GREG RUSSELL – Inclined To Be Red (Fellside FECD281)

Inclined To Be RedMore commonly seen in partnership with Ciaran Algar, Greg Russell now also embarks on a solo career with an album the title of which refers more to his politics than the colour of his hair. That said, accompanied just by banjo, he does include a cover of the American traditional tune, ‘Joe Bowers’, the true story of a man whose fiancée married another while he was off gold prospecting, giving birth to a baby whose hair, in Russell’s variation of the last line, “was inclined to be red.”

There is, as you might surmise, a strong socio-politics element of in its collection of self-penned, traditional songs and covers, Russell coming across as a cocktail of Martyn Joseph, Don McLean and Billy Bragg, opening the album with ‘E.G.A’, a rousing accordion-accompanied number he wrote for the Shake the Chains project involving songs of community resistance and protest, his being a tribute to Elizabeth Garrett Anderson who, in 1865, became the first woman in the UK to qualify as a physician also going on, in 1908, to become the country’s first female mayor.

Taken at slower pace ‘Farewell’ is better known as the 19th century traditional ‘Faithful Sailor Boy’, a familiar tale of lovers parted by the call of duty, never to be reunited, although Russell gives it different spin by substituting “wars raging high” as opposed to the original’s storms. Although written by Graham Moore and Mick Ryan and featuring on the former’s 1995 album Tom Paine’s Bones, the strummed ‘The Road To Dorchester; sounds every bit a traditional ballad, recounting the story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, six Dorset farmers transported to Australia for forming a union.

Workers rights are also at the heart of another powerfully sung number, ‘Crooked Jack’, a song based on the hardships endured by Irish and Scottish labourers working on the hydro electric plant at Inverary, Argyll, Scotland (the title a reference to spinal deformity caused by working underground),  Dominic Behan’s lyrics set to the tune of ‘Star of the County Down’ .Protest of an environmental nature is to be found on the self-penned ‘Race To Burn’, a fingerpicked number concerning the cost of progress to the earth and its wildlife.

It’s not all about protest, however. Set to a rolling and tumbling melody with a jigging accordion, ‘Travelling Onwards’ is an autobiographical reflection on letting go of fanciful teenage dreams and moving forward with more realistic ambition, and enjoying the roads down which they take you, here making music. Likewise, although written by Christine Lavin, the resonatingly strummed troubadour folk of ‘Tomorrow You’re Gone’ (shades of the young Harvey Andrews) with its lyric about the life of a gigging musician, could be equally from personal experience.

The many permutations of the Child ballad ‘Lady Isabel And The Elf Knight’, involving a maiden and a knight and a tale of seduction, are a staple of many a folk artists repertoire, and, featuring guitar and a buzzy accordion, Russell’s no different, ‘Bold Knight’ opting for version 4E, the one in which she drowns him and involves a prattling parrot.

A West Yorkshire song about class snobbery (dad rejects his daughter’s choice of man because he works in the ‘wrong’ end of the mill and comes from the slum part of Morley) written by the late Keith Marsden (from Morley), ‘Willy-Ole Lad’ follows the original in being sung unaccompanied with a depth that belies Russell’s 24 years.

Of the final two songs, one’s a cover, the other an original. The former, the 60s Greenwich Village protest era-echoing ‘What You Do With What You’ve Got’, was written in 1985 by American singer and activist Si Khan, its line “What’s the use of the finest voice if you’ve nothing good to say” something Russell clearly takes to heart. The album ends with the rustic hymnal-like ‘Storylines’, an affirmation of “the togetherness they’ll try to breach/A unity they cannot teach” written after hearing some club folk singer declare politics had no place in music and that he only sang English songs. “We all sing now”, declares Russell. Get a copy of this fine album and lend your voice.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the GREG RUSSELL – Inclined To Be Red link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. 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.

ORDER – [CD]

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

‘Crooked Jack’ – live:

GREG RUSSELL – Inclined To Be Red (Fellside FECD281)

Inclined To Be RedWhen he isn’t partnering Ciaran Algar or working with Nancy Kerr’s Sweet Visitor Band and half a dozen other projects, Greg Russell follows another path. Inclined To Be Red would seem to be his first completely solo album even though he seems to have been around for ever…and he’s still only 24. The album’s title has a double meaning, I think. The line comes from ‘Joe Bowers’, a song that dates back to the California gold rush, but many of the songs concern the lives of the working classes suggesting a certain political leaning. Of course it could just be that Greg is of the ginger persuasion.

Greg has written four of the songs here, adapted four more from traditional roots and shrewdly borrowed four others. The opener is one of his own songs, ‘E.G.A’, written for the Shake The Chains project. Its subject is Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and her fight to become a doctor, the first woman in the country to do so. It’s a masterful piece of writing encompassing Anderson’s life and struggle in under three minutes. ‘Road To Dorchester’ is Graham Moore and Mick Ryan’s song about the Tolpuddle Martyrs and one of the best tracks on the album. Greg returns again to the plight of the working man with Dominic Behan’s ‘Crooked Jack’, a song that I hadn’t encountered before, and Keith Marsden’s ‘Willy-Ole Lad’. I can’t tell you how pleased I am that someone is covering Keith’s songs and Greg’s voice suits this one perfectly.

Three songs concern the life of the itinerant musician. The first, ‘Travelling Onwards’ is autobiographical and Greg suggests that the second, Christine Lavin’s ‘Tomorrow You’re Gone’, is the perfect answer to people who ask him what he does. Her description of a life lived in hotels one night at a time is perfectly judged. The final track, ‘Storylines’, is about the songs that people perform and the attitudes behind them.

Greg is supported, sparingly, by Archie Churchill-Moss on accordion and Tim Yates’ double bass and although they both add colour and shade to the songs I think I prefer Greg’s solo performances. Some of these songs are quite hard-hitting but he doesn’t hit you with them – he just suggests that you might care to listen.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the GREG RUSSELL – Inclined To Be Red link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. 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.

ORDER – [CD]

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

‘Crooked Jack’ – live:

NANCY KERR – Instar (Little Dish Records LiDiCD002)

instarInstar is term given to an intermediate stage of an animal’s life-cycle, most usually applied to insects. It explains the rather disconcerting cover image and suggests that Nancy may one day make an album called Imago. This is complex album with roots in the natural world and the Sweet Liberties project and as its title indicates it’s about transition and impermanence whether by natural processes or by man’s intervention.

I’ll start in the middle with ‘Fragile Water’ which is one of the album’s key songs. It’s derived from/inspired by ‘The Great Selkie Of Sule Skerrie’ and from that starting point it looks at our perception of ourselves – our self-identity, if you will. It’s also a superb piece of writing; words that are simultaneously simple and complex with a beautiful tune. Before that ‘Written On My Skin’ is a song about blood. “Last night I ran with Reynardine” is the opening line as Nancy invokes a symbol from the tradition that everyone will recognise but it’s really about sexual assault and alludes to the fact that acts of parliament are written on vellum – supposedly a symbol of permanence.

The Sweet Visitor Band on the album are Tom Wright, James Fagen, Rowan Rheingans, Tim Yates and Greg Russell – all five sing and three are multi-instrumentalists as is Nancy herself. CJ Hillman guests on three tracks and this line-up could be termed folk-rock – sometimes it leans that way – but can also be quiet and delicate.

I was fortunate enough to hear Nancy and the band on the final date of their recent tour and the insight gained from hearing her talk about her influences is so important. Three books inspired the music: Common Ground by Rob Cowen, Helen Mcdonald’s H Is For Hawk and George Monbiot’s Feral – if you want to dig deeper there is your reading list.

I can honestly say that there isn’t a song here that I’d skip over. There’s the folky humour of ‘Farewell Stony Ground’ vainly trying to conceal a serious point and ‘Oh England What Seeds’ about the Tolpuddle Martyrs but also for all the people that the Empire transported around the world. ‘Gingerbread’ is their Christmas single and even that has a down-side and ‘Crow’s Wing’ was inspired by seeing a peregrine falcon in the middle of Sheffield. This is definitely a candidate for album of the year.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the NANCY KERR – Instar link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. 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.

ORDER – [CD]

Artist’s website: http://nancykerr.co.uk/

‘Seven Notes (Adieu My Love)’ – official video:

Nancy Kerr And The Sweet Visitor Band live at the West End Centre, Aldershot

Nancy Kerr
Photograph by Dai Jeffries

The first time I heard Nancy Kerr play she was sitting primly on stage alongside Eliza Carthy. How things have changed: now she’s front and centre, mistress of her stage with a superb band behind her. The Sweet Visitor Band is a fluid entity. With James Fagan at home on child care duty Greg Russell took the lead guitar role and, this being the last gig of the tour, Hannah Martin stepped in for the very busy Rowan Rheingans – what a super-sub she is. Tom Wright on drums, guitar and pedal steel and Tim Yates on double bass remain in place. In most bands you might call them the engine room but they are much more that.

This tour was to promote Nancy’s new album, Instar, a complex work and Nancy did acknowledge that it was good of us to turn out to hear what was essentially a bunch of new songs. They opened with ‘Farewell Stony Ground’ from the new album, the story of a man who set up a car park on a piece of waste ground and took the public’s money for fifteen years. An urban myth? Can we be sure? The song is a perfect slice of English folk-rock in contrast to the title track which starts with a jazzy feel from the drums.

The band is remarkably flexible. At quiet points, the harmonies of Nancy and Hannah dominated minimal accompaniment; in full-on mode with five voices together and every else going full blast, comparisons with the folk-rock bands of the early seventies are inevitable.

Highlights – I looked at my notes and thought ‘that was good, so was that…’ but ‘Fragile Water’ with Hannah on banjo stands out as does the chugging rhythm of ‘Light Rolls Home’, a song written about Nancy’s end of Sheffield. They closed the first set with their Christmas single, ‘Gingerbread’, not the happiest song as Nancy conceded but it has a hummable tune if you don’t concentrate too hard on the words. The other side, ‘It Was Red’, was the first encore. ‘Kingdom’, which opened the second set, was one of several songs written for Sweet Liberties which appear in new clothes on Instar and is another storming almost-rocker.

It was an excellent show: powerful, thought-provoking, sometimes angry sometimes tender and I do have to give a cheer for the Westy which continues to book the best of folk music acts. It’s great to have such a venue a couple of miles from our front door.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the Nancy Kerr link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. 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: http://nancykerr.co.uk/
Venue website: http://hampshireculturaltrust.org.uk/west-end-centre

‘Gingerbread’ – official video:

GREG RUSSELL & CIARAN ALGAR – The Queen’s Lover (Fellside Recordings FECD251)

Our admiration and respect should go to Paul Adams at Fellside Recordings for yet another coup. Not only did he manage to promote and nurture a certain Spiers & Boden burgeoning recording career but it now looks like he might have hit bulls-eye again with young whippersnappers Russell & Algar. Opening with the ever popular tale of “The Two Magicians” with its shape-shifting (remember Disney’s Mad Madam Mim & Merlin in “Sword In The Stone”) miscreants the duo inject good humour and a swinging style that comes across in a rippling tsunami performance that I haven’t heard since the days of Fox & Luckley. From an instrumental point of view I hope that Continue reading GREG RUSSELL & CIARAN ALGAR – The Queen’s Lover (Fellside Recordings FECD251)