SHAKE THE CHAINS – Shake The Chains (Quercus Records QRCD003)

Shake The ChainsEven supposing you knew nothing about this album, a quick glance down the track listing would instantly identify Shake The Chains as a politically conscious project. A new generation of protest songs sit comfortably alongside some old standards.

Despite Edwyn Collins’ complaint in ‘A Girl Like Youabout “too many protest singers, not enough protest songs”, it can sometimes be hard to imagine what it would take, in these trying times, to generate enough protest to effect real change. But here is a delightful set of songs, nonetheless.

Hannah Martin contributes songs of poetic allegory and metaphor. ‘Yarl’s Wood’ evokes the horror of a refugee ending up in a detention centre. The refugee’s flight, “the choice that is no choice” is starkly laid out and overwhelmingly powerful. ‘Song Of The Jay’ uses certain bird behaviours to draw unflattering parallels with some human ones. Similar, but viewed from another angle, is Tim Yates’s song ‘Side By Side’ which delivers a darkly moody lament on social division.

Nancy Kerr delivers a brilliantly tender pairing of poems about Victor Jara, the Chilean musician executed under Pinochet’s regime. This lengthy piece allows the purity of the art form simply to shine.

Naturally, these serious subjects deserve gravity, but there is room for humour, too. Greg Russell’s country-flavoured ‘Bunch Next Door’ is a domestic scale witty deconstruction of political villains, while ‘Ding Dong Dollar’ has a drily sardonic air of resignation.

By contrast, Findlay Napier’s songs are much harder-hitting, with a raw passion. ‘Building Ships’ is a poignant song about his father’s experience of the death of that industry. The album’s title track – as well as a rallying call to action – ‘Shake The Chains’ is punchy, feisty and totally heartfelt. Its central chorus is adapted from Shelley’s poem Masque Of Anarchy, about the Peterloo massacre in Manchester, and a much-quoted work of those standing up for the poor and oppressed.

Of the stalwarts, ‘If I Had A Hammer’ has a simplicity, sincerity and even an undercurrent of anger. Likewise ‘We Shall Overcome’ – stripped back, sung a capella (with delicious harmonies) is revealed afresh as a sorrowful yet hopeful anthem.

The live recording gives an immediacy to the songs: the joy of hearing an audience respond suits the nature of the works. It provides a confirmation bias, a reassurance that the listener is not alone, as well as a desperately necessary response to the current madness in the world.

Whilst we can see how much we’ve moved on from the treatment of Alan Turing, as detailed in Kerr’s touching ‘Poison Apples’, it’s also a reminder against complacency. Rights hard-won may be all too insidiously and easily eroded.

It’s a hard album to review without clambering onto the soapbox, so tightly enmeshed are subject and medium. It is a superb album in its own right, with strong songs, gorgeously arranged and performed. It is also deeply moving: keep the tissues handy, there will definitely be something in your eye. Now, get out there and change something.

Su O’Brien

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 SHAKE THE CHAINS 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.

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Artist website: https://www.shakethechains.com

‘If I Had A Hammer’ – live:

SAM KELLY talks to Folking’s Su O’Brien

Sam Kelly

Pretty Peggy, the much-anticipated second album from Sam Kelly and the Lost Boys is released on 6th October, so Folking.com caught up with Sam, freshly arrived back at home in Cornwall, to find out more.

“I’ve not been back for about two months”, Sam admits, as The Lost Boys have busy been cementing their award-winning position as a firm festival crowd favourite, gigging every weekend over the summer.

“We’re having loads of fun doing it and having a great time and I think that comes across in the live shows”, says Sam, conceding that it’s not necessarily the healthiest of lifestyles and he’s “always one of the last to quit and go to bed”.

Still, it must be nice to get home and recharge, sit around in your pants, catch a bit of rubbish tv, maybe read a book or play a video game? Well, yes. Except that what was meant to be a brief respite before the album launch will, for Sam, revolve around moving house instead. So much for relaxing. Fortunately, though, Sam sounds as though he’s taking this, and everything else, pretty much in his stride.

Remarkably, it’s already two years since The Lost Boys’ debut album was released. Although an acclaimed album, in retrospect it seems that the band was still finding its feet.

“With the first album it was obvious that we were going to call it The Lost Boys as an introduction to the band.

“I always wanted to get a band together. I always heard songs with a full band arrangement in my head. At first we couldn’t afford to do other than a trio: we could all go in one car – nice and easy! There was always going to be a full band when I could afford it – and when I met the right musicians. I wanted it to be collaborative, not a ‘backing band’”.

Looking back, Sam reflects on the less-than-ideal recording conditions. A piecemeal affair, fitting around the band members’ day jobs and wherever they could set up their equipment, it involved such unglamorous distractions as having to wait for Gatwick planes to pass overhead between takes.

“With the first album, there was no other way of doing it. We were all working full-time. It broke the immersion in the process.

“I was pleased [with the album], but it felt quite rushed compared to this album, and the EP we did at around that same time, Spokes. Listening back, Spokes better represented the band’s sound. I would change lots in terms of the nitty gritty – mixes – and, also, some of the songs didn’t quite reach their potential, as they’d been in my head. It’s all part of the learning process”.

Additionally, as the album was effectively a calling card to attract bookings, it tried to capture something like the band’s live sound, leaving little room for studio ingenuity.

When it came to recording Pretty Peggy, however, the band opted for a dedicated period of studio time, staying there full-time so that they could all concentrate fully on it and be more experimental. Not that getting all seven band members together was a simple business.

“We only had two rehearsals with everyone together, it’s so difficult to get time. It was at Jamie’s parents’ in Cumbria – which is a hefty drive from Cornwall – so there was not much chance to get together and write. We worked on a few of the tracks while chilling at festivals. Stuff happens organically like that, but it can’t always, because you can’t always find the time”.

Just as well, then, that they have an established habit of recording demos as they go along, working on songs, thrashing out the basics of tempo and arrangement. It helps speed up the recording process, which is useful considering the expense of studio time.

“This was all recorded in Cornwall in two weeks. We all had the time booked off and knew most of the songs anyway. We sat down and allowed ourselves to be creative for a couple of weeks. The tracks are presented in a way that suits each track more. We had more time to step back and listen to what each song needed.

“Everyone has been involved in the creative process, in recording, instrumentation-wise, orchestration-wise. We lost our inhibitions of trying to do only what we can do live.

“All my favourite albums are the ones that treated the recorded format as a separate art form. On the folk scene this is perhaps done less often, but that’s ok, too: people want to capture particular kinds of sound. But if the album’s treated as a separate thing, it’s different and exciting when you see it live: it’s a different show, wondering how they are going to do that live”.

From squeaky chairs, reverse voices and a fire extinguisher, to grand piano strings plucked with a plectrum, everyone has had a hand in offering up ideas and suggestions for the final mix. The Lost Boys are keen to emphasise their collaborative efforts and have clearly had fun exploring the studio’s possibilities for “headphone moments”.

“My favourite album is Grace by Jeff Buckley. I still listen to it through studio monitors and notice little things I never noticed before. There are little “Easter eggs” buried in the mix”.

Sam, Graham Coe and Jamie Francis also produced the album, allowing them full control over their sound and their treasure hunt of Easter eggs. Sam says he would prefer an external producer – Gerry Diver’s name comes up – but opted to self-produce this time rather than risk hiring someone who wasn’t quite right, given the short timescales involved. Sam enjoys producing, though, and is proud of his production duties for The Company Of Players, whose album is due for release next year.

Working with The Changing Room’s Tanya Brittain gave Sam the inspiration and confidence to ask for musical contributions from guest artists, including Mike McGoldrick, who, following a spectacularly late-night Costa Del Folk jam session, set his fee at “50p and a can of Red Stripe”. Cara Dillon added beautiful harmonies and vocals to ‘Bonnie Lass Of Fyvie’ (the source of the album’s title) and Damien O’Kane provided hot guitar on ‘If I Were A Blackbird’. Geoff Lakeman, dropping by to hang out as the studio was close to home, ended up supplying virtuoso spoons on ‘Angeline The Baker’.

“I didn’t realise then how willing people are to play on things. I forget that these people are all in it for the love of the music. All the people I’ve met on the folk scene are so supportive of young people and of the next generation coming through. It’s very inspiring. It’s the opposite of ‘never meet your heroes’”.

All these factors lend Pretty Peggy an added richness and depth of sound. It’s a heavier, altogether meatier album than the first one, but it’s evident that ‘Chasing Shadows’, the lead single, is quite different in tone. Consciously attempting to make something with greater mainstream appeal, the band then found that the 4-and-a-half-minute track couldn’t easily be edited for airplay. But with some radio play already, it still stands every chance of opening-up The Lost Boys to a wider audience.

Rooted in personal experience, ‘Chasing Shadows’ steps away from traditional third-person storytelling songs, evoking instead a contemporary, emotional mood.

“I’m not a prolific writer, I have lots of ideas that don’t materialise into full-blooded songs. But that one just came out. I didn’t think ‘I’ll write a song for a friend’. I was just moved by what happened and wrote it. If it helps someone stop doing something silly…” Only after he said this, did we realise it was World Suicide Prevention Day, adding a topicality to Sam’s words.”

It’s that ability to combine personal, contemporary songs with traditional material and have them sit seamlessly together that Sam most admires in his favourite songwriters, such as Chris Wood, Chris Drever and Karine Polwart.

For now, as the band prepares to tour the album in November and December, with a second leg to follow early in 2018, The Lost Boys are already beginning to think ahead to the next album. They know it will take time to come to fruition and they fully intend it to be another step forward in working together as a unit.

“We have big plans for next year to get together and write a whole new album with everyone involved in that process, to see what we come up with”.

So, the band continues to evolve and, despite his protestations that he is bad at planning ahead, there are clearly plenty of longer-term ambitions bubbling in the mind of Sam Kelly. He has the confidence and assurance of one who has come a very long way in a few short, hectic years. This is a young man determined to savour every moment and treat everything as a learning opportunity.

Sam Kelly

“I’m conscious of not looking too far ahead, and enjoying the present. When I first started, I was always looking forward to the next thing, but then I realised that gigs and things were going past too fast.

“I think back to when we first started playing 20-30 minute sets at our first festivals. We were keen to prove ourselves and worked on creating dynamic sets, hoping to blow the crowds away and win the audience onto our side. Now we like to have lots of fun and play up-tempo things to get people dancing. But we’re not really trying to please anyone but ourselves.

“We have more creative freedom because we’re not trying to please anyone. We’re known in the folk scene now and are more comfortable with where we are and what we’re doing. We’ve got a licence to be more experimental and creative with the music. It has been a kind of growth and realisation process.

“There’s always going to be something else I want to do, some other goal: wanting to be the best musician you can be.

“I’ve learned to trust my own ideas more. Even if I make a mistake, it’s my mistake. I would rather make things that are maybe not as successful or popular, but I can be proud of it because it’s mine”.

Having proved his credentials in the folk world, he has nurtured the band he always wanted and achieved goals he once considered unimaginable, let alone attainable. And it feels like he’s only just getting started.

Su O’Brien

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 Sam Kelly and the Lost Boys – Pretty Peggy 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 website: http://www.samkelly.org

‘Chasing Shadows’ – official video:

GALLERY 47 – Adversity Breeds (Bad Production Records)

Adversity BreedsGallery 47 might sound like a high street card shop, but is the working name adopted by prolific singer-songwriter, Jack Peachey. Originally Nottingham-based, he relocated to London, has already released three well-received albums and toured with the likes of Paul Weller and Ian McCulloch (to name but two). Adversity Breeds is his fourth album to date.

