FAUSTUS – Death And Other Animals (West Park 87323)

Death And Other AnimalsDrawn from the ranks of Whapweasel and the now defunct Bellowhead, as well as other projects, self-styled ‘bloke folk’ trio, Paul Sartin, Benji Kirkpatrick and Saul Rose return with their third album, Death & Other Animals, the follow up to 2012’s Broken Down Gentlemen. For part of this year, they were Artists in Residence at Halsway Manor, the National Centre for the Folk Arts in Somerset, where they availed themselves of access to the extensive library, the material therein shaping the album and, in particular, featuring four songs from the hugely obscure archive of Somerset folklorist Ruth Tongue. Since they were already in situ, they also recorded the album (the cover of which features the bloody, mounted head of a vampire stag on the cover) at the Manor.

As well as the traditional numbers, there are two covers. ‘Oh To Be A King’, a six minute traditional-flavoured song about the lot of the working man written, but, as far as I can make out, never recorded by Bill Caddick, that features striking three part harmonies, melodeon and fiddle, ending in a lengthy Kirkpatrick instrumental coda entitled ‘King of the Discoed’. The other, another lengthy track at near seven minutes isn’t a cover as such, but, intoned by Sartin, rather a setting of Olivia McCannon’s poem ‘Gurt Dog’, a variation on familiar ghost dog tales, but, here, a rather more benign mutt that guides the hapless narrator, lost on the Quantocks, safely home.

Turning to the traditional, the album opens with the sprightly strummed mandolin, violin and bass drum thump of ‘Slaves/Foul Weather Call’, Scottish Chartist leader and poet William Sankey’s 1840 call on the sturdy men of England to throw off their chains, set to music by Kirkpatrick and rounded off with the traditional Sussex hop step.

The first of the Tongue numbers comes with a galumphing, fiddle rousing arrangement of ‘False Foxes’ that incorporates the open grave superstition and again rounds off with a traditional instrumental, ‘Idbury Hill’, taken from the Bledington Morris tradition. The second from the Tongue collection, arranged by Rose, is ‘The Deadly Sands’, scraping fiddle driving a shipwrecked themed number, sometimes known as ‘The Wrecker’s Song’, concerning the sands off Minehead and those that snare and plunder the ships driven upon them. Kirkpatrick gives a droning melodeon-led arrangement to the third from the archive, ‘The Death of the Hart Royal’, a mix of hunting song and Greenwood myth originating from or before the 15th century, while the last ends the album with the funereal march ‘Death Goes A-Walking’, a possibly 17th century tale of Death leading his victims in a danse macabre, suitably provided by snatches of Morris tune ‘The Black Joke’ which also brings things to a close with a dirge-like instrumental coda.

There’s three other traditional numbers, the first being a lively reading of ‘While Gamekeepers Lie Sleeping’, a tale of a hare poacher and his dog, drawn from assorted variants. They cross the ocean for ‘Adieu To Bon County’, a tale of having to leave home and (false) friends to seek fortune overseas with only glass and bottle for companionship, taken from the ballads and folk songs collected by John and Alan Lomax.

The final traditional tune, sturdily sung by Sartin, is ‘One More Day’, a muscular, if not indeed funky, shanty collected by Cecil Sharp from singing sailor John Short, a Watchet legend who fought in the American Civil War and, after retiring from the sea, became the local town crier and fire brigade commander. Featuring a couple of mandolin solos it’s neatly punctuated with a snatch of a Sartin tune titled ‘Heavy Weather’, and it’s a brace of original instrumentals that provide the album’s remaining track, Sartin’s arms-linked, romping fiddle –driven ‘Harry Kitchener’s Jig’ which segues into Kirkpatrick’s no less jubilant ‘The Piper’s Rehash’ with what may well be a wheezing Cor Anglais in the background. Beastly good.

Mike Davies

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 FAUSTUS – Death And Other Animals 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]

Artists’ website: http://www.faustusband.com/

BELLOWHEAD – Pandemonium (Navigator NAVIGATOR093)

BELLOWHEAD – Pandemonium (Navigator NAVIGATOR093)Even before the final farewell tour begins Pandemonium – The Essential Bellowhead hits the streets just in time for Christmas lists everywhere. The tracks were reportedly selected by the band themselves and cover the band’s career from E.P.Onymous to Revival.

Bellowhead didn’t launch themselves in a big way back in 2008. There was one gig, then another and rumours of more. I heard them in the early days in a venue that just couldn’t cope with their power – the brass mics were off but, even so, if you were on their side of the auditorium that’s what you heard. Jon Boden was brilliant – a quivering tower of energy, spitting out his lyrics, but no-one could honestly have predicted how big they would become.

Pandemonium is a real party album. It kicks off, quite literally, with ‘New York Girls’ (scheduled to be the next single), ’10,000 Miles Away’ and ‘Roll Alabama’ before throttling back a little with ‘Fakenham Fair’. It’s still a big song but the arrangement allows space for fiddle, melodeon and Pete Flood’s unique percussion to stand out with Paul Sartin’s oboe leading the playout. ‘Gosport Nancy’ picks up the pace again. ‘Betsy Baker’ is nearest they come to a gentle love song and ‘Let Her Run’, ‘Roll The Woodpile Down’ and ‘Yarmouth Town’ return to the nautical themes they so enjoy.

‘Prickle-Eye Bush’ comes from their first EP and is, to be honest, a song that I think is much overdone but Bellowhead do it well, as you’d expect, with funky melodeon from John Spiers. ‘Whiskey Is The Life Of Man’ is another relatively minor song while ‘Cold Blows The Wind’ eschews the usual mournful tone for a more anarchic style before ‘London Town’ wraps up the proceedings. And that’s it – until the lost recordings and the box set appear!

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of the album, 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.

Artists’ website: www.bellowhead.co.uk

‘New York Girls’:

MADE IN THE GREAT WAR – Live at Forest Arts, New Milton

MADE IN THE GREAT WAR – Live at Forest Arts, New Milton
Photograph by Dai Jeffries

The show opened with Sam Sweeney stepping onto the stage and taking THE fiddle from its place in the spotlight. He played ‘The Girl I Left Behind Me’ and ‘Jean De Paris’ before introducing Rob Harbron who joined him for ‘The Battle Of Prague’ and ‘British Grenadiers’. As Sam pointed out these were four tunes that led a double life as both folk tunes and military marches – this was the beginning of an “overture” to the show itself.

The fiddle is one left unfinished by Richard Spencer Howard of Leeds when he went to war in 1916 and which, though a long series of events, was bought by Sam Sweeney who realised that there was a story behind the instrument.

Paul Sartin and Hugh Lupton completed the line-up on stage. Paul sang ‘The Scarlet And The Blue’, a song which has passed through countless regiments and, indeed, armies and Hugh recounted a story from his show, Barbed Wire For Kisses which immediately set me thinking of War Horse. It was the perfect link to ‘Home, Lad, Home’. The first set closed with ‘Rose Howard’, an extra track on the album which didn’t find space in the show.

Original tour programme
Original tour programme

On record, the focus of Made In The Great War is Hugh Lupton’s narration – the story is the most important element. On stage, other factors take over. The set poses, variously, as a music-hall, a trench and a battlefield. There are visual elements, film and slides as well as the set dressing and the performance is cleverly choreographed – there is barely time for a round of applause between the set pieces. Indeed, applause sometimes feels intrusive.

There was clowning during ‘The Palace Of Varieties’ and drama. ‘The Battle Of Messines’ was signalled by furious drumming by Sam, synched to film of explosions, which made the audience jump after the relative quiet of ‘June 17th 1917 – Zero Day’ and there were two more highlights. The first was Sam’s singing of ‘The Ballad Of Richard Howard’, alone in a spotlight, with so-subtle support from Rob and Paul. It is a powerful song owing something of its origins to ‘The Cruel Sister’. Finally he played ‘Epilogue’ alongside film of him playing the same tune standing by Richard Howard’s grave in Belgium. Initially, he watched the screen, carefully matching his playing with the film but later he looked down and let the music take over.

There can be no encore. You can’t follow that but the story continues. It transpires that a second Howard fiddle has come to light – Sam’s is No.6 and now No.2 is known to have survived – and Richard Howard’s grand-daughter, not knowing the full story, has contacted Sam. Made In The Great War has been toured twice and I hope that Sam and the company will tour again. It is a show that has to be seen by as many people as possible.

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 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.

Website: www.madeinthegreatwar.com

Sam Sweeney plays ‘The Last Post’ by Richard Howard’s grave:

DEREK GIFFORD – Songs From The Past…Into The Future (WildGoose Records WGS412CD)

DEREK GIFFORD Songs From The Past Into The FutureIf you have spent any time in festival singarounds it’s pretty sure that you will have sung one of Derek Gifford’s tunes – the one he wrote for Keith Scowcroft’s poem, ‘When All Men Sing’. If you enjoyed those sessions and that song then you’ll love this album.

Oddly, there are none of Derek’s own compositions here. Other than two traditional songs – ‘Dives And Lazarus’ and ‘Bold Fisherman’ – this is collection of writers famous and (relatively) obscure, mostly British with one from across the Atlantic. The best songs, for me, are Pete Coe’s ‘Farewell To The Brine’ and ‘The Cocklers’ Song’ by Alan Bell. That said, Miles Wootton’s ‘Early One Evening’ is a piece of whimsy from bygone days that still resonates with beer-drinking men but oddly I’ve only heard it sung once in the last thirty-odd years.

The song that first caught my attention is ‘Songs They Used To Sing’ and I wondered, rather wickedly perhaps, if Derek sings it in post-modern ironic way or takes it seriously. Essentially the writer, Mike Bartram, is saying OK, I was never a sailor or farmer or a miner but those workers left us choruses we can sing and enjoy and that’s what we’re doing. I’d like to think that the singers appreciate the contradiction inherent in the song.

As usual with WildGoose recordings the production is clean and unfussy with Keith Kendrick’s concertinas, Gill Redmond’s cello and Paul Sartin’s oboe used sparingly. The chorus, including Tom and Barbara Brown, bridge the gap between studio and live although I think that Derek might be best served by recording in the latter environment. Perhaps a little more reverb next time.

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 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.

‘Spirit Of The Sea’ live at theRNLI Dungeness Memorial Concert:

NIAMH BOADLE – Maid On The Shore (WildGoose WGS411CD)

Maid On The ShoreNiamh Boadle comes from the Fylde coast of Anglo-Irish stock and Maid On The Shore, her second album, reflects her heritage. It’s an intriguing mix of traditional and modern music in which it can be hard to distinguish between the two. Niamh is a multi-instrumentalist, playing guitar, fiddle, whistles, mandolin and bodhran but she doesn’t indulge in flashy multi-tracking. She’s joined on three tracks by Paul Sartin on piano and oboe but his contributions are unobtrusive.

Let’s start with the first track, ‘Forget-Me-Not’. At first I took it to be a traditional piece given a huge modernisation – not in the folk-rock style but with a choppy guitar accompaniment. It turns out that Niamh wrote it, basing the story on a newspaper report from the late nineteenth century. It will be taken for traditional before long. Later comes ‘The Flower Of Finae’, also purely traditional except that it was written by Thomas Davis in the 1840s and is set during the Battle Of Ramillies over a century earlier. Nothing much changes.

A real traditional song is ‘I’m A Fading Day By Day’ except it is thought that the text was created by a Yorkshire gypsy, Elizabeth Smith, who borrowed heavily from ‘The White Cockade’. ‘Dark Inishowen’, ‘Green Bushes’, ‘Creggan White Hare’, ‘Boys Of Mullaghbawn’ and the title track have probably gone through the folk process while retaining their authenticity. The first of the covers is Anthony John Clarke’s ‘The Only Life Gloria Knows’, a song about a homeless girl on the game in Belfast. It’s a superb piece of writing and should be better known.

Niamh has been working the folk scene for many years and in many guises and is currently studying at Newcastle University. I hope that when she completes her degree her fame will have spread further.

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 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.niamhboadle.co.uk/

‘Maid On The Shore’ – live at The Davy Lamp Folk Club

TOM & BARBARA BROWN – Just Another Day… (Wild Goose WGS406CD)

JustAnotherDayOver the years Tom and Barbara Brown have become elder statespersons of the West Country folk music scene and have done so without ever forgetting what it was that drew them (and me for that matter) to traditional music in the first place. This is important as we will see.

Just Another Day… is a collection of songs connected with Minehead and if you think that concentrating on one small Somerset town is limiting you couldn’t be more wrong. Twelve of these songs were collected by Cecil Sharp from just two sources – retired sea captains Lewis and Vickery – and were unearthed by Tom and Barbara while researching the three records of Short Sharp Shanties, a collection of songs collected by Sharp from John Short of Watchet just along the coast. Incidentally, if you haven’t heard this marvellous set you should do so immediately, but I digress. The point is that you never know what you’ll find unless you look and listen.

The other three songs come from The Minehead Harbour Maritime Heritage Project and this is where the importance of knowledge, experience and, yes, status comes in. The opening track, ‘A Minehead Lad’, was written by Tom and Barbara for the project to illustrate the period around the Great War. Listen to it blind and you might say it came from the tradition; told you were wrong, you might hazard that Kipling had a hand in the lyric. For the final, title track, a song “from” World War II, Tom nicked the tune ‘Lili Marlene’– cheeky but with the ring of authenticity. You can’t fake that feeling for what is right.

The supporting musicians and singers are long-time friends: Anahata, Mary Eagle, Keith Kendrick, Barry Lister and Paul Sartin among them, and they play with the ease of experience and familiarity. You may recognise some of the titles but the versions will often be unfamiliar. Critics may call Just Another Day…old fashioned but that’s part of the joy of folk song. Here are choruses you can sing along with and stories to keep you enthralled – imagine, if you can, hearing ‘The Bonny Bunch O Roses O’ for the first time – and don’t say that a song like ‘Franklin’ isn’t relevant. Nearly 170 years on there are reports that one of the expedition’s ships has just been found. I’m sorry if this has turned into a seminar but Just Another Day…reminds me why I’ve been listening to this music for nearly fifty years and that’s more than enough to make me recommend it.

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 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.

Artists’ website: http://www.umbermusic.co.uk/

Sadly, YouTube is not overflowing with videos of Tom & Barbara but we did find this: