The Troubadour is one of the iconic venues in the country. Founded in 1954, it still occupies the coffee shop in Old Brompton Road near Earl’s Court where it started. It has played host to most of the greats on the folk scene, many before anyone else had heard of them. I say that because this was my first visit – it being in That Lunnon and me a country boy – and also Daria and Jonny’s debut performance there. And, as Daria pointed out in her introduction to ‘Distant Love’, the first time that a song in the Ingush language had been sung on that stage.
They followed ‘Distant Love’ with Daria’s greatest hit, The Moon And The Pilot’, with Daria, resplendent in black and gold, at her expressive best. Then came something new. Daria and Jonny were premiering some new songs – not a follow-up to Long Lost Home – but covers of some of the singers and songwriters who have graced this stage. What better place to air them first?
The first of them was ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’, a song that is so well known that no-one sings it any more. Daria gives a new innocence over some absolutely delicious rolling guitar figures from Jonny. After ‘Amanat’ came ‘Masters Of War’ with Daria playing pulsing shruti and a mini-tambourine strapped to her foot. It is a song that is rapidly becoming relevant once more and one that is very important to Daria; there was a palpable anger in her performance. After ‘Panther’ (modesty forbids me from quoting her introduction) came ‘Northern Sky’. Most singers covering Nick Drake try to find the inner fragility of this notoriously reticent man. The original version of the song is drenched with arrangements that Nick himself disliked but which give it a power but Jonny reduced the arrangement to just a keyboard part and Daria turned it into a torch song. It might be considered revolutionary but it is quite magnificent.
Three more songs from Long Lost Home: ‘Untangle My Bones’, ‘Tamara’ and ‘Only Begun’ followed before they tackled the big one: ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes?’. Here’s another song that has been sung thousands of times over the years but, over Jonny’s guitar, Daria managed to instil something of herself into it, which is no mean achievement. They encored with another song associated with Sandy Denny, ‘Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood’, with attention drawn to the line “love is lord of all”. It brought the set to a reflective end – another old song that is still important and relevant.
February 23rd is a date that should be known in history. On this day in 1944 the entire population of the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, those who weren’t away at war fighting for the Soviet Union, were told they were being deported for alleged collaboration with the enemy. Many were children and resistance was met with death.
Move forward to 2017 and February 23rd was the date chosen by Daria Kulesh to launch her second album Long Lost Home at Cecil Sharp House in London. The location was appropriate because, as Daria said, CSH collects and stores folk memories so that they are available for future generations and Long Lost Home is more than just an album of songs as Daria through her Grandmother, Fatima Akhrieva, is Ingushetian. The evening was a celebration of her journey to find that link to her past.
February 23rd 2017 will also be remembered for Storm Doris, which provided a suitably tumultuous backdrop to the event but unfortunately disrupted travel and meant some audience members were unable to attend. They missed an evening of powerful, moving emotion that was also uplifting with its message of hope for the future.
The evening began with two well received pieces from Timur Dzeytov, People’s Artist of Ingushetia, including a song about the deportations followed by a traditional tune. He played the dakhchan pandar, a form of the balalaika, and it was obvious even to me that this was not “Russian” music. There were resonances of the near- and middle-east in the sound. It was a suitably exotic opening.
Daria then took to the stage wearing a most beautiful dress that had been hand made and decorated in traditional style. She opened, as does the album, with ‘Tamara’ a dark song about sorcery and death. The simple accompaniment from Timur and Evan Carson (percussion) emphasised the words well. Evan came in as an emergency replacement but it certainly didn’t look that way, the sign of a very talented musician.
I’ve been fortunate to have seen some of these songs before, at least one on its debut, often with just Daria accompanying herself on guitar or shruti. For the album launch we were treated to a full backing band which allowed the music to be fully expressed. At various points during the evening we were also introduced to Jonny Dyer (piano and guitar), Kate Rouse (hammered dulcimer and piano), Vicki Swan (double bass, nyckelharpa and small pipes) and Phil Underwood (various accordions and guitar).
