HARROW FAIR – Call To Arms (Roaring Girl RGO14)

Call To ArmsComprising Miranda Mulholland, violinist with Great Lake Swimmers, and Andrew Penner, Harrow Fair are a Canadian duo who first began working together as part of a Toronto theatre company and who take their name from an Ontario county fair. They both sing, while she plays violin and percussion and he does everything else, everything on Call To Arms including drums, guitar, banjo and assorted keyboards. They describe their music as an amalgam of early country, rock n roll and garage rock, opening number ‘Hangnail’ amply demonstrating their penchant for an urgent, echoey gothic stomp with pounding percussion and scraping fiddle. By contrast, ‘Told A Lie To My Heart’ is all a spare, percussive brooding mountain music adaptation of the old Hank Williams number while ‘I Will Be Your Man’ is a scurrying call and response thumping rusty blues with shaker, bass drum and rimshot percussion, the title refrain somehow sounding more like a threat than a declaration of love.

The melodically simple ‘Held Tight’ is a little different in that, Penner singing lead, it adopts a Celtic folk hue, gradually swelling towards the close, but then it’s back to grungey business with Penner growling and Mulholland getting sassy for the kick drum propelled title track boogie with pulsing fiddle and throbbing bass. At which point they decide to throw in a field recording titled ‘Harrow Fair Pig Auction’ which is exactly that, 82 seconds of two auctioneers selling some porkies while the pair provide distorted backing. It may have seemed like a good idea after a few drinks, but it’s unlikely anyone’s ever going to play it twice, at least not on purpose.

Getting back on track, ‘How Cold’ creeps up quietly and slowly, eventually announcing itself as a traditional sounding folk number with Mulholland on near acapella hymnal lead before the atmospheric, resonant backing builds behind her. It’s a transfixing number, headily reminiscent in sound and tone of Tim Buckley’s ‘Song To A Siren’.

They keep things mournful for the brooding bass and violin led dark folk ‘Emmaline’ (originally featured on her 2014 solo album), a brief fiddle and synth hissing instrumental, ‘The Hunt’, bridging the path to the prog-rock blues riffery of ‘Bite The Way’ with Penner’s distorted mixed back vocals, a number you could imagine being on Jack White’s mix tape. After this, it ends on a more tranquil note with ‘Been There Ways’, the pair sharing vocals while Mulholland provides a Celtic fiddle vibe to an overall lysergic folk ambience that may well have a touch of the Velvets to its DNA.

The actual Harrow Fair is a big thing in Essex County, the titular duo are likely to attract visitors from a far wider radius.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website: www.harrowfair.ca

‘Told A Lie To My Heart’ – live:

Keith James releases new solo album

Keith James

Keith James has become one of the most active and inventive concert artists currently performing in the UK.

A very accomplished sound man with a BBC Maida Vale background, he worked for more than a decade as a record producer (1991 – 2004), working on albums with many of this country’s profoundly talented musicians and writers.

Realising his definite preference for live performance and following a detailed study, 2001 witnessed Keith begin a UK wide tour of concerts based entirely on his love of the songwriter, Nick Drake. As Nick’s music had never been heard live by today’s music audience (he died in 1974) these concerts soon became a huge success; over the course of 15 years, Keith has played over 2000 of these shows in the UK, Ireland, Holland, Spain, Italy and France, all of Nick’s Colleges and almost every British acoustic music festival including Glastonbury.

On from this, Keith has performed many different concerts over the past 10 years. Each one centres on studies and transcriptions of revered poets and writers and includes a significant amount of biographical material. The most notable of these are two CD Albums and two hugely successful tours featuring the poetry of Federico Garcia Lorca set to music – The Gypsy Ballads 1928 and Poet in New York 1930. Other important projects are a CD album and concert tour featuring a collection of poetry by Dylan Thomas and an ongoing busy schedule of bio-doc concerts spanning over 6 years performing interpretive versions of songs by Leonard Cohen.

Keith is fiercely independent and therefore his career has for many years, existed in a parallel universe, almost under wraps, esoteric and secretive. He has enjoyed very little radio exposure, he doesn’t fit easily into any music category, he has never signed a recording or publishing deal. Despite this, he has released 13 CD Albums, all self-produced and self-published. The most recent from 2015 is entitled Always, a collection of his own poetry set to music along with one by Pablo Neruda from the 1930s.

He is about to release a brand new album, Tenderness Claws, all settings of poetry to music including work by Jack Kerouac, Pete Brown (1960s British beat poet) William Blake, Allen Ginsberg, Federico Garcia Lorca and some of Keith’s own. This time, and rather unplanned, he has teamed up with the amazing producer / sound artist, Branwen Munn.

Keith lives in a writing retreat, way up in the hills of Powys, Wales and some months of each year in Andalucía. Since the mid ‘70s, his third home has been the Island of Naxos, Greece. He currently performs around 100 concerts per annum in Theatres, Arts Centres and other inspiring boutique spaces such as Galleries and Arts Cafes. He is currently compiling a volume of his own poetry to be published in 2017 along with some sporadic work on a rather surreal and somewhat comedic novel.

Artist’s website: http://www.keith-james.com/

Not from the new album but we’re not counting. ‘Chelsea Hotel #2’ from the Songs Of Leonard Cohen tour:

Matt Gresham – first London headline show

Matt Gresham

Fresh from supporting UK’s James Arthur on his 16-date March tour, Perth born singer songwriter Matt Gresham has announced his first London headline show at The Islington on Friday 26 May. Tickets are on sale now.

Now residing in Berlin after signing to Warner Germany, Matt is delving into a new chapter of creativity. His recent single ‘Survive On Love’ which was co-written with up and coming LA based producer Jaymes Young (London Grammar), marks a new beginning for the Australian musician.

The last two years have been non-stop for the singer, with a sold-out Australian tour already under his belt plus several well-received performances at SXSW, winning ‘Song of the Year’ at the Western Australian Music Awards and not least playing to two sold-out crowds at Shepherds Bush Empire on the James Arthur tour, Matt has already built a strong and loyal fan base and this is only the beginning.

This show will undoubtedly mark Matt as one of 2017’s ones to watch and showcase his talent to a whole new audience.

Artist’s website: http://mattgreshammusic.net/home

‘Survive On Love’ – official video:

DONALD BLACK – Bho M’ Chridhe (own label DB05CD)

Bho m' ChridheScottish Celtic harmonica might seem like something of a niche market and that’s what I thought at first – but wait. Bho M’ Chridhe translates as From My Heart and that is exactly where this music comes from. The tunes come from all over Scotland and even further afield and feature tunes from Donald’s old friends and musical partners, some played by relatives of the composers, and a fiddle made by his great-uncle.

You know what harmonica sounds like, right? Forget all that – actually there are a few bars of train blues on ‘The Highland Express’, but let’s leave that aside for a moment. Harmonicas are free reed instruments like concertinas, accordions and many others and Donald treats them as such. Oddly enough, the bagpipes are not free reeds but several times I looked to see who was cheating by playing pipes. To put it simply, he is a virtuoso and though fans of blues harp and jazz players will point to their heroes in Donald Black’s hands the harmonica will sit up and beg. Not because of speed, although the second set ‘Pipe Reels’ could raise blisters, but because of flexibility and feel and an understanding of what the instrument can do.

Styles range from the old-fashioned dance band sound of ‘2/4 Marches’ and ‘Highland Schottishe’ to beautiful haunting slow airs like ‘Cumha Mhic Criomain’ and ‘Jimmy Mo Mhile Stòr’ through ‘Gaelic Melodies’, jigs, reels, polkas and waltzes. Donald has a fine cast of supporting musicians: melodeons, accordions, fiddles and keyboards and players include Runrig’s Malcolm Jones, Blazin’ Fiddler Alan Henderson and Skerryvore’s Alec Dalglish who plays the most beautiful electric guitar on Blair Douglas’ ‘New Island Waltz’.

So Bho M’ Chridhe isn’t a solo album in the strictest sense nor is it an academic performance of tunes. It is varied, beautiful, exciting and a whole lot of fun.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: http://donald-black.com/

This is an old film but it really shows off Donald’s playing of a slow air, ‘The Cuckoo’:

Hannah’s Yard announce exciting debut album

Hannah's Yard

A knock at a recording studio door during the Spring of 2010 and a 14 year old schoolgirl accompanied by her mother, wanted to record a song to be played at her Grandad’s funeral. When she opened her mouth to sing, the producers were left speechless… and for all the right reasons.

Hannah was invited back to their studio several times, recording song demos for Nashville song-writing pitches whilst she was still only 15 years of age. By the age of 17, this unique vocal talent was ready to embark upon a professional musical journey. Hannah’s Yard – the studio is in a little place called The Yard – is a creative collective comprising Hannah Layton Turner, Barnaby Pinny and James Reader (songwriter/producers).

Encompassing a range of different styles – mostly on the acoustic pop side of pop/jazz/folk/country, Hannah has already been compared to a young Katie Melua. Beginnings, the debut album features fourteen songs recorded in Hannah’s home town of Olney… the small English town where ‘Amazing Grace’ was written in the 1770s and aptly, the album includes the Hannah’s Yard version. It is a collection of songs about life and love, presented with Hannah’s voice to the fore.

In the year or so since being discovered by BBC Introducing, Hannah’s Yard have released a series of singles, all of which have been supported by BBC local radio as well as BBCR2. Hannah’s Yard have several radio interviews lined up to promote the album including BBC Three Counties, BBC Oxford and BBC Warwickshire & Coventry, as well support from BBCR2. They continue with live dates opening for Gordon Haskell.

Artists’ website: https://www.hannahsyard.com/

‘Why Would I Know’ – official video:

LIANNE HALL – The Caretaker (Market Square MSMCD182)

CaretakerLianne Hall used to be a punk. She was a member of Witchknot but I rather think that she was punk in the way that The Stranglers were; embracing the ethos but having rather superior musical skills. She’s originally from Peterborough and lived in Brighton before moving to Berlin. After her punk days she was into alt-folk and electronica and The Caretaker is her fourth solo album. I tell you all this because it goes some way to explaining the style and autobiographical nature of this album. It’s not a record that you’re necessarily going to get on first hearing.

The album title and the song ‘The Last Song Of The Caretaker’ stem from Lianne’s last days in Brighton when she was caretaker of the West Hill Hall and occasionally gigged there. It contains some wonderfully matter-of-fact lines about sweeping the floors and locking up before leaving for the last time. She says that she “used to be a pillar of my community”. ‘Amp On Fire’ is another true story – who’d be a musician?

The underlying theme of the record is transition and the courage it takes to change your life. The Caretaker was recorded in Berlin in as few takes as possible with lots of percussion, keyboards and electric guitars; not played in a rock style but echoing, bell-like notes. The recording was strictly analogue except for the CD transfer but it is suggested that the best way to hear it is on vinyl. The other two guitarists are Felix Müller and co-producer Alexander Paulick with drums and percussion courtesy of Sebastian Vogel and Nolan Churn and between them all they produce a wonderfully spacey sound, hypnotic in places that is epitomised in the closing song ‘The Ocean Is Broken’.

From my first hearing of Lianne a few weeks ago, I knew I was going to like her music and I was right.

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 LIANNE HALL – The Caretaker 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.liannehall.com

Teaser video: