DAVE BURLAND AND THE AWKWARD SQUAD – Okkard (Fat Cat FATCD037)

OkkardDave Burland may have recorded one of the definitive folk albums of the seventies but he’s always been a rocker at heart as anyone who has been in the same room as Shagpile will testify. Alongside him in The Awkward Squad are two members of that band, Dave Fisher and Bryan Ledgard and their first album, Okkard, is a perfect example of having fun with the music they love.

The big noise here is Fisher on keyboards and steel guitars and I’m guessing that he takes the lead on ‘Lay Down Your Weary Tune’ which is built on piano with three voices on the chorus. The Awkward Squad take it a little faster than is usual with odd little twists in the phrasing that makes it much brighter than the dirge it can become. It’s electric piano that introduces the opening track, ‘Reynardine’ with solid guitar and drums from Ledgard. Burland’s distinctive laid-back delivery adds to the gentle rolling feel of the arrangement. He switches to mandolin for Terry Allen’s ‘New Delhi Freight Train’ over Fisher working the left hand end of the keyboard.

What they do to ‘Country Life’ is quite amazing. A not-quite honky-tonk piano is matched with a sort-of syncopated vocal line and Willie Nelson’s ‘Crazy’ is given a full-blown nightclub feeling with backing vocals courtesy of Chris While and Julie Matthews. It’s not all fun, though. ‘Kitchener’s Finger’, written by Burland, is paired with ‘The Bloody Fields Of Flanders’ and ‘Lamkin’ is as dark a version as you could wish to hear, fleshing out the “mason” storyline.

‘Long Distance Love’ and Steve Goodman’s wonderful ‘City Of New Orleans’ are more familiar territory – this is possibly the best version of the latter that I’ve heard – and I was convinced that the final track, ‘Spencer The Rover’, appeared on Dave’s first album, but of course it doesn’t. As far as I can tell this is the first time he’s recorded it. No matter; it’s a perfect Dave Burland song to bring Okkard to a close.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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.

Label website: www.circuitmusic.co.uk

‘Kitchener’s Finger’ – Dave Burland live:

ST. AGNES FOUNTAIN – Christmas Is Not Far Away (Cuppity Records CUP007)

Layout 1It’s been 14-plus years since Fairport Convention’s chief songwriter, co-lead singer and multi-instrumentalist Chris Leslie, songwriter-musician and all-around renaissance man David Hughes, and Chris While and Julie Matthews (the renowned folk duo While and Matthews) joined together for a holiday side project called St. Agnes Fountain, fondly dubbed the Aggies by loyalists.

The quartet and its fans will tell you their musical magic is only fully unleashed during their as-soon-as-they-are-announced sell out concerts across England. That is further reason to celebrate the artistry of their albums. Christmas Is Not Far Away, the Aggies’ just released ninth album, is now available online and at upcoming shows.

The album features the Aggies at their best – both individually and as a group. Chris Leslie’s bewitching musicianship (don’t miss ‘Old Time Christmas on the Front Porch’), Ms. While’s and Ms. Matthews’ enchanting harmonies (‘Shadows of the Past’) and Mr. Hughes’ amusingly irreverent word play (‘Immortal Irreverent’) combine to make this a stand out offering.

St. Agnes Fountain
St. Agnes Fountain

At first, I was disappointed by a few songs on this album including ‘The Heart of Christmas Day’ by Ms. Matthews.

Perhaps that’s because a disproportionate number of artists who released holiday albums this season have included several songs aimed toward the despondent. Over the Rhine’s Blood Oranges in the Snow, comes immediately to mind. But Over the Rhine acknowledges their holiday music is for those who struggle with the season.

When I originally heard the song penned by Ms. Matthews, I thought it was a bit of an outlier in an otherwise joyful album. I was wrong. The more I listened, the more I found that and other atypical Aggies’ songs intriguing, especially as they are sequenced.

Christmas is Not Far Away is a charming respite from the too jolly and too sorrowful holiday music that is readily available. Like the Aggies’ tour, expect this album to become a part of your holiday tradition.

Nancy Dunham

St. Agnes Fountain website: http://www.whileandmatthews.co.uk/aggie.php

The Aggie’s encore from last year’s tour:

 

The Armistice Pals

armistice pals header non internetEveryone remembers the charity version of ‘Perfect Day’ with its myriad of voices from the pop and rock world.

Let’s hope everyone will also remember the upcoming answer from the Folk World – ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone?’ – with a plethora of voices from across the acoustic folk and roots spectrum representing the great and the good, young and the old, seasoned and emerging, all on the same single. The group is called The Armistice Pals and is releasing a fitting tribute to Pete Seeger, who sadly passed away this year as well as marking the 100 years anniversary of the breakout of the First World War. All profits will be distributed between four peacekeeping charities.

However, perhaps it’s not a perfect world after all and the late Pete Seeger’s classic anti war song, ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone?’, points a finger at the carnage, supposedly ‘ the war to end all wars’ which tragically mislead us to believe it was worth the sacrifice.  The sacrifice, not only of the lives of those who died, but the resultant desolation and struggle of the loved ones who were left behind. Whole swathes of communities were left bereft of their young men-folk who trustingly signed up into ‘Pals Battalions’, many of whom were never to return, with those who did too often spending lives blighted by the experience.

Armistice Pals is the name of the folk community ‘super band’ who are all performing on this single, which is due out on Remembrance Sunday, 9th November 2014. It was the brain child of Damian Liptrot (manager of folk-rock band Merry Hell), who, as the project expanded, has invited Folkstock’s Helen Meissner on board as co-organiser. The project has attracted over 30 names including Chris and Kellie While, Julie Matthews, Judy Dyble, Christine Collister, Dave Swarbrick, Ray Cooper, Sally Barker, Peter Knight, Boo Hewerdine, Gavin Davenport, Blair Dunlop, Lucy Ward, Ken Nicol, Merry Hell, Luke Jackson and Kelly Oliver. A line up so good that, were it to be a festival, it would undoubtedly be the event of the summer.

The single will be released via the usual digital outlets as well as a physical CD and as a nod to the historical element, a limited edition vinyl 45, on new community label, Folkstock Records.

As this is intended to be a community project, we are inviting Folk Clubs across the country to contribute by organising an ‘Armistice Pals Night’ during the week of the release of the single. This can take any form but should include a collective version of ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone?’ at some point during the evening, followed by a passing round of the hat to support the Armistice Pals charities.

If you would like to know more about the project, all the artists, the charities and the inspiration can be found at http://www.armisticepals.com or contact us direct via armisticepals@hotmail.co.uk

We hope that you will feel able to enlist and offer your support.

Helen and Damian
for The Armistice Pals

THE ARMISTICE PALS: A FULL LIST OF CONTRIBUTORS

Attila The Stockbroker (poet/musician and sheer force of nature, whose father survived the Somme).

Billy Mitchell (one time Jack the Lad, ex-Lindisfarne and much else besides).

Blair Dunlop (One of our brightest, youngest singer-songwriters, currently telling tales from the ‘House Of Jacks’, he also found time for a stint in The Albion Band..).

Bob Pegg (Storyteller, singer-songwriter and member of the legendary Mr Fox).

Boo Hewerdine (one time Bible basher, all time songwriting phenomenon).

Chris While and Julie Matthews (singers, songwriters, multi-instrumentalists, award winners in their own right and members of more prestige bands and projects than you can shake a stick at).

Christine Collister (one time She Devil, ex-Daphne’s Flight, much sought collaborator and loved by Q magazine).

Dave Mather & Peter Robinson (singer/songwriters (one of them has written an opera you know), ex-Houghton Weavers, stand up comedy and currently presenters of Salford City radio’s first folk show).

Dave Swarbrick (simply a living legend. As it says on the flyers, ‘needs no introduction’).

Edwina Hayes (multi-million You Tubed singer-songwriter with the ‘sweetest voice in England’).

Eric Bazilian: (Hooter, hitmaking songwriter worldwide for self and others, now he’s One Of Us!).

Flossie Malavialle (multinational singer et chanteuse aussi, gig travelling traffic reporter).

Gavin Davenport (much vaunted solo singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist, award winning, ex-Albion band member).

Gren Bartley (the spine tinglingly beautiful guitarist, banjo playing poet).

Helen Watson (Singer/Songwriter, multi genre artist, producer and erstwhile member of Daphne’s Flight, Carmel and Sons of Arqa, as well as taking a great photo).

Johnny Coppin (broadcasting singer-songwriter, ex-Decameron and now sufficiently multi-faceted to be considered a true diamond).

Judy Dyble (singer/songwriter, ex-Fairport, nearly King Crimson and Facebook dog blogger).

Kellie While (singer-songwriter considered to have one of the outstanding voices of her generation, ex-member of The Albion Band and so much else, her arrival makes The Pals a family affair as her mother and sometime singing partner Chris is also involved).

Kelly Oliver (singer/songwriter, guitarist and harmonicist who has taken Boots Of Spanish Leather to places most of us can only dream of).

Ken Nicol: (globetrotting, guitar endorsing, ex-Albion Band and Steeleye Span virtuoso).

Kevin Brennan MP (an accomplished musician, fan of folk music and passionate supporter of live music).

Lavinia Blackwall (the vocalist who is both a Trembling Bell and a Crying Lion).

Linda Simpson (singer/songwriter, ex-Prog/Folk/Rock legends Magna Carta and supplier of some ideas that are so good that I’d like to present them as my own).

Lucy Ward (singer/song writer and possibly the current heart of British Folk Music as she gets played on virtually every folk show I listen to regardless of the other tastes of the presenters!).

Luke Jackson (bright young purveyer of Fumes and Faith).

Merry Hell (8 piece folk-rocking explosion of melody and joy).

Ninebarrow (award-winning, Dorsetshire folk duo).

Patsy Matheson (singer/songwriter, spent time Waking The Witch, now The Domino Girl).

Peter Knight (singer/fiddle player, Gigspanner, Feast of Fiddles, Steeleye and holder of the world record for continuously playing the violin whilst travelling up and down the lift in the Empire State Building).

Phil ‘Swill’ Odgers (30 Year veteran of punk-folk luminaries, The Men They Couldn’t Hang).

Ray Cooper (singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist, ex-Oysterband and now a pearl in his own right).

Richard Ryall (singer/songwriter, member of the band Litmuss and he comes from a land Down Under).

Robb Johnson (Irregular singer/songwriter and social conscience).

Said The Maiden (3 rising doyennes with harmonies the envy of angels).

Sally Barker (folk singer and by popular acclaim, the true winner of The Voice).

Sian James (Singer, writer, harpist, composer, conductor and actress from Wales, a big Armistice pals ‘Creoso’ to her).

In addition, there is also The Pals Chorus, made up of friends and members of several folk clubs who will be recorded together to help swell the voices and to represent the fact that this is a true community project.

CHRIS WHILE AND JULIE MATTHEWS – Infinite Sky Fat Cat FATCD027

CHRIS WHILE AND JULIE MATTHEWS Infinite SkyChris While and Julie Matthews have been making music together for twenty years now, first with The Albion Band and currently with St Agnes Fountain as well as solo and as a duo. They make classy records and this, their eighth studio album together, is no exception.

The album opens with the up-tempo, vibrant ‘This Beautiful Life’, a song which could open or close a live set with equal impact. Here it sets the tone of a record which is full of optimism even when the subject might suggest otherwise. Better perhaps to say defiance in the face of catastrophe: Christchurch after the earthquake and 9/11; or stoicism when times are less than perfect. The new Radio Ballads song, ‘Nie Wieder’, about German Jewish athlete Gretel Bergmann, is the epitome of Julie’s song-writing. There is no triumphalism in her belated honours in her homeland but the statement that ‘nothing cleans the memory’ leaves a deep sense of sadness.

The core band of Howard Lees (some nicely understated lead guitar), Neil Fairclough on bass and drummer Bryan Hargreaves are again in residence with brief guest appearances from Kellie While, Nancy Kerr, Martin Simpson and Andy Cutting. With Chris and Julie on acoustic guitars and keyboards the sound is big but never fussy. It can be gentle as on ‘Hope Springs’ or rock like a good ’un as on ‘Broken Crash Barrier’. Infinite Sky is another fine album from Chris and Julie. Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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 web link: www.whileandmatthews.co.uk

St. Agnes Fountain The Twelve Years of Christmas Reviewed!

I’ll just admit it; I’m jealous of those that can celebrate the holiday season with St. Agnes Fountain’s live and newly recorded music “The Twelve Years of Christmas.” In a season filled with holiday albums and tours from artists ranging from Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta to Cee Lo Green, the just-released St. Agnes Fountain album is truly a holiday jewel of re-imagined traditional and more contemporary music. Like most jewels, this one is rare. It’s available, for now anyway, only at the Aggies’ concerts, which are only in the U.K. Yet even those that need to wait to purchase copies should not miss the chance.

The quartet – acoustic guitarist, songwriter and author David Hughes, Fairport Convention’s Chris Leslie, and award-winning folk duo Chris While and Julie Matthews – have created a 13-track holiday album that sways from reverent to lighthearted to downright humorous especially on Hughes’ witty “Christmas Thoughts and Prayers,” a true hoot. But overall, the collection is as warm and intimate as a cup of cocoa on a cold winter night.

It’s a fair bet that the acoustic version of the J.S. Bach classic “In Dulci Jubilo” will rightly receive the most notice from critics and fans. Yet other songs – notably the breathtakingly beautiful “All Through the Night” that features Chris Leslie’s haunting, angelic lead vocals – are equally deserving of rich acclaim. Other don’t miss tracks include Beth Nielsen Chapman’s elegant “There’s Still My Joy,” and the joyful “Ding Dong Merrily on High.”

Indeed, this album is just another reminder of why St. Agnes Fountains deservedly carry the “super group” moniker though they speak to individual listener’s hearts.

Nancy Dunham

Tour dates link: http://www.whileandmatthews.co.uk/tour.php

Jack McNeill & Charlie Heys TWO FINE DAYS

“The Birmingham-based, Young Folk Awards-nominated duo’s free-spirited music sounds centuries old. It’s not, and their fresh guitar and violin set-up adds a rare sparkle to traditional hues.” Q Magazine

Jack and Charlie’s well-known idiosyncratic approach to folk music and song writing has earned them an enviable reputation as two of the most exciting, heartfelt and challenging musicians around. Writing songs that seem to grow out of the ground and tunes that tell stories in their own right, Jack and Charlie’s original music strings together the past, present and what might yet be of folk music. Their first two albums on Fellside, Light Up all the Beacons and The Northern Road followed them as finalists in the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Awards, and were met with critical acclaim; their fresh and compelling sound inspiring audiences up and down the country and being described in The Sunday Times as “real folk – not nu-folk, folktronica, or some other apologetically named subgenre – and it doesn’t seem to need reinventing.”

All the music and songs take inspiration from ever-changing landscapes, people and common traditions of hope, fear, love and home. Still feeling inspired and at the start of a growing musical career their enthusiasm resonates with an audience hungry for something new and exciting. For their new album TWO FINE DAYS the duo are joined by Hannah Phillips on Scottish harp (TMSA Young Trad Award Finalist), Sean Law on Double Bass and the renowned percussionist Tom Chapman (The Old Dance School, The Urban Folk Quartet, Chris While and Julie Matthews).

Expanding their musical language, creating beautiful and memorable textures while cooking up an instrumental, breaking storm, Jack and Charlie have come a long way since the folk awards; their live shows are packed with stories, good humour and most importantly, music to remember.

When it comes to the songs on TWO FINE DAYS who better to describe the story behind the songs than Jack McNeill himself; “Debatable Lands is about the bloody history concerning the people who lived in the border lands between England and Scotland. Much has been written and sung about this subject before where for 300 years families were subjected to brutal attacks from both sides, but perhaps the greatest harm would be inflicted upon each other. I was brought up with these stories and this song looks at the worrying question of why rather than unite at such times, people will sometimes destroy each other. In For the Want, ‘A kingdom was lost, all for the want of a nail’… a well-known story about small actions (or lack of) and their large consequences. In this song it’s the kingdom of friendship that is rescued by the knowledge that no-one is free of blame when things go wrong. You’ll find pieces of ‘seaglass’ all over this country’s coastline, bits of glass that have been tossed and tumbled in the waves to finally be thrown back to shore. The idea behind the song ‘Seaglass’ is that sometimes this process of breaking, produces unexpectedly beautiful things. The tune in the middle is called ‘left-boot clog’, it was written remembering a story about a relative of mine who fell overboard and was later identified by his two left shoes which had been hurriedly snatched up, unchecked after a period of time on shore. The title track is of course Two Fine Days. It’s often said that there can be a few small events which can change a whole life, that when we look back on the people, words and decisions shaping where we are now, the ones that really counted are few but unforgettable. Two Fine Days are just that.

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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.

For more information and the latest tour dates, please visit:
www.fellside.com

“Undeniably impressively talented…thoughtful and intelligent songs…brimful of interest and promise…this album will turn out to be rather a grower.” fRoots

“Delivered with commitment and passion, these highly descriptive sound-stories are beautifully set against [Jack’s] understated, melodic guitar playing and Charlie’s perfectly judged fiddle accompaniments.” R2 magazine