The evening followed the album so we were quckly enraptured with the ‘The Moon and The Pilot’, the story of Daria’s great-grandparents, Diba Posheva and Rashid Akhriev. Diba was one of the deportees in 1944, two years after Rashid died a Hero of the Soviet Union in the battle for Leningrad. It could not save his wife and their two young children, one of whom was Daria’s grandmother. It was impossible not to be moved by Diba’s story of resilience and love for her children.
My personal favourite on the album came not long afterwards. ‘Amanat’ is the story of a relative even further back in time, Chakh Akhriev, who was born in 1850 and essentially fostered to Russian parents as a hostage. It’s a story of a different time and place, yet of a man who never quite fitted in. The song appeals to me, maybe for that reason, and it is also a fine example of Daria’s incredible vocal ability. There’s so much power, range and control in her singing she entrances a room in the way very few other singers can.
This is not a review of the album so I will only mention one more song, ‘Heart’s Delight’. This is Daria’s translation of the Ingush ‘Song of Mochkha’. She also wrote the gloriously uplifting tune. The first time I heard it I thought it was the Ingush National Anthem, and it possibly should be.
“What is yours by right, May you always hold/May your heart’s delight become your fate.”
To show how music can cross boundaries this was the tune where Vicki Swan played her small pipes, a suggestion which originally came from Timur Dzeytov. It worked so very well; the drone of the pipes adding a frisson to the words that raised the hairs on the back of my neck.
For an encore we were treated to ‘Fata Morgana’, the opening track from debut album ‘Eternal Child’ and the start of Daria’s journey to her Long Lost Home in the Caucasus Mountains. To complete the journey Timur Dzeytov returned to the stage to play a lezginka, a traditional dance from the Caucasus. In the dance the man (on this occasion Anzor Aushev, who was one of Daria’s hosts in Ingushetia on her research trip for the album) is an eagle and the woman, whose name I don’t know, is a swan. It was a beautiful insight to a different culture, the dance involved no contact between the partners but the courtship aspect was more than clear. This is the dance which is also referred to in ‘Like A God’, the story of Daria’s great-great-uncle, and Diba’s brother, Aludin Poshev. It was said he could dance like a god.
We also had a speech from Khairudin, the leader of the Vainakh (Ingush & Chechen) community in London and I was left with the impression that Long Lost Home is a folk memory of Ingushetia that will become important to a country and people who are trying to reestablish their identity after many years of turbulence and suppression.
I sometimes feel that I’ve lived with this album for almost as long as Daria has. I heard all the songs as they were released in their various ways; I talked to Daria about the background to the project and some of the stories and even got a sneak preview of the cover art. After all the anticipation I began to have a niggling fear that Long Lost Home might prove to be an anti-climax. What do I know?
Daria’s first solo album, Eternal Child, was autobiographical in the personal sense: the story of a young woman travelling the world and having, shall we say, adventures. Long Lost Home is autobiographical in the historical sense. The long lost home is Ingushetia in the Caucasus, the ancestral home of Daria’s grandmother, a country whose people were displaced in 1944 on the orders of Stalin. There are some harrowing stories here as well as more reflective ones.
The first song we heard was ‘The Moon And The Pilot’ which originally appeared on a Folkstock sampler and then slipped into Kara’s live set. Now in its proper setting it has blossomed to become the keystone of the record. You probably know it by heart if you’ve read this far but if not I won’t spoil the story for you. It sits second on Long Lost Home, following ‘Tamara’, based on words by the Russian romantic painter and poet, Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov, about an immortal siren – there is an abrupt change in mood from the mythical to the painfully truthful in these two songs. Next comes ‘Safely Wed’ – arranged marriage was normal in Ingushetia but “Auntie Nina” defied the tradition – and the magnificent ‘Amanat’, another song that crept into Kara’s live set.
When I first listened to the record after every song I thought, “go on, top that” and, remarkably, Daria does just that. In the middle of the set is ‘The Panther’, the story of an NKVD officer who refused to aid the deportations and turned vigilante. Movies have been made of slenderer stuff. That’s followed by ‘Like A God’, about Daria’s grandmother’s uncle who defied Stalin in a different way and ‘Heart’s Delight’, based on a traditional Ingush song and set to a martial beat. Many of these songs are linked to Daria’s family going back three or four generations but the subject of ‘Gone’ is herself, still living in a land that is not her own but, unlike the Ingush of seventy years ago, she can return home.
The key musicians supporting Daria are multi-instrumentalists Jonny Dyer and Jason Emberton, who also produced the record and Ingush singer Timur Dzeytov who also plays the traditional dakhchan pandar, providing some of the more exotic sounds. Kate Rouse’s hammered dulcimer is a distinctive presence as are the nyckelharpas and smallpipes of Vicki Swan. Daria is in superb voice as befits these literate songs – the word “operatic” keeps coming to mind but that isn’t right at all. It’s about power and heart and love and melancholy and about telling important stories in a very human way.
Dai Jeffries talks to Kara about their comings and goings
This has been a turbulent year for our friends Kara. It began with the departure of Gary Holbrook and the search for someone who could learn the repertoire in a very short time. It ended – well almost ended – with guitarist and songwriter Ben Honey leaving the band because of work commitments and relocation and another search was underway. In the middle of all this Kara recorded their second album, Some Other Shore. Daria Kulesh picked up the story for me.
“The second album was a make-or-break moment. Replacing Gary was much trickier than we thought – we tried a couple of people and things were not working out – nobody’s fault, it just seemed that the stars we against us – and we knew that we couldn’t lose all that momentum. At the same time we knew that we had to make the album and the album launch tour happen and we only just managed to get the record out on time.”
Kate Rouse, singer and dulcimer player, reflected further. “In the end, the year has turned out really, really well. Gary’s work was building up and up and I think he was always going to be the first person who struggled. His was a tough role to fill but we completely fell on our feet with Phil Underwood. There are lots of musicians round here – Russians – but they want to do something very, very pure and are not so interested in the creative element.”
And then came the enforced departure of Ben Honey. Daria again:
“Hopefully, as a songwriter, Ben will remain very much a part of Kara – that was the first question that we asked him, that and whether we could play his songs with the new line-up. His answer was a resounding yes.
“When we cast our net in searching for a new band member our first approach was to ask the guitarists on the scene because we already had Ben’s songwriting in the bag so how about we find a really, really amazing guitarist? But the problem there is that the amazing guitarists tend to be very, very busy so we thought that sometimes you have to think outside the box and look for another songwriter and once we started asking songwriters the response was much more encouraging. Then I thought ‘why don’t I ask one of my favourite songwriters who, I think, encompasses a bit of the madness of Kara’ [and who happens to live a few miles down the road]. I called him and by the next morning he’d said yes.”
Kate: “Before, Daria kicked herself that she’d known Phil for ages and hadn’t thought to ask him so this time we thought ‘sod it’. I didn’t matter how cheeky it was – if you don’t ask you don’t get. Pete, bless him, practically bit our hand off. The creativity of the project appealed and, certainly, our early rehearsals have gone really, really well. Even when he’s winging it it all goes “whoop” and when he nails it completely it’s going to be pretty special.”
Cue Pete Morton.
“A number of things have come along that make it a perfect idea for me. I do so much of being a front man; predominantly solo and a few other things like the Christmas show, but it’s mainly me and I’m always playing that same role. What was lovely was that I got a phone in the middle of the day from Daria and for the first time in my life someone has asked me to join their band and it was one of the most beautiful feelings I ever had.”
I should say that our meeting was in danger of falling apart at this point in a welter of emotion and hugs but Pete held it together. “I’m not being over-dramatic here, there is substance to this. Being a front person people think that you’re the person in authority and I don’t always see things like that. I like the idea of being in the situation of playing the guitar, being in that different dynamic; it just fits in with everything I want to do now.”
Dare I ask how Pete sees his role in the band developing? “I just like the idea of playing Ben’s songs on the guitar and playing along with the tunes. I’ve played a lot in ceilidh bands and it’s nice to do that. I’m interested in being involved in the vocals but that’s Daria’s role. I like the theatrical aspects and I like the idea of occasional duets but that’s further down the line.”
Phil Underwood arrived – Kara were meeting for a photo-shoot and rehearsal – and chaos almost reigned but I did want to ask Phil how he felt about joining a band, learning the back catalogue and recording an album within the space of a few months, only to find a key member leaving.
“There was a lot of work to get into it but Ben made the decision that was right for him and I think it’s timely in a way. It’s wonderful that Pete has come along and I think we’re going to go in a different direction. Ben saw himself as the engine-room of Kara and that helped me because it settled me into the band and gave me enough leeway to put my mark on the band.”
So was there a feeling of ‘oh, no, what have I let myself in for now”? “Absolutely! It’s that kind of band. It’s a great band. It’s a very quirky and lively sort of band and everybody in it is quirky and lively which reflects in the music. I’m really looking forward to what Pete’s going to bring.”
The light was beginning to go, there were wardrobe decisions to make and Phil was eager to show off his newly-acquired 1963 long-necked Pete Seeger banjo so it was time for me to go. We’ll hear the results of all their efforts when Kara return to live performance next month. I, for one, am looking forward to it.
Dai Jeffries talks to Daria Kulesh about her recent trip to Ingushetia, her grandmother’s ancestral homeland, the stories that form the basis of her new solo album, Long Lost Home, and the significance of February 23rd.
The photograph shows Daria in traditional Ingush costume.
The interview is presented in three segments for technical reasons – we both enjoyed talking too much!
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A round-up of recent and forthcoming EPs and singles
Friends and supporters of DARIA KULESH who pledged to support her forthcoming album, Long Lost Home, received a personalised EP, The Gift, containing four songs from the album. The opener, ‘Tamara’ may be related to ‘Tamara’s Wedding’ which opens Kara’s second album. Like all these songs it’s very Russian, dark and mysterious. ‘The Moon And The Pilot’ has been Daria’s live repertoire for some time. It’s a story from Stalin’s Russian, this version accompanied by almost solo piano but ‘Safely Wed’ is a new song, with guitar and accordion. Finally we have ‘Amanat’, another song we’ve heard live but this is its first recording and Jonny Dyer does a wonderful job with all the accompaniments. As a taster for the album it works like a charm; Daria is telling so many stories that we really haven’t heard before. Pre-orders for the album will be available soon. http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/longlosthome/updates
‘Big Brave Bill’ is the new single from KATE RUSBY and is also available as a bonus track on her forthcoming album, Life In A Paper Boat. It’s humorous song of praise to Kate’s native county and, in particular, the benefits of Yorkshire tea that started life as a bedtime song for Kate’s daughters. It’s not quite what you expect from her but it’s fun with a brass quintet joining Nick Cooke and the core of Kate’s band Damien O’Kane and Duncan Lyall. www.katerusby.com
NEIL BROPHY BAND brings us a slice of agit-pop with ‘Fear Of Fear’ – the right-wing press is rightly becoming a target for protest. They are not quite a rock band but more than a folk band, despite the whistle, mandolin and banjo. Good as the song is as a newcomer to Neil’s music we do feel that this would have been better as an EP to give us something to get our teeth into. http://www.neilbrophy.co.uk/
‘Porcelain Doll’, the new single from FREJA FRANCES begins in an appropriately delicate fashion over sustained single guitar chords, then the strings tiptoe in followed by piano. Drums launch the song into a big chorus and you realise that there is power to Freja than you first thought. The song is a double-A-side with ‘Breathe’. https://www.facebook.com/frejafrances/
PALENCO’s new single, ‘Cloudy Leftovers’ is available as a free download. The track is a bright poppy song with country overtones and the band is a collection of musicians including two members of the wonderful Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog and two from Eitha Tal Ffranco. It’s a nice happy sound that might have done better as a summer single. www.recordiaucaegwyn.com
‘Waiting On Your Goodbye’ is the new single taken from the debut album by FINLAY LESLIE which will be released next year. It’s an upbeat rocky song but the subject matter is a complete contrast as the singer searches for the words to mend a damaged relationship. “Growing up shouldn’t feel this way” betrays Finlay’s youth but the writing is mature beyond her years. https://www.facebook.com/Finlaylesliemusic/