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:

The Shires added to Towersey line-up

The UK’s biggest country/ Americana act completes Towersey Festival’s massive 2018 line-up

Towersey

Acclaimed British country duo The Shires are the final headline act to be announced for the 54th Towersey Festival (24-27 August 2018, Thame, Oxfordshire).

Hailing from Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes, aka The Shires, are the biggest selling UK country act of all time, and the first UK act to be honoured with a Country Music Association (CMA) Award. Winning over US audiences with their lauded take on the revered genre, they’ve even performed in Nashville’s hallowed Grand Ole Opry, the very heart of country music.

With two record-setting Top 10 albums behind them (Brave and My Universe), their much-anticipated third collection, Accidentally On Purpose, is released on 20 April 2018. Recorded in Nashville, Tennessee, the album combines massive country-pop choruses with emotive lyrics inspired by their whirlwind journey, relationships, and their time in the States.

The duo close Towersey Festival on Monday 27 August 2018, and join previously announced headliners Richard Thompson Electric Trio (Fri), The Proclaimers and Big Country (Sat), and Beth Orton (Sunday). The line-up also features the Americana-tinged Wildwood Kin, songwriter/ guitarist Blair Dunlop, William The Conqueror, and the bluegrass influenced Bella Gaffney and Polly Bolton.

Towersey Festival Director Joe Heap said: “We’re so pleased to finally announce The Shires as the last of our headline acts this year. They’re quite simply the biggest UK country/ Americana act there is, and they’ll be making the August Bank Holiday Monday a day to remember!”

Situated in easy reach of London and Birmingham, on the Oxfordshire/ Buckinghamshire border, and established in 1965, Towersey is one of the UK’s longest continuously running independent music festivals. Boasting 11 venues, alongside an extensive music programme the festival also features 24hrs of ceilidh, daily workshops, a well-stocked real ale bar, street food, spoken word, film screenings, events and activities for children and younger festival-goers, and more.

Tickets for Towersey Festival, which runs from Friday 24 to Monday 27 August 2018 at Thame Showground in Oxfordshire, are available now (Tier 3) from £129 (adult), £115 (conc), £91 (youth), £59 (child) for the full four days. Day tickets are also available (adult £40; youth £28; child £18). Under 5s are free.

For further information, and to book, see: www.towerseyfestival.com

Lincoln Alive announces its festival line-up

Lincoln Alive

Before we know it summer will be upon us, and by popular demand, so will this festival……

Solid Entertainments is delighted to announce that the festival will be returning to the county and taking place at Lincoln Alive on Saturday 14th July 2018

Following the great success of last years festival, the line-up had to be “equally…….if not more impressive” and with Jacqui McShee’s Pentangle headlining, special guest Julie Felix and four other very different striking acts; this will most definitely be a musical experience not to miss!

Born in London on Christmas day 1943 Jacqui McShee grew up listening to music played on her parents gramophone – from Fats Waller, Ella Fitzgerald and big bands through to popular classics.  Jacqui showed little interest in music though until she heard Miles Davis and John Coltrane at CND friends, becoming the most important thing for her – it quite literally changed her life.  On CND marches she would lead the singing with her sister Pam and did many gigs locally in South East London for charities such as War On Want and Oxfam.

Jacqui’s beautiful crystal-clear vocals set the standard for female British folk and the band was legendary on the folk-rock scene with virtuoso guitarists John Renbourn and Bert Jansch, Danny Thompson and Terry Cox.  The original Pentangle expanded the frontiers of Folk in the 1960s and ’70s and since then, Jacqui McShee’s Pentangle has progressed and expanded the original concept and continues to make ground-breaking music.

In 1964 Julie Felix arrived in England after leaving California and became the first solo folk artist to be signed to a major British record company when she signed with Decca.  In 1966 Julie became the resident singer on the amazingly popular TV programme The Frost Report, and quickly became a household name.  She went on to appear in her own TV series on BBC1 and BBC2 and recorded hit singles on Mickey Most’s RAK label.

In October 2013, Julie was invited to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Camilla.

The full line-up comprises

  • Jacqui McShee’s Pentangle – features saxophonist Gary Foote, bassist & guitarist Alan Thompson, drummer & percussionist Gerry Conway and Spencer Cozens on keyboards!
  • Julie Felix – with over 50 years in the music world, Julie will be celebrating her 80th birthday in 2018 with a special concert at the Charing Cross Theatre in London!
  • Blair Dunlop – in a short four year career is astounding alone but what sets Blair apart from his peers is the lyrical and musical maturity with which he writes!
  • Galley Beggar – with a sound that incorporates all manner of unexpected elements while always celebrating the mischievous spirit of folk music across the centuries!
  • Said The Maiden – three friends who discovered a mutual love of folk music when they reunited several years after spending their school years together in Hertfordshire!
  • The Beaubowbelles – combining the swing, wit and class of a vintage vocal harmony group with the depth, heart and energy of a contemporary English folk band!

No need to worry about searching for food and drinks on the day either, there will be a range of alcoholic/non-alcoholic beverages, real ales available and a varied menu that should meet everyone’s taste!

Early Bird Tickets are only £23.00 and to book, please call 01472 349 222 or go online at http://www.lincolnfolkfestival.co.uk/tickets.html

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: