Gretchen Peters joins Gate To Southwell 2018

One of America’s most successful singer-songwriters, Gretchen Peters, will be one of the headline acts at this year’s Gate To Southwell Festival in rural Nottinghamshire this June.

Grammy-nominated and recently inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, Gretchen’s songs have been recorded by diverse artists such as Etta James, George Strait, Shania Twain and Neil Diamond, and she’s co-written and duetted with Bryan Adams. Her 2015 UK tour sold out and featured an acclaimed performance at Glastonbury.

Long regarded as one of the best voices in country and roots music, her hit album ‘Blackbirds’ was described as “an Americana tour de force” by The Sun while Uncut magazine hailed her as “one of Nashville’s greatest talents of the past two decades”. Her recent collection, ‘The Essential Gretchen Peters’, features many of her classic songs including ‘Independence Day’, ‘Hello Cruel World’, ‘The Secret Of Life’ and ‘On A Bus To St Cloud’. She’ll be performing in the Southwell Big Top on Saturday June 9th.

Gretchen Peters brings further international class to Gate To Southwell 2018 (June 7 to 11) joining an eclectic musical line up that already includes legendary folk rockers Lindisfarne, great Irish singer Cara Dillon, Denmark’s Habadekuk, Louisiana blues stars the Lil Jimmy Reed Band, award-winning English folk stars The Young’uns, hillbilly Canadians Ol’ Savannah and many more artists.

Another exciting USA newcomer to Southwell in June will be Truckstop Honeymoon, fusing bluegrass, punk rock and soul with music hall jazz and rock & roll. Created by Katie and Mike West, and born in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Truckstop Honeymoon took to the road in 2005 after their home, and their recording studio, were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Since then, they’ve relocated to the Midwest music mecca of Lawrence Kansas but still continue to travel the world with their four kids.

Bargain priced Tier One tickets are still available via


There’s a perfect blend of rising stars, festival favourites and music legends lined up for next year’s Gate To Southwell.

Already booked for the East Midlands’ premier roots and acoustic event are hugely-successful veteran Geordies Lindisfarne, award-winning folkies The Young’uns, one of Ireland’s greatest singers Cara Dillon performing with special guests, Danish roots stars Habadekuk, brilliant Devon guitarist and singer-songwriter John Smith, acclaimed Canadian fiddlers The Fitzgeralds and 2017 BBC Folk Singer of the Year Kris Drever. There’ll also be a special Blues Night featuring Britain’s number one R&B band Nine Below Zero, Louisiana bluesmen The Lil’ Jimmy Reed Band and the UK’s best slide guitarist Johnny Dickinson.

Early Bird tickets (at discounted prices while stocks last!) are now available for the four-day event in beautiful Nottinghamshire countryside from Thursday June 7th to Sunday June 10th. Just follow this link to Gate To Southwell 2018 and grab a bargain –

Also joining the eclectic, international bill there’s Scotland’s Blue Rose Code, the Canadian jazz-meets-klezmer-meets-folk of The Boxcar Boys, acclaimed Southwell regulars Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar, 2017 BBC Group of the Year The Furrow Collective, the megafolk of Birmingham’s The Destroyers, much-loved global troubadour Rory McLeod, highly-rated harmonious Celts Mongoose and award-winning songstress Vikki Clayton.

Plus, with more names still to be announced, there’s the East Anglian Americana of The Shackleton Trio, Derbyshire’s Rogue Embers and promising folk duo Harbottle & Jonas, who’ll all add to the party atmosphere at this most family-friendly of festivals, which also features music workshops, ceilidhs, dance displays, children’s entertainment, a craft fair plus great food and drink stalls.

Still led by Rod Clements, one of their original singer-songwriters, it’s 45 years since Lindisfarne’s first hit ‘Meet Me On The Corner’ cracked the UK charts and made their second LP ‘Fog On The Tyne’ the best-selling British album of 1972. Since then the Geordie folk-rock kings have scored with hits such as ‘Lady Eleanor’, ‘Run For Home’ and ‘We Can Swing Together’. Headlining the Big Top on Friday June 8th, with the late Alan Hull’s son-in-law Dave Hull-Denholm joining the latest line-up, Lindisfarne are guaranteed to get the Southwell audience singing and swinging along.

