WILL FINN & ROSIE CALVERT – Beneath This Place (Haystack HAYCD012)

Beneath This PlaceIt’s not often that you hear British traditional music played on steel pans but that’s what you’ll find here. Will and Rosie are half of The Teacups, known for their unaccompanied harmony but on Beneath This Place, their debut album as a duo, they expand their musical palette

The opening track comes as something of a surprise. ‘Banks Of Sacramento’ is a capstan shanty, possibly of German origin, from the days of the gold rush and Stephen Foster may have had a hand in it, or even nicked parts of it. Will and Rosie take it at a cracking pace that they couldn’t possibly keep up for a whole album. It may be my age but I find most of the songs to be comfortably familiar. There’s Dave Goulder’s ‘January Man’, Graeme Miles’ ‘The Shores Of Old Blighty’, ‘Paddy’s Lamentation’, Tennyson’s ‘Crossing The Bar’ and ‘The Cottager’s Reply’. They are all nicely done and the multi-tracked ‘Crossing The Bar’ is masterful but they can’t muster any of the venom that Chris Wood brought to Frank Mansell’s poem. Then again, who could?

The instrumental selections are more adventurous. The first set pairs the traditional ‘MacDonald’s’ with a Brazilian choro piece, ‘Tico Tico’, and the steel pans are at the forefront with Evan Carson’s percussion doing sterling work in support. Rosie’s two compositions are both a bit off the wall: ‘Scampo’ is modern mouth music sung over piano and percussion and ‘Gill’s Jig’, written for her mother’s birthday, cleverly incorporates multiple musical styles. Will composed one set, ‘Twenty Months At Sea/The Priory’,  and the final set pairs ‘Midwinter Waltz’ by Larry Edelman (not the most famous composer in the world) and complete with gramophone crackle with ‘Into The Unknown’, the theme from Over The Garden Wall.

It took me a while to settle into Beneath This Place. The playing and singing is excellent and I should mention Sam Partridge’s flute and whistles here. Perhaps my initial disappointment at the selection of songs was overstated – with repeated plays they provide moments of familiarity to contrast with the more adventurous material.

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.

Artists’ website: https://willfinnandrosiecalvert.com/

‘Paddy’s Lamentation’ – live:

PONS AELIUS – Captain Glen’s Comfort (own label PACGC01)

ComfortGreat band name, Pons Aelius. To save you the trouble, the original was a small Roman fort on Hadrian’s Wall so the name reflects their musical heritage: mostly Newcastle with more than a dash of Scots. Captain Glen’s Comfort, named for a tune by piper and whistle-blower Jordan Aikin and flautist Sam Partridge, is their debut album after two years on the road and that experience shows.

Alongside Aikin we have Partridge’s wooden flutes which provide softer shades to contrast with the brightness of strings. Tom Kimber plays mandolin and tenor banjo giving the band four different lead instruments. Actually, that should be five since Alasdair Paul’s bouzouki is as much a lead instrument as a rhythm one. Alasdair also plays guitar alongside Bevan Morris’ double bass and Callum Younger’s bodhran and mixed percussion.

The band’s repertoire mixes original compositions, mostly by Aikin, a couple of traditional titles and some shrewd borrowings, notably Mats Edén’s ‘Yrsnö’ which serves to remind us that they are looking outwards not inwards. It’s the variety of music and versatility of playing that singles Pons Aelius out. The title track starts out a soft pastoral flute piece that gradually picks up the pace and it’s followed by the jazz influenced ‘£75 Fine’ and ‘Oh My Doughnuts’, the first part of which is written by Morris and built around a bass figure.

In another band, Aikin’s pipe part on ‘£75 Fine’ might be played on electric guitar and ‘Oh My Doughnuts’ might use boogie-woogie piano. All through the album the emphasis of the melody shifts from instrument to instrument but they are never gimmicky. Listen to ‘Lament For John Morrison Of Assynt House’ in which the pipes are underscored by Morris’s bowed bass and topped off with Partridge’s flutes. My only criticism of the record is that the piece should have been left to stand alone rather than being paired with another tune even though the pipes return to the original theme at the end.

And as that really is my only criticism I think it’s fair to say that Captain Glen’s Comfort is a very fine debut.

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.

Artists’ website: http://ponsaeliusmusic.com

Captain Glen’s Comfort will be released on 8th September.

‘The Way Is Clear’ – live in the studio:

THE RACHEL HAMER BAND – Hard Ground (own label RHB01)

Hard GroundHard Ground is the debut album from The Rachel Hamer Band: Rachel, Graeme Armstrong, Grace Smith and Sam Partridge. The Newcastle based quartet are the current recipients of the English Folk Dance And Song Society’s Graeme Miles Bursary which helped to fund the project. Appropriately, then, they open with one of Graeme’s songs, ‘Blue Sunset’.

The hand ground of the title is the ground of industry although ‘What A Voice’ is rather more metaphorical. Graeme’s song celebrates, if that’s the right word, the effects that industrial pollution can have. The fumes from the factory chimneys turns the sunsets blue in summer, the Tees is amber-brown and reflects the skies in violet and orange. Hardship and death are common themes of the album and next up is Jean Ritchie’s ‘West Virginia’ an oddly matter-of-fact account of a woman’s response to a mine disaster.

‘The Digging Song’ is the first hint that there might be a lighter side to the band. It’s an old joke that you’ll quickly recognise. Later, Ewan MacColl’s ‘School Days Over’, lauding the nobility of labour contrasts with Alan Bell’s ‘Alice White’ which concerns the suffering and degradation of the women. Between then sits Rachel’s composite version of ‘Gypsie Laddie’, another few moments of lightness unless you happen to be the deserted lord, of course.

The chief melody instruments are Grace’s fiddle and Sam’s flute and whistles. Graeme’s guitar provides the rhythmic foundation with support from producer Ian Stephenson on double bass and cello and Richard Hammond’s percussion although the most notable percussive sound is that of Grace’s clogs! Throw in Sam’s harmonium and the band can produce a really solid sound to back Rachel strong, distinctive voice and can break out into decorative passages without missing a beat.

Hard Ground is an exceptional debut album by anybody’s standards and I predict a great future for The Rachel Hamer Band.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: www.therachelhamerband.com

The Rachel Hamer Band live at Todmorden Festival:

Rachel Hamer Band record debut album

Rachel Hamer Band record debut album EFDSS Grace Smith Graeme Armstrong Graeme Miles Martyn Wyndham-Read Mike Nicholson Rachel Hamer Rachel Hamer Band Robin Dale Sam Partridge The Keelers The Unthanks The Wilsons The Young'uns

A Newcastle folk band with strong links to Teesside is set to record its first album, thanks to a bursary in memory of one of the North East’s most acclaimed songwriters.

The Rachel Hamer Band has been named as the latest recipient of the award made by the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) and the award winning band The Unthanks in memory of Middlesbrough songwriter Graeme Miles who died in 2013.

This is the second memorial bursary, worth £1,200, to be given. The scheme is administered by EFDSS and supported by The Unthanks through fundraising concerts.

A contemporary of Ewan MacColl, Graeme wrote his first song at the age of 14 and after hearing the traditional songs of Tyneside, set himself a 20-year task to create a collection for his adopted native Teesside. He wrote hundreds of songs about the area, finding poetry and beauty in the industrial landscape of Middlesbrough and the surrounding Cleveland hills and dales.

The young Newcastle based quartet will use the bursary to pay for studio time to record their first album.

Fronted by Rachel Hamer, whose family hails from Teesside, the band comprises of fiddle player, vocalist and clog dancer Grace Smith, guitarist and vocalist Graeme Armstrong, and Sam Partridge, a flautist and multi-instrumentalist, and is fast establishing itself as a major force on the traditional music scene in the UK.

Rachel Hamer, speaking on behalf of The Rachel Hamer Band, said:

“We are honoured and thrilled to be awarded the Graeme Miles Bursary. Graeme was a prolific songwriter and champion of North East folk music and we feel privileged to be a small part of his legacy.

“This award is invaluable to our development and we are excited about the award, our new album, and for what the future holds for us. The bursary is giving us the unique opportunity to pay for studio time to record our debut album.

“Our self-produced EPs have sold well at our gigs but we now feel ready to record our debut album. We are excited to start recording the album and the bursary is giving us an incredible start.

“We would like to thank everyone at EFDSS, The Unthanks, and the artists who gave their time to raise additional funds for this opportunity,” she added.

About The Rachel Hamer Band

The Rachel Hamer Band is made up of Rachel Hamer, 23, from Whitley Bay, a previous winner of the John Birmingham Cup songwriting competition. She has strong links to Teesside – her grandfather worked at ICI in Billingham and her father grew up in Billingham. The other band members are Grace Smith, 22, from Saltburn; 24-year-old Graeme Armstrong from Jedburgh, and Sam Partridge, 22, from Glossop.

Together they combine their passion for traditional tunes with Rachel’s extensive repertoire, having been born and bred on the local traditional folk scene, to arrange their innovative and exciting music. Each member brings their own unique approach to their diverse musical traditions.

Folk Radio UK:

“The magic of these four lies in their cutting-edge combination which, whilst steeped in the tradition, has a brilliant fresh sound”  

About the Graeme Miles bursary
The Graeme Miles Bursary scheme is open to artists or groups, aged 18 to 25, in the North East of England, which includes Northumberland, County Durham, Tyne and Wear, and the Tees Valley. The bursary is to fund a significant development opportunity, project or programme of activity that could have a lasting impact on their career.

Applications are invited from individual musicians, composers, and groups who are in the early stages of their professional career or final stages of advanced musical training with a genuine commitment to build a professional career in folk music.

Artists’ website: www.therachelhamerband.com

‘The Witchfinder General’ – live at the Davy lamp folk club: