GRACE PETRIE – Queer As Folk (own label)

Queer As FolkThe only time I saw Grace Petrie on stage, I was bowled over. I bought an EP and was impressed by that. Always her own person and doing things her way, Grace could now be on the verge of a breakthrough. Thanks to a Kickstarter campaign, Queer As Folk is a properly funded album produced by Matthew Daly, who also plays drums, and mixed by Neil Ferguson. Some stellar friends joined her: Miranda Sykes on bass, Hannah James on accordion, Nancy Kerr on fiddle, Belinda O’Hooley on piano and Caitlin Field on bass and percussion. Grace is powerful enough on her own but this gathering pushes her on to another level.

Queer As Folk opens with ‘A Young Woman’s Tale’, a remarkably understated take on Ian Campbell’s ‘Old Man’s Song’ dragged into the 21st century. Its quietness adds to the power of Grace’s words but up next comes an up-tempo reading of Graham Moore’s ‘Tom Paine’s Bones’, its pace suggesting a sense of impatience and leaving the listener breathless. ‘This House’ concerns the death of a father, whether Grace’s own we are not told, full of a sense of emptiness like the house he’s left behind. ‘Baby Blue’ is about love betrayed and the powerful ‘Pride’ puts it into context and is where the band comes into its own.

These two songs lead into the superb ‘Black Tie’, which takes the form of a postcard to Grace’s teenage self, reassuring her that it all will work out and containing one of the best rhymes of the year. Grace is affirming her identity here as if we were in any doubt about it. It would be a great single except that it wouldn’t get radio play – the rhyme I mentioned would see to that.

The other cover is ‘Beeswing’. I tend to get a bit protective about Richard Thompson songs but Grace doesn’t need to make many changes except to lose the word “man”. But, and it’s a big but, she misses out the verse about marrying Romany Brown. Why? Is L all right but not B? That’s a disappointment. Nancy and Caitlin give it a folky swing on fiddle and bodhran and it’s one of the best arrangements of the song I’ve heard.

We’re back to politics with ‘Farewell To Welfare’, a song with a really powerful wrap-up but then ‘Iago’ seems to contradict ‘Black Tie’ and I’m still figuring that one out. The closer, ‘Northbound’, sets the life of an itinerant musician to a rocking country beat and is a great way for the record to sign off. Queer As Folk may well turn out to be one of my albums of the year – it’s not perfect but it’s not far off.

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.gracepetrie.com

‘Iago’ – live:

Rowan Piggott talks about the Songhive project

Rowan Piggott

Songhive is a folksong project concerned with raising awareness of the current plight of the bees, but now it’s time to raise some money as well! We are soon to release a compilation album of Beelore and Folksong in the British Isles, all the proceeds of which will go to The Bee Cause. The following questions were answered by Rowan Piggott, the project founder.

Tell us a little about the project? Why bees?

Bees are responsible for 80% of pollination in the UK, are essential to biodiversity, and ultimately the future of humanity. Despite all this, we continue to obliterate the pollenrich plants they depend on, and our governments insist on legalising pesticides that do them harm.

Folk music has long been fraught with political dissent and attended by social change; perhaps this collection will serve to highlight how the decline of bees has entered the public consciousness. Here isn’t the place to wax lyrical, but hopefully this small project can raise some money for our friends; “the little musicians of the world”… (The King & The Hermit, 10th c. Irish Verse).

How did it start?

The project began as I noticed more and more folk artists including songs and tunes in their sets which referenced the bees… it seemed to me that almost every album I bought in the last year has had some mention of them. Who’s to say whether this was a result of the stories that reached mainstream media or the fact that folkies are generally more interested in conservation, but either way, a pattern emerged! For all the ages of man, bees have been revered & respected: honey was the nectar of the gods, bees were thought to carry human souls, every culture had important bee gods and traditions… to reach a time when we care about them so little that we’re not worried about them becoming extinct is dreadful.

You were awarded a creative bursary by EFDSS for your writing on the project?

It was great to have the backing of EFDSS and really helped give us the resources to write new material! You can hear a couple of my original songs on the compilation album (Queen & Country and Soul Wake Dirge) and I actually collaborated on nine of the eleven tracks, whether writing lyrics, playing fiddle or singing harmonies. It’s been a very exciting project to be part of and I’m looking forward to debuting some of the songs live at a gig at Cecil Sharp House on 6th June.

The Songhive Album

With tracks from Nancy Kerr, The Rheingans Sisters, Rosie Hodgson, Nick Burbridge, The Georgia Lewis Trio, Ray Chandler, Duo Keryda, The Hivemind Choir (a scratch choir put together through social media for a mournful choral contribution) and of course, project founder Rowan Piggott, it looks to be a varied and musically exciting selection from all corners of the folk scene.

Project Website: www.songhive.co.uk

VARIOUS ARTISTS – The Transports – A Tale Of Exile And Migration (Hudson Records HUD007LP/CD)

TransportsTom Paxton once remarked about one of his songs that it originally sounded as if it had been written a century ago, but that he no longer considered that a virtue. Fortunately, Peter Bellamy had no problem with “telling it like it was”. His ballad opera The Transports was, in the opinion of many, the best example of how effectively he could write songs that sounded as if they had been written around the time of the events they describe, which happened in the late 18th century. The Transports – A Tale Of Exile And Migration, released on January 12th 2018, is not, of course, the first recorded version of the opera.

The first recording was released in 1977, and included some enormously influential artists, including some whose influence has survived long after they themselves left the stage. (For example Bert Lloyd, Cyril Tawney, Dave Swarbrick, and Peter Bellamy himself.) The ‘silver edition’ released in 2004 included not only the (remastered) original recording, but also a collection of newer recordings by other artists, including members of Fairport Convention; Coope, Boyes & Simpson; Steve Tilston; and Damien Barber and John Kirkpatrick. This latest CD, produced by Andy Bell, features a younger generation of singers and musicians, including members of The Young ‘Uns, Bellowhead, Faustus, Waterson: Carthy, Whapweasel, and Belshazzar’s Feast, as well as Nancy Kerr, Matthew Crampton and Greg Russell.

This live CD isn’t just a reproduction of the original recording with different musicians, however: it mirrors the touring revival from 2017 (which at the time of writing is just beginning another 14-date tour that ends in Norwich on the 24th January: see the website linked below for details). While it’s still based on the true story that captured Peter Bellamy’s imagination all those years ago, it uses spoken narrative between songs rather than the four sections of ‘The Ballad Of Henry And Susannah’ from the original recording. The narration, by Matthew Crampton, also draws parallels with the plight of 21st century forced migration. Perhaps the only reservation that I have about the CD is that while the narration is very capable, even a new listener might not want to hear it every time after they’ve become acquainted with the story. But in this age of iGadgets and personal playlists, I suppose people are much less likely to simply put on a CD and play it all the way through.

The production also includes Sean Cooney’s own recent song ‘Dark Water’, about Hesham Modamani, who swam from Turkey to Greece in his bid to escape from Syria. Live performances include stories of migration researched by the Parallel Lives project. While the song doesn’t have the ‘traditional’ quality of Peter Bellamy’s songs, it doesn’t jar – on me, at any rate – and it’s an excellent performance.

For comparison with previous recordings, here’s a listing of the songs: there are 28 tracks altogether, including the spoken tracks.

  1. ‘Us Poor Fellows’
  2. ‘The Robber’s Song’
  3. ‘The Leaves In The Woodland’
  4. ‘The Ballad of Norwich Gaol’
  5. ‘I Once Lived In Service’
  6. ‘Sweet Loving Friendship’
  7. ‘The Black and Bitter Night’
  8. ‘Dark Water’
  9. ‘The Humane Turnkey 1’
  10. ‘The Plymouth Mail’
  11. ‘The Humane Turnkey 2’
  12. ‘The Green Fields of England’
  13. ‘The Still and Silent Ocean’
  14. ‘Roll Down’

For reasons of space, I won’t go through the performances individually: the songs are of a uniform high quality (and, happily, the booklet includes the lyrics). The vocals (both solo and ensemble) and instrumental work are never less than very good, though Nancy Kerr’s bravura performance on ‘The Leaves In The Woodland’ deserves a special mention.

If you already have an earlier version, it’s still worth taking a look at this for its change of focus (and, of course, some excellent performances). If you’re not acquainted with The Transports but like the sound of songs that are very much in a traditional vein and tell a fascinating historical story with 21st century resonances, you should definitely take a look. And if you tend to prefer more contemporary renditions of contemporary material, take a look anyway. You might just surprise yourself.

David Harley

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.thetransportsproduction.co.uk/

A Taste Of The Transports:

MELROSE QUARTET – Dominion (own label MQCD03)

DominionDominion is the long-awaited second album from Melrose Quartet: Nancy Kerr and James Fagan, Jess and Richard Arrowsmith. If you haven’t heard them you should remedy that oversight as soon as possible: four voices and four instrumentalists, equally gifted with unaccompanied harmony and instrumental dexterity. And that’s before we begin to discuss songwriting.

The album is a delightfully eclectic mix of material, you know, the way people used to make albums back in the 70s. It begins, unexpectedly, with a southern Appalachian song, ‘Mariah’s Gone’ originally from Jean Ritchie. Unaccompanied, it makes an arresting statement from the outset – you are going to listen to this record. It is followed by the title track, ‘Dominion Of The Sword’, further adapted from Martin Carthy’s version with a new verse by James. You must expect some politics from the quartet but this is as heavy handed as it gets and the tunes that follow, ‘A Generous Man/Carthy’s March’ are as bright and joyful as you could wish for.

The ebb and flow continues throughout the record. Nancy Kerr’s ‘Hand Me Down’ is about the unifying effect of music and ‘’Ware Out Mother’ is a huge joke. It started out in the tradition but was probably written in its present form by Charley Yarwood and Tom Brown. Jess Arrowsmith’s ‘Anthem Of A Working Mum’ is a song that should be adopted by the tradition. Like the best writing it says a lot in a few words and leaves you to colour in the picture while Nancy’s ‘Rise No More’ is a lament for the lost steel industry told in complex metaphor. Around these we have ‘The Seeds Of Love’, Paul Davenport’s ‘Davy Cross’ and Paul Metser’s lovely ‘Good Intentions’.

Melrose Quartet could play Dominion from start to finish in a folk club and you’d go home knowing that you’d had a good night out. I don’t think that you could ask for much more than that.

Dai Jeffries

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 MELROSE QUARTET – Dominion 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.

ORDER – [CD]

Artist’s website: www.melrosequartet.co.uk

Melrose Quartet live at Chester Folk Festival:

Melrose Quartet announce their second album, Dominion, plus launch tour dates

Melrose Quartet

Melrose Quartet are Nancy Kerr (voice, fiddle), James Fagan (voice, bouzouki, guitar), Jess Arrowsmith (voice, fiddle) and Richard Arrowsmith (voice, melodeons). November 2017 sees them release their eagerly-awaited second album, Dominion.

From deep roots in their hometown’s vibrant music, song and dance scene, to smashing concert appearances all over the UK, Sheffield-based Melrose Quartet have attracted a reputation for making music that truly connects with people. All four are internationally renowned singers, instrumentalists and writer/composers and this year they were proud to be named the new patrons of Whitby Folk week. Dominion expands and strengthens the musical presence they first asserted with Fifty Verses, their 2014 BBC Folk Award-nominated debut CD.

Dominion was recorded as close to “live” as possible in a sweetly resonant chapel schoolroom near Sheffield, and captures the quartet’s deft and heartfelt musical spontaneity. Whether the music has its origins in 17th century political poetry via Martin Carthy’s modern-era lens (‘Dominion Of The Sword’), or the lived experience of 21st century women wryly detailed by Jess Arrowsmith (‘Anthem Of A Working Mum’), the intention is to communicate and connect.

The fervour of social dance and the stateliness of Morris have infused Melrose’s repertoire from the start and flourish here on instrumentals ‘Rosslyn Castle’, Dave Swarbrick’s classic ‘Carthy’s March’, Fagan’s ‘Low Quebec’ and wild reel set ‘Gallery/Venus’.

A capella traditions from Britain, America and beyond (‘Mariah’s Gone’, ‘The Seeds Of Love’) are visited with the quartet’s famed unaccompanied zeal, while the voices of the extraordinary ordinary people who populate our folk songs are freshly amplified in a traditional tale of migrant workers facing down bigotry (‘Ware Out Mother’), Paul Davenport’s tragic sea-réquiem ‘Davy Cross’ and Nancy Kerr’s echoing steel-town hymn ‘Rise No More’. And appropriately, Kerr’s ‘Hand Me Down’ and Jess Arrowsmith’s ‘Raise Your Voice’ are songs that embody our needs and our hopes for peace, belonging and community. What Melrose Quartet want is for their music to land squarely in the listener’s heart.

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.

Artists’ website:  www.melrosequartet.co.uk

‘Anthem Of A Working Mum’ and ‘Dominion Of The Sword’ – live:

SHAKE THE CHAINS – Shake The Chains (Quercus Records QRCD003)

Shake The ChainsEven supposing you knew nothing about this album, a quick glance down the track listing would instantly identify Shake The Chains as a politically conscious project. A new generation of protest songs sit comfortably alongside some old standards.

Despite Edwyn Collins’ complaint in ‘A Girl Like Youabout “too many protest singers, not enough protest songs”, it can sometimes be hard to imagine what it would take, in these trying times, to generate enough protest to effect real change. But here is a delightful set of songs, nonetheless.

Hannah Martin contributes songs of poetic allegory and metaphor. ‘Yarl’s Wood’ evokes the horror of a refugee ending up in a detention centre. The refugee’s flight, “the choice that is no choice” is starkly laid out and overwhelmingly powerful. ‘Song Of The Jay’ uses certain bird behaviours to draw unflattering parallels with some human ones. Similar, but viewed from another angle, is Tim Yates’s song ‘Side By Side’ which delivers a darkly moody lament on social division.

Nancy Kerr delivers a brilliantly tender pairing of poems about Victor Jara, the Chilean musician executed under Pinochet’s regime. This lengthy piece allows the purity of the art form simply to shine.

Naturally, these serious subjects deserve gravity, but there is room for humour, too. Greg Russell’s country-flavoured ‘Bunch Next Door’ is a domestic scale witty deconstruction of political villains, while ‘Ding Dong Dollar’ has a drily sardonic air of resignation.

By contrast, Findlay Napier’s songs are much harder-hitting, with a raw passion. ‘Building Ships’ is a poignant song about his father’s experience of the death of that industry. The album’s title track – as well as a rallying call to action – ‘Shake The Chains’ is punchy, feisty and totally heartfelt. Its central chorus is adapted from Shelley’s poem Masque Of Anarchy, about the Peterloo massacre in Manchester, and a much-quoted work of those standing up for the poor and oppressed.

Of the stalwarts, ‘If I Had A Hammer’ has a simplicity, sincerity and even an undercurrent of anger. Likewise ‘We Shall Overcome’ – stripped back, sung a capella (with delicious harmonies) is revealed afresh as a sorrowful yet hopeful anthem.

The live recording gives an immediacy to the songs: the joy of hearing an audience respond suits the nature of the works. It provides a confirmation bias, a reassurance that the listener is not alone, as well as a desperately necessary response to the current madness in the world.

Whilst we can see how much we’ve moved on from the treatment of Alan Turing, as detailed in Kerr’s touching ‘Poison Apples’, it’s also a reminder against complacency. Rights hard-won may be all too insidiously and easily eroded.

It’s a hard album to review without clambering onto the soapbox, so tightly enmeshed are subject and medium. It is a superb album in its own right, with strong songs, gorgeously arranged and performed. It is also deeply moving: keep the tissues handy, there will definitely be something in your eye. Now, get out there and change something.

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: https://www.shakethechains.com

‘If I Had A Hammer’ – live: