Kate Rusby and Jon Boden to star at Gate To Southwell 2017

kate rusby

British folk heroine Kate Rusby and former Bellowhead frontman Jon Boden are among the first headline acts announced to appear at the Gate To Southwell Festival next June, and reduced price tickets are now available.

Widely regarded as “the first lady of English folk music”, Kate Rusby is famous for her Mercury-nominated debut Sleepless, her acclaimed collection The Girl Who Couldn’t Fly and her Xmas album Sweet Bells. From Penistone, near Barnsley, Kate’s latest album Life In A Paper Boat has just been released.

Jon Boden is one of the most charismatic singers, composers, arrangers, fiddlers and multi-instrumentalists on the acoustic and roots music scene. Having fronted Bellowhead for 10 years, Jon is also well known for his work with John Spiers, his band The Remnant Kings and also Eliza Carthy’s Ratcatchers.

Also lined up for Britain’s most eclectic acoustic and roots music events, there’s internationally-renowned Canadian acts such as Le Vent Du Nord (who were a huge hit at the 2012 festival) and the East Pointers from Prince Edward Island, plus acclaimed Californian ukulele band the Ooks Of Hazzard (among the highlights of 2016 with their wonderful cover of Radiohead’s ‘Creep’) and popular English husband-and-wife folk duo Megson.

Further adding to the diverse magic of the festival, which runs from June 8th to 12th 2017, the immensely entertaining and danceable Mallorcan World music band BOC make a welcome return, having played their first gig outside Spain at Gate To Southwell back in 2015.

Following the great success of this year’s on-stage gathering to mark Bob Dylan’s 75th birthday – described as “one of those never to be forgotten festival events” by Folk Radio UK – Jim Moray will return to curate a flower-powered 50th anniversary celebration of 1967’s Summer Of Love, the original blooming of the American underground hippy movement.

If all this is not enough for roots music hungry fans, Gate To Southwell has also booked legendary American folk blues artist Chris Smither and the wittily-named Whitley Bay female collective She Shanties. These are just the first of over 50 artists booked for 2017 with negotiations underway to book more major acts soon.

Set in a superb rural site close to the lovely market town of Southwell in Nottinghamshire, the eleventh festival will showcase a mix of international acoustic and roots artists alongside local and up and coming talent, performing across four main undercover stages. With music workshops, dance displays and ceilidhs, street theatre and kids’ entertainment, great food outlets and a beer and cider festival, the Gate To Southwell 2017 is definitely a date for the diary. June 8th to 12th.

Advance tickets are on sale now via the website – www.gtsf.uk

 

MAZ O’CONNOR – The Longing Kind (Restless Head RHCD 101)

MAZ O’CONNOR The Longing KindHer third album in four years, this is also the Barrow-in-Furness singer-songwriter’s first to comprise solely of self-penned, non-traditional material. It’s also a concept album of sorts in that, exploring the tensions and conflicts of a young woman living in London, it’s ordered like a three-act play, opening with songs of the uncertainty, confusion and displacement that ensue from being cut loose from the safe havens of education and family, continuing through imagined stories based on particular paintings and the way in which the subjects’ identities have been fixed by the artists, finally returning to reality with a newfound clarity and redefined sense of self.

Produced by Jim Moray, who also contributes an assortment of instruments, and featuring Beth Porter on cello, Matt Downer on double bass and Byrds legend Chris Hillman on pedal steel, the fingerpicked title track follows a brief instrumental intro, clearly nodding to such influences as Jackson C Frank, moving on to the leafy folk of ‘A Winter’s Blues’ which, with its circling guitar pattern, sounds like a sort of upbeat Nick Drake. Hillman is to the fore on ‘Crook of his Arm’, a lovely reminiscence of her father and his inability to keep her safe from the ways of the world in her determination to carve her path, while protective parent/ restless daughter themes also concern the frisky, percussion-driven ‘Mother Make My Bed’ featuring Nick Malcolm on trumpet.

Things slow down on the medieval hints of ‘Greenwood Side’, Millais’ Ophelia providing the impetus for the first of the painting songs, moving on to the piano-backed ‘Emma’ (other than the lyrical mention of being painted in blue, there’s no indication, on either the album or website, as to the source of the inspiration) and the cello accompanied ‘Jane Grey’, sung in the voice of the ill-fated Lady Jane Grey, who reigned as Queen for just nine days, and inspired by the picture of her execution by Paul Delaroche. By contrast to these tragic heroines, the subject of the livelier strummed ‘Billy Waters’ (guessingly based on the painting by David Wilkie), again featuring Malcolm, is a one-legged black busker, who used to play violin to theatre-goers in the streets of London in the nineteenth century and, shortly before he died, was elected King of the Beggars in the parish of St. Giles.

Opening with the simple fingerpicked ‘Coming Back Around’, the third act rounds up proceedings with ‘A Quiet Word’ (a brass burnished restlessness/parting song which borrows its opening line from Macbeth), the traditional-hued ‘A Rose’ which highlights her soaring vocal range and, finally, returning home in the banjo-flecked ‘When The Whisky Runs Dry’, older and wiser with a bruised, but not regretful heart. Being honest, I don’t think this is the album to bring any major breakout success into the folk mainstream, but it will certainly delight her existing following and surely encourage curious newcomers to stay around to see where her journey takes her next.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the banner link below 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://www.mazoconnor.com/

‘A Winter’s Blues’ – official video:

THE GREAT BRITISH FOLK FESTIVAL, Skegness, 4th-7th December

The idea of holding a folk festival in Skegness in December probably raised a few eyebrows when it was first mooted. The suggestion that it should be held at Butlin’s may have caused a pursing of lips but it makes perfect economic sense. The artists have a major venue and a captive audience to add to a winter tour and the camp and its staff gets extra use and revenue. There are two main venues, both are very large and both were packed on Friday evening.

Friday

THE GREAT BRITISH FOLK FESTIVAL, Skegness, 4th-7th December
False Lights

Entering the Pleasure Dome, sorry, Skyline Pavilion trying to figure out where everything was it was nice to be greeted by the harmonies of Said The Maiden on the Introducing Stage – the third open venue in the middle of the pavilion. It was nearly the end of their set, unfortunately, but we stayed to hear Kings Of The South Seas before insinuating ourselves into the Centre Stage for False Lights. Live, they are less reliant on Jim Moray’s synth wizardry and proved themselves to be an exceptionally good folk-rock band in the classic style. They may prefer to think of themselves as mould breakers but they are actually doing what some bands seem to have forgotten how. Their attempt to perform ‘How Can I Keep From Singing’ without PA was not a success, however; the natural acoustics of the room are not as good as they believed.

Wayward Band 2
Eliza Carthy And The Wayward Band

At an event like this you can’t hear everything so I was now faced with a decision – Eliza Carthy And The Wayward Band or Billy Bragg? The fact that we now had decent seats settled it and we stayed put for the first half of Eliza’s set. Her twelve piece band are set to be the next Bellowhead (whatever anybody says) and are more than up to the task. As well as old favourites, including a “duelling fiddles” interlude with Sam Sweeney in ‘My Boy Billy’, there was a new song, ‘Devil In The Woman’, slated for their first studio album. Bragg called, however, and we arrived for what seemed like the mellow end of his set with ‘Levi Stubbs’ Tears’ and ‘Greetings To The New Brunette’. No! Amongst the polemic he sang ‘Between The Wars’, still powerful and relevant, and ‘There Is Power In A Union’. I reflected that the latter needs some revision with the unions battered down. We may discover that there is power in unity. ‘A New England’ wrapped up his set perfectly.

Richie Prynne 2
Richie Prynne

CC Smugglers followed with the sort of set that only a band as youthful as them could have the energy to play but shouldn’t have the chops to pull off. They have played so many gigs since I first saw them, even ones they weren’t invited to, and have become so tight and slick. Richie Prynne prowled his stage like a circus ringmaster, never still and rarely silent, cajoling and haranguing the audience, the songs and even his band-mates like a true showman. If the idea of the last set of the night was to wind the audience down then CC Smugglers were not the right choice.

Saturday

Moulettes
Moulettes

The first and last time I heard Moulettes was at very uncomfortable gig and I was looking forward to hearing them in a nice chair. Actually, the best seating for the band is a bean bag with a lava lamp, joss-sticks and a guy dishing out small squares of blotting paper. Sadly the only mind-altering substance available was a pint of Hobgoblin. This was the final gig of the Constellations tour and Moulettes were also previewing their new album, Preternatural, with songs which, for want of more specific titles, we’ll call ‘Octopus’, ‘Nematode’ and ‘Behemoth’. I love the sound of the band, I love their instrumentation and their style but I really don’t know what they are about a lot of the time. “Surreal dreamscapes” were mentioned and I guess that’s about right.

I chatted to Ruth Skipper after the set to ask her impressions of the festival. It turned out that they had only just arrived and gone straight on stage, which accounted for some of the sound man’s problems. At their simplest Moulettes can be two guitars, bass and fiddle but at various times will be added electric cello, bassoon, autoharp, some meaty drums and keyboards and a balance that’s right for the beginning of a song may be wrong by the end. I did discover that the band were looking forward to the water-slide and hearing more music later which proves that I have no future as an investigative reporter.

Chris Simpson
Chris Simpson

Next up were Magna Carta. Chris Simpson on-stage is pretty much the same as Chris Simpson off-stage – he’s a raconteur, discursive and philosophical and Doug Morter is his perfect right hand man. Chris has surrounded himself with some very fine musicians but the set felt loose and the decision to give Morter a solo of one of his own songs seems questionable. Back on the firmer ground of The Fields Of Eden things were much more sure-footed and ‘Airport Song’ was a nice encore.

Sam Carter
Sam Carter

The queue for Tom Robinson curled twice round the pavilion and things were clearly running late so what might have been another difficult decision was made easier and we settled in to hear Sam Carter. He opened his set with ‘Yellow Sign’, the song he began with when I first heard him, and I was shocked to realise that that was six years ago. He has grown as an artist so much. Just when we were settling into the style of his own songs he switched to ‘The Wife Of Ushers Well’, which he sings with False Lights, and ‘Rocking The Cradle’. He played a superb set which showed the power of one man and his guitar. Sam was probably the highlight of the weekend for me.

The Unthanks
The Unthanks

We got back just in time to catch the end of Tom Robinson’s set so I did get to sing ‘2-4-6-8 Motorway’ again before The Unthanks appeared on the Centre Stage. With the full ten-piece band on stage it’s easy to overlook the contribution of Niopha Keegan to the group but her trumpet playing was the fondant icing on several songs. The technical problems rolled on so The Demon Barbers XL were thirty-five minutes late on stage, almost taking the gloss off their excellent set which began with traditional songs and ended as a dance display featuring hip-hop, interpretative dance and a fearsomely fast rapper. It’s quite disconcerting to see a stage bare of wires, mic stands and other clutter but they needed all the space they could get. I got to bed by 2.00 am, more or less – it was a long day.

Sunday

By midday the pace was beginning to tell and the queues for the afternoon sessions were noticeably lighter and some people I spoke to were planning a power nap in preference to more music. No such luxury for your man on the spot.

TradArrr
TradArrr

TradArrr were excellent. They can really rock and with Marion Fleetwood on lead they can turn in a bittersweet ballad like ‘My Laggan Love’ or ‘Silver Dagger’. Between them they boast five lead vocalists, a full string quartet, a keyboard player who frequently added unexpected flourishes and two drummers, one of whom plays cornet. There were hints of high camp as PJ Wright planted a foot on the foldback and Guy Fletcher prowled the stage hunched over his mandolin but they restrained themselves well. It was then a choice between waiting for Jacqui McShee’s Pentangle or scurrying off to catch The Band From County Hell – sorry Jacqui.

The Band From County Hell
The Band From County Hell

The Band From County Hell are a Scots/Irish group from Lincolnshire and are huge fun – ‘The Day My Granny Died’ is a song everybody should hear at least once. They have been around for a quite a while, with six albums to their credit and it seems odd that they aren’t better known – although they don’t lack for support. The first notes played by Blazin’ Fiddles were on keyboard and guitar which is, I’m sure, their little joke. It’s not logical to find them restful but they are so tight and their music is so hypnotic. I promise that I didn’t nod off but I was definitely on a different plane of existence for a lot of their excellent set.

Chris Cleverley
Chris Cleverley

I returned to the Introduction Stage to hear Chris Cleverley whose debut album, Apparitions, I really like. His set, mixing traditional songs and his own compositions didn’t disappoint and he’s already working in new songs including ‘All I Want’ which will send me back to Joni Mitchell’s Blue as soon as time allows. I stayed for Polly And The Billets Doux, who won the day’s vote for a main stage slot next year, and The Black Feathers, who really needed a more sympathetic environment.

Vo Fletcher
Vo Fletcher

The Ric Sanders’ Trio have finally come out as a fun band with their new album and set of old blues, string band and swing numbers. It might be called the Vo Fletcher Trio since it is his guitar that forms the foundation and his voice that sings the songs but when the singing stops it is Ric’s flights of instrumental fancy that take their music to another place. The album is a lot of fun and their set reflected that. Then it was decision time again. I’d been told that Fotheringay would be playing the same set that they had toured all year “only better”. That was true but I missed the excitement of the earlier gigs when the band were still finding their way into, or back into, the music. Nevertheless, theirs was the set everyone wanted to hear.

Steeleye Span
Steeleye Span

Since they lost Messrs. Knight and Zorn I really wanted to hear what Steeleye Span would do. With two new musicians to induct the answer was to go back to first principles so ‘All Things Were Quite Silent’ was followed by ‘Blackleg Miner’ and ‘Weary Cutters’ was teamed with ‘New York Girls’ featuring Maddy Prior on ukulele. And they rocked. Julian Littman added a rap to ‘Boys Of Bedlam’ and Spud Sinclair played the sort of electric guitar that we haven’t heard in the band since Bob Johnson’s time. As a final touch they closed with an a capella version of Rick Kemp’s ‘Somewhere Along The Road’.

Nick Gibbs
Nick Gibbs

There is no getting away from the fact that playing the final set of a festival after Steeleye Span have gone off to rapturous applause is a daunting task but Folklaw threw themselves into it with energy and aplomb. Fiddler and songwriter Nick Gibbs was joined by Gaz Hunt on a minimalist drum kit, Martin Vogwell on bass and mandolin and Bryn Williams on guitar and bodhran – not to mention crossing the venue floor on the backs of chairs! They sent the crowd off exhausted but happy.

So does a December festival work once you get over the culture shock of rocking up at 5.00 pm on a Friday in the dark? This is still Skegness and with Storm Desmond blowing around us “bracing” just didn’t begin to describe it but when the wind dropped on Sunday it was mild and pleasant. The accommodation and facilities were excellent and the unsung stars of the weekend were the Butlin’s staff who were friendly and helpful and worked long hours. However, this was folk music adapting to Butlin’s not the other way round. The artists existed in a bubble of stage/backstage/ accommodation or arrived, performed and left and there were quite a few I would have liked to have spoken to so I apologise to them. A bulletin board for messages or to arrange meetings wouldn’t take much to set up and would be a big help, too. But, yes, it works and if you have considered going but not done so I can recommend it.

Dai Jeffries

JOSIENNE CLARKE AND BEN WALKER – Nothing Can Bring Back The Hour (Folk Room)

ClarkeWalker_HourHailing from Sussex and Evesham respectively, the pair are steeped in the folk traditions of English songwriting with influences drawn from, among others, Sandy Denny, Richard and Linda Thompson, June Tabor, Nick Drake and Bert Jansch. Their joint debut, Seas Are Deep, was a collection of well-known traditional numbers, while the follow up, Fire & Fortune, mixed traditional and self-penned material to sublime effect.

Taking its title from Wordsworth’s Intimations of Mortality, with the sort of pensive and melancholic mood that implies, the same applies here, Clarke writing the words and music and providing recorder, sax and flute with Walker handling the orchestration arrangements and playing guitars, mandolin, banjo and keys, joined by John Parker on double bass, Ruairi Glasheen on percussion and Jim Moray on piano as well as an array of backing musicians on strings and brass.

Of the three traditional numbers, it’s fair to say that the best known will be ‘Let No Man Steal Your Thyme’, Clarke’s fairly familiar forlorn interpretation offset by a bold arrangement that weaves its way from keyboard drone through medieval coloured flute to puttering drum rhythm, Spanish guitar and parping sax. Introduced by willowy recorder and flute, it’s preceded by the courtly textures of ‘The Queen of Hearts’, cello and acoustic guitar crafting a stately pavane setting, while the third offering is a more traditional folk reading of ‘I Wonder What Is Keeping My True Love Tonight’ accompanied simply by fingerpicked guitar.

With its pizzicato violin and lush strings, self-penned, dreamy ballad opener, ‘Silverline’, is an early taster of the new richness and delicacy in Walker’s classical inspired arrangements, a development reinforced by the short, cello and violin accompanied ‘A Simple Refrain’ on which Clarke’s joined on vocals by Sam Brookes for a tender love song swathed in pastoral clouds.

Things heat up a little rhythmically on ‘It Would Not Be A Rose’, strings circling around acoustic guitar and hand percussion as Samantha Whates’ backing vocals blend with Clarke’s pure, leafy tones. ‘The Tangled Tree’ is another number steeped in natural imagery that addresses its theme of caged spirits and the cruel passing of time with a slow sonic gathering built upon ghostly multi-tracked backing vocals, somber piano and backwards guitar.

Things take a diversion for both ‘I Never Learned French’, a reverie of regret in a retro 30s frame, dawn breaking over the Paris skyline to the strains of a muted, melancholic trumpet, and, a personal favourite, ‘Moving Speeches’, a sprightly snare beat and banjo-accompanied skip through American folk backroads, Clarke sometimes sounding spookily like Denny. It comes as something of a shock, then, to slip into ‘Mainland’, a four minute experimental number that opens to the desolate sound of a sparse cello drone, siren call and breaking waves before the arrival of Clarke’s quivering, emotionally numbed vocals against an electronic backdrop as the number gradually swells over scuffed drums and treated guitars in a manner that suggests a darkside version of Clannad.

There’s similar experimentation at work on ‘Earth And Ash And Dust’, ushered in on a pulse of backwards treated guitar giving way to a scattering of sombre Spanish guitar notes as Clarke’s vocals eventually merge with the wordless backing to become the choir of some Renaissance cathedral frozen in time.

Things are more restrained for ‘Now You Know’, a slow, measured ballad with Walker’s simple repeated guitar pattern adorned by sweeping strings and French horn, with the album ending its journey in the early hours at some dimly-lit cellar bar blues club with a sleepy-eyed jazz trio and strings section for ‘Water To Wine’, Clarke evoking vintage Janis Ian with a resigned reflection on a self-denying uncertain future as she resolves to “do something good with my life” but must “accept that whatever I find it won’t be mine.” Whatever the future holds, it will be the more bearable for their music.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the banner link below 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.

Artists’ website: www.josienneclarke.co.uk

‘Silverline’ – the official video:

THE ELIZABETHAN SESSION out now

LizSessionFeaturing Martin Simpson, Nancy Kerr, Bella Hardy, Jim Moray, John Smith, Hannah James, Rachel Newton & Emily Askew

This 14 track CD showcases the multi-artist commission from Folk by the Oak and the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) inspired by the music, the people, the myths and the stories of the Elizabethan age.

From John Smith’s darkly brooding track ‘London’ reflecting on life as a peasant in Elizabethan England to Nancy Kerr’s deeply moving ‘Shores of Hispaniola’ examining the era’s slave trade; The Elizabethan Session is a ground breaking album of exceptional new music that beautifully conjures up the spirit of the age. It reflects the collective talent of some of the cream of the contemporary folk world, who lived and worked together for five days in March 2014, absorbing the spirit of the era and translating it into outstanding new music. Continue reading THE ELIZABETHAN SESSION out now

THE ELIZABETHAN SESSION – The Elizabethan Session (Quercus Records QUERCUS001)

LizSessionThere is an assumption common in some quarters that history is all about the past”, says Dr Ian Mortimer in his sleeve note. “In reality, history is about you and me.” That view was certainly taken on board by the “folk supergroup” (Dr Mortimer again) who were locked up at Monnington House until they had written an album. In this case the gaolers were The English Folk Dance And Song Society and Folk By The Oak.

This is a sometimes revisionist view of the first Elizabethan era sometimes applying 21st century values to 16th century events. I’m no historian and cannot comment on the accuracy of the songs in The Elizabethan Session but I can’t help feeling that few songwriters would have penned ‘The Oak Casts His Shadow’ or felt the need to. That it was Nancy Kerr who did so shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise and she almost immediately has a sly dig at Richard III – or at least the Tudor propaganda version – in ‘Suspicious Mind’ written with John Smith. Nancy also opens the proceedings with ‘The Shores Of Hispaniola’, a brilliant song which considers the slave trade from the point of view of a woman left behind, presumably in West Africa. You might get the impression that Gloriana doesn’t figure as a feminist role model for her.

The Elizabethan Session @ Folk By the Oak in 2014
The Elizabethan Session @ Folk By the Oak in 2014

The song that perhaps best encapsulates Mortimer’s dictum is ‘Hatfield’. Bella Hardy begins from a childhood memory of her sister playing Elizabeth at the house to consider the queen’s troubled childhood. For the most part, however, the view is that of the underdog. Martin Simpson contributes a short, bitter song on the death of Kit Marlowe – Shakespeare doesn’t get look-in – and the countryman in John Smith’s ‘London’ dreams of the great city and wishes for a better life. Continue reading THE ELIZABETHAN SESSION – The Elizabethan Session (Quercus Records QUERCUS001)