Having left school with not much more than a GCSE in Astronomy, Saskia went into alternative therapy and established a practice on Harley Street, London.
She then quit it all to travel and write music; to learn her craft on the streets while busking, gigging, crowdfunding and touring, gaining regular BBC radio play, festival performances, and arts council supported national tours.
Night And Day, featuring multi award winning musicians, Ciaran Algar, Lukas Drinkwater, Jack Cookson and Evan Carson, is Saskia’s third studio album, which she describes as Anglicana – a roots inspired alt-folk fusion of acoustic meets pop. It was produced by Gareth Young at Cube Recordings in Cornwall.
The whole album explores themes of light and dark, love and loss, and joy in defeat, and revolves around her title track, ‘Night And Day’, which expresses Saskia’s vision of unity between people through love.
This album was crowdfunded by Saskia’s fans, raising £8000 in total and achieving her goal of £3000 within 10 hours of launching. She has also teamed up with Word Forest to make this album carbon neutral by offsetting through planting trees.
Having previously traded under their own names, Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin have decided to save space on the album sleeves (well, after this one anyway) by reinventing themselves as Edgelarks. Fans will be pleased to know, however, that, musically, the duo haven’t rung too many changes.
Featuring contributions from Lukas Drinkwater on bass, John Elliott on drums and keyboards and table player Niall Robinson, inspired by last year’s tour of Australia, the album deals with themes of margins and marginalisation, of boundaries, transition and hope, opening in ‘Landlocked’, a moody, banjo-pinioned song about Nancy Perriam, a woman from Exmouth, who, in the early part of the 19th century, went to sea and travelled the world with the navy.
The slouching rhythm of ‘No Victory’ introduces a new instrument to their musical repertoire with Martin playing a pedal powered shruti box while the track also features Henry’s beatbox harmonica technique. Indeed, the instrumentation throughout is as eclectic as it is extensive, featuring Dobro, fiddle, banjo, a variety of guitars and the return of the Chaturangui, an Indian classical slide guitar played by Henry. On ‘Undelivered’, a song inspired by the discovery of a trunkload of undelivered 17th century letters, specifically one from a woman to the father of her unborn child, he even plays his lap slide Weissenborn with a paintbrush to create a buzzing drone.
Of a more recent origin, three intersecting true stories make up the sparse, drone-backed ‘Caravans’, pivoting around the 2010 sub-prime mortgages crash documented in the film The Big Short and exploring themes of ensuing loss and lives lived outside the financial vortex where dreams can kill.
Elsewhere, the Celtic-tinged ‘Signposts’, the most traditional folk sounding number, and the minimalist and appropriately glacial arrangement of ‘Iceberg’ offer fairly straightforward metaphors about making connections and people having hidden depths, respectively.
A suitably discordant affair, ‘Yarl’s Wood’ strikes a political note, being titled after and written about the Bedfordshire immigrant removal centre and the allegations of the abusive treatment of the women detainees, the theme of refugees resurfacing on ‘Borders’, which, set to drone and clacking percussion, is based around the true story of Afghan refugees who, seeking to ensure her future, send their five-year-old daughter on a journey, on foot, with two cousins to northern Europe in search of asylum.
Thematically connected, the tabla-dappled ‘Song Of The Jay’, ostensibly about how the Californian Bush Jay apparently sings a special song for the ‘funerals’ of other birds, of different species, serves as a metaphor for universal kinship. The drone is also created from a sample of a Jay singing.
Although also going by the title ‘The Emigrants Song’, sung in Cornish by Martin, the rhythmically pulsing traditional ‘Estren’ takes a different tack in the tale of an American traveller in Cornwall, leaving it open to question whether he intends to be true to the woman he meets and declares he’ll take back home or that she’s the latest in the list of those to whom he’s pledged s his loves.
There’s another traditional number to be found with the mortality-themed ‘What’s The Life of Man?’ given a suitably simple and reflective tone before the instrumentation swells in the final stretch. As well as them both featuring the Chaturangui, it also serves to set the scene for the upbeat final track, the self-penned, acoustic accompanied ‘The Good Earth’ which treats on nature’s life cycle of death and renewal and, by extension, the connections we share with one another, both those around us and those who have gone before as she sings how “we grow on old wood, we are links in the chain.”
The couple say they chose their new name as it captures the concept of liminality or transition explored in their songs and the idea of their music being on the periphery. Given the quality here, that may be a status that will also prove to be in a state of transition.
If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the Edgelarks link 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.
Co-produced by Josienne Clarke’s musical other half, Ben Walker, and Laura Marling knob-twiddler Lauren Deakin-Davies, following on from her Foreign Waters EP (which Walker also produced and which earned her a Folking Awards Rising Star nomination), Siren Serenade is the debut album from Cambridge-based singer-songwriter, poetry enthusiast and sometime theatre critic Emily Mae Winters.
Featuring musical contributions from, among others, Lukas Drinkwater on double bass, Hannah Sanders and Ben Savage as well as both producers, the twelve tracks highlight both her slightly vibrato vocals and the influences in her music, Gillian Welch, Kate Rusby, The Unthanks, Alison Krauss and Sarah Jarosz among them.
There’s a couple of folk chestnuts here, Jenny Lee Ridley’s flute introing a crowd swayalong version of John Connolly’s fisherman’s farewell shanty ‘Fiddler’s Green’ featuring Jack Pout on bodhran, a strummed guitar and fiddle providing the instrumental playout. The second nods to her love of poetry with a haunting drone setting of WB Yeats’ ‘Down By The Salley Gardens’.
The album opens with the ripplingly lovely self-penned reflective ballad ‘Blackberry Lane’ featuring Savage on dobro and nodding to the rootsy Americana in her musical DNA. Maya McCourt who played cello on the EP reprises duties on the gently circling acoustic guitar melody of Anchor, while Winters takes to the piano for ‘As If You Read My Mind’, a soaring vocal pop tinged ballad that, coloured by strings, draws on the classic 60s sound of Carole King but also suggests hints of Joan Baez.
If all these have been relatively sedate, ‘Hook, Line And Sinker’ ups the tempo for, with Savage again on dobro, a catchy slice of strummed rootsy pop, an equally live paced being set on the scurrying Irish-tinted, whistle backed story-song ‘The Ghost Of The Pirate Queen’ showing a more muscular side to her voice.
Mostly though, the mood is quietly bucolic, beautifully rendered on the lullaby-like ‘Miles To Go’ (which, like ‘Anchor’, appeared on the EP) and moody piano and cello ballad ‘The Star’, the former a nod to the poet Robert Frost, the latter to John Keats.
Although her vocals are mesmerising throughout, the remaining two numbers really see them come into the glory. ‘Reprise’, the album closer, is a piano accompanied almost chorale-like stentorian duet with Sanders. And, accompanied only by clicking fingers and hummed vocals, she sings a capella, the title track itself, for me the album stand out, which echoes the Appalachian revivalist feel of ‘Down To The River To Pray’ and ‘Didn’t Leave Nobody But The Baby’ from Oh Brother Where Art Thou. In Greek mythology, sirens lured sailors on to the rocks with their singing; Winters can wreck me any time.
If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the EMILY MAE WINTERS – Siren Serenade link 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.
Following his breakthrough with 2015’s release of second album, Striking Matches In The Wind, the soft-voiced Somerset-based singer-songwriter returns with a full-on political collection of songs about “transience and change; doubt and assurance” that again features Lukas Drinkwater on double and electric bass while bolstering the sound with the addition of drums, keyboards and fiddle.
He kicks off by pondering the role of the singer-songwriter as social commentator on the shuffling drum beat and tumbling chords of ‘Change The World’, playfully questioning the gulf between the surface political affectations (“I’ve got a Che Guevara hat.. you can’t get more socialist than that”) and deeper beliefs and commitments.
‘Live & Learn’, the opening line of which provides the album title, has distinct musical hints of Cat Stevens to its theme about how the convictions which shape us can change over time and, more importantly, having the strength to accept that doubt is not “a dirty word” and the courage to admit if we were wrong. The same theme is explored in a more Martyn Joseph-like uptempo mode on the self-explanatorily titled ‘The Right To Be Wrong’ which talks of the need to admit our mistakes and to see the perspectives of others.
The sparsely strummed ‘Where’d You Get That Heart From?’ is a biting questioning of the cold implacability and cruelty, souls “as black as coal”, of those in power towards the defenceless, a topic that finds more direct expression in the sardonic lyrics of ‘Doing Well’ which is, essentially, a distillation in song of the main thrust of Ken Loach’s new film, I, Daniel Blake, the way bureaucrats with no healthcare training asses the fitness to work or otherwise of those on or applying for benefits. It too will, likely be likened to Joseph, but I’m put more in mind of the early Transatlantic albums of Richard Digance.
‘I Spat Fire’ apparently had its genesis in the paradoxical nature of a poetry tent event in which he sang his angry songs while assorted ladies read sweet poems about gardens, an experience translated into a gentle acoustic contemplation on how, using imagery of rebirth, light and dark can go together, the one illuminating the other.
Quietly sad, ‘Other’ turns the spotlight on something more specific and (echoing the album title) is written from a transgender perspective to emerge as a reflection on identity, self-expression and the need to be true to yourself and “to be on the outside what I am within”, along with the acknowledgement that it’s never easy, either for the person in question or those they love.
Very much resonant of Joseph in terms of delivery and sound and probably my personal favourite, the rousing, ringing strummed guitar Wait Your Turn, with its rousing refrain of how “you don’t get much change out of the bottom of a ballot box”, chimes neatly with the ongoing arguments over Brexit in its observations on how democracy goes beyond the polling station and how change comes about through the stands people take and the commitment to progress.
The gaze becomes more intimate with the cry for help of ‘Me and The Silence’, a powerful song about suicidal depression and a call for empathy, while, another song about the individual lost in an uncaring and often cruel world, ‘The Louisa Miner’ draws on the story of a friend’s grandfather, a worker in the Co. Durham pits in the early part of the last century, who lost his life at 48 due to the conditions in the mine, something to which, of course, colliery and coroner refused to apportion blame, and extends to lament not just his death, but that of the industry to which he and many others gave “service and sacrifice”.
Somewhere Between closes on two positive notes. A lilting fingerpicked waltz, ‘Creation Is Laughing’ is about how corrupt empires eventually crumble but, Allen’s fiddle dancing in the background, more about standing in the sun or under the starts in the assurance of hope and faith restored. And, finally, ‘At The Last’, is a simple, fingerpicked, almost hymnal reverie that, drawing on searfaring imagery, is about our strength to weather the storm and the tides that batter us as we grow older and, when run aground, “to stand once more upon that shore and know at last that all I ever sought was how to be at peace where I am.”
A protest album burning with anger and compassion, on the opening track he sings how it’s people not songs that change the world, but how, sometimes, songs can change a heart. These are such songs and they demand to get stuck in the middle with you.
I can’t decide if I’m more impressed by the quantity or the quality of Ange Hardy’s work. The ink is barely dry on Esteesee, her 2015 exploration of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and she’s back with her fourth album formalising her work in partnership with Lukas Drinkwater. Findings is a term for the linking pieces in jewellery that join the settings and stones together – Ange knows about this stuff – and provides the theme of this album. And I do find it refreshing to find a themed album that sticks to its central idea all the way through without forcing it down your throat. For that alone Findings is a wonderful record.
In the opening track, ‘The Call/Daughters Of Watchet/Caturn’s Night’, the link is the railway that linked Watchet to the mines of the Brendon Hills but it is also four love stories. The final track, ‘Fall Away’ returns to Watchet and the four daughters of the town now that the mines and the railway and the fishing are gone. Findings mixes original and traditional material, often in one song. So ‘The Pleading Sister’ builds a song around the single verse of ‘Little Boy Blue’ and ‘Bonny Lighter-Boy’ sets a new tune to a traditional set of words.
The (more or less) traditional pieces are ‘The Trees They Do Grow High’, ‘The Berkshire Tragedy’ and ‘The Parting Lullaby’ and I can tell that you’re working out the findings each of these songs. The original songs cover a multitude of relationships but I will single out ‘Invisible Child’ as a masterful example of Ange and Lukas’ songwriting – simple and direct but powerful and moving.
Sometimes Ange and Lukas perform alone but there is a small band of Archie Churchill-Moss, Ciaran Algar and Evan Carson with additional vocals from Nancy Kerr, Kathryn Roberts and Steve Pledger. Even so, the accompaniments are restrained and the songs are out front where they should be. Not to belittle its predecessors but Findings could be Ange’s best album.
Some copies of Findings carry a sticker which can be matched with another to win a (possibly) fabulous prize. Mine reads PHMOI. If you have the matching half, please let me know and we can split the loot.
If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the ANGE HARDY & LUKAS DRINKWATER – Findings link 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.
Fronted by the Russian-born (but quintessentially English-sounding) Daria Kulesh who also plays guitar and bodhran, alongside Kate Rouse on hammered dulcimer, guitarist Ben Honey and latest recruit Phil Underwood on melodeon, the Hertfordshire quartet’s latest fusion of traditional English and Russian folk also features one-off contributions from fiddle player James Delarre and Lukas Drinkwater on double bass with producer Jason Emberton providing any undefined extra bibs and bobs.
For those unfamiliar with the band, such as myself, the first thing that strikes is the crystalline purity of Kulesh’s often soaring vocals, clearly a voice born to sing traditional folk, to be followed by the heady marriage of diverse cultural stylings, characterised by the musical interplay between Rouse and Underwood. This time round, the majority of the songs and tunes are self-penned, opening with the five minute, fiddle-featured ‘Tamara’s Wedding’, Kulesh’s lyric about a woman seduced to hell by a duplicitously consoling demon after the death of the bridegroom inspired by ‘The Demon’, a poem by Mikhail Lermontov, itself drawing upon Georgian folk legend. Next up is the first of Honey’s five contributions, the far more English folk influences of ‘Seaview’ which, in talking about how certain places hold collective memories, may well be about the Edwardian resort on the Isle of Wight.
A similar wistful and whimsical quality informs his second song, ‘Adrienne’, which the notes describe as being about a song fairy, but is essentially about those magical singers who sometimes pop up at folk clubs, dazzle everyone, and are then gone. On a somewhat darker note, the melodeon-led, Drinkwater-featuring ‘Carousel Waltz’ addresses the cycle of addiction with slang references to cocaine and heroin before giving way to the frisky urgency of ‘Stormteller’ with its “pitter-patter” chorus which is all about those dark rain clouds that sometimes seem to hover over only you, although here Honey seems to suggest that such folk warrant having the soul sodden. His final number, ‘Devilry Dance’, is a clarinet-coloured jazzy folk swirl tale of Faustian pacts and metaphorical femme fatales that lead you on, promising to lift you on high only to see you fall.
Underwood makes his mark with two tracks, ‘Leigh Fishermen’, a traditional-flavoured tribute to those who risk their lives trawling the seas on which he harmonises behind Kulesh on the chorus, and the two sprightly- and, as you would expect, melodeon-led – English folk tunes ‘Hollingbourne/Broadhurst Gardens’, the titles referencing the village in Kent and his London suburb home.
Not to be left out, Rouse (who also appears on Ange Hardy’s Esteesee album) is featured, provides harmonies and arranged the six-and-a-half minute ‘Lovers’ Tasks/Black Tea Waltz’ which pairs a gently waltzing Appalachian version of ‘Scarborough Fair’ with her self-penned coda.
Of the three remaining tracks, Kulesh is wholly responsible for the haunting ‘Goodbye and Forgive Me’, its spooked musical box intro introducing a dark murder ballad, inspired by “Lady Macbeth of the Mtensk District”, about a woman trapped in an imprisoning marriage who conspires with her lover to have the husband killed, only for the crime to be exposed and her lover to take up with another woman, the end echoing the novel’s finale where both women drown.
Things are no cheerier on the dulcimer-based ‘Misery and Vodka’, her translation of a lugubrious Russian drinking song, sung in both English and the original, set to a Russian Gypsy tune (known as ‘Two Guitars’) by Ivan Vasiliev, though not the ballet dancer of the same name. The final track is also a traditional Russian tune and lyric, again translated by Kulesh, the title, ‘Ataman’, being the name given to Cossack military leaders, Rouse’s dulcimer solo precluding a mournful Russian and English sung story of a group of soldiers contemplating their fate (“rain will fall upon my bones…crows will feast upon my eyes”) in the coming battle. Not, perhaps, something to send you off into the evening full of the joys of life, but a terrific conclusion to a fine album but a band that deserve much wider recognition.
If you would like to download a copy of the album or just listen to snippets of selected tracks 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.