Adversity Breeds forms the second part of a trilogy. A comparison with Clean – the album that starts the trilogy off – only highlights the optimism and romance described therein. Adversity Breeds is a different beast: spikier, more politicised, the moody offspring of a cross-generational family argument.

From the outset, this is an assured set of songs. Lyrically, they tumble over themselves with densely packed, often oblique, references. Conversational tone is jumbled up with a poetic sensibility. Witty lines squat down unselfconsciously alongside tart polemic.

‘In Odessa’ is a pointed, relevant state-of-the-world commentary set to a beautifully dark piano. Lines like “they loved the sound of his rhetoric, it blinded them to the things he did” are entirely pertinent in these fake news times, as is “And everybody’s got guns, how do you think you’ll stop the firing?”

‘Mr Baudelaire’, a much older song from his repertoire, documents his coming to terms with the random cruelty of the music industry. The vocal, over a gently plucked guitar, shifts from trying to please and getting nowhere, to bitterness at the casual dismissal of his talents, to a final reconciliation with the lottery of success.

‘Copyright Final’ takes a blithe sideswipe at the money-obsessed self-made type who drives “a Porsche Carrera, he lives in the London suburbs, he buys all original vinyl”, but is “just so busy, he can’t see his kids”, all set to a chugging, rolling blues and mouth harp.

Musically, Peachey’s Americana influences are obvious, especially on tracks like ‘Cold Fire’ and the shuffling ‘Your Time’ (this latter also featuring electronic blips and unsettling backing vocals). ‘Emigrate’ is the hard-bitten, harmonica-laden porch blues of a much older man.

The opening song, ‘Sanity Is Not Statistical’, has echoes of the Flaming Lips’ wonky psychedelia. Peachey’s high register vocals also call to mind Wayne Coyne’s vibrato, as well as Elliott Smith’s breathy intimacy.

Peachey shows a keen ear for arrangement, with a delicate interplay of instruments and subtle use of effects. Vocals are often multi-tracked, layered to provide a complex, reverby vocal line or built up into dense harmonies. The overall sound is at once intimate, fragile and slightly ethereal.

It’s a tricky stage, releasing the middle part of a trilogy. It must stand alone, of course – as this album does – but its full context is still incomplete and out of view. It’s a bit like having two slices of bread and some cheese; each is nice enough on their own, but waiting until it makes the full sandwich might be even better.
Su O’Brien

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 GALLERY 47 – Adversity Breeds 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 website: www.facebook.com/gallery47

‘Analytical & Open’:

THE BARA BARA BAND – The Seeds Inside (The Grapes Upon The Vine) (Singaround Records Sing06)

The Seeds InsideFrom the opening rolling guitar of ‘Mists Of Time’, The Bara Bara Band’s second album, The Seeds Inside (The Grapes Upon The Vine), makes itself comfortably at home. The album’s (rather lengthy) title derives from this first song with its Appalachian-influenced jaunty fiddle/banjo interplay and its celebration of heritage and bloodlines.

Traditional music is well-represented and thoughtfully arranged here, sitting comfortably alongside original compositions. A wholly instrumental take on ‘The Wind That Shakes The Barley’ picks out the melody line on banjo, over a drone-like fiddle, before whisking up into a lively rendition of ‘Paddy On The Turnpike’.‘The Barley And The Rye’, delivered a capella, ends with the two voices repeating the first verse in a diminuendo that ends up just barely a whisper: wittily emphasising the song’s dual comic and cautionary aspects.

A very successful – and highly catchy – arrangement of a broadside in praise of Samuel Plimsoll, describes his campaign to regulate safe ship cargo-loading levels (in the face of serious hostility from ship-owning MPs), a change which undoubtedly saved many sailors’ lives.

Child ballad ‘What Put The Blood’ begins with a staccato lyrical delivery over a percussive beat and scraping fiddle. Gradually, the instrumentation grows in force and volume, taking a dip into folk rock before closing with an oddly eerie vocal coda.

The band’s rhythmic capabilities are also on show in its original songs, like ‘Wandle’, a surprising hymn to a South London river, with its delightful tick-tock rhythm and moody fiddle. ‘Before It’s Too Late’ contrasts jagged angularity with an altogether plumper, richer accompaniment.

Modern life is contemplated in ‘Telling Me I Should Know’, as the endless, inescapable methods of communication become the story; the original message seemingly becoming incidental. ‘On The M25’ takes an imaginative diversion from road rage and traffic jams into a calming pastoral idyll of free-roaming animals and bicycle rides.

Grimmer realities are wryly critiqued in ‘More And More’ a satirical observation on capitalism and avarice, that is nicely partnered with ‘Twin Sisters’, a banjo-led skirmish that acts as a palate-cleanser to wash away the preceding polemic. Even more heartfelt is ‘All Look The Same’ a plea for humanity and empathy over the plight of refugees. The warmly percussive tones of the cajon form a suitably muted backdrop for this downbeat song.

Closer ‘All For Me Grog’ is another traditional song. The drunken sailor having blown his wages on drink, smokes and women, contemplates another trip to sea. What could be a sorry tale of a man on his uppers, is instead wildly optimistic and upbeat – just like most plans made in drink.

The band’s distinctly warm and naturalistic English-inflected singing contrasts with (and is complemented by) a generous range of musical influences, including folk rock and Americana. The album is brimming with humour, compassion and energy. With a fine crop of strong songs to sing along with, it’s easy to imagine this band taking a deserved place as regular festival favourites.

Su O’Brien

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 THE BARA BARA BAND 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 website: https://thebarabaraband.com

‘Plimsoll’ – official video:

RYAN YOUNG – Ryan Young (Ryan Young Music RYM01CD)

Ryan YoungRyan Young has already begun garnering what are doubtless only the first of many awards and accolades for his superb fiddle-playing. His self-titled debut album simply brims over with originality and talent: a little sonic jewel. That his fans went out and secured the talents of Grammy-winning Jesse Lewis to produce the album is another huge clue that there is something very special about Young.

Seeking to showcase some of his native Scotland’s less well-known tunes, Young has compiled an album of traditional tune sets in a way that honours them whilst also giving them a complete reworking. There is no slavish homage to tradition here, rather a fearless reshaping of the melody into new stories, where the tunes merely serve as jumping-off points. In this sense, it’s an almost jazz-like approach, circling the melody whilst riffing off exploring new possibilities and opening the sound out in unexpected directions.

Some interesting combinations of tunes are melded seamlessly together by boldness and careful artistry. There’s a key lowered here, a rhythm slowed there, there’s a sidelong glide up to the melody before dancing away again in a birl of slurred notes There’s also a distinct fondness for minor keys – and moody majors – meaning that more than a touch of melancholy sweeps over the album.

On rather better-known tunes such as ‘The Highland Laddie’ it becomes clear quite how distinct Young’s vision is. His interpretation alters the listener’s emotional response to the tune. Somehow it feels intuitive and natural whilst, at the same time, he skilfully manipulates the melodic variations, pushing at boundaries.

While Young’s playing may owe much to the Irish County Clare tradition – the fluid bowing, smudgy grace notes and the lyrical, often slower-paced renditions – it’s also proudly Scottish with its snaps and even an occasionally almost syncopated rhythm (especially as underscored by Leo Forde’s brightly swishing guitar in the second part of the first track). Both Forde and James Ross, on piano, provide restrained, sympathetic and elegant accompaniments throughout, perfectly enhancing the tunesets.

Two of the tracks featured here are Young’s own compositions. They showcase yet another side to his talent, one which will hopefully be featured more in future as his body of work grows. Despite his extensive study and achievement in his field already, a sense of modest self-deprecation comes across in the highly informative set of additional notes that he’s written for the album, and which are available on his website. However, there’s no doubt that he is the real deal and someone very interesting to watch as his career matures.

Su O’Brien

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 RYAN YOUNG – Ryan Young 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.

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Artist website: http://www.ryanyoung.scot/

Ryan with Jenn Butterworth at Celtic Connections 2017:

THE LAST DINOSAUR – The Nothing (Naim Records NAIMDD350)

NothingFunny thing, grief. There might be an immediate gut punch of loss, but the full effects are often only truly recognisable with years of hindsight. The Nothing, The Last Dinosaur’s second album, allows singer/songwriter Jamie Cameron finally to give voice to the grief of losing his closest friend in 2005 after a car accident. The band’s first album, Hooray! For Happiness, didn’t exactly shy away from tough subjects, either, featuring the emotional upheavals of parental divorce and relationship breakdowns. If this all sounds a bit grim, perhaps the most delightful aspect of this band’s sound is that they seem to intuitively handle even the darkest subjects with a light touch. Their music is engaging, moving and comforting, perhaps even a tiny bit uplifting.

The multi-talented trio of Cameron, Luke Hayden and Rachel Lanskey manage to create an ambient warmth, a lightness to the band’s sound that honours the difficult subject matter without ever being maudlin or glib. Perhaps the heavily processed vocals help disguise some weaker areas, but there’s no mistaking the sincerity. Layer upon layer of instrumentation and effects are painstakingly applied until a vivid picture emerges, painting emotions in sound. Each song is a detailed yet semi-abstract emotional landscape.

Another thing about The Nothing is that, like a film shot entirely in flashback, it’s a story told in reverse order, starting off with ‘Atoms’, a reconciliation with the inescapable fact of death. The more ephemeral ‘Grow’ allows that memories, loving and being loved, sow seeds of persistence way beyond our material selves.

Almost like acts in a play, the album seems to fall into sections, each demarcated by instrumentals, the first of which ‘The National Stage’ features rumbling drums like distant thunder over a sheeny wash of piano and synth, with faintly tinkling windchimes.

‘All My Faith’ is an ethereal and dreamy memorial, with its insistent “you will be loved” mantra and handclaps. Mirrored by a similar hypnotic lyrical repetition is ‘We’ll Greet Death’, although here the tone is more existential and insistent. A spare, jabbing start with a low-mixed vocal and skritchy strings builds up to a sax-laden jazz-psychedelia.

‘The Body Collapse’ is a strange, shimmering instrumental with its piano patterns writhing sometimes in conflict, sometimes harmoniously, until a final sonic implosion brings everything to a disquieting halt.

The tiny, intimate, half-whispered vocal of ‘I Couldn’t Wait’ seems like a heartfelt song of literal and emotional running away. There’s a raw fragility exposed here as it gives way to the hauntingly mournful ‘Wings’.

In this final and tonally darkest section of the album, the cymbal sweeps and abstract vocal chorus of ‘On Water’ provide an aural depiction of the car aquaplaning at the point of the accident. ‘The Sea’ opens to the strange arthritic-cicada of a croaky click, before its spacious, echoey sound builds over a melancholy vocal, to unleash a huge emotional catharsis.

By contrast, the final track, ‘Goodnight’, is very sparse, directly addressing the events of the crash itself. It is sad and poignant in its simplicity. It’s a bold move to end on this downbeat moment, a moment that began a totally different story from the one the friends had planned on but, like The Who said in Quadrophenia,the end is the beginning”.

Su O’Brien

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 THE LAST DINOSAUR – The Nothing 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.

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Artist website: http://www.thelastdinosaur.co.uk

‘Atoms’ – official video: