CUPOLA:WARD – Bluebell (Betty Beetroot BETTY02)

BluebellCupola:Ward is a co-operative venture between Cupola – Doug Euson, Sarah Matthews and Oli Matthews – and Lucy Ward. All four come from Derbyshire, a county that’s on the rise in breeding singers and musicians, but only three of the songs originate there. The template for their debut album, Bluebell, comes from what some of us still think of as a golden age: some traditional songs and a couple of covers, nothing too outré but variations on the familiar.

The set opens with a high energy take on Julie Matthews’ ‘Crane Driver’, originally written for the 2006 Radio Ballads. It’s a great song and Cupola:Ward do it full justice. They follow that with Tucker Zimmerman’s ‘Taoist Tale’ paired with ‘Blew Bell Hornpipe’; a philosophical song enlivened with a sparkling tune . The first native song is ‘Jacob’s Well’ a version specifically from a Derbyshire collection and now we’ve had a touch of rock, a bit of thoughtfulness and unaccompanied four-part harmony. If you want to draw comparisons with Muckram Wakes I won’t stand in your way.

The band does odd things with the timing of ‘Sprig Of Thyme’ and mix it with ‘Playing For Thyme’, a tune of Doug’s. The song, like so many venerable compositions, can suffer from over-familiarity and Cupola:Ward’s changes draw you back to the text with new ears. The second Derbyshire song is ‘Damped In His Groove’ written, coincidentally, by an old school friend and musical cohort of mine, Geoff Convery. It’s about lead mining, a subject that Geoff has researched extensively, specifically the death of a miner who died where he worked – damped in his groove, as the saying went. The third local song is ‘Squire Of Tamworth’ a song which, while never actually falling out of fashion, is definitely back in again.

The medley of The Beatles’ ‘Nowhere Man’ with an 18th century dance tune is a pleasant diversion and there are three more contrasting traditional songs: ‘Willie’s Lady’, ‘Heather Down The Moor’ and ‘Gower Wassail’ before the set ends with ‘Normandy Orchards’ by the late and much lamented Keith Marsden. Keith (and Cockersdale) gave us a lot of fun over the years but perhaps this is a good moment in time to look again at his more serious work and for someone to revisit those songs.

Bluebell is one of the unexpected delights that comes with this job. It’s my sort of record so thank you, Cupola:Ward.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: https://cupolamusic.wordpress.com/cupolaward/

‘Crane Driver’ – live:

LUCY WARD – I Dreamt I Was A Bird… (Betty Beetroot BETTY01)

LUCY WARD I Dreamt I Was A BirdBorn and raised in Derby, Ward was a BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award finalist in 2009, won the Horizon award (for best newcomer) in 2012 and her recording of ‘Maids When You’re Young’ nominated as best traditional track and, last year, was nominated for Folk Singer of the Year. So, I’m a little embarrassed to say that I was somewhat ambivalent about her first two albums. However, I’ve no such reservations regarding her third, released on her own label and again produced by Megson’s Stu Hanna (who also provides keys and guitar), with all but one number being self-penned.

I was instantly taken by the haunting violin (courtesy Anna Esslemont) intro to ‘Summers That We Made’, conjuring images of sun kissed dusks over English country fields, Ward’s voice , with its hint of accent, arriving on a ray of light, sounding more assured and tender than before. It’s a gorgeous way to start an album and, potentially, a hard act to follow. However, ‘Ode To Whittaker Brown’ rises to the task, Lukas Drinkwater accompanying on double bass and Hanna providing subtle piano notes on a muted and moody song with clear Nativity imagery inspired by mother’s birth in a Nissen hut after being made homeless following WWII.

The country’s social history also fuels ‘Creatures and Demons’, triggered by a BBC Radio 3 commission to write a song based on Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel North and South, resulting in a slow march rhythm, fiercely swelling protest number about the great divide between rich and poor, the powerful and the helpless, its crescendo showing just how much her vocals have developed.

Her political conscience is also in evidence on ‘Lion’, a song inspired by the WWI execution of young rifleman Robert Loveless Barker for cowardice, originally commissioned by Billy Bragg for the 14-18Now project and performed at Glastonbury, here revisited and recorded in collaboration with the haunting backing of the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band. Likewise, the album’s closing track, a densely textured ‘Return To Earth’ with its banjo spine and witchy violin, is an environmental warning that the planet takes back what its spoilt children have wasted, inspired by the bronze age burial ground of Titterstone Clee Hill in Shropshire which is slowly sinking back into the earth.

On a lyrically relatively lighter note, with its moodily spare, siren call instrumentation, ‘Daniel and the Mermaid’, from whence comes the album title, is a musically shimmering slice of family history recalling the story of how her great-great uncle and his crew mates supposedly caught a mermaid off the Isle of Mull. Another true story is at the heart of the poignant, acoustic guitar and keys-based ‘Connie and Bud’ which tells the bittersweet no hope tale of two star-crossed lovers struggling to survive in 1950s Wales, living out of a car. Rather more lyrically upbeat, ‘Song For Lola’ is a dreamy acoustic sexually ambiguous ballad about a day’s chance encounter with a free spirit that again highlights Ward’s developed vocal range.

The only non-original is her version of the much-covered doom-drenched border ballad ‘Lord Randall’, Ward’s East Midlands accent clearly to be heard in an atmospheric arrangement that sets her breathy, sensual delivery against pensive guitar and keyboards backing that gradually swells and builds to a sonic storm climax. I may have been a little slow getting on board, but this album has made me a fully fledged convert.

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.lucywardsings.com/

‘Return To Earth’ – official video:

VARIOUS ARTISTS – Land Of Hope & Fury (Union Music Store UMS009)

Land Of Hope & FuryLand Of Hope & Fury is a collection of contemporary protest songs – a compilation inspired by the realisation on May 8th 2015 of the enormity of what the British people had done. Not just the greedy and the fascists but also those too pusillanimous to stand up for what they actually believe in. We can thank Stevie and Jamie Freeman for the work that went into putting it together.

The album opens quietly with Luke Jackson’s ‘Forgotten Voices’, the story of an old soldier left on the scrapheap feeling that his voice counts for nothing. It may be better to protest by whispering in someone’s ear than screaming in their face and even Mark Chadwick is quite restrained but I kept having the feeling that what the record needed was one really good rant. Moulettes’ ‘Lullaby’ is a lovely song but it’s somewhat opaque in this context. ‘The Hum’, from O’Hooley & Tidow’s third album takes a positive line, one that’s on the side of working people. OK, it sticks it to the aspirational middle class but that’s almost incidental.

Lucy Ward’s ‘Bigger Than That’ is a real killer track – still quiet but with uncompromising lyrics and ‘Filthy Lucre’ by The Mountain Firework Company does the same to the sound of a hillbilly banjo. There are excellent songs from Phil Jones, Will Varley and Chris T-T and Plumhall’s ‘Never Forget My Name’ serves as a warning to the slavers and taskmasters and Grace Petrie’s ‘If There’s A Fire In Your Heart’ acts as a rallying cry.

So, this is a really good collection of songs for our troubled times but, you know what, it still needs one really good rant.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: https://unionmusicstore.com/label/land-of-hope-and-fury

Plumhall – ‘Never Forget My Name’:

Land Of Hope & Fury – what it’s all about

Land Of Hope & Fury

A message from Jamie & Stevie Freeman:

We woke up on May 8th to election results that left tens of millions of people feeling disenfranchised and without a voice. Rather than wait quietly for another five years before we got to have our say, we decided to return to the proud musical tradition of the protest song. Our votes might have counted for nothing, but we could still make our voices heard.

We contacted our many friends in the roots music world and asked them to contribute something to a compilation of contemporary protest songs, and the results were an incredibly diverse range of musical, emotional and political styles. Land Of Hope & Fury was born. Sixteen artists in total donated songs with nine of them written specifically for the album. This coming together of people, all acting out of simple desire to make the world a better place, has been the single most encouraging aspect of this project, It is the proof that Margaret Thatcher’s suggestion that “there’s no such thing as society” is as wrong today as ever it was.

38 Degrees

We didn’t want to profit financially from the album, so we looked for a suitable beneficiary that was aligned with our frustrations, but not bound to one set of policies. Politics had let us down, so a campaigning group from outside of the political system seemed like a good choice. We felt 38 Degrees’ mix of online petitioning and real-world actions was just right for Land Of Hope And Fury, and they were delighted to take part. We couldn’t be happier to have them alongside us.”

Jamie’s brother Martin Freeman (The Hobbit, The Office, Sherlock) made a video supporting the Labour Party, so his family are no stranger to politics.

Track List

Luke Jackson – Forgotten Voices
Mark Chadwick (Levellers)  –  No Change
Emily Barker – Doing The Best I can
Moulettes – Lullaby
Lucy Ward – Bigger Than That
The Jamie Freeman Agreement – Homes for Heroes
The Self Help Group  – Funeral Drum
The Dreaming Spires – Follow The Money
Mountain Firework Company – Filthy Lucre
Phil Jones (Hatful Of Rain) – New Homes
O’Hooley & Tidow – The Hum
Will Varley  – The Sound Of The Markets Crashing
Chris TT – A-Z
Plumhall – Never Forget My Name
Grace Petrie – If There’s a Fire In Your Heart
Danni Nicholls  – A Little Redemption

Buy it from https://unionmusicstore.com

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.

Continue reading The Armistice Pals

Lucy Ward releases 2nd album Single Flame

Lucy Ward Single FlameSomething’s change, some remain the same. For her much-anticipated second album (the follow up to the 2011 début Adelphi Has To Fly), the 23-year old singer, guitarist, ukulele and concertina player LUCY WARD delivers a finely tuned synthesis of original and traditionally arranged material. Production is again by Stu Hanna (of acclaimed folk duo Megson, both of whom also sing and play here). There, however, the similarities end as the new album – Single Flame – finds Lucy organically broadening her musical palette whilst remaining firmly rooted in a folk tradition that gives shape and form to her sound. Balancing the contemporary and the traditional is never an easy act to achieve but Lucy balances it well.  Continue reading Lucy Ward releases 2nd album Single Flame