ONE BLOKE ONE MANDOLIN – Fair Travels & Fine Times (Mind If I Play Records MI-IPR-2148)

Fair TravelsOne Bloke One Mandolin is better known to his friends as Stevie Simpson. He’s a much-travelled veteran who exists under the radar as far as too many people are concerned and he’s still paying his dues. That can’t be right. Fair Travels & Fine Times is something like his sixth album and it’s a fine piece of work. Live, he lives up to his pseudonym although it’s actually a mandola, the better to make an impact on a bar full of noisy drinkers.

Many of Stevie’s songs come from his life and travels. Take ‘The Lure Of The Road’ – Stevie is a biker and lives in a trailer and the song is a surprisingly tender acknowledgement of the freedom that he enjoys and echoed in the title track. I’m not sure how autobiographical ‘I Don’t Drink These Days Like I Used To’ really is – he was on diet Coke the last time I saw him – but it’s a great song. His style is Americana which makes him welcome just about everywhere with the exception of one town in Germany as chronicled in ‘I’ll Just Call You Clint’, which is very nearly a misprint. ‘(Still) Too Poor For Trailer Trash’ is a revisiting of one of his early songs so I guess Stevie is staying true to his roots.

The other strand of Stevie’s songwriting is history and he is obviously very well-read. The first track, ‘Sweet Dark Wave’ tells the story of the Boston Molasses Disaster and no, I hadn’t heard of it until today either. Back in 1919, a storage tank exploded and two million gallons of molasses flooded downtown Boston killing eleven people. Locals claim that, on a hot summer day, you can still smell molasses but I have to ask how you even find out about something like that. He’s less specific about the origin of ‘One Night In Old Detroit’ but it feels like it’s based on truth and ‘The Arctic Convoy’ certainly is.

Stevie is the sort of guy who knows everyone. On Fair Travels & Fine Times you’ll find Jim Bennion and Jono Watts from Leatherat, Tracey Browne and guitarist Steph Hoy and if you think that ‘A Temporary Boatman’ is evocative of another song, you’re right. He always adds a hidden track on the end of his albums and here it’s the Levellers’ ‘Red Sun Burns’. Sadly, he’s not allowed to record his version of ‘Ernie’!

Chances are you’ve never heard Stevie and I urge you to rectify that. This album is the perfect place to start.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.oneblokeonemandolin.com

‘The Bosun’ live:

CARA DILLON – Wanderer (Charcoal CHARCD009)

WandererFollowing last year’s release of her first Christmas album, Upon A Winter’s Night, Dillon returns to secular form with a predominantly traditional collection, again produced by and featuring husband Sam Lakeman.

Pivoting around an underlying theme of transition and departure, whether that be through emigration or the search for love, it keeps the instrumentation spare and intimate, predominantly built around Lakeman’s piano and/or acoustic guitar, but also with occasional contributions from Ben Nicholls on double bass, Niall Murphy on fiddle and both John Smith and Justin Adams on acoustic and electric guitar, respectively.

There are two original numbers, the first up being the piano-accompanied ‘The Leaving Song’, inspired by “living wakes” held for those about to emigrate in pre-war Co.Derry with its lyric about a mother bidding farewell to a son seeking his fortunes in some other land, with a reminder that he can always find his way home. The other, the penultimate track, the simply styled metaphorical ‘Lakeside Swans’ touches a similar note, here concerning migrants and refugees and the decision to leave their homes.

There’s also a cover, the album’s final track being their dreamily lovely piano-led arrangement of ‘Dubhdara’, the slow-swaying sailing out Celtic anthem written by Shaun Davey for his 1985 album Granuaile.

The remaining seven numbers are all traditional, some familiar, others less so, case in point being the opening Ulster thoughts of home folk song ‘The Tern And The Swallow’ with its references to Lough Neagh, the largest freshwater lake in Northern Ireland, and Slieve Gallion, the mountain in Co. Londonderry. Also with their roots in Derry and nostalgia for home, ‘The Banks Of The Foyle’ concerns a girl forced to leave her true love by cruel misfortune but then learning he’s remained constant in her absence, while, featuring just Dillon and Lakeman’s guitar, ‘The Faughan Side’ conjures memories of an emigrant to America of happy days spent by the bridge of Drumahoe over the titular river.

A fine, yearningly crestfallen reading of the much recorded ‘Blackwater Side’ leads the charge for the better known songs, with its tale of a young lad lying his way into a maiden’s bed with false promises. This is complemented by ‘Both Sides Of The Tweed’, a traditional number given a makeover by Dick Gaughan, here presented in simple style with Dillon’s pure vocals and Lakeman’s piano. She’s joined by Kris Drever who duets and plays guitar for ‘Sailor Boy’, the album’s obligatory death song (you know the plot, maiden dies from grief when her sailor lover drowns) with Murphy on wheezing fiddle. Which just leaves a haunted interpretation of ‘The Banks Of The Bann’, which, combining emigration and thwarted love and arranged for piano and fiddle, is fittingly set to the tune of ‘Lord Of All Hopefulness’.

Her most reflective and most musically introspective album to date, the spare arrangements putting the spotlight on her warm, crystal clear vocals, it is arguably also the best of her career.

Mike Davies

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 CARA DILLON – Wanderer 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.caradillon.co.uk

Promo video:

BIERE DE LUXE – Into The Thicket (own label)

Into The ThicketBiere de Luxe are five guys from Falmouth who don’t say much about who they are except to describe themselves as rural gypsy-punks. They do live up to the punk ethos in some ways. Into The Thicket is very much a collaborative effort in a sleeve that carries minimal information – designer Eloise Pilbeam is the only other person to receive a credit. The band recorded it themselves but don’t say where; on their home page they give themselves nom de plumes and on CD their names are in an almost indecipherable script – I would never have identified bouzouki player Tadgh Shiels, without finding his name in print.

Where they differ from punk is that these guys can play. And they rock. On the one hand there are drums, bass and guitar topped off with harmonica and on the other we have bouzouki,  accordion and keyboards and it’s they way they combine these elements that gives Biere De Luxe their unique sound. The opening track, ‘Up To My Neck In Trees’, begins with raucous bouzouki and harmonica before abruptly switching to fast country-rock. I went looking for the banjo but there isn’t one.

Guitarist Oliver Philp is the lead vocalist although bassist Andy Annear also sings so they may share lead duties. ‘Lost In A Dream’ has a strange echo on the vocals and ‘Rusty Old Blade’ is straight out of Tom Waits’ Swordfishtrombones period complete with oom-pah band sound. ‘Biere De Luxe Theme’ is a relatively conventional instrumental opening with a nice guitar figure before Lawrence Engledow’s accordion takes over and the same combination continues through ‘Gypsy Christmas’.

‘Barley Wine’ takes us back to punk, lyrically at least, but with a jolly tune and even jollier accompaniment – it’s great fun – while ‘Hambres E Incedios’ takes us somewhere between eastern Europe and Mexico. Biere De Luxe mix it up very well and the excellent sequencing of the album pulls you along very nicely.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: https://www.facebook.com/bieredeluxe/

‘Rusty Old Blade’ – official video:

Albion Christmas Band announce their annual tour

Folk music fans can start their Christmas celebrations early with the help of the Albion Christmas Band when the band hits the road for its annual tour on Saturday 9 December.

The band’s annual foray into the musical joys of the winter festival has been described by many as the perfect start to Christmas. This popular show will start in Birmingham then visit fourteen venues around the country before finishing at Bury St Edmunds just a few days before Christmas itself.  The show features a mixture of seasonal carols, spoken word, humorous readings and dance, enhanced by great musicianship and a wicked sense of humour. The band adds a modern twist to its arrangements of traditional tunes and showcases some newly written songs. The show reminds audiences of the simpler pleasures and values of a traditional Christmas and offers them a chance to escape the hustle and bustle of festive preparations.

This year the four band members will share their personal favourites from their extensive back catalogue that to each of them best signify the meaning of Christmas, as well as songs from their latest album Magic Touch. “We’ve spent many years spreading our take on Christmas around the country and have made so many friends on our travels” Simon Nicol explains. “Every night on the tour feels like a family celebration so we get to enjoy Christmas for the whole of December not just one or two days”.

The Albion Christmas Band has been kicking off the Christmas season for nearly twenty years, but it was the last incarnation of the Albion Band that originally created special seasonal shows. From an initial idea by melodeon player Simon Care, a previous Albion band member himself, the Albion Band founder Ashley ‘The Guv’nor’ Hutchings brought together two other previous Albion Band members to create an autonomous band to present a guided tour through the Christmas customs of Britain. Joining Care and Hutchings are Simon Nicol (founder member of Fairport Convention) on acoustic guitar and vocals, and Kellie While (Albion Band), acoustic guitar, vocals and percussion.

Full tour details can be found online at http://www.albionchristmas.co.uk

‘Mad World’ live at Under The Apple Tree:

JAMES FREDHOLM – Love Is The Answer (Honeybee Records GmbH)

Love Is The AnswerJames Fredholm releases the singles ‘Oars’ on October 27th. It is taken from his album Love Is The Answer. The album includes not only this single but also Uncaged, a book of Fredholm’s poetry.

Fredholm grew up in Austin, Texas in the 70’s, played in local bands, recorded jingles for local businesses but then went to university and followed a successful business career. He remained interested in the arts, writing songs and poems and painting – and wondering about the road he hadn’t taken. He founded Honeybee Records in 2013 and his focus and lifestyle are now on the artistic life, describing himself as a poet first and then a musician.

And you feel this in the album. Love Is The Answer is intimate and open, acoustic-guitar-gentle. It is Lyric Poetry set to a musical accompaniment which has echoes of late 60’s and 70’s American acoustic music. I find that if I listen to the album in the car, I enjoy the melody and the style. It suits the enclosed cabin of the car in the same way that it would suit the air-conditioned chill out room in a night club. But if I listen at home, I’m much more drawn in by the words and the lines are too short, the rhymes chasing in on one another and pulling attention away from the melody. “I’m not blind/And I don’t mind/ What you do/I’ve got time/To find the answers/With you” – ‘Me And You’; “Innocent child/It was sweet for a while/And I don’t/ Want to part/From her smile/I want to please her” – ‘Anastasia’

If this is your style, both the lyrics and the poetry are available on Fredholm’s website and you can see him on a short tour at the moment until October 25th, concluding with a gig at The Packhorse in Leeds.

Mike Wistow

Artist’s website: https://jamesfredholm.com

The single ‘Oars’ – official video:

DAVY GRAHAM – Folk, Blues & Beyond (Bread & Wine BRINECD1)

Folk, Blues & BeyondDavy (or Davey) Graham’s Folk, Blues & Beyond is a reissue of his 1965 Decca album on licence to Bread and Wine Records/East Central One, due for release on October 27th 2017. It retains the same tracks and running order as the original vinyl release and the Topic reissue CD from 1999, unlike the 2005 reissue from Fledg’Ling which also included five rarely-seen earlier recordings. It does include the original sleeve notes from producer Ray Horricks and a booklet including a 2016 article for Rolling Stone by David Fricke.

There are few folk-ish guitarists of my generation who haven’t owned or at least heard this album at one time or other, and even fewer who were not influenced by his work directly or indirectly. Indeed, that influence extended far beyond the folkier types who picked up on his use of modal tunings, and eclectic pickers like Bert Jansch and John Renbourn. Even in the 60s/70s it extended into the commercial and rock ecologies with (for instance) Paul Simon and Chicken Shack’s Stan Webb – two of many guitarists who recorded Davy’s instrumental ‘Angi’ (a.k.a. ‘Anji’).

Here’s the track-by-track summary:

  • ‘Leavin’ Blues’ is credited to Leadbelly, though it strays quite a long way from Louisiana and the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) railroad so beloved of so many blues and old-timey singers. The intro has a decidedly Eastern feel, often described as raga-like or sitar-like, though to me it’s more Middle Eastern in intonation than Indian. The main body of the song uses octaves in a guitar figure that recalls Leadbelly’s version while going far beyond it, returning to some Eastern voicings in the mid-song instrumental break. I suspect that this was played in DADGAD tuning: at any rate, it falls off the fingers quite easily that way.
  • ‘Cocaine Blues’ has been a folk club staple for many years: this version apparently derives at least in part from Rambling Jack Elliot – it’s a song with a multitude of floating verses – though Davy’s guitar gives it extra swing and fluency. Still my favourite version, 50 years on.
  • ‘Sally Free And Easy’ is another folk club standard, written (of course) by Cyril Tawney, though more often performed in a more ‘traditional’ manner. I’ve always thought that this rhythmic, drum-driven version has an entirely appropriate maritime-motor feel, though it can be sung very prettily unaccompanied.
  • ‘Black Is The Colour Of My True Love’s Hair’ uses more or less the same lyrics to this (originally traditional) song as Nina Simone’s. Simone used the tune written by John Jacob Niles, as does Davy. Wisely, perhaps, he doesn’t attempt the vocal pyrotechnics that both Simone and Niles tended towards. Not the strongest performance on the album, vocally, but worth it just for the subtle, restrained musicianship of the guitar part.
  • ‘Rock Me Baby’ is one of a group of blues songs with similar titles and themes: the version here is very much as Big Bill Broonzy wrote and recorded it (also recorded as ‘Rocking Chair Blues’) though the drums and bass here augment a typically jazzy arrangement. I suspect that Broonzy, who often played and recorded in a jazz context, would not have been unhappy with this version. I love it.
  • ‘Seven Gypsies’ recalls his collaboration with Shirley Collins Folk Roots, New Roots, released a little earlier if I recall correctly, being a traditional ballad (Child 200) treated to a typical guitar accompaniment, athletic but not flashy. While there are longer, more dramatic and certainly more ‘authentic’ versions, I’ve always liked the way this version, like some American versions, strips the story to its barest bones. I’d love to have heard Shirley sing this version, but I don’t know if she ever did.
  • ‘Ballad Of The Sad Young Men’ is an abbreviated version of the song by Fran Landesman and Tommy Wolf from the 1959 musical The Nervous Set. While the whole lyric bears close examination, Davy’s version gets to the point, and it suits his voice.
  • ‘Moanin” is the classic Bobby Timmons composition, played faster and harder (and more succinctly) than the Jazz Messengers version, and no worse for the experience.
  • ‘Skillet (Good ‘N’ Greasy)’ is a song associated with Uncle Dave Macon, among others: this version, from an unnamed banjo player, is fairly similar to a version recorded by Woody Guthrie, but Woody never played guitar like this. But then, who apart from Davy did?
  • ‘Ain’t Nobody’s Business What I Do’ is a blues standard from the 1920s that has branched off into many variations of tune and lyric. According to the original sleeve notes “Davy says ‘In my lyrics, I’ve chosen to bring out the loneliness side of the song.’” There aren’t too many examples of Davy’s lyrics around, but if these are original, they’re entirely suitable. In any case, it’s a great version.
  • ‘Maajun (A Taste Of Tangier)’ is Davy’s take on “a melody he found in Tangier”. It’s a stunning instrumental track with sympathetic bass and drums.
  • ‘I Can’t Keep From Crying Sometimes’ is a song mostly associated with Blind Willie Johnson, as credited here. However, this is very different from Johnson’s growl and slide version. (I don’t believe I ever heard Davy play slide.) But just as effective.
  • ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’ is a song by some American singer/songwriter whose name escapes me. Faster than most people seem to play it, and it works fine that way. It suits Davy’s voice very well.
  • ‘My Babe’, Willie Dixon’s secular rewrite of ‘This Train’ for Little Walter, was long popular with British R&B and pub rock bands, and probably still is. Davy’s “Chico Hamilton-ish” version swings a little more than was usual in those contexts, and is all the better for it.
  • ‘Going Down Slow’ is a classic if lugubrious blues. This version was learned from Champion Jack Dupree, but the interpretation is pure Davy Graham.
  • ‘Better Git In Your Soul’ (Charles Mingus) is an exquisite example of how Davy, on the right day, could take a jazz theme and make it sound as if he wrote it himself. Fine work (as on several other tracks) by Tony Reeves (bass) and Barry Morgan (drums).

Davy Graham made many fine albums, but perhaps this and Folk Roots, New Roots (which provided a template of sorts for the English folk rock bands that came later) were the most influential. He was capable of phenomenal instrumental technique, and a pleasant voice, if a little erratic in pitch at times. At least as importantly, he defied categorization and musical boundaries, and generations of guitarists have benefited from that breaking of barriers. If you don’t know Davy’s work or this album specifically, you owe yourself the opportunity to hear it.

David Harley

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 DAVY GRAHAM 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 – [VINYL]

Artist’s website: www.daveygraham.moonfruit.com/

There are lots of sites that talk about Davey, but I don’t know that there’s one that could be described as his own. http://www.davygraham.com/ is really just a link to an info email address.

Not on the album but try finding appropriate footage. ‘All Of Me’ – Davy Graham on TV: