk Clubs across the country to contribute by organising an ‘Armistice Pals Night’ during the week of the release of the single. This can take any form but should include a collective version of ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone?’ at some point during the evening, followed by a passing round of the hat to support the Armistice Pals charities.

If you would like to know more about the project, all the artists, the charities and the inspiration can be found at http://www.armisticepals.com or contact us direct via armisticepals@hotmail.co.uk

We hope that you will feel able to enlist and offer your support.

Helen and Damian
for The Armistice Pals

THE ARMISTICE PALS: A FULL LIST OF CONTRIBUTORS

Attila The Stockbroker (poet/musician and sheer force of nature, whose father survived the Somme).

Billy Mitchell (one time Jack the Lad, ex-Lindisfarne and much else besides).

Blair Dunlop (One of our brightest, youngest singer-songwriters, currently telling tales from the ‘House Of Jacks’, he also found time for a stint in The Albion Band..).

Bob Pegg (Storyteller, singer-songwriter and member of the legendary Mr Fox).

Boo Hewerdine (one time Bible basher, all time songwriting phenomenon).

Chris While and Julie Matthews (singers, songwriters, multi-instrumentalists, award winners in their own right and members of more prestige bands and projects than you can shake a stick at).

Christine Collister (one time She Devil, ex-Daphne’s Flight, much sought collaborator and loved by Q magazine).

Dave Mather & Peter Robinson (singer/songwriters (one of them has written an opera you know), ex-Houghton Weavers, stand up comedy and currently presenters of Salford City radio’s first folk show).

Dave Swarbrick (simply a living legend. As it says on the flyers, ‘needs no introduction’).

Edwina Hayes (multi-million You Tubed singer-songwriter with the ‘sweetest voice in England’).

Eric Bazilian: (Hooter, hitmaking songwriter worldwide for self and others, now he’s One Of Us!).

Flossie Malavialle (multinational singer et chanteuse aussi, gig travelling traffic reporter).

Gavin Davenport (much vaunted solo singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist, award winning, ex-Albion band member).

Gren Bartley (the spine tinglingly beautiful guitarist, banjo playing poet).

Helen Watson (Singer/Songwriter, multi genre artist, producer and erstwhile member of Daphne’s Flight, Carmel and Sons of Arqa, as well as taking a great photo).

Johnny Coppin (broadcasting singer-songwriter, ex-Decameron and now sufficiently multi-faceted to be considered a true diamond).

Judy Dyble (singer/songwriter, ex-Fairport, nearly King Crimson and Facebook dog blogger).

Kellie While (singer-songwriter considered to have one of the outstanding voices of her generation, ex-member of The Albion Band and so much else, her arrival makes The Pals a family affair as her mother and sometime singing partner Chris is also involved).

Kelly Oliver (singer/songwriter, guitarist and harmonicist who has taken Boots Of Spanish Leather to places most of us can only dream of).

Ken Nicol: (globetrotting, guitar endorsing, ex-Albion Band and Steeleye Span virtuoso).

Kevin Brennan MP (an accomplished musician, fan of folk music and passionate supporter of live music).

Lavinia Blackwall (the vocalist who is both a Trembling Bell and a Crying Lion).

Linda Simpson (singer/songwriter, ex-Prog/Folk/Rock legends Magna Carta and supplier of some ideas that are so good that I’d like to present them as my own).

Lucy Ward (singer/song writer and possibly the current heart of British Folk Music as she gets played on virtually every folk show I listen to regardless of the other tastes of the presenters!).

Luke Jackson (bright young purveyer of Fumes and Faith).

Merry Hell (8 piece folk-rocking explosion of melody and joy).

Ninebarrow (award-winning, Dorsetshire folk duo).

Patsy Matheson (singer/songwriter, spent time Waking The Witch, now The Domino Girl).

Peter Knight (singer/fiddle player, Gigspanner, Feast of Fiddles, Steeleye and holder of the world record for continuously playing the violin whilst travelling up and down the lift in the Empire State Building).

Phil ‘Swill’ Odgers (30 Year veteran of punk-folk luminaries, The Men They Couldn’t Hang).

Ray Cooper (singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist, ex-Oysterband and now a pearl in his own right).

Richard Ryall (singer/songwriter, member of the band Litmuss and he comes from a land Down Under).

Robb Johnson (Irregular singer/songwriter and social conscience).

Said The Maiden (3 rising doyennes with harmonies the envy of angels).

Sally Barker (folk singer and by popular acclaim, the true winner of The Voice).

Sian James (Singer, writer, harpist, composer, conductor and actress from Wales, a big Armistice pals ‘Creoso’ to her).

In addition, there is also The Pals Chorus, made up of friends and members of several folk clubs who will be recorded together to help swell the voices and to represent the fact that this is a true community project.

BLAIR DUNLOP – House of Jacks (Rooksmere Records, RRCD112P)

Blair_Dunlop_-House_of_Jacks_Son of Ashley Hutchings he may be, but ‘Something’s Gonna Give Way’, the riff driven opening track on his sophomore album, firmly suggests the influences of Seth Lakeman and, more pointedly, especially in the third person narrative murder ballad lyrics about school bullying revenge, Richard Thompson.

In tender musical contrast, the fiddle-soothed ‘Fifty Shades Of Blue’ is a slow waltzing meditation on denial that (soaring vocal intro recalling Chris De Burgh) gives way to a title track anchored to the heart and its sometime inability to articulate the depth of its feelings. Clearly not a songwriter to settle for simplistic clichés and the mundane, ‘Chain By Design’ is a simple acoustic slow march exploration of determinism and free will, the more progressive folk rock sonorous, organ underpinned ‘Different Schools’ addressing the need for and barriers to communication and, inspired by Robert Hasting’s poem and, set to a scurrying fingerpicked rhythm, ‘The Station’ muses on life’s journey to its final destination and appreciating the scenery along the way.

Even football serves as a philosophical springboard as nimble fingerpicked guitar instrumental Viola’s Reverie paves the way for The Ballad of Enzo Laviano, the tale of a young Italian footballer (Dunlop a supporter of Spurs and ACF Fiorentina) from a small Sardinian club about to transfer to Naples, a story of difficult choices and decisions (complete with a Godfather reference) etched to Morricone-moody Thompsonesque slow burn bluesy guitar notes.

Perhaps not quite so intellectually weighty, two numbers share the title 45s, a brace of songs about the same fictional Soho nightclub; the first (c69), a bustling snapshot of the 60s London folk scene that namechecks The Kinks, Dylan and (in a somewhat scornful reference) Jackson C Frank, with the music, the pills and a prince and pauper equality where no one cared “if you were loaded or you’re broke”. The second, (c14), brings it up to date with a memorable melody, catchy chorus, Knopfleresque guitar line and a rather more cynical portrait of a sticky floor, self-serving egos, VIP fast tracking, vacuous songs and a clientele of 16 year olds that ensures “a small guy like me sets themselves for a fall”.

Produced by Mark Hutchinson who also contributes guitar alongside such musicians as Guy Fletcher, Tim Harries and Larkin Poe’s Rebecca Lovell, the album ends with the only non-original, the simple voice and guitar ‘Song Of Two Bridges’, a cover of a track penned by his father and erstwhile Albion Band colleague Ken Nicol, a touching acknowledgement of his roots on an album that firmly points to his future.

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.