SHORTSTUFF – Big Blue (Blonde On Blonde DCT16BB01)

Big BlueWhen I first played this album I assumed that Shortstuff were American and had been playing the blues for years. Big Blue has a confident swing about it that invites you in and settles you down. In fact Dave Thomas and Hugh Gregory met in London and once enjoyed a residency at the Half Moon. That was in the mid-70s and their debut album has taken forty-two years to emerge blinking into the light.

The earliest tracks here were recorded in 1975 and the rest in 1992 but the vintages are not revealed on the album. I’d guess that the later ones feature Steve Jinks on percussion and bass and have the feel of more modern recording technology but I could be wrong. The nine songs are all covers and come from a mixed bag of sources.

The opener is Johnny Cash’s ‘Hey Porter’ a single by the Man In Black in 1958. The original had all the hallmarks of Cash’s country style with that familiar bass riff. Shortstuff dispense with all that and turn the song into a lazy blues with two guitars playing contrasting parts and Thomas’ harmonica in the break. Next is ‘I Sing ‘Em The Way I Feel’ by J B Lenoir and again Shortstuff strip away the African influences of the original and almost take the song back to Lenoir’s early New Orleans style instead of the Chicago funk of his original. Even as “cover artists” Thomas and Gregory brought something of themselves to their choice of material.

There are two songs by J J Cale, including the gorgeous ‘Magnolia’ and other sources include John Mayall, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee and Dan Hicks. ‘Honeybabe’ is traditional and ‘Sitting On Top Of The World’ is credited to Terry and McGhee rather than Vinson and Chatmon but it may be that Shortstuff just borrowed their arrangement.

Word has it that Shortstuff will reunite to tour this year.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: http://davethomasband.weebly.com/

DAVE BURLAND AND THE AWKWARD SQUAD – Okkard (Fat Cat FATCD037)

OkkardDave Burland may have recorded one of the definitive folk albums of the seventies but he’s always been a rocker at heart as anyone who has been in the same room as Shagpile will testify. Alongside him in The Awkward Squad are two members of that band, Dave Fisher and Bryan Ledgard and their first album, Okkard, is a perfect example of having fun with the music they love.

The big noise here is Fisher on keyboards and steel guitars and I’m guessing that he takes the lead on ‘Lay Down Your Weary Tune’ which is built on piano with three voices on the chorus. The Awkward Squad take it a little faster than is usual with odd little twists in the phrasing that makes it much brighter than the dirge it can become. It’s electric piano that introduces the opening track, ‘Reynardine’ with solid guitar and drums from Ledgard. Burland’s distinctive laid-back delivery adds to the gentle rolling feel of the arrangement. He switches to mandolin for Terry Allen’s ‘New Delhi Freight Train’ over Fisher working the left hand end of the keyboard.

What they do to ‘Country Life’ is quite amazing. A not-quite honky-tonk piano is matched with a sort-of syncopated vocal line and Willie Nelson’s ‘Crazy’ is given a full-blown nightclub feeling with backing vocals courtesy of Chris While and Julie Matthews. It’s not all fun, though. ‘Kitchener’s Finger’, written by Burland, is paired with ‘The Bloody Fields Of Flanders’ and ‘Lamkin’ is as dark a version as you could wish to hear, fleshing out the “mason” storyline.

‘Long Distance Love’ and Steve Goodman’s wonderful ‘City Of New Orleans’ are more familiar territory – this is possibly the best version of the latter that I’ve heard – and I was convinced that the final track, ‘Spencer The Rover’, appeared on Dave’s first album, but of course it doesn’t. As far as I can tell this is the first time he’s recorded it. No matter; it’s a perfect Dave Burland song to bring Okkard to a close.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the DAVE BURLAND AND THE AWKWARD SQUAD – Okkard link 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.

ORDER – [CD]

Label website: www.circuitmusic.co.uk

‘Kitchener’s Finger’ – Dave Burland live:

FINTAN McHUGH – Wait Till The Clouds Roll By (own label)

Wait Till The Clouds Roll ByWait Till The Clouds Roll By is the debut album from young Irish singer Fintan McHugh. It has been available for a while but has only recently come into our possession and we feel compelled to bring it to your attention. Fintan plays guitar and cittern and for his instrumental breaks he chooses harmonica. Bringing a modern style of moothie to a traditional ballad gives the song a new slant.

Fintan opens the set with the title track, a nineteenth century parlour until it was appropriated for the folk scene, probably by Uncle Dave Macon. It’s an excellent start with a good chorus to settle the listener in but, for me, the key track comes next. ‘Lord Saltoun & Annachie Gordon’ is one of my favourite ballads and Fintan’s long version wrings every ounce of pathos out of the text. The use of the harmonica somehow transforms the song, giving it a modern resonance in a way that I can’t quite explain.

‘The Rocks Of Bawn’ is a song I’ve never quite understood but it would seem that after Cromwell “subdued” Ireland the best land was given to the Protestant incomers while the Irish were moved to the inhospitable west coast. Some versions refer to a recruiting sergeant because a life in the army was considered a better bet than scratching a living out the rocky coast. Fintan’s version goes straight to the top and wishes for the Queen herself to ride along and recruit him. He uses the cittern almost as a percussion instrument on the song, maintaining a steady beat on the bass strings.

Fintan was much influenced by Andy Irvine as a youth, borrowing ‘You Rambling Boys Of Pleasure’ from him and basing his arrangement of ‘The Blacksmith’ on Planxty’s. There is a dynamism about his guitar playing that reflects their style. He sings ‘A Stór Mo Chroí’ unaccompanied, almost as a warning to the addressee who has made the decision to leave Ireland to escape the potato famine rather than as a song of sentiment and longing.

There are two of Fintan’s own songs in the set and it’s interesting to note that sometimes his phrasing echoes the uneven line lengths of traditional ballads. To be honest, these songs are rather insubstantial compared with the mighty texts they sit among, but this is still an impressive debut album.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.fintanmchugh.com

‘A Stór Mo Chroí ‘ – official video:

MONSTER CEILIDH BAND – Mutation (Haystack Records HAYCD011)

MutationThere was a time when I would stand in front of a ceilidh band and when things were going well and you had a hall full of people who were into it it was the most fun you could have with your clothes on. When it comes to recording an album a ceilidh band has two choices: play the music four-square for dancing and teaching or spice it up a bit. The first option must be deadly for the band so, with Mutation, Monster Ceilidh Band have opted for the latter, recording this set live off the floor at Castle Sound under the watchful eye of Stuart Hamilton.

The band can boast four writers who are responsible for 80% of the record. There’s Amy Thatcher, purveyor of accordion to The Shee and Kathryn Tickell, fiddlers Shona Mooney (The Shee) and Grace Smith (The Rachel Hamer Band) and multi-instrumentalist Kieran Szifris, who restricts himself to octave mandolin on this album. Add a couple of traditional tunes and a borrow from Adam Sutherland and there you have it. Monster Ceilidh Band don’t go in for monster medleys only pairing tunes.

The opening set, ‘Venus’, is one such pairing, mating ‘Proximo B’ by Shona with ‘Venus’ by Amy. The others are ‘Mutated Beeswing’ pairing the essentially fiddle solo of ‘The Beeswing Hornpipe’ with Shona’s title track. It’s not clear who the soloist given but as Amy joins in after a couple of minutes I’m guessing it’s Shona. ‘Mutation’ is mutated by Joseph Truswell’s electronics which are a feature of the album. Here, there is something that could be accordion but could equally be distorted wordless vocals.

The band move seamless from that to the relatively conventional ‘All The Swingle Ladies’ by Keiran, half of which you could dance to if you could keep up the pace. Great titles include ‘Trouser Worrier’, ‘Octopus’ and ‘Disgrace’, the latter coming from the quill of Grace Smith as if you had to ask. Even past the record’s half-way mark we hear something new as ‘Never Will’ is introduced by snarling, distorted…what? Bass, I suppose as David de la Haye takes a brief solo.

No, you’re not going to dance (in any formal sense) to ‘Mutation’, although Joseph’s drums are rock solid throughout, but you will enjoy some musical invention.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the MONSTER CEILIDH BAND – Mutation link 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.

DOWNLOAD – [CD]

Artists’ website: http://monsterceilidhband.co.uk/

‘Disgrace’:

COVEN live at the West End Centre, Aldershot

Coven
Photograph by Dai Jeffries

Coven aren’t so much a group as a collective made up of three elements. On the one hand there is the musical delicacy of Lady Maisery and on the other the homespun Yorkshire charm that O’Hooley & Tidow exploit. In the middle is Grace Petrie, a thorn between two roses, and more of her anon.

They originally came together three years ago to celebrate International Women’s Day, which coincidentally was the date of this event, and their show still has that as its central theme.  Lady Maisery opened with ‘Sing For The Morning’ from their latest album followed by ‘Portland Town’, a remarkable arrangement featuring fiddle and feet before finishing with ‘The Crow On The Cradle’.

Next came Grace Petrie who I hadn’t heard before. She’s something of a fire-brand and the wit of her stage chat carries over into her writing. Her first song, ‘A Revolutionary In The Wrong Time’, describes her career: “not folky enough for Whitby; not cool enough for Cambridge” is her self-deprecating description. The second song, written for her niece Ivy, describes rushing away from Glastonbury to be home for her arrival. It is probably the most unsentimental sentimental song you’ll hear and Grace wrapped up her set with her contender for the new national anthem, ‘God Save The Hungry’. I really liked her and her crusade to prove that there are still protest singers around – and that there is still a need for them.

Belinda and Heidi chose three songs about inspiring women: ‘Beryl’ and ‘The Pixie’ from Shadows and ‘Too Old To Dream’ from their first album. Three songs about three very different women in very different circumstances.

Coven only sang six songs as a unit, the six that appear on their EP, ‘Unholy Choir’, and I found that a little disappointing. The first of these closed the first half: Rowan Rheingans’ new setting of ‘Bread And Roses’ which dispenses with the martial rhythm of the more usual version.

The second set followed a slightly different pattern. O’Hooley & Tidow opened with ‘Gentleman Jack’ and ‘The Needle & The Hand’ before bringing the whole group together for ‘Coil & Spring’. Lady Maisery did likewise with ‘Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood’ and ‘Order And Chaos’ before ‘This Woman’s Work’. Grace’s two solos led into ‘If There’s A Fire In Your Heart’ to close the show.

Well, of course, there were two encores; The Roches’ ‘Quittin’ Time’ and ‘Never Turning Back’ and Coven really gave us our money’s worth with a show that lasted well over two hours and never outstayed its welcome. There are five gigs left on this tour and that will be it until next year unless the rumours of summer festivals are true. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ websites: http://ohooleyandtidow.com/
https://www.ladymaisery.com/about
http://gracepetrie.com/

Venue website: https://hampshireculturaltrust.org.uk/

‘This Woman’s Work’:

KING’S GAMBIT – From One To Another (own label)

From One To AnotherIf you take away the rock excesses of folk-rock you’re left with Northampton’s King’s Gambit – a band that rocks acoustically while still capable of musical delicacy. I don’t like to make comparisons but they have something of the style and drive of CC Smugglers. From One To Another is their third album, all original material written by Chris Startup – give or take what he’s done to ‘St. James Infirmary’.

Chris, who is also lead vocalist, plays guitar and harmonica; Katie Paton plays bass; Helen Turton plays cello and Andrew Higgins provides the top notes on mandola, mandolin and banjo. All four sing making for solid harmonies and raucous backing vocals. Chris’s songwriting subjects are varied. ‘People Versus’ is about a pub fight and is reminiscent of something Robb Johnson might come up with in a lighter moment. ‘Mary Jane’ is a drug-fuelled dream but also about the loss of precious environment, a subject he’d already addressed in ‘The Only One’ in a very different context.

He describes ‘Into The Rolling Sea’ as a good ‘ol drinking song but it’s more about the aftermath of too many good ‘ol drinks. The opener, ‘A Maiden Fair’ has the feel of a traditional song, albeit one introduced on harmonica, while being firmly set in the present day and, like all Chris’ lyrics it leaves you with something to chew over later.

There are three instrumental tracks. The first, ‘Charles Baker’, features Andrew with support from Chris Hewett’s guest accordion but the thing that struck me all the way through the album is the role of the cello. Helen happily plays a lead part sometimes but her key job is holding the middle of the musical register with fills and counter-melodies. Katie keeps the beat solid in the absence of drums and even gets a bass solo on the closing title track.

This is an album that I liked from the off and then grew on me.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the KING’S GAMBIT – From One To Another link 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.

DOWNLOAD – [CD]

Artists’ website: http://www.kingsgambit.co.uk/

‘Into The Rolling Sea’: