SETH LAKEMAN – The Well Worn Path (Cooking Vinyl COOKCD709)

The Well Worn PathSeth Lakeman’s new album has appeared with surprisingly little fanfare. The Well Worn Path was recorded at the beginning of the year during a break in the Robert Plant/Shape Shifters tour with old comrades and relations Ben Nicholls, Kathryn Roberts and brother Sean and new friends Kit Hawes, who brings something of Sheelanagig’s pan-European influences, and Evan Jenkins. The album is stripped down but not in the way that Ballads Of The Broken Few was – you’d have to call this folk-rock – but I suspect that if Seth has learned anything from The Shape Shifters it is to value the spaces within the music.

His playing is in the English fiddle-singer style with a dramatic keening edge over powerful drumming from Jenkins and Nicholls’ bass. Kit Hawes plays finely judged guitar fills and intros, sometimes gentle and subtle, sometimes strident but never overdone. This folk-rock is definitely 60s style – I can hear echoes of Liege & Lief in one or two songs and the dark, hollow sound that Steeleye achieved on Ten Man Mop. There’s even a hint of Iain Matthews in ‘The Educated Man’, a seemingly autobiographical song co-written with David Prowse, who is definitely not Luke’s father but could be a member of Japandroids.

The songs are all original although Seth accepts help when he needs it. The opening track is his reworking of ‘Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still’ and ‘She Never Blamed Him’ is an old-time American song, probably from the Civil War but made darker by Seth’s new arrangement. Kit Hawes co-wrote ‘Drink ‘Til I’m Dry’ and the album’s title track and Reg Meuross co-wrote ‘Divided We Will Fall’, a thinly veiled political piece. ‘Fitzsimmons’ Fight’ is all Lakeman and harks back to the west country stories of his early work – Bob Fitzsimmons was a Cornishman, after all.

Seth has made another step along his musical journey with The Well Worn Path – highly recommended.

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.

Artist’s website: www.sethlakeman.co.uk

‘Divided We Will Fall’ – official video:

ROBB JOHNSON – Ordinary Giants (Irregular IRR223)

Ordinary GiantsAt first glance Ordinary Giants seems like a sequel to Robb Johnson’s wonderful Gentle Men but it isn’t. It’s more of a companion piece; there is no formal spoken narrative – Robb won’t spoon-feed us, although he helps us along here and there – and the album encompasses the last hundred years of British history interleaved with the story of his family and in particular his father, Ron Johnson. It’s rather like an audio advent calendar with each track displaying a snapshot of a moment in time. This is a triple-CD set with a book so it isn’t something you can rush through nor, I suspect, will anyone listen to it in a single sitting.

Although the songs are arranged with a light touch there is a big supporting cast; among them Roy Bailey, Matthew Crampton, Rory McLeod, Phil Odgers, Tom Robinson, Miranda Sykes as the main female voice, Boff Whalley, four community choirs, Frances O’Grady and Dennis Skinner. Robb wrote nearly all the songs – there’s a traditional tune, a couple of borrowed melodies and the assistance of Robinson on ‘Holding Hands With Hitler’. He succeeds in capturing the style of each period, particularly in the first part, covering the years 1918 to 1939 and puts the most appalling words in the mouth of Adam Clayson as the Mosley-supporting Major Utterswine. The problem is that the same words reappear in the third part covering the period from 1970 to the present day.

Inevitably, Ordinary Giants, is a very political record; you’d expect nothing less from Robb, but the politics are embedded in the words of ordinary people and often creep up on you when you’re not expecting them. The first ‘Lou’, one of Frances O’Grady’s three spoken word pieces is a perfect example, starting innocently enough but ending in verbal conflict. There are causes close the Robb’s heart such as ‘Craven Vale Hall’, dated 1958 and celebrating the building of the first post-war care homes.

The final tracks of the second disc and all of the third can be quite painful because Robb’s view is that things haven’t changed that much and it’s hard to argue with him. The songs are peppered with political slogans and he makes his points with humour and sharp insights in songs like ‘Goalkeepers’ and ‘Who Buggered Bognor?’ but beneath that is the realisation that we’re still fighting the same battles in whatever guises they appear.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: http://www.robbjohnson.co.uk/

There are no videos from this album yet so we’ll have to make do with this:

MERRY HELL ACOUSTIC and THE RABBLE CHORUS live at Snape Maltings

Merry Hell Acoustic

Merry Hell don’t often get to play at places where the bouncers, sorry ushers, wear DJs but they’d never played Snape Maltings before. This is a classical concert hall with spectacular acoustics in which Virginia Kettle absolutely revelled – singing scales between songs just for the joy of hearing her voice resonate around the space. Of course, they needed a big space to accommodate the choir, so let’s start with them.

The Rabble ChorusThe Rabble Chorus are an amalgamation of four community choirs under the musical direction of Kirsty Logan who teaches all of them the same repertoire – clever, eh? There were three hundred of them of stage and that’s quite a sound, believe me. They opened their support set with ‘Drunken Sailor’ which was rousing but I’d hoped for something more. That came with ‘Emerald Green’, a song from Merry Hell (used with permission, I hasten to add) and Nancy Kerr’s ‘Poison Apples’ which established their right-on credentials. Then came a song in Czech which sounded wonderful but turned out to be totally inconsequential.

A small group of the men sang ‘Sweetest Kick’ from the Spooky Men’s Chorale and a similar group of the women sang two songs from the Borders and Orkney. Sadly, I didn’t get the name of the leader of ‘Cattle Call’ but she has one hell of a voice. I liked their setting of ‘Crossing The Bar’ and they closed with a visit to South Africa via Paul Simon’s ‘Under African Skies’ and ‘Nkosi Sikelel ‘iafrica’.

Merry Hell began with a couple of their crowd-pleasing anthems; ‘Loving The Skin You’re In’ and ‘Let’s Not Have A Morning After Until We’ve Had The Night Before’. The choir had remained on stage but were keeping their powder dry for a while. ‘Stand Down’ and ‘Bloodlines’ followed and then we hit the first peak with The Rabble Chorus joining in on ‘We Need Each Other Now’ and ‘Bury Me Naked’ – songs that really benefit from massed voices.

There are always some fixed points in the set: ‘Lean On Me Love’ and ‘Drunken Serenade’ are essentials and ‘The Butcher And The Vegan’ and ‘The Baker’s Daughter’ add lightness as does ‘Finest Hour’ while Virginia’s solo, ‘Violet’, from her eagerly anticipated solo album was a delight. Bob Kettle’s top hat creates a shadow for him to hide in but I managed to get some photographs this time and I still marvel at how Neil McCartney makes his violin sound like a trumpet. I do think that Merry Hell should try working with a brass band.

The first encore of ‘Coming Home Song’, sung a capella with the choir, was a joy – I only wish they could transfer that sound to the sweaty intensity of The Old Courts or The Citadel. Perhaps the only miss-step was following that with ‘Let The Music Speak For Itself’ instead of perhaps leaving the final thought that “we will fly away” hanging in that wonderful space.

Finally, and I don’t usually do this, I’d like to thank the Maltings staff. They have a strict no photographs policy but after some cajoling and consultation and probably sworn affidavits from Merry Hell, I was awarded the red sash that made me an honorary usher and allowed no, positively encouraged, to take pictures. They have style in Snape.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ websites: http://www.merryhell.co.uk/  https://www.therabblechorus.co.uk/home

Venue website: https://snapemaltings.co.uk/

‘The Butcher And The Vegan’ – live:

THE TRIALS OF CATO – Hide And Hair (own label)

Hide And HairThe eponymous debut EP by The Trials Of Cato came out of nowhere and smacked everyone between the eyes. Live, they are full of energy and their first full-length album,  Hide And Hair, maintains their energy levels but also showcases just what great writers they are as well.  For anyone needing an introduction, The Trials Of Cato are William Addison on bouzouki, accordion, percussion and lead vocals; Robin Jones on mandolin, tenor banjo and lead vocals and Tomas Williams playing guitar and bass. Set out like that you’d suspect that they are Irish but actually they are part Welsh and part English and got together in Beirut – but that’s another story.

Hide And Hair opens with ‘Difyrrwch’, a jolly set of three traditional tunes to set your toes tapping. Then they smack you between the eyes again. ‘Gloria’, one of five original songs in the set, is a masterpiece. It’s a song of realisation, I suppose, a song of coming of age and coming out. Quite where it came from, I couldn’t say, but the story is wrapped up in such wonderful words. ‘Haf’ is in Welsh and I really can’t tell you what it’s about but that doesn’t matter and then we’re into another instrumental set, ‘Kadisha/Nightride To Armagh’, led by Robin’s banjo.

‘Gawain’ is the story of Arthur’s man and his battle with the Green Knight given a modern feel but then politics creeps in. First comes ‘Tom Paine’s Bones’, the signature song for anyone on the side of right and justice followed by ‘These Are The Things’, a stinging attack on neo-liberalism which deserves to be up there with the great anti-capitalist anthems. To follow that with ‘My Love’s In Germany’ shows a deep understanding of the relevance of traditional song in today’s climate.

The Trials Of Cato don’t over-complicate what they do. The only guest musician is Stefan Hegerat who plays an appropriately martial snare drum on ‘My Love’s In Germany’. William and Robin have strong voices in the lead roles and the way they interchange lead instrumental lines is a delight. And they are really nice chaps, too.

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://thetrialsofcato.com/

‘Gloria’ – live:

BERT JANSCH – Just A Simple Soul (BMG BMGCAT227CD)

Just A Simple SoulBernard Butler spent more than a decade working with Bert Jansch and it fell to him to curate a definitive best of collection. It can’t have been easy. Like most singers of his generation he moved between labels and publishers while his copyrights changed hands as new repackages of his music were issued. I met Bert once, back in the 80s, and he had no idea how many records with his name on were out there. I tried to compile a list and it wasn’t easy. Just A Simple Soul contains thirty-nine newly remastered tracks and it can only give a glimpse of more than forty years of music making.

The early selections are easy to decide on. The set opens with ‘Strolling Down The Highway’ from his debut album followed by ‘Angie’. I was surprised to hear the fire he brought to the piece and his playing in later years was, as you might expect, rather more considered although still a wonder to behold. Next comes ‘Needle Of Death’, a song that brought his name to wider attention, and then ‘It Don’t Bother Me’.

From there it’s very much a matter of personal choice. Butler’s next selection is the light-hearted ‘A Man I’d Rather Be’ which originally featured Roy Harper on vocals although this remix removes him – if, indeed, this is actually that original recording. ‘The Waggoner’s Lad’ is the second instrumental and ‘Black Water Side’ is a must but did Butler agonise over omitting ‘Jack Orion’? ‘Soho’ is a duet from Bert And John although I might have gone for ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’. By now, you, me and Bernard will have compiled three completely different set lists. For me, ‘Reynardine’ is another essential cut but ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ isn’t despite its very original arrangement. So it goes.

The second disc opens with the first two tracks from L.A. Turnaround; the longtime favourite ‘Fresh As A Sweet Sunday Morning’ and ‘Chambertin’ and adding ‘Blacksmith’ from the same set. The first and last add Michael Nesmith’s country-edged production to Bert’s British folk style. Whether as a direct consequence or not, Bert’s musical horizons expanded even further as tracks from A Rare Conundrum, Avocet and Thirteen Down testify. In the latter stages of his career, Bert often returned to re-record old songs and Butler notes that his music was always evolving and that there was always a better version waiting.

This set omits one or two obvious crowd-pleasers; there is no ‘Blues Run The Game’ or ‘She Moved Through The Fair’ but the selection has pointed up the original albums I don’t have (this could get expensive) and is skilfully programmed to make it excellent listening.

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.

Artist’s official website: https://bertjansch.com/

‘Poison’ – live. Bert had a heavy cold and was unusually gravelly:

GERRY O’CONNOR – Last Night’s Joy (Lugnasa LUGCD966)

Last Night's JoyGerry O’Connor is a fiddle player from Dundalk, not to be confused with Gerry O’Connor, the banjo player, who also appears on Last Night’s Joy, Gerry’s second solo album, notably on ‘Stereo Connor’. Google™, of course, does confuse them which makes life hard for us poor reviewers. There is a certain feeling of looking back about the record – I won’t call it nostalgia because it isn’t like that. It’s very much an acknowledgement of players who have preceded Gerry and the legacy they left.

The record kicks off with the title track, a jaunty set of reels. Individually they are ‘Andie Phaddie’s’, ‘Claude Finnegan’s’ and ‘Last Night’s Joy’ and their provenance is typical of Irish traditional music. All three came from Cathal McConnell at the last but Cathal learned them all from other players who got them from who knows where. ‘The Old Dash Churn’ is a set of double jigs of which the third, ‘The Torn Bag Apron’, sounds very familiar. The usual story obtains here: the tunes were collected forty years ago from players who were most active sixty years ago.

Gerry takes a break from the jigs and reels with ‘Bádal Na Scadain’, an air featuring Dónal O’Connor’s piano and moves into ‘The Hawk And The Hare’, a set featuring a jig and a polska written by nyckelharpa innovator Erik Sahlstrom. As you can tell, Gerry doesn’t restrict himself to Ireland – there are also tunes from Quebec, the USA and Cape Breton. As well as the three O’Connors already mentioned Last Night’s Joy also features accordionist Máirtín O’Connor which allows for the title of the final set, ‘O’Connor4’.

I sat down determined to concentrate on every note of the album but then I just wanted to look at Gerry’s biography and the next thing I knew it was finished. It’s that sort of record, one that will carry you away.

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.

Artist’s website: https://www.gerryoconnor.net/

‘The Hawk And The Hare’ – Stereo Connor live: