Chris Leslie announces new album

Chris Leslie announces new album

Yes, it’s true.

Somehow between writing and performing with Fairport Convention, working on his side gig with St. Agnes Fountain and collaborating with other musicians, Chris Leslie has carved out enough time to write and record a new 12-track solo album that he hopes to release around the first of the year on his own Paws Records.

“I’m really pleased with it so far,” said Leslie of the album. “I play some of the brand new songs in my solo gigs. They have seated in nicely.”

The album, which has a working title of Turquoise Tales, after an instrumental track he wrote for this album, includes three songs that he recorded with Fairport and has rearranged

Think of the songs as something akin to a book series installment as literate Leslie continues to illustrate the rich history of his Oxfordshire homeland through song.

Such was the case a few weeks ago at the Wessex Acoustic Folks Club, Blandford, Dorset. Leslie played his song ‘The New Fiddle’, which features the story of 18th Century violinmaker Benjamin Banks of 1760s in Salisbury.

“To make the club night extra special, Salisbury resident Trevor Marks brought his Benjamin Banks violin to the club,” said Kathy Dunn, who attended the performance. “Chris played it while singing the song.”

The multi-instrumentalist also melded Native American-flavored tunes into his set list with several songs including ‘Geronimo’s Cadillac’ by Michael Martin Murphy.

Little wonder that Mark Pidgeon was jovial in announcing that Leslie agreed to become and patron of Wychwood Folk Club.

“Our club is yet to reach two years old so getting the word out to the local populace has been hard work,” said Pidgeon. “Having a patron, especially a really big name like Chris Leslie as our figurehead helps, to spread the word that we are a serious folk club and not a Singaround/Karaoke type of club that are springing up in pubs/bars everywhere in the U.K….We are serious about the music we put on and are trying to mix some of the top local artistes in with the more established names.”

If you want to see Leslie in a solo concert, hurry. He only has a few dates left until he begins touring with St. Agnes Fountain and others.

Nancy Dunham

As a nice addition to this fantastic article, we have also included the Interview that Darren Beech and Paul Johnson did with the lovely Chris Leslie backstage at Cropredy 2015. Click on the player below to start the interview.

Chris Leslie Crop Interview Photo 2015

Artist’s website: http://www.chrislesliemusic.co.uk/

ST. AGNES FOUNTAIN – Christmas Is Not Far Away (Cuppity Records CUP007)

Layout 1It’s been 14-plus years since Fairport Convention’s chief songwriter, co-lead singer and multi-instrumentalist Chris Leslie, songwriter-musician and all-around renaissance man David Hughes, and Chris While and Julie Matthews (the renowned folk duo While and Matthews) joined together for a holiday side project called St. Agnes Fountain, fondly dubbed the Aggies by loyalists.

The quartet and its fans will tell you their musical magic is only fully unleashed during their as-soon-as-they-are-announced sell out concerts across England. That is further reason to celebrate the artistry of their albums. Christmas Is Not Far Away, the Aggies’ just released ninth album, is now available online and at upcoming shows.

The album features the Aggies at their best – both individually and as a group. Chris Leslie’s bewitching musicianship (don’t miss ‘Old Time Christmas on the Front Porch’), Ms. While’s and Ms. Matthews’ enchanting harmonies (‘Shadows of the Past’) and Mr. Hughes’ amusingly irreverent word play (‘Immortal Irreverent’) combine to make this a stand out offering.

St. Agnes Fountain
St. Agnes Fountain

At first, I was disappointed by a few songs on this album including ‘The Heart of Christmas Day’ by Ms. Matthews.

Perhaps that’s because a disproportionate number of artists who released holiday albums this season have included several songs aimed toward the despondent. Over the Rhine’s Blood Oranges in the Snow, comes immediately to mind. But Over the Rhine acknowledges their holiday music is for those who struggle with the season.

When I originally heard the song penned by Ms. Matthews, I thought it was a bit of an outlier in an otherwise joyful album. I was wrong. The more I listened, the more I found that and other atypical Aggies’ songs intriguing, especially as they are sequenced.

Christmas is Not Far Away is a charming respite from the too jolly and too sorrowful holiday music that is readily available. Like the Aggies’ tour, expect this album to become a part of your holiday tradition.

Nancy Dunham

St. Agnes Fountain website: http://www.whileandmatthews.co.uk/aggie.php

The Aggie’s encore from last year’s tour:

 

Chris Leslie of Fairport Convention Releases Origins

Chris Leslie of Fairport Convention Releases OriginsWhen Paul Johnson and Darren Beech of Folking interviewed Chris Leslie at the 2008 Cropredy festival, Fairport Convention’s main songwriter and multi-instrumentalist joked that the festival site Oxfordshire is the center of the universe.

As the saying goes, many a truth is said in jest. So it may well be in this instance. Leslie’s traveled a long way, literally and figuratively, since he was a young, self-taught fiddler in Banbury, dreaming of joining Fairport. And while he’s won acclaim for his work with the band and his mastery of an array of other musical genres, it’s clear his allegiance is to the Fairport-styled Folk that captured his youthful heart. Indeed, Oxfordshire remains the center of his universe.

Doubters need only listen to Origins, Leslie’s just-released solo album, for confirmation.

It’s almost unnecessary to say that Leslie’s musicianship and vocals are as strong as at any time in his career. Anyone who follows Fairport or Leslie’s side projects — Feast of Fiddles and St. Agnes Fountain — know that’s obvious.

But it’s even clearer here because Leslie supplies all vocals and instrumentation as he moves gracefully from traditional folk (Sandy Denny’s “Sweet Rosemary,”) to country-flavored rock (Michael Martin Murphey’s “Geronimo’s Cadillac,”) to pure Native American music (his own “Tipis in the Snow”) on the 13-track album. And stand-out track “Lost Bird,” is just pure beauty.

It must be tempting for the multi-instrumentalist to make his arrangements complex, but Leslie’s fans know he always leans toward keeping his sound pure though a close listen will reveal its sophisticated intricacy. The Beach Boys’ songs come to mind for comparison (though the artist himself would certainly disagree with any comparison of his work to the legendary Brian Wilson just as he does with comparisons to Fairport’s past songwriters including Sandy Denny, Richard Thompson and Dave Swarbrick).

Fans of Leslie’s last two solo albums ­­–– The Flow and Dancing Days — will find the same sophisticated yet accessible music on this album and likely trace the mastery of many of these songs back to their Origins.

What’s different here, though, is that Leslie really lets his listeners hear him soar on these songs, half of which he wrote himself.

The result is a sophisticated musical tapestry that explores multiple facets of the “Origins” of the artist and all of mankind.

In less capable and cultured hands, the album could easily be the musical poster child for multiple musical personalities.

But under Leslie’s masterful artistry, the album can only be described as an enchanting and often spellbinding tour de force.

Find out more about Chris Leslie and order Origins on his website.

NANCY DUNHAM / @NancyDWrites

Two Simons Singing: The Albion Christmas Band Celebrates 15 Years with 15+ Answers

The Albion Christmas Band

‘Tis the season that The Albion Christmas Band is out making merry music throughout England. This year band mates Ashley Hutchings, Simon Nicol, Simon Care and Kellie While are also celebrating 15 years together as a band.

Simon Nicol and Simon Care gamely agreed to answer (or at least consider answering!) 15 questions about the band, the music, and their own holiday traditions. Take a look at the answers and then be sure you have your tickets for an Albion Christmas Band show.

1. What’s your first memory of playing with the Albion Christmas Band?

Simon Care: “First memory is thinking how privileged I was to be sitting next to the legend Simon Nicol.”

2. What’s the best compliment a fan ever gave you as part of Albion Christmas Band?

Simon Care: “Lots of audience members say that the show makes their Christmas and wouldn’t be the same with out it.”

Simon Nicol:  “A lady came up to get a couple of CDs signed once, and she had a couple of teenagers with her as well as her white-haired mother and aunt. She said it was the first and only time the three generations had been out to anything as a group, and that they had just the best time together: that the show had that cross-generational appeal. It made her year to have her family complete in that way.”

3. What is your first ‘Spinal Tap’ moment with The Albion Christmas Band?

Simon Care: “The ‘Spinal Tap’ moment has to be doing the Christmas show in May at Folk On the Pier Festival. It was totally surreal, the whole audience got into the Christmas spirit!”

4. How does The Albion Christmas Band differ from some of the other holiday folks groups out there?

Simon Care: “I think it’s different because we don’t concentrate solely on traditional material. We look at all aspects of Christmas and winter customs using traditional and contemporary material.”

Simon Nicol: “By keeping it simple and un-showy. Apart from the odd occasion when Simon Care demonstrates his mastery of the arts of Terpsichore, I think it’s like watching a radio programme.”

5. How does your family celebrate Christmas?

Simon Care: “Usually at home on Christmas day then out with my Morris side on Boxing Day.”

Simon Nicol: “Every Christmas Eve we go to our local theatre’s Pantomime show and boo the villains and cheer the happy couple who overcome all in the name of love. Then it’s all back to the house for beer wine and snacking…”

6. Do you do holiday shopping when you tour (obviously with The Albion Christmas Band)?

Simon Care: “Yes me, Kellie and Ashley usually try to visit one of the big shopping centres during the tour, Bluewater, Trafford Centre or one of those.”

Simon Nicol: “Well, the first thing is to get Kellie something for her birthday, as it falls on the 17th of December, so I probably pick up something for the kids while I’m browsing…It can fill in the odd hour on days when the drives aren’t too huge. Getting parked up near the shops in those weeks is never easy though.”

7. What is your favourite part of touring with The Albion Christmas Band?

Simon Care: “Favourite part is spending time with Simon, Kellie and Ashley. Great friends as well as work colleagues.”

Simon Nicol: “Possibly having the day to myself just driving on my own, stopping when and where I want. I love my car and all the rest of the year I’m part of a travelling pack of musos so it’s a complete change of pace.”

8. What’s one thing your fans might not know about The Albion Christmas Band?

Simon Care: “We are the longest surviving Albion line-up in the Albion families 40 year history.”

9. Is there one song you’re especially looking forward to playing this year?

Simon Care: “‘The January Man’ by Dave Goulder, sung beautifully by Kellie.”

Simon Nicol: “‘The Frozen Man’ is back – the James Taylor song. Love it!”

10.What’s your favorite traditional Christmas song (whether the group plays it or not).

Simon Care: “‘On Christmas Night all Christians Sing.'”

Simon Nicol: “‘In The Bleak Midwinter,’ which we do include some years…”

11. If you could have one special musical guest perform with the band, who would it be and why?

Simon Care: “I think it would have to be Richard Thompson, just  because he is such a lovely chap and would be a delight to work with.”

Simon Nicol: “Kellie’s mum, Chris. Because their voices are blend made in heaven. But she’s always out on the road with her own outfit, St Agnes Fountain…”

12. What’s the one thing you always take with you on tour?

Simon Care: “My melodeon, toothbrush and wallet. I can buy anything else.”

Simon Nicol: “My MacBook. And my American Express card! Hang on, that’s two things.”

13. Set the record straight. Is there anything people believe about you or the band that isn’t quite true? Or –– start a rumour!

Simon Care: “I think people think that I have earned lots of money from music and live in a big posh house. Untrue.”

14. Do you have any pre-show rituals?

Simon Care: “We do like to have a nice meal and usually have a few glasses of wine to settle the nerves.”

Simon Nicol: “Taking Mr. Care for a beer or two while Kellie titivates and Ashley counts and sells the merchandise!”

15. Share a funny or heartwarming fan story.

Simon Care: “A few years ago two friends of mine came to see us in Huddersfield with their young grandson (5 years old). They contacted me to tell me that now aged ten I inspired him so much he is playing the melodeon and wants to be a professional Morris dancer.”

— By Nancy Dunham

CHRIS WHILE AND JULIE MATTHEWS – Infinite Sky Fat Cat FATCD027

CHRIS WHILE AND JULIE MATTHEWS Infinite SkyChris While and Julie Matthews have been making music together for twenty years now, first with The Albion Band and currently with St Agnes Fountain as well as solo and as a duo. They make classy records and this, their eighth studio album together, is no exception.

The album opens with the up-tempo, vibrant ‘This Beautiful Life’, a song which could open or close a live set with equal impact. Here it sets the tone of a record which is full of optimism even when the subject might suggest otherwise. Better perhaps to say defiance in the face of catastrophe: Christchurch after the earthquake and 9/11; or stoicism when times are less than perfect. The new Radio Ballads song, ‘Nie Wieder’, about German Jewish athlete Gretel Bergmann, is the epitome of Julie’s song-writing. There is no triumphalism in her belated honours in her homeland but the statement that ‘nothing cleans the memory’ leaves a deep sense of sadness. Continue reading CHRIS WHILE AND JULIE MATTHEWS – Infinite Sky Fat Cat FATCD027

St. Agnes Fountain The Twelve Years of Christmas Reviewed!

I’ll just admit it; I’m jealous of those that can celebrate the holiday season with St. Agnes Fountain’s live and newly recorded music “The Twelve Years of Christmas.” In a season filled with holiday albums and tours from artists ranging from Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta to Cee Lo Green, the just-released St. Agnes Fountain album is truly a holiday jewel of re-imagined traditional and more contemporary music. Like most jewels, this one is rare. It’s available, for now anyway, only at the Aggies’ concerts, which are only in the U.K. Yet even those that need to wait to purchase copies should not miss the chance.

The quartet – acoustic guitarist, songwriter and author David Hughes, Fairport Convention’s Chris Leslie, and award-winning folk duo Chris While and Julie Matthews – have created a 13-track holiday album that sways from reverent to lighthearted to downright humorous especially on Hughes’ witty “Christmas Thoughts and Prayers,” a true hoot. But overall, the collection is as warm and intimate as a cup of cocoa on a cold winter night.

It’s a fair bet that the acoustic version of the J.S. Bach classic “In Dulci Jubilo” will rightly receive the most notice from critics and fans. Yet other songs – notably the breathtakingly beautiful “All Through the Night” that features Chris Leslie’s haunting, angelic lead vocals – are equally deserving of rich acclaim. Other don’t miss tracks include Beth Nielsen Chapman’s elegant “There’s Still My Joy,” and the joyful “Ding Dong Merrily on High.”

Indeed, this album is just another reminder of why St. Agnes Fountains deservedly carry the “super group” moniker though they speak to individual listener’s hearts. Nancy Dunham

Tour dates link: http://www.whileandmatthews.co.uk/tour.php

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