BEYOND THE FIELDS – The Falcon Lives (own label BTF 2014)

Beyond The FieldsI like almost everything about the debut album from Beyond The Fields. They are a trans-European Celtic-rock band now based in Switzerland featuring a fairly conventional guitar/bass/drums line up with fiddle and mandolin doing the decorating. All the songs are written by lead singer Andre Bollier except Alastair Hulett’s ‘Blue Murder’.

Instrumentally, the band shows a lot of imagination and quite a lot of that is down to Marcel Bollier’s part in the arrangements. I love the reggae edge on ‘The Artist’s Song’, the gypsy violin on ‘Home’ and the dynamicism of ‘Blue Murder’. The original songs are good but now I must confront the one thing I don’t like: Andre’s voice. It reminds me of someone but I can’t quite place who. It is terribly mannered: a nasal punk snarl with all the gravel that Tom Waits couldn’t use, mangling pronunciation in an effort to sound ‘street’.

When he holds the bad habits in check he does a decent job and I go back to ‘Blue Murder’ again. Perhaps because he’s singing someone else’s words he’s more controlled but he almost manages it on ‘Any Time’, too. Here’s the thing: in 2103 Beyond The Fields posted videos of a live show. The line-up was different but the instrumentation is the same and it sounded, well, better. What happened?

So: I like the songs and I like the playing but Andre’s voice continues to spoil the effect. There is no law that dictates that the songwriter has to sing the songs: I heard a rumour that Robbie Robertson’s mic was turned off when The Band were on stage.

Dai Jeffries

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Artists’ website: beyondthefields.com

JOHN CEE STANNARD & BLUE HORIZON – Bus Depot Blues (Cast Iron CIRCD 024)

Bus Depot BluesFrom the Thames delta area of Reading comes the debut album by John Cee Stannard & Blue Horizon; a set of original blues songs with one standard – Arthur Crudup’s ‘That’s Alright’. Alongside John in the band are guitarist Mike Baker and Howard Birchmore on harmonica and they are joined on the album by a group of sidespersons including drummer Julian Bown who is a major part of their sound.

John Cee is a fifty year veteran and readers with long memories may remember him as a founder member of folk band Tudor Lodge back in 1968. He’s done a lot since then, finally arriving at this particularly English take on the blues. This isn’t straight 12-bar, in fact there is as much skiffle underlying the songs – I swear there’s a washboard in there – and most of the songs are taken at a cracking pace. The themes are traditional enough and expressed in titles like ‘Solitary Vacation With The Blues’ and ‘Bad Luck Rain’, but often with a twist: ‘Hard Times – 83’ is clearly rooted in modern financial fraud and heartless bureaucracy. ‘Flood Water’ immediately contradicts everything I’ve said by being a heavy, grungy 12-bar in the classic style.

That aside, this is the happiest blues record I’ve heard in a long time. ‘I’ll Take Care Of Mine’ is a defiant message to the world to back off and leave the man be, a new take on ‘Nobody’s Business But My Own’ and ‘When You Need Them Most’ is almost comical in its portrayal of misery. The playing has a fluidity that comes with experience and the band conjures plenty of variety from a few simple ingredients – and sometimes simple is best.

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: http://www.johnceestannard.co.uk/

‘Not Until It’s Gone’ – the final track from Bus Depot Blues:

TOM BROWN – A Sailor’s Life

John ShortS&A Projects
ISBN: 978-0-9930468-0-3
Softback – 165 pages

The life of John Short of Watchet is, in many ways, an ordinary life. We was born in 1839, married and fathered three children and died at the grand old age of 94. He also sailed around the world and became something of a local hero as ‘Yankee Jack’ the shantyman – not quite so ordinary, then.

John did not keep a diary nor did he write many letters but because of the detailed record keeping of the merchant marine in the 19th century, Tom Brown has been able to piece together the details of his voyages. He first went to sea with his father at the age of nine – not full time – working the coastal trade between Somerset and South Wales. We know that he had some education and could read and write but he began work full-time at the age of fourteen. His first deep-sea voyage was probably to Quebec in 1857 aboard the Promise where he learned his first two shanties. He was one of the earliest shantymen and his versions are consequently among the least developed. In his twentieth year he doubled round the horn on the Hugh Block to Valparaiso and followed that with a voyage to India aboard Earl Balcarres. It by referring to Lloyd’s List and Short’s own discharge papers which he kept after each trip that Tom’s researches have managed to detail these voyages.

John’s story is also the story of the merchant navy in the second half of the century and to the point when he left the sea in 1901. There had been many changes, not least the giving way of sail to steam and John hated steam ships. The book is packed with fascinating details of maritime law and the fluctuations of world trade that he would have seen.

The reason that we are now interested in John Short is that Cecil Sharp collected his entire repertoire – some fifty-seven songs – in 1914 and published many of them in English Folk Chanteys that same year. All his shanties have been recorded by an international cast (of which Tom is a member) on three CDs under the title Short Sharp Shanties and the texts and notations are also included here. Without Sharp, Short’s contribution to the world would have been as ephemeral as anyone else’s and it is fitting that his life story, even pieced together from official documents, should be recounted.

Dai Jeffries

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Author’s website: www.umbermusic.co.uk

TOM & BARBARA BROWN – Just Another Day… (Wild Goose WGS406CD)

JustAnotherDayOver the years Tom and Barbara Brown have become elder statespersons of the West Country folk music scene and have done so without ever forgetting what it was that drew them (and me for that matter) to traditional music in the first place. This is important as we will see.

Just Another Day… is a collection of songs connected with Minehead and if you think that concentrating on one small Somerset town is limiting you couldn’t be more wrong. Twelve of these songs were collected by Cecil Sharp from just two sources – retired sea captains Lewis and Vickery – and were unearthed by Tom and Barbara while researching the three records of Short Sharp Shanties, a collection of songs collected by Sharp from John Short of Watchet just along the coast. Incidentally, if you haven’t heard this marvellous set you should do so immediately, but I digress. The point is that you never know what you’ll find unless you look and listen.

The other three songs come from The Minehead Harbour Maritime Heritage Project and this is where the importance of knowledge, experience and, yes, status comes in. The opening track, ‘A Minehead Lad’, was written by Tom and Barbara for the project to illustrate the period around the Great War. Listen to it blind and you might say it came from the tradition; told you were wrong, you might hazard that Kipling had a hand in the lyric. For the final, title track, a song “from” World War II, Tom nicked the tune ‘Lili Marlene’– cheeky but with the ring of authenticity. You can’t fake that feeling for what is right.

The supporting musicians and singers are long-time friends: Anahata, Mary Eagle, Keith Kendrick, Barry Lister and Paul Sartin among them, and they play with the ease of experience and familiarity. You may recognise some of the titles but the versions will often be unfamiliar. Critics may call Just Another Day…old fashioned but that’s part of the joy of folk song. Here are choruses you can sing along with and stories to keep you enthralled – imagine, if you can, hearing ‘The Bonny Bunch O Roses O’ for the first time – and don’t say that a song like ‘Franklin’ isn’t relevant. Nearly 170 years on there are reports that one of the expedition’s ships has just been found. I’m sorry if this has turned into a seminar but Just Another Day…reminds me why I’ve been listening to this music for nearly fifty years and that’s more than enough to make me recommend 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).

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

Sadly, YouTube is not overflowing with videos of Tom & Barbara but we did find this:

KARA – Waters So Deep (own label)

Kara1I’m prepared to wager that very few albums begin with a lyric by Alexander Pushkin, particularly one that serves as a warning about what not to do when confronted by a naked young lady emerging from a lake. Particularly if you’re a monk. ‘Rusalka’ fulfils that very role and Kara return to a similar theme with ‘Mermaid’s Lullaby’, this by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, but you knew that.

By now you may be thinking that there’s something not quite run-of-the mill about Kara and you’d be right. Although based in Hertfordshire they sound decidedly pan-European – their instrumentation of guitar, accordion and hammered dulcimer gives them a chameleon-like ability. There are two writers in the band. Guitarist Ben Honey writes what might be termed the “western” material: ‘Hunter’s Moon’ is positively bucolic in a late sixties way and ‘Union Street’ finds an urban metaphor for a relationship. Lead vocalist Daria Kulesh brings exotic ideas rooted in Russian folklore – she provides the music for Pushkin’s words – and wrote the odd but compelling ‘In Lille’. With Gary Holbrook’s accordion taking on a Gallic lilt, it’s the story of a sixteen year old girl resisting the blandishments of a middle-aged married man. It’s a disturbing but magnificent piece of writing and she even makes the word Peugeot sound sexy.

Lots of tunes decorate the songs and there are two instrumental sets. The first is a real mashup, mixing Simon Jeffes’ ‘Music For A Found Harmonium’ with a tune from Irish band Kíla and Pachelbel’s ‘Canon In D’ while the second is a more English session set with tunes by Andy Cutting, the late Undine Hornby and Martin Ellison.

Kara reminds me a little of Dando Shaft, not so much for the way they sound – they are very different in that respect – but for the way they feel: that pan-European aesthetic. There is an air of mystery about both bands accentuated here by Kate Rouse’s dulcimer weaving through Daria’s vocals. I rather hope that Daria insists on conducting interviews in Russian with the aid of an interpreter but I’m sure she’s far too sensible. Shame. This is a brilliant debut album.

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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Artists’ website: www.karafolkband.com

 

THE CHANGING ROOM – A River Runs Between (The Changing Room Music TCRM75006)

Changing RoomThere can’t be many songs written about the Cornish pilchard industry but the third and final track on The Changing Room’s debut CD, ‘Row Boys Row’, is one such.

At the core of the band are Tanya Brittain, who wrote all the songs on their debut, and Sam Kelly. They started working together on a funded project and it feels like a little musical magic happened. The EP is produced by Boo Hewerdine and guests include Jennifer Crook and the Polperro Fishermen’s Choir but little of that actually matters. This record just isn’t long enough and I’m relieved to read that a full length album is on the way.

The title track presumably refers to the Tamar although I was unaware of such tension between Devonport and Torpoint – or perhaps it’s just the bridge that caused the problem . It’s a song that should have Steve Knightley and 3 Daft Monkeys wondering why they hadn’t written it while ‘Deep Beneath The Sea’ is a warning against dissing a mermaid should you encounter one in Cornish waters. ‘Row Boys Row’ is, as I’ve said, a tale of the lives of Cornish fishermen. It could have been written at any time in the last fifty years and I suppose that one could be critical and say that it paints a rather rosy picture of life between the English Channel and the Celtic Sea but it sounds and feels so good that it would be churlish to do so. Bring on the album.

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.thechangingroommusic.com