PROSECCO SOCIALIST – Songs From Behind Bars (Gypsy Chicken Box Records)

Songs From Behind BarsProsecco Socialist emerged late last year with a brilliant single, ‘This Dog’s Just For Christmas (Not For Life)’. It’s the second track here and not really about dogs although perhaps it is about Christmas a la mode but, like most of the Songs From Behind Bars it’s about people.

The band was founded by The Beautiful South’s Dave Rotheray with long-time collaborator Eleanor McEvoy and Mike Greaves who brings his country vibe to the trio. Dave and Eleanor are both clever songwriters with a sharp wit and are a perfect pairing. Dave’s voice is rough and gravely while Eleanor can lay on her accent when cynicism is required. The opening track is ‘The Man Who Faked His Own Life’ by Rotheray and Greaves and it’s not the only song here to leave you with more questions than answers. It’s a fine description of the man, or rather his fake persona, and we can’t know him any more than the writers can.

‘Flowers On The Stream’ is written by Dave, Eleanor and Rod Clements and is a bitter-sweet rocker that first emerged nearly ten years ago but this is the perfect vehicle for it. ‘That’s Just For The Tourists’ is one of two Rotheray/McEvoy compositions. It first appeared on I’d Rather Go Blonde and the other is ‘The Night May Still Be Young (But I Am Not)’ which comes from Love Must Be Tough. Fine songs, both of them.

It may be a cliché to say that a record doesn’t have a single poor track but here it’s true. Of the songs I haven’t heard before ‘Tijuana Nights’, ‘City Of Culture’ (surely not about Hull), ‘Silver Pennies’ and ‘Queen Of The Afternoon’ are already settling into a corner of my brain and, although this may be a coincidence, I really fancy a gin-and-tonic right now.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: https://www.facebook.com/proseccosocialist/

‘This Dog’s Just For Christmas (Not For Life):

BRYONY GRIFFITH – Hover (Selwyn Music SYNMCD0009)

HoverIt’s funny how things go but there seems to something of a resurgence in English fiddle music at the moment. Hover is Bryony’s second solo album although these are in addition to her work with The Witches Of Elswick, partner Will Hampson and The Demon Barbers. Although mostly solo, Ian Stephenson adds guitar and double bass sparingly.

Some of these tunes were collected on Bryony’s travels. ‘The Gaubeo, The Ladds Of Dance & Oaks Assembly’ came from various manuscripts but have gone back into the tradition in reinvigorated form as Bryony’s set for the Newcastle Kingsmen’s rapper dance. ‘Ladies’ Pleasure’ & Constant Billy’ were learned first hand for Bryony to play for Dog Rose Morris and I’d like to think that tunes have been passed around like this for three hundred years or so, although perhaps without the impetus of a Morris weekend. ‘Queen’s Delight & Bonnets So Blue’ came from Lionel Bacon’s book and were also put together for Dog Rose.

It’s not all straightforward Morris tunes, however. ‘Oranges In Bloom’ is Cotswold tune adapted as a slow waltz and paired with ‘The Castle Minuet’. I particularly like ‘Slingsby’s Allemand & The Spanish Spy’ which were collected from old manuscripts but, this being the 21st century, the other sources of tunes are records and websites. It does seem a bit easy when a song or a tune can be taken from the interweb without leaving the comfort of your own home. Now, when I was young… Bryony, however, is scrupulous about naming her sources so anyone wanting to learn one of these tunes has a first port of call.

That may sound cynical but I can see many young fiddlers wanting to learn some of these tunes or a band in need of a new set pouncing on this album. It is also pleasant listening on a summer’s afternoon.

Dai Jeffries

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).

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Artist’s website: www.bryonygriffith.com

CATH & PHIL TYLER – The Ox And The Ax (Ferric Mordant Records Fe10)

The Ox And The AxCath and Phil are based in the north-east – Phil is from Newcastle upon Tyne – but you wouldn’t know it from their music. Their greatest influence comes via Cath who was a member of Cordelia’s Dad back in the 1990s and has absorbed their take on traditional music from America. It also explains the spelling of ax. The Ox And The Ax is their third album but their first in almost a decade.

