Kevin Dempsey and Joe Broughton have been in the business for so many years and in so many line-ups that it seems impossible to count. You can mention The Albion Band, the Conservatoire Folk Ensemble, the Urban Folk Quartet, Dando Shaft, Whippersnapper and Lazarus before you have to stop and think. Kevin and Joe have worked together for almost two decades and Off By Heart is their fourth album as a duo.
The record opens in a rather unexpected way. You might have thought that two such celebrated instrumentalists would kick off with something to get the feet moving but instead they begin with Kevin singing ‘Resurrection Jack’, an anti-racist poem by Evangeline Paterson which Kevin has set to a simple and deliberately un-sensational tune. The story itself is a moving one but also told in very unemotional terms. That is followed by ‘Wheels Of The World’, a traditional Irish song explaining why the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Who says folk music isn’t relevant?
Of course there are instrumental fireworks and they begin with ‘The Post Truth Reel’ a tune that Joe describes as having “some slightly bits, some positive bits and a bit of reflection”. Next are two linked tunes. ‘Just Before The News’ and ‘De Pascale’ were written around the death of their friend, renaissance man Ernesto De Pascale’ and into them is poured all the emotion they can find. Fittingly, they sit at the heart of the album.
The album closes with two more instrumentals and two traditional songs. ‘Wicked Polly’ comes from the Ozarks and Paloma Trigás adds massed violins and ‘Two Constant Lovers’ is from Sussex with all sorts of things going on behind Kevin’s voice. ‘La Moreau’ is a two-part tune, or rather one tune played in two very different ways, and the final tune is ‘The Recovery Shuffle’ – a bluesy guitar riff over which Joe has written a jig. There is a great deal to enjoy here.
The UK’s biggest folk band, The Conservatoire Folk Ensemble, mark their 20th anniversary year with a new album, Painted, and a series of special appearances.
The band’s touring line-up features a stage-challenging 50 members. Among them are 15 horns, four cellos, five percussionists, five electric guitarists, plus fiddles, flutes, clarinets, double-bass, electric bass, euphonium, acoustic guitar, octave mandola, and a harp. They sing too.
Officially kicking off the anniversary is a truly unique hometown appearance at Birmingham’s Town Hall (12 May 2017). Opening night of the Imagined Isle festival, the show will see the current line-up joined by as many former members as possible. This could see 80, 90 or more musicians take to the stage for a never-to-be-repeated spectacular.
“However many guests come along, this will be the biggest ensemble ever, a great celebration of those 20 years, a real party,” says ensemble leader Joe Broughton.
The show will be followed by a series of headline dates, including the ensemble’s own Power Folk 4 festival (11 Jun 2017, Birmingham), and a trip to Shrewsbury, where they’ll be opening the folk festival (25 Aug 2017).
Formed in 1997 at Birmingham’s prestigious Conservatoire by fiddle player and arranger Joe Broughton (The Urban Folk Quartet, The Albion Band, Joss Stone), the Conservatoire Folk Ensemble have established a reputation for creating energetic and powerful shows. Their increasingly popular live appearances – especially at such festivals as Cropredy, Towersey, Shambala and Kendal Calling – have left audiences ecstatic and even (at Towersey) moved to tears.
Still based at Birmingham City University’s Conservatoire, the personal influences of each member shapes the set-list, as traditional English and Celtic reels slide into full-on rock grooves, funk, jazz, hip-hop, ska and reggae. Eastern European and Asian flourishes can also be heard, reflecting the rich cultural heritage of the group..
Painted is the ensemble’s first full studio album, and follows two live collections (2009’s Sardines, 2014’s The Official Bootleg) and a live DVD (2007).
With a cover image by fiddle player Ning-ning Li, which echoes the distinctive make-up sported by several band members at shows, its 10 tracks aim to document the breadth of the ensemble experience.
Combining new arrangements of traditional tunes with several original compositions, highlights include Joe’s deliciously raucous take on the classic ‘Fairy Dance’ and ‘William Taylor’, which features a commanding vocal by vocalist/ cellist Julie Claire. Later, Rosie Tunley and Rosemary Wilkes take on vocal duties for ‘Rain And Snow’, where harp lines and strings are soon joined by percussion, bass and electric guitar, making one of Painted’s most intricate cuts.
Classic Irish tune ‘The Butterfly’ gets the full-on Folk Ensemble treatment before seguing into guitarist Josh Wunderlich’s frenetic arrangement of Japanese duo The Yoshida Brothers’ ‘Kodo’.
With a nod to their 20 year history, they even revisit a pair of Bulgarian tunes (Ruchenitsas) first played by the band back in 1997, when the ensemble numbered a mere 14 members, while elsewhere, the percussion section morph from African drumming to Samba, to out-and-out rock, always pinning the band down, while bringing an excitement and studied richness to the material.
“The challenge for us has been really capturing the power and intensity of the ensemble without it impacting on the delicacy or fragility of the quieter, more subtle moments,” says Joe, who produced the album. “There’s such energy, when the entire ensemble perform together, but these are world class musicians, and the tracks on Painted really demonstrate how skilful their individual playing is.”
The Conservatoire Folk Ensemble’s Painted (SAE Records) is released on Sunday 11 June 2017.
The collection’s nine tracks range from outlandish and inventive instruments, to traditional and original songs, with “a slightly political twist” running through.
Highlights include ‘Wheels Of The World’, an old comment on politicians that seems even more relevant today; ‘The Post Truth Reel’, an instrumental filled with anger and sadness; and ‘Resurrection Jack’, which is based on an anti-racist poem by the late Dublin-born writer and editor, Evangeline Paterson.
Since forming in 1999, this incredible duo have now recorded three albums and toured extensively in over 20 countries round the world. Combining emotive songs, unrivalled instrumental capability, and a spectacular high energy show, they never fail to create a spellbinding atmosphere.
The list of musicians they have played with is impressive, and includes Whippersnapper, Mary Black, Joss Stone, Dando Shaft, The Urban Folk Quartet, Fairport Convention, The Albion Band, Dave Swarbrick, and even Percy Sledge. But their partnership is a unique pairing.
“Whatever other projects we have done over the years, we always end up back together because we have so much common ground in our music,” says Joe.
To pigeon hole their style of music would be to do them a disservice. They draw on folk music from all corners of the world, but their experience in jazz, soul, classical, pop and rock music takes the results into original and uncharted territory.
What you’ll notice at their concerts is not only the originality of what this acoustic duo plays, but also the simple fact that they do it so well. Kevin has a fantastic voice and is widely regarded as one of Europe’s greatest acoustic guitar players, whilst Joe is simply unmatched in the world of fiddle pyrotechnics.
To top it all, the Dempsey Broughton show is playful and entertaining – you almost have to pinch yourself and remember to take it all in as they swoop from beautiful song to mind blowing tune, via a stream of hilarious banter. Two hours with Kevin Dempsey and Joe Broughton can seem like 10 minutes.
The release of Off By Heart is accompanied by a series of intimate dates.
“We’ve been working on this album for some time now, but we wanted to get it just right,” says Joe. “And now feels like the moment – it’s the right time for this material to get out there, and we’re really excited about sharing it with everyone.”
“Superb musicianship, brilliant conception and execution…all you people who think you can jazz-up folk music – hear this and weep!” – Flos Headford
Reflecting their reputation as a forceful and electric live act, The Urban Folk Quartet return with an extended tour and new live album.
As the title suggests, The Urban Folk Quartet: Live III is The UFQ’s third live album, and follows the previously released Live (2011) and Live II (2013).
Recorded in concert during their spring 2015/ 2016 tour – at venues in Chester (Alexander’s), Maldon (Town Hall), Stafford (Gatehouse Theatre), and Bristol (Folk House) – the nine tracks see the quartet revisiting material from 2014 studio album, The Escape, and road-testing new tunes.
A perfect showcase for the four-piece’s breath-taking musicianship, Live III embraces their full scope, from the full-on ‘Upward Spiral’, to quieter ‘Resiste’ and ‘The Language Barrier’.
New tracks (pencilled in for their 2018 studio album) underline the quartet’s quizzical restlessness and globe-spanning sense of adventure: inspired by a trip to India. ‘Whiplash Reel’ transports a classical Indian scale into a Celtic setting, while the grooving ‘Long Time Traveller’ presents a distinctly UFQ take on a song adapted from famed American 19th century tunebook, The Sacred Harp.
In the concert environment, tunes familiar from ‘The Escape’ (which featured in several prominent ‘best of 2015’ lists) take on a newfound power and direction, as The UFQ feed off the crowds’ enthusiasm and energy, extending and transforming their growing catalogue.
“The pieces are arranged to deliberately get the audience going, with improvised passages that respond to the audience’s reaction, the vibe,” explains fiddle-player Joe Broughton. “That’s the whole reason we like to do live albums. In ‘Control Zed’, Tom does a phenomenal percussion solo – it’s those special moments of interaction where we use the energy from the crowd …”
While other bands may use the live album format to fulfil contractual obligations or as a filler, the prolific UFQ see their in-concert releases as an integral part of their creative process – hence their plan to follow each studio album with a live counterpart (something which their growing international fan-base have now come to expect).
The UFQ’s sixth album over-all, Live III, however, takes a different approach to its predecessors, I and II.
“Our previous live albums have very much been presented as one night”, says percussionist Tom Chapman. “Even though Live II was recorded at two gigs, when you listen to it it’s easy to hear it as one gig. Live III is very definitely an album collected over months, with varied rooms and audiences giving the album its unique dynamic drive.”
The release arrives at a time of increased UFQ activity. 2016 saw the band perform a series of jaw-dropping sets at various UK and international festivals, including Green Man, Towersey, Cropready, Shrewsbury, Ringsted in Denmark, and Lakeland Festival, in Erlach, Switzerland. They were also personally invited by singer Joss Stone to appear at children’s charity Barnardo’s 150th anniversary concert at London’s The Roundhouse.
The Urban Folk Quartet have been dazzling audiences with their brand of ‘electrifying acoustic music’ since 2009. Galician fiddle player Paloma Trigás has shared stages and recorded with the likes of The Chieftains, Sharon Shannon and Altan, and toured the stadiums of the world with Spain’s biggest folk star, Carlos Nuñez. Long established on the folk scene as a fiery English fiddler and showman, Joe Broughton (Albion Band), is also an exceptional guitarist and mandolin player. Dan Walsh is regarded as one of the finest banjo players in the country, as well as being a gifted singer and guitarist, while percussionist Tom Chapman is widely considered to be the most accomplished and innovative cajón player the UK has to offer.
Whisper this, but I hadn’t been to Fairport’s Cropredy Convention for twenty years. I had felt it was getting too big for my personal comfort – when I first went there was one campsite, now there are seven – but an insistent invitation drew me back this year. In fact what are bigger are the camper vans, the folding chairs and, dare I say, the waistlines. We older and …er…more substantial punters do like our comforts. Some aspects of the festival are more technological and sophisticated. The bar is a marvel of mobile opulence although initially no more efficient than in the days when there was oneWadsworth’s lorry, lots of barrels and one choice of beer. That’s no reflection on the brilliant bar-staff, by the way, but logistics do sometimes let the side down. Continue reading RETURN OF THE CROPREDY EXILE – By Dai Jeffries