BLACK*SCARR – Deluded (own label)

DeludedHaving released the second album with band project The Persecuted just a couple of months ago, East End-based singer-songwriter Johnny Black makes a swift return with Deluded, the fourth album alongside partner and fellow songsmith Emma Scarr. This time round, it’s Scarr taking the vocal spotlight on the majority of the tracks, kicking off with the harmonica-introed, pedal steel accompanied ‘Going Home’, a slow sway lament about a woman feeling a fish out of water after moving to the country and looking to return to the city.

As with all the material, it’s rooted in a mix of Americana and folk while ‘New Year’s Lament’, another dissatisfaction-themed number, is amore uptempo as, driven by scurrying percussion, mandolin and fiddle, with Darren Bundell on dobro, she sings about losing her job and her man, getting stick about her unruly kids, and the call to pack up and roam. Loping country waltzer ‘My Therapist Said’ is Black’s first lead, a tongue in cheek song about having to take responsibility for your life rather than blaming it on everyone else, but then it’s back to Scarr for ‘Dirty Coins’, a mandolin-led mid-tempo tale of two polar opposite sisters, a free spirit and one anchored to domesticity, each envious of the other, built around a melody and harmonica break with definite Dylan echoes.

‘Night Tube Home’ is one of Black’s playful but well-observed numbers, a skiffle-like account of the folk you meet travelling home on the tube, while striking an equally playful note, ‘Ticking Time Bomb’ is a mandolin and fiddle coloured socio-political list structured commentary with a catchy chorus line. Black also takes lead on ‘Carry Me Home’, a Slim Chance-like folk stomper about a woman’s journey home from shopping via a succession of bars and drinks with friends that has a more sobering point that may appear from its jauntiness. He also closes up the album in the London-Irish folksiness of ‘King of Rock n Roll’, a song about making a musical mark complete with a too rye oo rye ay refrain.

There’s only one duet this time round, ‘St, George’s Day’, a rather lovely and uplifting song about two ordinary, well-used, life-battered people meeting and fall in love, the remaining numbers all spotlighting Scarr. An alcohol companion piece to ‘Carry Me Home’ perhaps, ‘Another Beer ‘is a jogalong tale of a woman taking refuge from her insecurities and domestic drudgery in a glass or two with a fiddle line that vaguely echoes James’ ‘Sit Down’ chorus while, heading into honky tonk country ‘Can Of Worms’ is a cautionary tale of where boredom with your life can lead as it recounts an ill-advised adulterous affair and its consequences.

The remaining number, the harmonica and mandolin-accompanied ‘Mrs Average’, is another fine and poignant female perspective domestic drama about insecurity and unfulfilled promise, again mentioning booze and pills as a crutch as she sings how, faced with savage reality, “it’s time to let go of your dreams” and “embrace being normal my dear.”

The pair have built a solid reputation in and around their stomping ground, it would be nice to think that this album might finally provide a platform to allow them to travel a little further afield.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website:

‘I’m Going Home’ live:



Trembling Bells

Galley Beggar were about to premiere some of their new album, Silence & Tears, in front of a live audience and they were … not nervous but a little apprehensive about the reception the new material would receive. Of course, they had no need to worry.

They began with a couple of old favourites: ‘The Outlandish Knight’ and ‘Willow Tree’ before the most typical of the new material, ‘Geordie’ with a stunning solo from David Ellis. ‘Empty Sky’ followed ‘Adam And Eve’ then came ‘Pay My Body Home’, the song from the album that is destined for live greatness and which allowed David into guitar heaven. They closed with ‘Jack O’Rion’, a big ballad compressed into a few minutes’ story-telling – the perfect ending to the set.

Sadly, Celine Marshall was unavailable but her dep, Emma Scarr, did a solid job although possibly without the freedom of expression that Celine might have had. It was still a fine set and one that would have appealed equally to the dedicated fans as well as the merely curious.

Galley Beggar Photograph by Ester Segarra

Trembling Bells also have a new album, The Sovereign Self, and a new guitarist, Alasdair C Mitchell, but it is still Mike Hastings, a giant of a man who produces a big sound from his Burns guitar who dominates the stage almost as much as Lavinia Blackwall. Actually, Mitchell is more than just a guitarist, sometimes taking over from Lavinia on keyboards and adding another voice.

They started with three songs without a word of introduction, just great waves of sound washing over us and their albums are a bit like that; you have to attune your head to them. The guy behind me remarked that it was like San Francisco in 1968. I’ll take his word for it because I know I wasn’t there but I think I know what he means. I suspect that it’s more the way we remember the sixties to have been than the way they really were.

‘O, Where Is Saint George’, which begins with a fragment of the Padstow May Day song, is perhaps typical of Alex Neilson’s unique imagination moving from a traditional lyric to what sounds like stream of consciousness or cut-up – “Lou Read and Lauren Bacall defeated Asterix the Gaul” and I admit that I looked that up afterwards. ‘Bells Of Burford’ feels like a traditional song written by Dennis Wheatley while melodically echoing ‘The Lyke Wake Dirge’ and was one of the highlights of the set.

There were more moments of weirdness with Alex’s solo turns at the microphone. One might have been called ‘My Girlfriend’s Got No Navel’ but I’m not sure I got that right. When they announced their final number it seemed like an awfully short set but they came back to finish with a spiky version of ‘The Auld Triangle’. Everyone went home very happy and a good many albums were bought – even by me.

Dai Jeffries

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