Gate To Southwell 2009 was The Young’uns first “proper festival” and since then they’ve returned to great acclaim in both 2011 and 2015. Described by Mike Harding as “one of the best live acts I have ever seen”, the life-enhancing North Easterners will headline the festival on Saturday June 9th. Following the great success of their ‘Another Man’s Ground’ collection, their 2017 release ‘Strangers’ looks certain to gather even more folk awards.

Topping the bill on Sunday June 10th, Cara Dillon is regarded as one of the best vocalists and interpreters of traditional songs on the planet. Mojo magazine stated she possessed “what may well be the world’s most beautiful female voice” as showcased on her seventh studio album, this year’s ‘Wanderer’. Cara will perform alongside her husband and musical partner Sam Lakeman plus some very special guests.

Making his first appearance at Southwell, the acclaimed singer-songwriter and innovative guitarist John Smith has become a star of the British acoustic music scene over the past 10 years, performing alongside artists such as Jackson Browne, Richard Hawley, Jarvis Cocker and Rodney Crowell, and guesting on albums by David Gray, Lisa Hannigan and LeAnn Rimes. His recent album’, ‘Headlong’, is a fine example of a “master craftsman at work” (Folk Radio).

Anyone who caught Habadekuk’s last visit to Gate To Southwell will welcome them back with open arms and dancing feet. Regarded as one of the most exciting live folk bands, the Danish nine-piece mix it up with salsa, polkas and big band jazz. Appropriately, their motto is “we blow you away”.

Kicking off the festival on Thursday June 7th, there’s a great feast of blues from Nine Below Zero, Lil’ Jimmy Reed Band and Johnny Dickinson. NBZ formed at the height of punk and went on to become one of the most respected blues bands on the Eighties and Nineties, working with artists such as Eric Clapton, Gary Moore and Chuck Berry. Their extended eight-piece big band appearance at Glastonbury in 2016 won them a new generation of fans and recently they’ve toured extensively with Squeeze.

21st century bluesmen don’t come much more authentic than 77 year old Lil’ Jimmy Reed, who was born on the Mississippi and who’s been playing harp and guitar since the early 1950s, sharing stages with blues legends such as BB King and Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland. He’s guaranteed to bring the gritty sounds of the deep South to Southwell and his band will feature acclaimed blues and boogie pianist Bob Hall. Also on Thursday, while Johnny Dickinson might hail from Morpeth rather than Baton Rouge, he’s rightly regarded as one of Britain’s best blues and slide guitarists. Having recovered from serious illness, this is a great opportunity to enjoy a rare talent.

To buy tickets and find out much more about all the artists who’ve been booked so far, visit the Gate To Southwell 2018 website –

VARIOUS ARTISTS – The Transports – A Tale Of Exile And Migration (Hudson Records HUD007LP/CD)

TransportsTom Paxton once remarked about one of his songs that it originally sounded as if it had been written a century ago, but that he no longer considered that a virtue. Fortunately, Peter Bellamy had no problem with “telling it like it was”. His ballad opera The Transports was, in the opinion of many, the best example of how effectively he could write songs that sounded as if they had been written around the time of the events they describe, which happened in the late 18th century. The Transports – A Tale Of Exile And Migration, released on January 12th 2018, is not, of course, the first recorded version of the opera.

The first recording was released in 1977, and included some enormously influential artists, including some whose influence has survived long after they themselves left the stage. (For example Bert Lloyd, Cyril Tawney, Dave Swarbrick, and Peter Bellamy himself.) The ‘silver edition’ released in 2004 included not only the (remastered) original recording, but also a collection of newer recordings by other artists, including members of Fairport Convention; Coope, Boyes & Simpson; Steve Tilston; and Damien Barber and John Kirkpatrick. This latest CD, produced by Andy Bell, features a younger generation of singers and musicians, including members of The Young ‘Uns, Bellowhead, Faustus, Waterson: Carthy, Whapweasel, and Belshazzar’s Feast, as well as Nancy Kerr, Matthew Crampton and Greg Russell.

This live CD isn’t just a reproduction of the original recording with different musicians, however: it mirrors the touring revival from 2017 (which at the time of writing is just beginning another 14-date tour that ends in Norwich on the 24th January: see the website linked below for details). While it’s still based on the true story that captured Peter Bellamy’s imagination all those years ago, it uses spoken narrative between songs rather than the four sections of ‘The Ballad Of Henry And Susannah’ from the original recording. The narration, by Matthew Crampton, also draws parallels with the plight of 21st century forced migration. Perhaps the only reservation that I have about the CD is that while the narration is very capable, even a new listener might not want to hear it every time after they’ve become acquainted with the story. But in this age of iGadgets and personal playlists, I suppose people are much less likely to simply put on a CD and play it all the way through.

The production also includes Sean Cooney’s own recent song ‘Dark Water’, about Hesham Modamani, who swam from Turkey to Greece in his bid to escape from Syria. Live performances include stories of migration researched by the Parallel Lives project. While the song doesn’t have the ‘traditional’ quality of Peter Bellamy’s songs, it doesn’t jar – on me, at any rate – and it’s an excellent performance.

For comparison with previous recordings, here’s a listing of the songs: there are 28 tracks altogether, including the spoken tracks.

  1. ‘Us Poor Fellows’
  2. ‘The Robber’s Song’
  3. ‘The Leaves In The Woodland’
  4. ‘The Ballad of Norwich Gaol’
  5. ‘I Once Lived In Service’
  6. ‘Sweet Loving Friendship’
  7. ‘The Black and Bitter Night’
  8. ‘Dark Water’
  9. ‘The Humane Turnkey 1’
  10. ‘The Plymouth Mail’
  11. ‘The Humane Turnkey 2’
  12. ‘The Green Fields of England’
  13. ‘The Still and Silent Ocean’
  14. ‘Roll Down’

For reasons of space, I won’t go through the performances individually: the songs are of a uniform high quality (and, happily, the booklet includes the lyrics). The vocals (both solo and ensemble) and instrumental work are never less than very good, though Nancy Kerr’s bravura performance on ‘The Leaves In The Woodland’ deserves a special mention.

If you already have an earlier version, it’s still worth taking a look at this for its change of focus (and, of course, some excellent performances). If you’re not acquainted with The Transports but like the sound of songs that are very much in a traditional vein and tell a fascinating historical story with 21st century resonances, you should definitely take a look. And if you tend to prefer more contemporary renditions of contemporary material, take a look anyway. You might just surprise yourself.

David Harley

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SEAN COONEY talks to Folking about writing songs and life as a Young’un

Sean Cooney

The Young’uns have come a long way in a very short time. I asked Sean Cooney what he attributed this to – apart from natural talent and charisma – and it came down to one word: passion. The beginnings of the group came in a moment of revelation.

“Michael Hughes and I knew each other from school and we met David Eagle at college when we were about seventeen. We were into all sorts of music but we had no idea about English folk music until one night in a pub back room in Stockton. We didn’t know that people sang in their own voices and it was quite a discovery. We became immersed in it and met lots of inspirational people like the Wilsons.

“It was about a year before we had the nerve to get up and sing and we only knew one song – ‘Roll The Old Chariot Along’ – and we didn’t know the verses so we said ‘We’ll sing the chorus if you’ll sing the verses’.” And from such small beginnings, the Young’uns became the phenomenon they are today.

“Ron Angel [who ran the club] invited us to do a full night but we said ‘we’ve only got one song’. He said ‘well, you’d better learn some more’. We nicked most of the songs and we knew nothing of folk club etiquette: him in the corner sings that song, so it’s his and we can’t do it.”

That first booking was in 2005 and led to more and more local gigs. Eventually the trio opened their own club. “There wasn’t a club on the Headland so we started one at The Harbour Of Refuge, known locally as The Pot House, meeting every other Friday.” Having established themselves locally it seems that things just fell into place for The Young’uns. First they were invited by Richard Grainger to join the Endeavour Shanty Men alongside Ron Angel and that took them to Holland, Norway and Whitby where they were invited to The Gate To Southwell Festival in 2009. “We knew nothing about the festival”, admits Sean. Then came Folk East.

“People are often puzzled about how we came to be involved in a festival so far from home and which focuses on the music of Suffolk. We went to the first one and met John and Becky Marshall-Potter, who sold their house to get the festival going, and we got on like a house on fire: they are always up for a laugh. They invited us to be patrons of the festival which means that we are there every year and also at other associated events.”

However, there was one major change still to come.

“There were two points in my life when I thought I’d never, ever write songs; I never should or could be able to because I was so immersed in other songs. The first of those times was when I was completely immersed in the songs of Bob Dylan from when I was sixteen. It just felt then that Dylan said so much and the songs were so all-encompassing that I thought there was never any point in anybody else writing songs. I was completely absorbed by Dylan; his protest songs, his love songs, his pop songs, his blues songs, his gospel songs and all the influences that he took on board. Dylan led me to literature – Dickens and Conrad and Hardy – and poetry like W B Yeats and Keats.

“I sort of grew out of that a little bit although my love of Dylan never left me but when we discovered folk clubs when we were in our late teens and early twenties I suddenly had a completely new passion for traditional songs and I really threw myself into those with the same passion with which I’d immersed myself in Dylan.

“At that point in my life I thought there was never any need or desire to write songs because traditional songs said all there was to say and spoke to me on so many different levels: the old story-telling ballads, the comical little ditties, the working songs of the sea and of the land and at one point I was learning a song a day. I built up a repertoire of over one hundred and fifty traditional songs and I thought that was all I needed to do as a singer and as a follower of folk music. Just keep learning traditional songs and keep singing them because they deserve to be sung.

“That was my background and, looking back now, I was quite snobbish in my attitude and I’d think that I’d only ever sing traditional songs because they’re the best. But as the years passed I began to feel a need to write and it was having that background, that education that stood me in good stead for finding my own voice as a songwriter. It was the time when I moved to Hartlepool, living right by the sea and I was so blown away by the history of Hartlepool and the stories that people would tell me that I decided to write and I had all this inspiration from traditional music. I began to write songs in, I suppose you would say, a traditional style using this vast vocabulary of traditional lyricism.”

Sean’s early songs were, by and large, historical in nature and about the place he lived and the stories of the people around him.

“I sort of believed that’s what folk songs were and, as someone who had studied history, when I moved to Hartlepool I was determined to document its history. There were so many people who didn’t have a grasp of how beautiful and how colourful and how important the history of the area was. I find that quite often: people are so proud of where they come from but are unaware that there are all these songs and stories out there, so I felt that I was on a mission to write as many songs about my local area as I could. It felt really important for us to share the stories of Hartlepool and Stockton.”

You could say that Sean was continuing the great folk tradition of making songs about the places around him and the events that happened there and, while that hasn’t changed, his horizons have broadened.

“It just feels so natural now to write about great stories and to write them in the style and language I’m used to. People ask me, about the new album, will it be difficult to go back and sing traditional songs? I always answer no because it’s all part of the same thing.”

Some of the songs on the new album, Strangers, are about real people who have done extraordinary things and, just a few weeks ago, the Young’uns went on a road trip to meet four of them.

“It was an amazing thing to do and the enormity of it hasn’t quite sunk in yet. I wrote these four songs over a year ago about four people who had witnessed and overcome and achieved remarkable things. I was so nervous about writing songs about real people who I had never met but I was compelled to because the stories were so moving and inspirational. We’d performed the songs, across the world really, for a year or so and as the release date approached we thought it would be a good thing to go and meet them.

“The trip began in Middlesbrough where we met a wonderful man called Ghafoor Hussain who spent thousands of pounds of his own money converting a coach into a kitchen and has spent the last eighteen months driving across Europe feeding refugees, migrants and homeless people. He was preparing for another mission and we sang the song to him on the bus and it was really, really special.

“Then we went to Paris and met Mark Moogalian who was one of the heroes of the Thalys terrorist train attack. He and five other men managed to thwart the intentions of a heavily armed gunman on a train to Paris. He told us with great grace and humility every single thing that went through his head in the moments after he was shot and had to play dead. Because he is a musician and, like me, had been a busker we had this great connection and Michael decided that we should sing the song to him – we began and Mark joined in and it was brilliant.

“And then we flew to Berlin and met Hesham Modamani, whose incredible five mile swim across a stretch of the Aegean [to escape from Syria] inspired me to write ‘Dark Water’. I’d originally heard Heshem sharing his story to the BBC in these simple, stark, beautiful phrases – how he described the deep, dark, cold water and the great fear and the moments when he thought he could swim no more, but also the joyous moments when he swam on his back and could see the stars. To meet him and to hear his story in his own words was something that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.

“Finally, at the gates of Hampstead cemetery we met Matthew Ogston, a man who has lived through an enormous tragedy in losing the love of his life, his fiancé Dr Nazim Mahmood, because of his religious family’s reluctance to accept his sexuality. We sat on Naz’s memorial bench and talked about everything Matt has been through and how his life is now a mission to share his story with as many people as possible in the hope that something so tragic need not happen again.

“It was wonderful to hear Matt’s reaction to the song, ‘Be The Man’, because as a songwriter it’s with great trepidation and care that I go about trying to turn these stories into songs and in the case of this song it took over a year of thought to actually get the confidence to write it and to hear that Matt loves the song so much was a really moving moment for the three of us. He said to the local press, who asked what he thought of it, ‘it was like I’d written it myself’.

Strangers will be released later this month with The Young’uns touring throughout October. In the New Year they return to the stage to tour with The Transports and…

We’ve got some ideas. There’s a whole load of stories that I’m spending many hours trying to turn into songs so we’ve got a few project ideas that we haven’t quite firmed up but we’re just looking forward to getting these new songs out there and reaching out to people.”

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).

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On their recent Talk to Strangers road trip Michael, Sean and David went to meet Matt Ogston, the man who inspired Sean’s Be The Man song at Hampstead Cemetery, where there is a memorial bench for his fiancé, Naz. Here is the new video.

The Young’uns road trip

The Young'uns
Photograph by Elly Lucas

Teesside trio The Young’uns have embarked on a road trip to meet four men who have inspired songs on their acclaimed new album Strangers (out Sept 29) – two in the UK, one in France and one in Germany.

First Sean Cooney, Michael Hughes and David Eagle were in their native Teesside to meet Middlesbrough man Ghafoor Hussain (right).

Songwriter Sean Cooney was touched by the Teesside grandfather’s humanitarian work in 2015 when he converted a bus into a travelling kitchen to feed migrants and refugees across Europe. At one point, in the refugee camp in Dunkirk, he was serving 3,000 hot meals and 10,000 cups of tea a day. The catchy resulting song, ‘Ghafoor’s Bus’ has proved popular both here and in Canada, with its optimistic message.

Today (20th) they fly to Paris where they will meet Mark Moogalian, the 53 year-old French-American hero of the Thalys train attack, shot when he tried to tackle the gunman. Sean wrote the song ‘Carriage 12’ about the incident and the incredible bravery of Moogalian and others who confronted the attacker. Moogalian heard the song and wrote to The Young’uns to say: “Many thanks for this wonderful song – the only thing that has ever brought tears to my eyes regarding what happened that day”.

From Paris the trio will travel to Berlin tomorrow (21st) to make the acquaintance of Hesham Modamani, who fled Syria following the disappearance of his brother and took the drastic decision to swim the Aegean Sea with fellow Syrian Feras Abukhalif. Sean wrote the beautiful song ‘Dark Water’ about this.

Hesham is now studying in Germany and contacted Sean saying “I am honoured that my journey made words for your song.”

Back in London on Wednesday (23rd) they will finally meet Matthew Ogston whose affecting story inspired the song ‘Be The Man’.  Matthew founded the Naz and Matt Foundation to tackle religious and cultural homophobia following the tragic death of his fiancé Nazim Mahmood.

‘Be The Man’ is the first single taken from the album.

The Young’uns will be writing an on-the-road blog and making a podcast of the road trip.

In the space of little more than a decade – and just three years after giving up their day jobs – they have become one of UK folk music’s hottest properties and best-loved acts.

Stockton Folk Club’s star graduates clinched the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards ‘Best Group’ title two years running (2015 and 2016) and last year saw them spreading the net, taking their unique act and instant audience rapport to Canada, America and Australia.

With their strong songs, spellbinding harmonies, human touch and rapid fire humour, they have achieved one of the trickiest balancing acts – an ability to truly ‘make them laugh and make them cry’, while cutting straight to the heart of some of our most topical issues.

On September 29 they will unveil their fourth studio album Strangers – playing their strongest suit to date.  Bold, profound and resonant it showcases the growing talents of Sean Cooney, fast becoming one of folk’s finest songwriters, in a collection of folk songs for our time.

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).

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‘Be The Man’ – radio edit:

THE YOUNG‘UNS – Strangers (Hereteu Records YNGS17)

StrangersThe Young’Uns have come a long way in a few short years. Strangers is their fourth studio album, coming a mere three years after they turned professional. The trio are strong singers, they enjoy the sort of on-stage banter that only good friends can get away with and they have a fine songwriter in Sean Cooney. The theme of the album is, I think, that there are no strangers, or if there are it doesn’t really make a difference. Cooney’s songs in this set are full of “ordinary” people doing extraordinary things on behalf of people they don’t necessarily know.

The album opens with ‘A Place Called England’ which suggests that we are now strangers in the country we thought we knew. They take it a bit fast for my taste but I’ve heard Maggie Holland’s original so many times that it feels “right” now. Next is ‘Ghafoor’s Bus’, the story of a grandfather from Teesside who converted a bus into a mobile kitchen and drove to Europe to feed refugees. To him, they weren’t strangers. Switching from accompanied harmony we have ‘Be The Man’ with David Eagle on piano and Michael Hughes on guitar with support from Rachael McShane on cello and a topping of flugelhorn from Jude Abbott.

‘Carriage 12’ tells the story of the terrorist attack on a French train two years ago. We’re back to unaccompanied harmony with a tune inspired by the familiar cadences of country music that suits the song perfectly. The four heroes of the attack could have run and saved themselves but they stood and fought. ‘Cable Street’ is a story familiar to all of us and ‘Dark Water’, the story of two refugees fleeing by swimming five miles of open sea, returns to the accompanied style and features Mary Ann Kennedy on harp.

Sean borrows the idea of pairing a jolly, singalong tune with a lyric that carries a serious message but he doesn’t overuse it. ‘Bob Cooney’s Miracle’ tells how fifty-seven men in the Spanish Civil War were fed from a loaf of bread and a tin of corned beef. OK, it’s not exactly Biblical but the humour makes it. Arguably, the best song is ‘These Hands’, the story of Sybil Phoenix, the first black woman to be awarded the MBE for fostering children in London but who faced racism throughout her life. The song is uplifting and ultimately ends happily. Finally we have ‘The Hartlepool Pedlar’, about a Jewish refugee named Marks who opened a shop in Leeds and took on a partner – and we all know what happened to them.

So The Young’Uns go from strength to strength with an album of great, thought-provoking stories and they probably have another forty years left in them yet.

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).

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‘A Place Called England’ – live: