CUNNING FOLK – Ritual Land, Uncommon Ground (Dharma)

Ritual Land, Uncommon GroundGeorge Nigel Hoyle is a man of many incarnations. He started out professional musical life as bassist with late 90s outfit Gay Dad, a band briefly hailed as the saviours of British rock, going on to join Crispin Hunt of The Longpigs (of Richard Hawley fame) in a short-lived new outfit called Gramercy and wrote Lee Ryan’s first post-Blue solo hit, ‘Army Of Lovers’, before getting into folk, both as a genre and a culture.

Adopting the soubriquet Nigel of Bermondsey, he’s released three albums under the name and, in 2014, he formed GentleFolk, whose self-titled debut album was released last year, and also produced Katy Carr’s most recent album. In addition, for the past five years, he’s run the South East London Folklore Society (SELFS), meeting monthly for talks on a wide variety of folk-related subjects.

Which brings us to Cunning Folk, his latest venture, the name given to practitioners of folk medicine and folk magic (sometimes referred to as white witches), an album tracing a journey across the south of England exploring the history of its trees and local folklore and which, alongside Hoyle variously on guitars and shruti box also features Sam Kelly on drums, pianist Oliver Parfitt and Carr on backing vocals plus assorted uncredited musicians on strings and woodwinds.

Hoyle describes the aptly titled autumnal sounding opening number, ‘This Is How It Starts’, as an exploration of the island prompted by listening to Radio 4, a journey through other places, other histories and new traditions, “calling across the borders that we make in the land.”

The first call on the journey is ‘The Old Straight Track’, a five minute number that, named after the book by Alfred Watkins, opens with bowed cello and unfolds into a stripped back, acoustic accompanied dreamy song about ley lines. We’re then joined by a guide in the form of ‘The Modern Antiquarian’ (a nod to Julian Cope) who, in the company of pipes and strings, leads us “between the borders of then & now…over the field & hill”, a “pre-millennial odyssey From Knowlton Henge to Avebury” that also introduces the first hint of influences taken from The Incredible String Band.

From here we fetch up on the site of a ruined church on Cranborne Chase with its nearby Neolithic ramparts and ancient Yew for ‘What Has Been and Gone Before’, flute and a percussive beat permeating swirling tune the lyrics of which reference Augustine’s mission to bring the Christian faith to the pagan isles, a meditation on the natural process of change as the old gives way to the new, but remain a part of the spiritual legacy.

A more familiar landmark is found in ‘Chalk Horses’, a song about the mysterious ancient figures cut into the down and hills of southern England set to a funky rhythm with barroom blues piano. The catchiest and most immediate track is the rhythmically itchy, hand percussion and flute flourished ‘Uncommon Ground’ itself, strummed a celebration of Britain’s island heritage where “All the roads we run take us to the sea”, an invitingly singalong chorus rolling things along.

Britain’s past is again recalled in the ethereally sung, harp-clothed and floatingly melodic ‘A Brief History Of Agriculture and Mining’, which, charting history “from the stone to the clay to the bronze to the iron”, tips the hat to the farmers and tin and coal miners who worked the land.

The cunning folk themselves are the subject of the ISB-like ‘The Chime Child,’ a drone and harp-infused medieval styled tune that takes its title and swaying miasmal chorus from the belief that a child born in the chime hours, between midnight on Friday and the following dawn will be gifted with healing more and be “masters of music & finders of rhyme, & every beast will do what they say, & every herb that do grow in the clay.”

The warning that, for such folk, “to show too much may not be wise” is borne out in the following ironically titled track, ‘Lancashire, God’s Country’, an account of the 17th century Pendle witch trials where 10 of 11 accused were ‘witnesses’ coached by the clergy, hung for witchcraft, the other apparently vanishing from prison, Hoyle’s spoken delivery recalling that of Vinny Peculiar.

Things are more reassuringly peaceful and pastoral on the trilling flute-adorned ‘The Song of the Nidge’, an encouragement to get in the woods and the shipping forecast zones and listen to the birdsong. Ornithologists will tell you that the word nidge is likely a reference to the hummingbird, known as Kawis Nidges, but, more specifically the song directs you to the call of the yellowhammer (Emberiza Citrinella), the great tit (Parus Major) and the curlew (Numenius). And it’s another call to connect with nature that closes the album, ‘Walk Through The Juniper’ a slow gathering airy invocation of the Juniper forest of the Cairngorms, a wild place to understand our insignificance in the universe (“when I go I leave no trace”) and, lost in the modern world, follow the example of Nan Shepherd, the Scottish poet and author of The Living Mountain, get back in touch with who we are. Balm to the spirit and a hymn to the magic and mystery of the land, acquiring yourself a copy would be a shrewd move.

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 CUNNING FOLK – Ritual Land 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.

DOWNLOAD – [CD]

Artist’s website: www.cunningfolkmusic.com

‘Lancashire, God’s Country’ – official video:

Tilly Moses is crowdfunding her debut album

Tilly Moses

At just 18 Tilly’s lyric writing and delicate instrumentation on mandolin and harmonium demonstrate a maturity beyond her years. She’s already featured on BBC Radio 1, BBC Radio 6 Music & BBC Introducing, and in 2014 she launched her 6 track EP Painted Faces which was produced by Ben Walker, a BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winner. In 2017 she is recording her debut album with contributions from a number of award winning folk musicians including Sam Kelly and James Delarre.

In 2016 despite being busy with A level studies she fitted in three tour dates with the Radio 2 Folk Award nominees Mawkin and opened for one of her great song writing influences, Irish musician Mick Flannery. Over the past few years she has supported some big names in the folk music world including Dave Swarbrick, Ashley Hutchings & Ken Nicol, Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman, The Unthanks and Gilmore & Roberts. She was the youngest artist chosen by the EFDSS for a workshop of young folk singer-songwriters which included rising stars such as Maz O’Connor, Sam Kelly, Fabian Holland, Ange Hardy & the Carrivick sisters.

“I’m delighted to be recording my debut album with GingerDog Records, due for release in summer 2017. I’ll be joined by some exceptionally talented musicians – BBC Folk Award Winner Sam Kelly, BBC Jazz Award Winner Kit Downes, and James Delarre, the fiddle player from the BBC Folk Award nominated band Mawkin.”

Tilly grew up just outside Bury St Edmunds and is now at the University of York. She has been writing and performing music since she was 13. She has launched a crowd-funding campaign to raise money to produce the album. Please support her by going to: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/tilly-moses-debut-album

Alternatively donations can be sent by cheque made out to GingerDog Records and sent to GingerDog Records, Buxhall, Stowmarket IP14 3DJ

“In return for your help, I’ve taken time to come up with some great rewards – from things as small as a postcard written from me to you, to things as big as myself and some fellow musicians coming to your house to serenade your friends and family. Your money would go towards the recording costs, designing the album artwork, mastering and printing the album, and towards the costs of promotion. A donation of just a few pounds is welcome, as well as larger contributions.”

Artist’s website: www.facebook.com/tillysmusic

‘Harbour’ – live and very cold:

GEOFF LAKEMAN – After All These Years (own label GLAK-01)

After All These YearsGeoff Lakeman isn’t quite as famous as his sons but he is a much regarded singer and songwriter, particularly in the West Country. At 69 Geoff has finally succumbed to the temptation to record an album, After All These Years, produced by son Sean. Geoff usually performs solo with concertina but with friends and family like his it must have been impossible to resist getting them on board, although the contributions of Jim Causley, Cara Dillon, Kathryn Roberts, Sam Kelly, Ben Nicholls, Jamie Francis, Seth Lakeman and Nic Jones are commendably restrained except when it comes to choruses. Geoff himself has the voice of, if not a young man, then a young man who has seen a bit of life – strong and characterful.

If you were a folk club regular in the sixties and seventies you will be entirely at home with this set. Not that Geoff is locked in the past as his cover of Reg Meuross’ ‘England Green & England Grey’ proves but the mix of material is such that if you don’t care for a particular song you’ll like the next one.

The set opens with ‘The Farmer’s Song’. It was written by Roger Bryant but easily could be one of Geoff’s as he demonstrates with the next track, ‘Tie ’Em Up’. Both are about the decline of traditional rural industries and while both writers were preoccupied with the plight of Devon and Cornwall the same stories are true all around the country. ‘Rule And Rant’ is a bit of obscure Cornish history involving an ingenious mine rescue. The traditional songs include ‘Ye Lovers All’, a song of romantic teasing from Ulster, the well-known ‘Jim Jones’ and ‘The Green Cockade’ a Cornish version of the song that may have arrived from Ireland and ‘Bonny Irish Maid’ – there’s a pattern developing here.

There are a couple of oddities. The first is the original version of ‘Galway Bay’ – not that song and certainly not the celebrated parody (I confess that I was rather hoping for that) – and the closing ‘Doggie Song’. This is the sort of encore that you’ll still find in folk clubs and probably means a lot more in Cornwall but is best not recorded. That aside, this is a splendid album to unwind with, think about and sing along to.

Dai Jeffries

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 GEOFF LAKEMAN – After All These Years 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.geofflakeman.co.uk

‘Tie ‘Em Up’ – live:

THE CHANGING ROOM – Picking Up The Pieces (TCR Music TCRM75068)

picking up the piecesA fluid Cornish collective built around the constant foundation of Sam Kelly and Tanya Brittain who share vocals and play guitar/bass/piano and accordion, respectively, Picking Up The Pieces, their second album sees them joined by Jamie Francis on banjo, percussionist Evan Carson and Morrigan Palmer Brown on harp with various contributions from Kevin McGuire (upright bass), John McCusker (fiddle) and Belinda O’Hooley (piano).

As with their debut, it’s firmly rooted in Cornish soil, something underlined from the start with traditional-sounding album opener ‘Caradon Hill’, a portrait of life above and below ground for the miners and their families in what was once the UK’s biggest copper mine, it’s decline presaged in the lyrics as, McCusker’s fiddle providing the spine, it builds to the a cappela coda.

Moving to Polperro, the sprightly’ Zephaniah Job’, the pair alternating vocals, tells of the 18th century Cornish entrepreneur who, though always mindful of making a profit, served as benefactor to the local fishermen, smugglers and schoolchildren alike. Talking of smugglers, ‘The Grayhound’, sung by Kelly with McCusker on fiddle and whistle and Francis’s banjo bolstering the arrangement, is an account of the three-master privateer charged by the government with chasing down smugglers’ ships, though the chorus line about pillaging and raiding the south Cornish coast suggests its crew may well have exceeded their mandate.

Co-penned by Brittain and Boo Hewardine, just as Louise Jordan’s latest turns the spotlight on the role of women during WWI, ‘Bal Maiden’s Waltz’ details the generally overlooked contribution of women and girls to the Cornish mining industry, Kelly adding cittern to his guitar parts with Brittain taking lilting lead on a song about how the so-called ‘bal maidens’ would crush, grind and break down the ore sent up from the mine before going home to feed the families, go dancing and break hearts.

Penned by Brittain, but sung by Kelly, featuring harp, harmonium, fiddle and upright bass, ‘Gwrello Glaw (Let It Rain)’ is the first of two numbers in Cornish, a reflective song about living life to the full regardless of what storms come your way. This is followed by the more musically energetic ‘The Cinder Track’, a driving banjo and guitar led stomp forming a sort of tarmac shanty in tribute to the men who build the roads. One of two numbers not penned by band members, ‘Koh-I-Noor’ is, simply arranged for guitar, banjo and accordion, a waltzing Hewardine composition, a musing on mortality drawing comparison between the lengthy existence of the titular diamond and the brief lives of those who coveted and killed for it.

Kelly provides the music for the second of the Cornish numbers, a gently rippling and tumbling airy treatment of the traditional ‘Delyow Sevi’ (winner of Best Traditional Song in a Celtic Language at the 2015 International Pan Celtic Song Contest), the duo sharing vocal duties, Carson tapping out percussion while harp shimmers throughout.

The running order reversed on the sleeve and lyric sheet, ‘Tie ‘Em Up’ is Geoff Lakeman’s rhythmically itchy protest against successive governments’ imposition of EU-agreed fishing quotas and the cost to Cornish fishermen and their families, followed by the sombre and sober anti-war ‘We Will Remember Them’, a track which also appears on their forthcoming Armistice Day commemorative EP, The Names on the Wall, O’Hooley accompanying Kelly on piano.

The album ends with another duo composition, ‘It’s All Downhill From Here’, a lively banjo bouncing singalong romp (again referencing the copper mines of Caradon) celebrating the men who built the railroads, even if the title hints that this was the peak of the Industrial Revolution.

If Seth Lakeman was the vanguard of the revival of Cornwall as a bastion of the contemporary folk scene, The Changing Room are leading the pincer movement.

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 THE CHANGING ROOM – Picking Up The Pieces 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: www.thechangingroommusic.com

SINGLES BAR 13 (I Ain’t Superstitious)

A round-up of recent and forthcoming EPs and singles

Singles Bar 13This year, Armistice Day, November 11, also commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, one of the bloodiest battles of, not just WWI, but all history with over one million wounded or killed. Among the Tommies who fought and gave their lives in the fight for freedom, were at least 13 of the 22 gardeners from Heligan, the Cornish country seat of the Tremayne family. Of these, only four survived. Before they left to do their duty, in August 1914, the men signed their names on the wall of the Thunderbox Room; however, with the gardens quickly falling into decline with the workforce absent, everything was soon overgrown. It was not until 1990, that the gardens were rediscovered and excavations and restorations begin on what would become known as The Lost Gardens of Heligan. During this, buried under fallen masonry in the corner of one of the walled gardens, the tiny room was discovered, on its wall, etched in pencil, the signatures of the men who had tended them. In 2013, the Imperial War Museum recognised Heligan’s Thunderbox Room as a ‘Living Memorial’ to ‘The Gardeners of Heligan’ and a plaque, a Cornish shovel and a WWI helmet now mark the spot .

A further tribute has now been made by THE CHANGING ROOM, a Cornish folk collective fronted by guitarist and singer Sam Kelly and accordionist Tanya Brittain, who, in a joint project with The Lost Gardens of Heligan, have recorded Names On The Wall (TCR Music TCRM75044), a four track EP (the inner sleeve of which features a photo of the gardens’ staff) headed up by the Brittain-penned hymnal title number that, featuring chiming mandolin and piano, movingly recalls the men (“our husband and our brothers, our fathers and our sons”) who went to war (“they read their Bibles whilst in hell and they said their last farewell”) and warm brass from Jason Hawke adding to the poignancy.

The other tracks maintain the theme of lives lost to the war, the stark ‘We Will Remember Them’ written and performed by Kelly and Brittain and taken from their recent Picking Up The Pieces album, while, with military drum percussion from Gareth Young, the latter does vocal duty on her own traditional-styled ballad ‘He Died With His Boots On’ which, touching on those who, returned from the war but traumatised by their experiences, found it hard to adjust to normal life and, like her great grandfather, ended up committing suicide as the tells of the soldier, medals proudly pinned on his chest and bible in hand, prepares to die with dignity. The fourth number returns to the title track, this time sung, fittingly and even more affectingly in Cornish, the whole EP a magnificent tribute to those who served and those who paid the ultimate price.
www.thechangingroommusic.com

stars-and-rabbitThere are very few Indonesian folk-pop duos on the scene so STARS AND RABBIT may be unique. Their first official single will be ‘Man Upon The Hill’ released next month but in the meantime ‘The House’ is available as a free download. It opens with acoustic guitar and Elda Suryani’s lead vocal, somewhat reminiscent of the gymnastics of Bjork. Guitarist Adi Widodo has a distinctive style but before you can fully appreciate the nuances of his playing the record is taken over by a big band. To employ a word that should never be used: interesting.
http://www.abadgeoffriendship.com/artists/stars-and-rabbit1

my-nirvanaSAM JORDAN is a former builder and ballet dancer (go figure) who leads a musical collective known as The Dead Buoys. ‘My Nirvana’ is taken from their forthcoming EP, Thoughts of Paradise, their follow-up to When Golden Morning Comes. Sam describes it as love song if you don’t listen too hard and their experimental approach makes it more rock than anything else with some screaming electric guitar and heavy-duty drums. It’s beguiling enough to make you want to hear more.
http://www.officialsamjordan.com/

peace-of-mindSAM BROCKINGTON is a much-travelled singer/songwriter now based in Bristol and Peace Of Mind is his debut EP. The title track is soulful, almost rocky and that’s followed by his previous single, ‘Follow’. Sam has a very distinctive vocal style with which he twists and sometimes truncates words. ‘Follow’ opens with a clever guitar part – it sounds like an electric played as though it were an acoustic – but by the end he’s pulled out all the stops. ‘Manta Ray’ probably stems from his time in Australia, ‘Cold Feet’ is a gentle finger-picked song, at least at the start, and ‘Unstitched’ follows a similar pattern. Sam has definitely got something here.
http://www.abadgeoffriendship.com/artists/sam-brockington

maria-kelly‘Stitches’ is the pretty new single from MARIA KELLY from County Mayo. Based on acoustic guitar it is awash with strings but still leaving Maria’s voice out front. I wish the words were clearer: a couple of the refrain lines are easy to pick out “Here I go again” and “I don’t know what to say to you” but too much of the rest is lost. The sound is lovely and you can enjoy the record on a superficial level but if a singer-songwriter has something to say it should be readily discernible.
http://www.abadgeoffriendship.com/artists/maria-kelly

The BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2016 winners are…

Radio 2 Folk Awards 2016

The winners of this year’s BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards have been announced at a spectacular event held at the Royal Albert Hall, London.

Now in their 17th year, this major event in the specialist music calendar saw accolades presented for Folk Singer of the Year, Best Duo, Best Album, Musician of the Year and many more, as well as Lifetime Achievement Awards for songwriter Joan Armatrading and traditional folk legend Norma Waterson.

Also on the night some of the most exciting acts in the folk music scene took to the stage for magical performances to celebrate the vibrant folk music scene in the UK and beyond.

John McCusker Band

The evening kicked off with an electrifying performance by the John McCusker Band, and throughout the evening the audience were treated to performances by Grammy Award and BRIT Award nominee Joan Armatrading; British singer, songwriter, guitarist, record producer and film score composer, Mark Knopfler; Mercury Award nominated Sam Lee, Dublin folk band Lynched; a special tribute to Sandy Denny by Rufus Wainwright and many more. The evening culminated in a rousing performance by acclaimed Northumbrian group The Unthanks.

Singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright performed a special tribute to Sandy Denny who was inducted into the Folk Awards Hall of Fame. For the rendition of Sandy’s classic ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’, Rufus was backed by musicians including some who were members of Fairport Convention alongside Sandy in the 1960s and 1970s.

Awards were presented by a host of famous folk fans, including actors Martin Freeman (The Hobbit, Sherlock, The Office) and Matt Berry (The IT Crowd, House of Fools), musicians Richard Hawley and Graham Coxon from Blur, War Horse author Michael Morpurgo and 1960s star Sandie Shaw.

The night also saw the presentation of the annual BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award, which has been finding and championing young folk talent for 18 years. The four nominees in this category also performed live during a special interval programme presented by Radio 2’s Simon Mayo and top folk musician Kathryn Tickell.

Bob Shennan, Controller BBC Radio 2, 6Music and Asian Network and Director BBC Music, said:

“What better way to celebrate the thriving folk music scene than a wonderful night in the impressive surroundings of the Royal Albert Hall. It was a fitting way to recognise the huge wealth of talent and I’d like to congratulate the winners of these prestigious accolades. Here’s to next year!”

The awards will be available to watch on the BBC iPlayer from today and will be broadcast on the BBC Red Button from Saturday 30 April until Thursday 5 May.

The full list of winners:

FOLK SINGER OF THE YEAR
Rhiannon Giddens

BEST DUO
Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman

BEST GROUP
The Young’uns

BEST ALBUM
Mount The Air – The Unthanks

HORIZON AWARD
Sam Kelly

MUSICIAN OF THE YEAR
Andy Cutting

BEST ORIGINAL TRACK 
‘Mackerel’ by The Rheingans Sisters

BEST TRADITIONAL TRACK 
‘Lovely Molly’ by Sam Lee

BBC RADIO 2 YOUNG FOLK AWARD
Brighde Chaimbeul

Gift Band 2016

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
Norma Waterson

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
Joan Armatrading

GOOD TRADITION AWARD
John McCusker

HALL OF FAME INDUCTEE
Sandy Denny

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.

Well, if that was not exciting enough, then why not create your own Albert Hall replica out of those discarded food/ electrical cardboard boxes lying around the house, sit on your favourite cushion, grab a glass of something special and re-live it all again here at:

BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards – 2016: Full Show