The majority of their songs come from across the Atlantic although several are known in the UK, often under different titles. The first, ‘The Two Sisters’ is sufficiently well-known not to need description but this version comes from New England via the noted collector Helen Hartness Flanders and owes its roots to several more familiar versions. ‘Finest Flower’ is a variant of ‘The Unquiet Grave’ using a tune from the southern harmony tradition and from there on we are breaking new ground. ‘Rainbow’ is a variant of ‘Locks And Bolts’ very different from the British versions but ‘Rained A Mist’, a song new to me, comes from Arkansas and is a variant of ‘The Jew’s Garden’ which is usually called ‘Little Sir Hugh’ for obvious reasons. I’ll leave you figure out the others.

I’m not sure about the thinking behind supplying a new tune to Ernest Jones’ ‘Song Of The Lower Classes’ given that the familiar one has served so well for so long. It is rather downbeat – understandably – and Cath and Phil’s new setting gives it rather more backbone, more anger.

Cath and Phil build their sound around Phil’s guitar with a heavy emphasis on the bass line, Cath’s fiddle and banjo. There’s a little percussion and trumpet on ‘King Henry’ from Glenn Bruinewoud. I have to confess that I find it a little ponderous at times although the music matches the frequent mood of death and despair in the songs. This isn’t a record to set your feet tapping but if you enjoy the cross-cultural fusion of traditional music between England and its former colony you’ll really enjoy it.

Dai Jeffries

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.

Artists’ website: https://www.facebook.com/cathandphiltyler/

‘The Two Sisters’ – official video:

WILL FINN & ROSIE CALVERT – Beneath This Place (Haystack HAYCD012)

Beneath This PlaceIt’s not often that you hear British traditional music played on steel pans but that’s what you’ll find here. Will and Rosie are half of The Teacups, known for their unaccompanied harmony but on Beneath This Place, their debut album as a duo, they expand their musical palette

The opening track comes as something of a surprise. ‘Banks Of Sacramento’ is a capstan shanty, possibly of German origin, from the days of the gold rush and Stephen Foster may have had a hand in it, or even nicked parts of it. Will and Rosie take it at a cracking pace that they couldn’t possibly keep up for a whole album. It may be my age but I find most of the songs to be comfortably familiar. There’s Dave Goulder’s ‘January Man’, Graeme Miles’ ‘The Shores Of Old Blighty’, ‘Paddy’s Lamentation’, Tennyson’s ‘Crossing The Bar’ and ‘The Cottager’s Reply’. They are all nicely done and the multi-tracked ‘Crossing The Bar’ is masterful but they can’t muster any of the venom that Chris Wood brought to Frank Mansell’s poem. Then again, who could?

The instrumental selections are more adventurous. The first set pairs the traditional ‘MacDonald’s’ with a Brazilian choro piece, ‘Tico Tico’, and the steel pans are at the forefront with Evan Carson’s percussion doing sterling work in support. Rosie’s two compositions are both a bit off the wall: ‘Scampo’ is modern mouth music sung over piano and percussion and ‘Gill’s Jig’, written for her mother’s birthday, cleverly incorporates multiple musical styles. Will composed one set, ‘Twenty Months At Sea/The Priory’,  and the final set pairs ‘Midwinter Waltz’ by Larry Edelman (not the most famous composer in the world) and complete with gramophone crackle with ‘Into The Unknown’, the theme from Over The Garden Wall.

It took me a while to settle into Beneath This Place. The playing and singing is excellent and I should mention Sam Partridge’s flute and whistles here. Perhaps my initial disappointment at the selection of songs was overstated – with repeated plays they provide moments of familiarity to contrast with the more adventurous material.

Dai Jeffries

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.

Artists’ website: https://willfinnandrosiecalvert.com/

‘Paddy’s Lamentation’ – live:

ROBBIE SHERRATT – Provenance (own label)

ProvenanceRobbie Sherratt comes from north Staffordshire, as his repertoire readily testifies. In fact, the music of his home region is part of the rationale of this record. He has studied at the Sibelius Academy and is just completing his final year at university. He first encountered folk music in the now closed George Hotel in Buxton, aged nine  – I’m sure there’s a great story there – and Provenance is, unsurprisingly, his debut album.

There are a few more points to clarify. Firstly, Robbie is a classical violin player even though his chosen instrument has five strings so his supporting instruments include oboe, cello and bassoon. His borrowing from Havergal Brian and the final piece, ‘Compliments To Doruk Bilek’, which is more modern classical than anything, confirm his true nature. Secondly, if you’re accustomed to hearing traditional fiddle played in a Scottish or Irish style, you’re going to hear something new.

The opening track, ‘Hole In The Ceiling’ is one of Robbie’s own compositions written in his Newcastle digs on a rainy day. The opening pizzicato section cleverly mimics the rhythm of raindrops collecting in a bowl and the theme he composes recurs later in the piece. Next comes ‘Potters Hay’; two tunes by the late Sean Heeley who was a major influence on Robbie in those early days. Third up is ‘Havergal’, again written by Robbie and incorporating the theme from Havergal Brian’s Gothic Symphony and if you wonder why, Brian came from a working class Potteries family and, like many 20th century composers, borrowed from traditional music. A perfect role model, wouldn’t you say?

There are two songs in the set. Robbie has a decent baritone voice and a delivery that might be described as leisurely but he doesn’t seem very confident in it and mixes himself low with the accompaniment often overwriting the words. That seems a shame and I do think it’s something he should develop but you can’t do everything at once.

Robbie’s own composing skills come to the fore again with a set of variations on ‘The Staffordshire Hornpipe’ and the adaptation of parts of Psalm 119 into a polska and a waltz for ‘Chapel In The Wilderness’, a nod to the west gallery tradition, and I’m left thinking ‘will classical music’s loss be folk music’s gain?’. Or will it be the other way round?

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.robbiesherratt.com

This isn’t on Provenance but who could resist ‘Duelling Banjos’ played on fiddle and trombone?

MERRY HELL ACOUSTIC – live at The Old Courts, Wigan – 29th April 2018

Merry Hell Acoustic
Photograph by Dai Jeffries

The previous evening, the electric Merry Hell had rocked the packed courtroom supported by The Trials Of Cato and Derek Martin. I’d like to tell you how good they were but that must wait for another monograph. Tonight was about the launch of their acoustic album, Anthems To The Wind, and my first chance to hear the band in a seated venue, the upstairs theatre. Merry Hell Acoustic and comfort; bliss.

Jenny ColquittSupport came from singer-songwriter Jenny Colquitt who is clearly a local favourite. She has a powerful voice and a powerful guitar style but I thought her best moments came when she soft-pedalled, particularly on the two covers she closed her set with – Sting’s ‘Fields Of Gold’ and Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Songbird’.

If you expect the acoustic band to be gentle and pastoral, forget it. True, drums and keyboards are absent so there is a shift in the musical balance between Bob Kettle’s mandolin and bouzouki plus John’s guitar at the top and Nick Davies’ bass taking up most of the bottom. Neil McCartney’s fiddle still has the essential role it fulfils in the full line-up but with the addition of a stomp-box to hold the rhythm. For some reason John wasn’t miked so Andrew and Virginia handled all the lead vocals and the harmonies aren’t quite so overwhelming. The band seemed very relaxed and there was some looseness that the full fat version, who are now very tight and slick, have abolished –  I have to say I like it that way. Some things remain the same: Nick still hangs about at the back of the stage and Bob still lurks in the shadows and is almost impossible to photograph in action. And the passion and sincerity in the music are undiminished.

They began with two of their crowd-pleasing anthems, ‘Loving The Skin You’re In’ and ‘Let’s Not Have A Morning After (Until We’ve Had A Night Before)’. Actually, this crowd were pleased by everything. Gradually, Merry Hell brought the temperature down via the plea of ‘We Need Each Other Now’ to Virginia Kettle’s lovely ‘Leave A Light On’ which is tailor-made for the acoustic set up. That was followed by ‘Drunken Serenade’ which, with the addition of ‘The Banshee Reel’, becomes an expression of nostalgia and they worked up to another all-time favourite, ‘Bury Me Naked’ but without Beverley the spade.

As the set progressed it briefly became more light-hearted with ‘The Butcher And The Vegan’ followed by Virginia and Andrew’s song-and-dance number, ‘The Baker’s Daughter’. After ‘The War Between Ourselves’ and ‘One More Day Without You’ Neil McCartney performed an excellent Ric Sanders impersonation leading into ‘Let The Music Speak For Itself’.

The first encore, ‘Coming Home’, has been turned into a perfect fit for this line-up performed unaccompanied with everyone taking a solo line. In contrast, the floor pulsed under the pounding feet through the final ‘Sweet Oblivion’. Not so much has changed, really.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: www.merryhell.co.uk

‘Bury Me Naked’ – official video: