THE MEN THEY COULDN’T HANG/MERRY HELL/THE LONDON SEWAGE COMPANY – The O2 Empire, Shepherd’s Bush

Photograph by Red Snapper Pics
Photograph by Red Snapper Pics – http://www.redsnapperpics.co.uk

This was a prestige gig billed for TMTCH as The 30th Anniversary Reprise Show – nothing like making the most of it.

The London Sewage Company are, in Ron’s words, a powerpunk outfit with a lead guitarist inexplicably missing from a heavy metal band. They also have a nice line in humour –“London sewage comes from everything you do” – ho, ho. They played a strong set but it lacked light and shade and you couldn’t help but wonder how their song about London’s lost toyshops would have sounded if written by Ray Davies.

 http://www.redsnapperpics.co.uk
Photograph by Red Snapper Pics – http://www.redsnapperpics.co.uk

Merry Hell showed them how it should be done, mixing power and restraint. My top track was ‘Bury Me Naked’ featuring Andrew Kettle’s only instrumental contribution – on hammer and spade! You have to hear the verses or the whole point of the song is lost so the band held back but the moment the last words left Virginia Kettle’s lips it was as though a switch had been flipped and that huge fairground chorus rolled over us.

They have a sizeable back catalogue now and they mixed them up and much as a ten song set would allow. Ron was disappointed that ‘No Money’ was omitted and I would have loved to hear ‘Iron Man’ but, although that song carried over into their first album, the days of Tansads are now a fond memory. Quite rightly – Merry Hell are their own new creation and ‘The Crooked Man’, ‘The Baker’s Daughter’ and ‘The War Between Ourselves’ are songs for this century.

The Men They Couldn’t Hang seemed a bit off form initially. Their third song, ‘The Ghosts Of Cable Street’, got the crowd bouncing and was excellent but ‘Shirt Of Blue’ seemed oddly lacking in energy. After the mid-set acoustic break – Phil Odgers sang ‘Carrying A Flame’ from The Defiant and Cush’s choice of ‘Hotel Chambermaid’ was interesting – they came back and suddenly stepped on the gas.

‘Smugglers’ hit the ground running and the other selections from The Defiant: ‘Bonfires’, ‘Fail To Comply’ and ‘Scavengers’ eclipsed the recorded versions. There are a few fixed points in any TMTCH set – it’s just a matter of waiting. Jon Odgers sat in for ‘The Crest’ after ‘Going Back To Coventry’ and ‘The Colours’ and ‘Ironmasters’ closed the set with ‘Walkin’ Talkin’’ as an encore.

This was their night and their crowd and at the end we were all bawling out the choruses. All together now: “Red is the colour of the new republic…

Dai Jeffries
Ron D Bowes

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TOM RUSSELL – The Rose Of Roscrae (Proper Records PRPCD130)

RofRThe term “ballad opera” isn’t heard much these days but that is exactly what we have here. There are fifty-two tracks divided into two acts on two discs; some are song length, others are mere vignettes linking them. There are guest appearances from Johnny Cash, Joe Ely, Eliza Gilkyson, Getchen Peters, Ian Tyson. Jimmy LaFave, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and even Bert Lloyd among many others. Some are playing roles, others providing background colour and some are old recordings co-opted for the show.

The basic package doesn’t offer much in the way of clues except for a quote taken from the narration which is spoken over the overture in which Russell explains that it begins with a hanging – which actually occurs in the middle of the story. Actually, there is a sixty page booklet with annotated lyrics but that’s not for the likes of humble reviewers. The story elements are not necessarily arranged chronologically so it can be confusing but we can say with some certainty that Russell plays an Irish kid called John Sutton who left Tipperary in the 1880s but he has several aliases and as many adventures.

Russell’s original songs tend towards solid country rock, a solid framework on which to hang the story. Except for the narrative pieces like ‘The Last Running’, of course. Other artists do their own thing, so there’s a gorgeous version of ‘Ain’t No More Cane On The Brazos’ by LaFave and Peters and a rocking take on ‘Jesus Met The Woman At The Well’ with Gilkyson joining Russell. Some songs appear more than once in very different guises. Augie Myers, aka Augie Blood, does strange things to ‘A Closer Walk With Thee’ and ‘He’ll Be Dead Before He Hits The Ground’ and the concept of the last frontier are recurring threads.

The second act finds our hero in the guise of Spanish Johnny somewhere around the Mexican border but it begins briefly in Ireland and frequently takes the point of view of the women in John’s life. Some of this section is rather puzzling. ‘Damien’ mentions Belgium and Bergen for reasons which aren’t quite clear but ‘Gallo Del Cielo’, the story of a stolen fighting cock, leads neatly on to memories of Pancho Villa before one of our heroes is ‘Doin’ Hard Time In Texas’ – an excuse to include a Lead Belly song.

The Rose Of Roscrae is a wide-ranging, one might almost say sprawling, story – a collage of music and lives. At first sight it looks like a folly but it’s a glorious one.

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.tomrussell.com/

MIKE REINSTEIN – A Long March Home (Irregular IRR096)

A Long March HomeThere are some record labels that just inspire confidence. Irregular is one such and so I seized hold of this album, Mike’s second, sight unseen. It doesn’t disappoint.

Mike Reinstein is a music teacher and veteran performer with a gift for song-writing, particularly lyrics that make you think and then listen and think again. The first track, ‘Cheap At Twice The Price’, is typical. It begins with pride in a new pair of shoes to the man who made the shoes for “a bowl of rice” and to the man who harvested the cotton for your cheap shirt – and mine, too.

There are some fine musicians supporting Mike, notably Mick O’Connor whose guitar breaks are expertly judged and the trumpet and trombone of Rob Heasman and Tim Wade. Matthew Bright plays flute and Mike’s wife, novelist Reina James, plays keyboards. The songs are at the heart of the record, though, and the band adds atmosphere and texture without intruding.

The second song, ‘America Says’, tells of a soldier coming home from one of the recent conflicts to a hero’s welcome, all the time concealing a nasty secret that is never actually revealed. It’s a very clever piece of writing. It’s paired with ‘Warface’, the story of a British lad who joined the army because there was no work. He comes home mentally scarred, watchful and paranoid. Later, ‘On Cable Street’ uses the famous battle as a warning to the fascists who are still with us and that is matched by ‘Gefehlt Mir Mein Heym (I Love My Home)’ which tells of people who keep a suitcase in the hall, just in case.

It’s not all serious: ‘A Watchman For Your Heart’ is that rare beast, a funny love song, while ‘Advice’ imagines God giving Bush and Blair the benefit of his wisdom in answer to their prayers – all to the backing of lounge-jazz piano. Inspired. This is music with heart, wit and imagination – exactly what I hoped for and expected.

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.mikereinstein.co.uk

A live version of ‘Advice’ on guitar:

BRENDAN McAULEY – The McCartneys Of Pennyburn (Copperplate COPP027)

PennyburnThere is a long back-story behind this record. In 1865, one Patrick McCartney bought the lease of Pennyburn House near Derry and his family lived there until 1912. They were an important family in the area by all accounts and played host to Charles Stewart Parnell at the invitation of Patrick’s son, John, an ardent Land Leaguer and one of Ireland’s first catholic magistrates. In 1904, John won a legal battle in the House Of Lords against The Londonderry And Lough Swilly Railway Company although you’ll be hard pressed to find many details of the case without diligent study. All these incidents became inspirations for the music on this record.

Brendan McCauley is a descendant of the family and his grandmother, Kathleen, styled herself, as the title of the opening track records, ‘The Last McCartney Of Pennyburn’. Brendan comes from a musical family and is a composer, musician and instrument maker – he made the flutes, whistles and pipe chanter and drones that he plays on the album – and his elder brother, Jackie, was a member of Them alongside Van Morrison.

That’s a lot of history, I know, but this record is a sort of family scrapbook. There are big stories and small memories like ‘The Phaeton Carriage (To Church And Back)’ with its rhythm of hoofbeats and ‘Cassie’s Farewell To Parnell’ remembering his great-great aunt’s love of playing the piano. There are two songs among the instrumental pieces. ‘When My Love And I Parted’ is a traditional song of emigration while ‘The Men Of Arranmore’, written by Brendan and Jackie, is a tribute to the lifeboatmen of the Donegal island. It’s a lovely song and Brendan’s reasons for including it are valid but it seems a little out of place here. I can envisage a whole song cycle about rural life at the turn of the twentieth century.

There’s a huge variety of music in this set and Brendan plays every note, adding the modern sound of a synthesizer to the traditional instruments to complement imaginative arrangements. I’ve listened to The McCartneys Of Pennyburn whilst thinking hard about this review and now I’m looking forward to hearing it for pleasure.

Dai Jeffries

‘The Men Of Arranmore’ live:

HEG & THE WOLF CHORUS – Rain (own label)

Rain2While we still wait for their debut album, promised for 2016, the rather wonderful Heg & The Wolf Chorus bring us the third of their “hand-crafted” EPs with matching artwork by Heg Brignall – a future collector’s item if you have the set, I have no doubt.

After the boisterous A Tale Of Sailors these three songs seem rather more considered. The first track, ‘Song For Home’, begins with the sound of a distant storm – synthesised, I think – and the rumbling of Joe Kelly’s double bass. The theme and style are continued with ‘Rain’. In both, we are exposed to the elements, travelling and changing as we go – “nothing will feel the same”. ‘Sail On’ is the perfect place to leave us wanting more as they return explicitly to the maritime theme which runs throughout their music. “I’m stepping into the unknown”, sings Heg, “I’m reaching out” and indeed they are.

The arrangements are as complex and detailed as ever with Heg’s keyboards and Vince Martin’s violin providing the leads over the bass and percussion. There are some glorious harmonies, sometimes churchy, sometimes pastoral, sometimes with the backing voices singing alternate lines with Heg, particularly effective on the title track. Producer Gareth James Bailey deserves praise for his work on all three EPs but particularly on this one which shows off the band’s musical ingenuity to best effect.

And now we wait.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: www.hegandthewolfchorus.com

There’s nothing from the new EP on video yet but this is gorgeous. From 2013,  the single B-side ‘Maiden’:

NORAH RENDELL- Spinning Yarns (Two Tap Music TTM016)

Spinning YarnsSpinning Yarns is a collection of traditional songs mostly harvested in eastern Canada from Newfoundland southwards. Two actually surfaced in Wisconsin but they passed through Canada to get there. Norah is probably best known in Britain as a member of The Outside Track and it’s good that her other projects are beginning to appear here.

Norah’s sound is gentle and pastoral with Brian Miller and Randy Gosa on guitars, mandolas and bouzouki and fellow Tracker Allie Robertson on harp. Dáithí Sproule guests on one song. Norah herself plays flute, whistles and harmonium and her vocal style is strong but unfussy – she lets the songs tell their own story.

I’ll leave it to the folklorists to trace the origins of some of the songs back across the Atlantic although some are obvious. ‘The Carrion Crow’ is immediately familiar – it’s just the words and tune that have changed over the course of its long journey. ‘Here’s A Health Unto All True Lovers’ is a classic night-visiting song complete with crowing cocks and lily-white breasts. ‘The Pinery Boy’, one of the Wisconsin songs, was originally ‘The Sailor Boy’ with elements of ‘A Sailor’s Life’ and follows the well-known story of a young woman going to sea in search of her true lover only to find that he has drowned. In contrast, ‘Sir Neil And Glengyle’ is a Scots ballad, pretty much unchanged and is of a type of song that had already fallen out of favour when it was recorded in Nova Scotia in 1909.

At the risk of continuing to bore our readers, I will say that there is clearly a huge supply of traditional song collected in Canada over the last century and which is only now appearing here in the UK. Spinning Yarns may be seen by some as a bit pastoral but within it is a variety of songs that reward repeated 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 website: www.norahrendell.com

‘Here’s A Health Unto All True Lovers’ with Brian Miller and Randy Gosa: