I was handed this album with the warning that it was “hard-core folk music”. If your thing is experimentation and big arrangements, Jauling The Green Tober will not be for you; if your thing is real traditional folk songs sung the way they used to be sung, you’ll be very happy. Viv and Thomas both come from Traveller families but with different backgrounds. Viv is based mainly in Cornwall and is a descendant of the Orchard family while Thomas is an Irishman brought up in London. There is no messing about here; no accompaniments and no duets – that isn’t true to the tradition. Each singer solos a song, sometimes suggested by what the other has performed, so we have Thomas singing ‘The Widow’s Only Son’ and Viv singing ‘The Prisoner Lad’ on the same theme. Most of the songs come with a family story involving a confusion of parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. My favourite goes with ‘Good For Nothing Man’ which Viv attacks with obvious relish. It came from her aunt Betsy and how I wish I had heard her sing it.
Although the songs are well documented few are particularly well-known. In fact, only ‘The Dark Eyed Sailor’ bears a familiar title and, yes, it is the familiar song but others have relatives elsewhere. I’m hearing most of them for the first time, however, and I’m happy that they have been recorded in an authentic fashion. Two songs are not traditional although ‘The Young Rackly’, put together by Viv and her mother Sophie started out that way. ‘Romany Rose’ was written especially for Viv by Tony Truscott.
There are no recording tricks employed here and what you hear is what was sung. Viv’s style is direct and straightforward with all her vivacity poured into the light-hearted songs. Thomas learned the old style of the midland region of Ireland which takes a bit of getting used to. It’s packed with grace notes and an exaggerated vibrato with Thomas emphasising the “Irishisms” of pronunciation. I doubt that many others can still sing this way. In both cases I’m reminded of the lack of pretension displayed the first time I heard Fred Jordan sing – the song was all. These are family songs originally performed at gatherings and celebrations and we’re privileged to hear them.
There’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.
A musician once commented on social media that the word he hated seeing in a review was “interesting”. I was as guilty as anyone and resolved to stop using it but have to say that An Invitation To Dance is a very interesting concept. Purcell’s Polyphonic Party combines the instrumental talents of Vicki Swan, John Dipper and Jonny Dyer and the album comprises twelve tracks mostly drawn from John Playford’s collections. The thing is that the tempos are strict and the repeats are listed for the dancers among us. The tracks run to between four and six minutes although ‘St Margaret’s Hill’ and ‘Softly Good Tummas’ may tax the stamina a bit.
Fans of John Dipper’s other band, Methera, will love this and as a non-dancer I also approached the album as a listener. Dipper restricts himself to the viola d’amore making it the principal melody instrument and as well as her nyckelharpa, Vicki demonstrates her skill on double bass and various aerophones, including bagpipes. Jonny plays harpsichord and piano as well as guitar, bouzouki and citole.
Inevitably strings dominate but the tracks to which Vicki adds flute, pipes or recorder provide sufficient variety for the listener. My favourite tracks are ‘Terpsichore’, taken from Michael Praetorious – I’ve always preferred early music to modern classical – ‘Mount Hills’ with lots of bagpipes and Jonny’s hand in the composition and ‘Kesterne Gardens’ with a remarkably modern sounding introduction on guitar and bass. There are a couple of maggots, which I discovered a couple of weeks ago is what they called earworms in the 18th century because the tunes go round and round.
I will confess that it’s taken me a couple of plays to get into An Invitation To Dance but now I’m there I can safely say that I’m very happy.
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 PURCELL’S POLYPHONIC PARTY – An Invitation To Dance 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.
Pete McClelland, if I may be so familiar to address him thus, has had a busy year. This is his second solo album of 2017 to sit alongside his contributions to Hobgoblin’s 40th anniversary collection. The Turn Of The Tide began as a stage show performed at Cornwall Folk Festival. It includes several well-known songs with singable choruses and went down well as you’d expect. Now it’s recorded with support from Pete’s friends and colleagues.
The album is divided into four sections but it wouldn’t matter if it were otherwise – I think it was a good excuse to get ‘Johnny Sands’ into the set. He begins with one of my favourite songs, ‘The Island Of St Helena’, which isn’t heard anywhere near enough these days and follows that with another song from Nic Jones’ catalogue, ‘The Isle Of France’. Pete has a rich voice and isn’t afraid of showing off his impressive range which can be disconcerting when he takes a familiar tune off for a wander. His approach may be described as robust and his supporters follow his lead. That’s fine for a song like ‘Top Alex’ – about the burning of Southend pier – but sometimes it lacks a touch of subtlety.
The second section, Fishing, begins with Stan Rogers’ ‘Make And Break Harbour’ followed by Lennie Gallant’s ‘Peter’s Dream’. This is an inspired pairing mirroring the stoicism and resignation of Rogers’ fisherman with the anger of Gallant’s who finally shoots his boat full of holes. Choruses come with ‘The Herring’s Head’ and Bob Roberts’ ‘Candlelight Fisherman’ and the best song of the Rivers section is undoubtedly the country road-trip of ‘The Appalachian Way’
The album closes with Archie Fisher’s ‘Men Of Worth’. It’s not his best-known song but it wraps the project up rather neatly, exhorting both farmers and fishermen to work on the oil-rigs. It was also considered too controversial for the BBC back in the 1970s. You wouldn’t believe it.
The Turn Of The Tide has a nicely old-fashioned feel – mostly traditional with a thematic link that isn’t overemphasised. On one hand it’s an easy listen and on the other there are songs to make you think about the way the world is. I like it.
For their many fans there is sadness at the news that the latest iteration of Kara has disbanded. With the plan not quite coming together, both Phil Underwood and Pete Morton have had to take their leave to continue with other projects with founding members Daria Kulesh and Kate Rouse enthusiastic to focus on new music. Daria goes back to the beginning of the story.
“I started my musical journey as part of Kara and then, on a whim, decided to release my solo album, Eternal Child, and thought it would just be a little vanity project. Then Long Lost Home was an epic project for me and I really poured all my heart and soul into it and hopefully it’s paid off. The last year has been really incredible on the back of that release and all my adventures and journeys that went with it. Effectively Daria Kulesh has become a thing – I don’t even really know who she is any more – and that has taken over from Kara.
“It was following Kara’s gig at The Troubadour that Pete said it really should be about my leading the band. I was quite excited about working with Pete and sharing the spotlight but what he felt was that I needed to be a mean diva with a mean band backing me.” Pete always had a neat turn of phrase.
The first recruit to the new line-up was pianist Marina Osman. “We’ve known each other for a long time. We were doing some covers…” At this point Daria interrupts to explain that the episode in question was too embarrassing to talk about and then proceeded to explain that they were doing Lady Gaga covers. Marina finally gets a word in again. “It was a great experience but Daria had some much creativeness in her that she could not do just simple covers…and she decided to be a diva.”
Marina starts to explain that they have been working together as a duo on “the Russian project” and Daria leaps in again. “There is just so much serendipity in all of this. Marina and I were, not exactly out of touch, but we hadn’t done anything together for quite a while.” And now it gets complicated – let’s see if I’ve got it. Daria’s song ‘The Moon And The Pilot’ went viral after her appearance on the BBC World Service and her name was out there in Russia and Ingushetia. The presenter also suggested her for an event at Pushkin House, the Russian Cultural Centre, performing music that is virtually unknown in the UK.
“Marina and I learned thirty minutes of material for this event and the director of Pushkin House immediately rebooked us for a full set so we started work on a set of Russian film songs and some Russian folk classics. We kept getting repeat bookings and started mixing it up with some original material and then Marina had a little jam with Kara at The Troubadour. That was when Pete told me she was gold dust and to get her in my band.”
The fourth member of the new band is guitarist Tristan Seume who also works with Jackie Oates and admits to combining classical guitar lessons with busking Levellers’ songs in an underpass. I get the impression that Tristan knows pretty much everybody but how did he end up here?
“I got an email from Kate just over a year ago, asking me if I’d like to try out for a band. I was flattered to get an invitation but at the time I was so committed elsewhere that I left it in my unread folder because I wanted to write a nice, polite, thoughtful response but it just slipped further down my to-do list. Fast forward a year and a change of circumstances and I was going through unread emails and decided to respond to it. Because I was in a silly mood I thought I’d write something just to say ‘for what it’s worth I’ve got some time on my hands’. Within an hour I got a response from Kate.”
Prior to the formal interview, I’d watched the band at work, developing a new arrangement of Daria’s single ‘Vasilisa’ and working on a new song, ‘Pride Of Petravore’, a Percy French piece that had been suggested by Pete. Daria knew the song; Kate knew it in a different key, because Kara had performed it as an instrumental, but neither Tristan nor Marina knew it at all. Within about thirty minutes they had it ready to take into the studio to record a demo. That is the measure of the new band. The interesting thing is that Kate seems to be the one with the ability to sift through all the ideas and pull together the best ones.
“It’s my background”, she says modestly. “I’ve always been arranging my own parts and perhaps hearing things in a slightly different way. I’m the one more familiar with the Kara material but we’ve all learned lessons and become more aware about refining the music in a certain way. Someone needs to say ‘I think it should be this’ and not be shy about it. Plus the dulcimer is a big part of the band and I’m a bit protective about it.
The name of the new line-up was, for a while, a matter for debate. It might have been The Daria Kulesh Band or Daria Kulesh And Friends. I made several suggestions that were, quite rightly, rejected but they have now settled on The Daria Kulesh Quartet. Daria and Marina have recorded some new tracks which may figure on a Vasilisa EP and the new band has spent time in the studio preparing for their first gigs in the new year. It’s all very exciting and I’m looking forward to the finished product.
The only thing wrong with this record is that there isn’t enough of it; only six tracks even though one of them is long. Many readers will be familiar with India Electric Co but for those who haven’t yet had that good fortune let me fill you in. They are Cole Stacey, lead vocalist and percussionist and Joseph O’Keefe who plays all sorts of instruments but here confines himself to violin, piano, guitar, accordion and percussion. Seven Sisters is either their second album after The Girl I Left Behind Me or their second EP after EC1M – I’ll go for the latter – and the title comes from one of the tunes in that long track I mentioned.
The material all started out as traditional and the instrumental stayed that way but the others have been heavily adapted. I had to do some research into the opening track, ‘The Gulley’. It turns out to be a blend of a nineteenth century poem, Alice Gray (much reworked), and a hornpipe, ‘Rusty Gulley’. It’s a remarkably big sound for two musicians to produce with O’Keefe’s violin dancing over the song. ‘Take The Buckles’ is a take on ‘The Shearing’s Not For You’ with some great lines that were never in the original and ‘Chaos’ again left me puzzled. The thrust of it is that we are responsible for screwing up our planet but I’ve no idea how it started life.
‘The Cuckoo’s Nest (My Generous Lover)’ mixes the familiar tune of the former with a version of the latter probably from A L Lloyd originally but which has developed and changed over the last fifty years. The instrumental set follows and the record ends with a version ‘Flash Company’. This is often sung as a chorus but India Electric Co slow it right down to bring out the melancholy of the lyrics which, again, have been adapted to the band’s needs.
Musically, India Electric Co do some remarkable things with these songs and what they do may not be to everyone’s taste but there is no doubt that they can play and that they have some great ideas.
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 INDIA ELECTRIC CO. – Seven Sisters 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.