Kara reflect on a year of changes

Kara
Photograph by John Maw
l-r: Phil, Daria, Pete, Kate

Dai Jeffries talks to Kara about their comings and goings

This has been a turbulent year for our friends Kara. It began with the departure of Gary Holbrook and the search for someone who could learn the repertoire in a very short time. It ended – well almost ended – with guitarist and songwriter Ben Honey leaving the band because of work commitments and relocation and another search was underway. In the middle of all this Kara recorded their second album, Some Other Shore. Daria Kulesh picked up the story for me.

“The second album was a make-or-break moment. Replacing Gary was much trickier than we thought – we tried a couple of people and things were not working out – nobody’s fault, it just seemed that the stars we against us – and we knew that we couldn’t lose all that momentum. At the same time we knew that we had to make the album and the album launch tour happen and we only just managed to get the record out on time.”

Kate Rouse, singer and dulcimer player, reflected further. “In the end, the year has turned out really, really well. Gary’s work was building up and up and I think he was always going to be the first person who struggled. His was a tough role to fill but we completely fell on our feet with Phil Underwood. There are lots of musicians round here – Russians – but they want to do something very, very pure and are not so interested in the creative element.”

And then came the enforced departure of Ben Honey. Daria again:

“Hopefully, as a songwriter, Ben will remain very much a part of Kara – that was the first question that we asked him, that and whether we could play his songs with the new line-up. His answer was a resounding yes.

“When we cast our net in searching for a new band member our first approach was to ask the guitarists on the scene because we already had Ben’s songwriting in the bag so how about we find a really, really amazing guitarist? But the problem there is that the amazing guitarists tend to be very, very busy so we thought that sometimes you have to think outside the box and look for another songwriter and once we started asking songwriters the response was much more encouraging. Then I thought ‘why don’t I ask one of my favourite songwriters who, I think, encompasses a bit of the madness of Kara’ [and who happens to live a few miles down the road]. I called him and by the next morning he’d said yes.”

Kate: “Before, Daria kicked herself that she’d known Phil for ages and hadn’t thought to ask him so this time we thought ‘sod it’. I didn’t matter how cheeky it was – if you don’t ask you don’t get. Pete, bless him, practically bit our hand off. The creativity of the project appealed and, certainly, our early rehearsals have gone really, really well. Even when he’s winging it it all goes “whoop” and when he nails it completely it’s going to be pretty special.”

Cue Pete Morton.

“A number of things have come along that make it a perfect idea for me. I do so much of being a front man; predominantly solo and a few other things like the Christmas show, but it’s mainly me and I’m always playing that same role. What was lovely was that I got a phone in the middle of the day from Daria and for the first time in my life someone has asked me to join their band and it was one of the most beautiful feelings I ever had.”

I should say that our meeting was in danger of falling apart at this point in a welter of emotion and hugs but Pete held it together. “I’m not being over-dramatic here, there is substance to this. Being a front person people think that you’re the person in authority and I don’t always see things like that. I like the idea of being in the situation of playing the guitar, being in that different dynamic; it just fits in with everything I want to do now.”

Dare I ask how Pete sees his role in the band developing? “I just like the idea of playing Ben’s songs on the guitar and playing along with the tunes. I’ve played a lot in ceilidh bands and it’s nice to do that. I’m interested in being involved in the vocals but that’s Daria’s role. I like the theatrical aspects and I like the idea of occasional duets but that’s further down the line.”

Phil Underwood arrived – Kara were meeting for a photo-shoot and rehearsal – and chaos almost reigned but I did want to ask Phil how he felt about joining a band, learning the back catalogue and recording an album within the space of a few months, only to find a key member leaving.

“There was a lot of work to get into it but Ben made the decision that was right for him and I think it’s timely in a way. It’s wonderful that Pete has come along and I think we’re going to go in a different direction. Ben saw himself as the engine-room of Kara and that helped me because it settled me into the band and gave me enough leeway to put my mark on the band.”

So was there a feeling of ‘oh, no, what have I let myself in for now”? “Absolutely! It’s that kind of band. It’s a great band. It’s a very quirky and lively sort of band and everybody in it is quirky and lively which reflects in the music. I’m really looking forward to what Pete’s going to bring.”

The light was beginning to go, there were wardrobe decisions to make and Phil was eager to show off his newly-acquired 1963 long-necked Pete Seeger banjo so it was time for me to go. We’ll hear the results of all their efforts when Kara return to live performance next month. I, for one, am looking forward to it.

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

‘Lovers’ Tasks’ – a demo from the new line-up:

Pete Morton set to join Kara

pete morton joins Kara

Singer and songwriter Pete Morton has been touring the folk circuits of Europe, North America and beyond since the late eighties. With his energetic and passionate style of performance, he brings together his love of the tradition with contemporary social commentary. His song ‘Another Train’ has been widely covered by choirs, bands and solo artists around the world. The Guardian described him as “Not only original, but a revelation”. Mojo magazine wrote, “fiercely creative, proudly independent and terminally unpredictable!” Perfect addition to KARA then!

In Ben Honey’s own words:

“After three years and two albums with KARA, work and home commitments as well as relocation plans have meant that it is sadly time to hang up my boots.

It has been a sheer delight travelling on the creative journey with my talented band mates who will continue to enchant audiences with musical tales of light and dark from worlds real and imagined.

I am delighted that Pete Morton, a successful artist in his own right, is now fully committed to continuing the onward momentum for KARA.

He is a brilliant musician and storyteller and anyone who wears a velvet jacket with such style and panache has the exact quirkiness that defines KARA.

I have been asked whether I can continue to write songs for KARA and I am delighted to have been asked and look forward to doing so. I wish KARA – Daria Kulesh, Pete Morton, Phil Underwood and Kate Rouse – every success.”

Following their acclaimed debut Waters So Deep – named by The Telegraph as one of the Best Folk Albums of 2014, the “unique and innovative folk quartet” KARA released their second album – Some Other Shore – in June 2016 with a UK tour. The new record has had amazing reviews so far:

“KARA set the bar pretty high with their debut album… So, have they lived up to their promise? Absolutely! There is a new sophistication and a feeling of cohesion to the music” (Dai Jeffries, R2 Magazine)

Some Other Shore shows just how far the band has come since their debut album, and just how far they will clearly go” (Tim Carroll, FolkWords)

“I have every faith that this gathering of interesting and talented people will be huge on the folk scene very shortly!” (Tamsin Rosewell, Radio Warwickshire)

“A fine album by a band that deserve much wider recognition” (Mike Davies, Folking.com)

The Russian-born lead vocalist Daria Kulesh has “one of the most refined and enjoyable voices around”, backed by an “interesting and strikingly different” combination of instruments: hammered dulcimer (Kate Rouse), melodeon (Phil Underwood) and guitar (Ben Honey, to be replaced by Pete Morton in 2017). Fusing original material with Russian and British folk for a rich mix of songs and tunes, “the quartet bring something completely different to folk music as we know it.” (Bright Young Folk)

Artist websites:  www.karafolkband.com / www.petemorton.com

PETE MORTON – The Land Of Time (Fellside FECD269)

PETE MORTON The Land Of Time I may have asked this question before but why isn’t Pete Morton a huge star? He’s a fine singer with an engaging stage presence and, more importantly, he’s a writer of superb songs, ten of which are to be found within this rather unassuming sleeve. So why isn’t his name on everyone’s lips?

The opening track, ‘The Herefordshire Pilgrim’ takes the style of William Langland’s Piers Ploughman to a logical, if rather over the top, conclusion. It reminds me also of Belloc’s The Four Men and, oddly, Bob Dylan’s ‘Dignity’. It’s a complex song, full of words and ideas and I really feel the need of the lyrics which aren’t included. There are a couple of fraps here. The first is ‘Poverty Frap’ which uses the chorus of ‘Poverty Knock’ to link thoughts on sweatshop workers in Bangladesh and the original Lancashire mill workers. The second employs the chorus of ‘The Rigs Of London Town’ to consider the plight of trafficked sex-workers in ‘Slave To The Game’.

‘One Hundred Years Ago’ is the story of Pete’s grandfather who was wounded and captured in the Great War before eventually being repatriated. It’s a rather jolly song but the point being made is that without the enemy the wounded soldier would have died and Pete wouldn’t be around to tell the story to his children. I think that’s a cause for celebration, don’t you? Another standout track, mixing history and modern concerns is ‘Old Boston Town’, an attack on the arms trade and, finally, ‘Oh What Little Lives We Lead’ puts everything into perspective.

Pete is supported by his regular cohorts plus Ciaran Algar who adds some gorgeously simple fiddle to ‘The Herefordshire Pilgrim’. Jon Brindley plays (presumably) the clever guitar bits while Pete is singing and Chris Parkinson provides various free reeds and piano. On paper it seems very simple but it works so well.

The Land Of Time is another superb album from Pete Morton – now get out there and make him the star he should be.

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.

Artist’s website: http://www.petemorton.com/

There’s nothing from this album on video yet, so here’s an old concert/interview sequence:

PETE MORTON – The Frappin’ And Ramblin’ Pete Morton (Fellside FECD261)

FandRPeteMortonWe don’t hear anywhere near enough of Pete Morton here in the south. It’s as though Yorkshire knows when it has a good thing and won’t let him escape although if this set is any guide he’ll be the last man to be seduced by the bright lights and the good life.

The record opens with ‘Farmer’s Boy Frap’. I thought at first that “frap” might be a cross between rap and frappuccino® as the subject is mainly milk and how farmers are exploited by supermarkets and big business in general – a contrast between those who can do and those who can only sell. Actually frap = folk rap: a tumble of contemporary words linked to a traditional, or semi-traditional, theme and chorus. Possibly the best is ‘The Manchester Rambler Frap’, hence my careful distinction.

This is very much a political album. Pete sets out his manifesto in ‘The Journeyman’ – his description of himself – beginning with the re-nationalisation of the railways and he surveys the heroes of the underdogs in ‘Rambling Through Old England’ name-checking Wat Tyler, George Fox and Titus Salt. ‘Corporatocracy’ predicts Sonmi-451’s world in Cloud Atlas and that isn’t so far away. For light relief we have ‘The Love Of You’ and ‘Bedside Song’ – Pete has always had a romantic streak – but it’s the other songs that matter here. Or is it? Without humanity the corporatocracy will become all-powerful.

Pete is accompanied by Maggie Boyle, Chris Parkinson, Jon Brindley and James Budden with Linda Adams adding chorus vocals. Fine musicians all, doing exactly what is needed to carry the songs and their complex lyrics while Pete himself balances on a torrent of words. This is an excellent record.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.petemorton.com

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. Ordering through folking.com / folking.org helps us to earn a few pennies to contribute to the sites running costs.