ASHLEY HUTCHINGS – Paradise And Thorns (Talking Elephant TECD410)

Paradise And ThornsDivided into two discs, Gloucester Docks Revisited and Other Tales Of Love, Paradise And Thorns finds “the single most important figure in English folk rock” (© Bob Dylan) revisiting his seminal autobiographically- based 1987 solo work (already the subject of a live version and revised re-issue) in the wake of reuniting with the old flame (never identified but likely named Patricia) around which it was based and complementing this with a collection of his personal favourite love songs and stories.

Visiting the docks first, this is a sort of continuance of a previously unfinished story that mixes together past recordings, new material, readings and film clips, opening with an echoey Hutchings reading an extract from John Donne’s poem of parted but constant adulterous lovers ‘Elegie XII’ with JJ Stoney providing keyboard effects. It’s followed by a 1985 live recording of ‘Kitty Come Down The Lane’ by the Ashley Hutchings All Stars, featuring Clive Gregson and Polly Bolton, and, in turn, with another reading, this time ‘The Meadow’, a single line extract from Louis MacNeice’ ‘The Strings Are False’.

The first new recording comes with the pastoral ‘Art Nouveau’, exploring the woman as flower metaphor, co-written with Ken Nicol, sung by Barry Coope and featuring string quartet arrangement by Joe Broughton, with himself on violin and Jo Hamilton on viola.

Another reading, ‘St. Valentine Day Sonnet’, is one of Hutchings’ own, about getting a rose tattoo, written in the manner of Donne, then it’s back to 1987 and a recording of the bouncy ‘Trip To Bath’ by The Albion Dance Band, Bolton again on vocals. Jane Wildsmith provides the voice of Pat in ‘Sultana Cake’, a brief extract from a letter, then it’s into the second new song, Tim Walker on trombone and Chris Sheldon on banjo for the New Orleans-influenced ‘Cul-de-Sac’, a playfully wry reference to how the original romance ended. Another live recording, the lost relationship ‘Our Stolen Season’ comes from a 2000 Rainbow Chasers concert, Hamilton on vocal and Ruth Angell on violin, followed by the first of the film clips, a brief extract (in French but translated in the booklet) from Alain Resnais’ 1960 Last Year In Marienbad before Fred Claridge’s drums introduce the Western-movie soundtrack flavoured ‘Devil-may-care In Our Dancing Shoes’, a down to the crossroads lost souls number co-penned with son Blair Dunlop who also plays acoustic guitar, that brings Pat back into the picture with the lines “Years passed by, then out of the blue/ The call of the road and a text or two.”

Michael Maloney voices an excerpt from Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, followed by another French film clip, this time ‘It Was My Heart’ from Robert Bresson’s Les Dames du Boi de Boulogne, the screenplay by Cocteau. Then, preceded by a lengthy introduction in which Hutchings explains the background to Gloucester Docks (and the title’s links to both the psalm ‘By Waters Of Babylon’ and Elizabeth Smart’s ‘By Grand Central Station I Sat Down And Wept’ as well as offering a Tristan and Isolde context to the story of doomed love), a 1988 All Stars concert recordings of ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ featuring just Bolton and John Shepherd’s keyboard.

The last of the new songs, again written with Dunlop, and featuring both him and Nicol on electric guitars, brings things up to the present day with the lyrically optimistic ‘Thirty-two Years And A Lifetime’, which, after the initial set-up, breaks out into a punchy, upbeat folk-rock melody that may well have travelled over the Cork and Kerry mountains.

It ends with the brief spoken ‘Epilogue’ which brings the lost love back into his life, the pondered question “What is to become of us?” possibly answered as the tracks flows into an arrangement of the traditional ‘French Catholic Wedding Tune’ with Stoney on churchy organ and Becky Mills providing the choral vocals.

Having duly conjured a romantic glow, the second disc beats the heart with a collection of all new recordings, again intercut with clips and readings, that gets under way with rising star Kitty Macfarlane on acoustic singing her own ‘Avona And The Giant’, a song based around the legend of the Bristol giants Vincent and Goram and how, after losing the love of Avona, the latter through himself into the river, his torso forming the isles of Steepholm and Flatholm.

Macfarlane also closes the album, this time, preceded by an extract from the prologue to Romeo and Juliet, with her arrangement of ‘Fear No More The Heat O’ The Sun’ from Shakespeare’s Cymbeline.

In-between clips are taken from the 1932 film adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s WWI story A Farewell To Arms with Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes, Tony Richardson’s 1968 Charge of the Light Brigade and, given the theme, what else but Bogart and Bacall in Casablanca, here in the form of the “I remember every detail” scene.

There’s readings too, Michael Maloney giving John Donne another outing with ‘Aire And Angells’, Hutching and cheering crowd with 30 seconds of ‘If Love Has Wings’ from The Marriage of Figaro (Beaumarchais not Mozart) and a brace of Chekhov with two extracts, pre and post-marriage, from the playful ‘Notes from the journal of a quick-tempered man’.

There’s only one previously releases track, ‘Welcome To The World’ taken from The Albion Band’s eponymous 1999 album, the remainder being all new material. Evoking formative Fairport folk rock and preceding the Donne, ‘Above The Angels’ is sung by Mills with Nicol and Dunlop on electric guitars and Stoney tinkling the piano, ‘If There’s No Other Way’ is an acoustic, strings-arranged Hutchings/Broughton ‘love in vain’ ballad with Bolton on soaring vocals and, revisiting bird imagery, simple acoustic ‘The Swift’, with its title wordplay, is written and sung by Mills.

There’s two traditional numbers, ‘Polly On The Shore’ (or at least an except therefrom) providing a solo showcase for Dunlop, accompanying himself on electric guitar, while, co-produced by Joe Boyd, ‘Sykaleshe’ is a love song performed in their native tongue by Albanian folk outfit Saz’iso, and which seems likely to be an outtake from their 2016 album At Least Wave Your Handkerchief At Me: The Joys and Sorrows of Southern Albanian Song. Which just leaves ‘Lost In The Haze’, father and son teaming for a first time ever I saw your face memory of first love recalling how Hutchings was smitten by a girl he met as part of a 1964 Methodist Youth Club ramble though Hertfordshire, immortalised in the photograph in the superb accompanying annotated hardback lyric booklet.

The original ‘By Gloucester Docks I sat down and wept’, released in 1987, ended on a painful note, but it finally now has a happy coda; after waiting by the Quay for 30 years, Hutchings’ ship has come in.

Mike Davies

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’s website: www.ashleyhutchings.co.uk

As close as we can get to a relevant track – ‘Dancing Under The Rose – Again’:

KITTY MACFARLANE – Namer Of Clouds (Navigator Records, NAVIGATOR104)

Namer Of CloudsGiven the praise heaped on Kitty Macfarlane’s 2016 EP, Tide & Time, expectations are understandably high for her first full-length album release, Namer Of Clouds.

Macfarlane’s light soprano, paired with an equally light-fingered plucky guitar, nonetheless contains a filament of controlled determination. Softness and steel are never far apart, even in the delightful gentle lullaby of ‘Dawn And Dark’.

Macfarlane’s strong poetic sensibility is evident from the CD booklet: song lyrics rarely read well but here they hold their own, even against Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem, ‘Inversnaid’. Her songs often pull focus in a graceful shift from particular to abstract, like ‘Namer Of Clouds’ where Luke Howard’s original cloud identification system forms the starting point for contemplating the human need to name – and thus own – the world. Jacob Stoney’s riffling keyboard and the dense, layered swell of the arrangement underscore the narrative movement.

‘Seventeen’ is a rites of passage song with an underlying chill, much like ‘Frozen Charlotte’, an Appalachian cautionary tale of the perils of not wearing your big coat. Its finale, stripping away the instrumentation, allows an intense intimacy to the vocal, an idea also used effectively in ‘Morgan’s Pantry’, whose softly pounding drum, gull calls and water sounds add atmosphere to Macfarlane’s softly rasping vocal.

‘Sea Silk’ tells of Chiara Vigo, keeper of an almost fairytale tradition of the spinning of brownish clam silk into a golden thread by the womenfolk of Sant’Antioco island, off Sardinia. There’s a real sense of joy and wonder in chronicling this disappearing skill, and a slightly manic glee at accomplishing the feat.

As mentioned before in these pages, there’s a real vogue at present for adding ambient natural recordings and Macfarlane’s no exception, right from opener ‘Starling Song’, loaded with birdsong over a lean, steely slick of guitars and percussion to the closing ‘Inversnaid’ with its celebration of ‘the weeds and the wilderness’.

Studio wizardry is generally skilfully and subtly deployed and arrangements are convincing, although a folk rock re-working of ‘Wrecking Days’ doesn’t feel entirely comfortable. A handful of Lost Boys lend their creative talents, with Graham Coe’s tender cello fleshing out the softly-spoken defiance of ‘Man, Friendship’ and Jamie Francis’s lithe, writhing guitar under the migrationary musings of ‘Glass Eel’.

Macfarlane’s debut certainly doesn’t disappoint: it’s an assured and confident album that delivers all that the EP promised, and more.

Su O’Brien

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 website: www.kittymacfarlane.com

‘Man, Friendship’ – official video:

 

 

SINGLES BAR

A round-up of recent  EPs and singles

Strawberry MoonRESIDENT ALIEN is an apt name for Russian-born songwriter/musician Daniel Herzog. Now based in London, Daniel released his first album in 2010 and now he is partnered by Chris Pepper and supported by Stephen Picard who co-wrote the final track, ‘Circle Without End’, on which he plays acoustic guitar and which features a really nice electric solo. The title track of his EP Strawberry Moon is a little radio-friendly but ‘Child Of The City is the star turn here.
http://residentalienband/

RealityNineteen-year-old FINLAY LESLIE releases her debut single, ‘Reality’ next week. Originally from Dover, Finlay is a member of the YouTube generation which is where her break came. She plays acoustic guitar and the backing is built up on a foundation of piano and bass which never threaten to overwhelm the song. There seems to be great deal of youthful angst in ‘Reality’ but it has to be said that Finlay’s diction is not her greatest asset and too much of the lyric is lost.
https://www.facebook.com/Finlaylesliemusic/

Tide & TimeKITTY MACFARLANE has some impressive friends including Sam Kelly who produced her debut EP, Tide & Time, Jamie Francis, Lukas Drinkwater and Ciaran Algar – that’s a pretty good band. Kitty is from Somerset and has an affinity with the sea. ‘Wrecking Days’ is a story of beachcombing and the title track was inspired by Normandy oyster fishermen while ‘Lamb’, based on a poem by William Blake, evokes a stretch of the Somerset coast. ‘Bus Song’ brings us inland and anyone who has lived out in the country will identify with it. Finally, Tim Buckley’s ‘Song To The Siren’ uses the sea as a metaphor for lost love. Kitty has a strong voice and way with a lyric that makes her a name to watch.
www.kittymacfarlane.com

Ha Ha Haf‘Ha Ha Haf’ is the debut release from Welsh band OMALOMA – George Amor, Daf Owain, Gruff ab Arwel and Llyr Pari. It’s a happy, poppy, almost psychedelic song for summer big on keyboards with a clever instrumental break that comes in at about the ninety second mark.
http://www.recordiaucaegwyn.com/

Julie FelixHers may be a name from the past but JULIE FELIX has her finger on the pulse of the contemporary folk scene. Her first single (download only) for Foskett’s Folk Factory is a gorgeous cover of Peter Knight’s song, ‘From A Lullaby Kiss’. Peter plays violin on the track and Julie’s voice is immediately recognisable although like Joan Baez and Maddy Prior she has a lower register now with the power that goes with that richness of tone. Although Julie has never stopped working her profile has been far too low recently. Let us hope that this release does something to address that.
http://www.foskettsfolkfactory.com/

CIARAN ALGAR – The Final Waltz (Fellside FECD270)

CIARAN ALGAR The Final WaltzThe Final Waltz is Ciaran Algar’s debut solo album – something to do in his gap year, allegedly – and it’s sort of what you’d expect but, then again, not really. We know Ciaran as a particularly fine multi-instrumentalist and he has added to his band another in shape of Toby Shaer with Eden Longson on drums, Giles Deacon on keyboards and Sam Kelly, who shares the vocal duties with Kitty Macfarlane. There are four songs in the set, three of them written by Ciaran but he sings only one. Quite why he decided this I can’t tell –he has a very characterful voice, albeit not as polished as Sam’s, but well suited to the material.

The songs give Ciaran a chance to stretch his arranging talents – and those of his band – away from the traditional tunes for which he is better known. All the subtlety of which he is capable comes out in ‘The Final Waltz’ and the downbeat sentiment of ‘Our Home Now’ but then we are immediately whisked away into the gaiety of a set like ‘The Luck Penny’ before ‘Until We Meet Again’ takes the mood down again.

Having set an emotional pattern on the album, Ciaran reverses it with a relatively upbeat song, ‘Locks’, followed by the desolate beauty of ‘The Wild Geese’. I like everything on this album and I’ve spent time thinking about how I would sequence it to balance the highs and lows – and of course, I couldn’t do any better. You just have to climb aboard and go with it.

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’s website: www.ciaranalgar.co.uk

‘Our Home Now’:

SAM KELLY The Lost Boys

SAM KELLY The Lost BoysThis is the album that the folk world has been awaiting for months, given Sam Kelly’s unique musical history and his seemingly putting his solo career on hold to work with The Changing Room.

The Lost Boys are an expanded Sam Kelly Trio with Ciaran Algar and Graham Coe joining Jamie Francis and Evan Carson and further contributions from fellow Stark Josh Franklin, who also co-produced the album, plus Lukas Drinkwater and Kitty Macfarlane.

The album opens with ‘Jolly Waggoners’, one of the chorus songs we used to roar out in the sixties. Sam takes a more considered approach to it, tweaking the tune a little here and there and revealing that the words are still relevant – “the folks in power pay no heed to the likes of me and you”.

Jamie Francis’ alt-blues affiliations come to the fore in the arrangements of ‘Little Sadie’, ‘Wayfaring Stranger’ and ‘The King’s Shilling’, which is traditional but makes you think it isn’t. His banjo is the dominant instrument on several tracks and, with Carson’s drums going flat out the final track, ‘Dullahan’, is pure folk-rock. At the other end of the spectrum ‘Down By The Salley Gardens’ enjoys a quite conventional pastoral arrangement. Kelly and Francis share the writing and arranging, with Francis contributing ‘Six Miners’ (despite the cover credit I don’t believe he wrote ‘Banish Misfortune’) and Kelly writing ‘Spokes’ while they share the credit for ‘Eyes Of Men’ and ‘Dullahan’.

This is a really good album from start to finish, well programmed with its first peak at ‘Little Sadie’, a “false” climax at ‘Wayfaring Stranger’ and a big finish at the very end. The arrangements are inventive without detracting from the essence of the songs. Their setting of ‘The Golden Vanity’ seems much too jaunty at first but just like everything else here it works. The Lost Boys is going to be huge.

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’s website: www.samkelly.org

Sam and Jamie perform ‘Eyes Of Men’ – Songs From The Shed:

Sam Kelly introduces The Lost Boys

Sam Kelly introduces The Lost Boys

The widely anticipated debut full-length album, The Lost Boys, from folk singer and multi-instrumentalist Sam Kelly is due for release on 19th November 2015. The album promises to take the listener to all corners of the British Isles, across the Atlantic, and back again on a musical journey led by Sam’s expert vocals, tasteful arrangements, and high-class instrumental performances. Tender, heart-breaking ballads rub shoulders with dynamic, riff-based folk rock in an exciting mix of traditional and original material.

Touring as The Sam Kelly Trio for the past three years Sam is omnipresent amongst the folk music scene. The trio includes Jamie Francis on banjo and Evan Carson on percussion. Two new band members, Ciaran Algar on fiddle and Graham Coe on cello join the fold to create a full, authentic roots vibe for the album.

“I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with the amazing folk scene we have in this country for the past three years. Huge festival bands, young musicians like myself, and people singing floor spots in tiny folk clubs have all inspired me in equal measure, and this album is a musical montage of all my favourite memories and experiences so far,” explains Sam.

Sam has also honed his skills as a producer under the watchful eyes of Sam and Sean Lakeman, and this album is produced and recorded by himself, Joshua Franklin, and Jamie Francis. It also also features the mixing and mastering talents of Stu Hanna (Megson), and guest musicians Lukas Drinkwater and Kitty Macfarlane.

The Lost Boys has been widely anticipated by both his peers and a dedicated fan base and is the culmination of what has been an incredibly successful year for Sam. Nominated Best Singer 2015 Spiral Earth Awards, numerous plays on Radio 2 and 3 including a live session and interview on the Mark Radcliffe show, features in R2, fRoots, Living Tradition and Fatea magazines, and much more. It’s easy to see why he has already been tipped for greatness by the likes of Mike Harding and Cara Dillon.

Billed as Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys, the five piece will be taking the album on tour in 2016 and cementing Sam’s place as one of the most exciting young prospects on the British folk scene.

Artist’s website: www.samkelly.org

‘Jolly Waggoners/Banish Misfortune’ – Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys: