Robin Adams – new album and single

Holy Smoke

New single – ‘Holy Smoke’

The Garden, the fourth studio album from Glaswegian acoustic performer Robin Adams, most certainly has a 19th century aesthetic throughout. Much of the album’s content stems from a huge influence from the life and death of Vincent Van Gogh, Adams’ lyrics really channelling his profound appreciation for the man and his seemingly unflinching dedication to his work, and the sacrifices he made for art’s sake. He notes how Van Gogh’s relationship with both the darkness and the light of existence were so inherently tied to his unique expressive art form, and in order for him to capture these wild energies in his work, he had to first invite them and become them, often to his physical and mental detriment, going on to say;

“He was willing to put himself through that turmoil without question, regardless of a distinct lack of success. That is something that as an individual scares me and as a songwriter and artist I am in awe of. I soon realised that his influence on me was far too substantial to be worked into one song. His effect on me was more deserving of a full body of work and so it unravelled from me very naturally and quickly. Most of creativity is stumbling on the muse and then everything else tends to fall into place.”

Drawing on influences like Bert Jansch, Nick Drake, John Fahey, Vincent Van Gogh, Neutral Milk Hotel and Arthur Rimbaud, the record has a predominant theme throughout. Although two of the ten songs are themed on the tragedy of war and one poem in particular by Arthur Rimbaud, ‘Sleeper in the Valley’, the rest of the songs are based around the character of the archetypal struggling artist; struggling being a state that Adams knows all too well. For in spite of his numerous awards (The Burns Song Award, The Billy Kelly Songwriting Award, Emerging Excellence Award) a chronic illness has held him back from realising any kind of touring schedule. His previous record, Wilt, documented these darker times, selling out its limited run, finding popularity thanks to its claustrophobic and gloomy qualities.

Even the recording process was deeply personal. The entire album was recorded by Adams on his own, in a bedroom over looking a garden.

“I approached every song as I imagined Van Gogh might have went at a painting. There had to be the capturing of a moment, there had to be a rawness and a truth in every performance. If I didn’t transcend in some respect during the song, I knew it wasn’t acceptable.”

The Garden is released on April 13th through Backshop Records.

Artist’s website:

‘Holy Smoke’ – the official video:

“Holy Smoke is a beautiful, insightful piece of music.” – Clash 

**** – Q Magazine

“Strummed ruminations worthy of John Martyn” – The Skinny ****


Red Kites

Have you heard of Red Kites? I hadn’t until a friend of theirs approached me in a rain-swept car park and thrust a hand-made copy of their latest single, ‘Salt Water’, into my hands. Well, thrust is a bit melodramatic – she actually asked very nicely if I’d care to listen to it.

Red Kites got together at college in Guildford about five years ago but as guitarist and singer Moteh Parrott says, “our roots began in the Highlands of Scotland, where many of the songs were written. Inverness remains the band’s second home, and we frequently return north for festivals and to tour venues across Scotland”.

The other members of the band are guitarist Liam Trevor; Jan Cees Samsom who is actually from The Netherlands, not Scotland; drummer Andrew Reeves who comes all the way from Woking and  Craig Ferguson on bass.

Their self-released debut EP Beat in Time was released in April 2012 to critical acclaim, and the follow up New Life Ignites was released in June 2013. After a year spent gigging and writing, the band returned with their strongest single yet, ‘Salt Water’, which was released on December 2nd 2014, reaching no.19 in the iTunes rock charts and gaining them BBC 6 Music radio play. With another EP due this year, 2015 is set to be the band’s biggest yet.

To quote from their own publicity: “Red Kites’ music is epic yet intimate, combining emotive lyrics and sweeping melody delivered with a fierce determination. Balancing pop songwriting with raw Celtic-tinged alt-rock and an unpredictability which is entirely their own, the band’s unrestrained creativity lends a refreshing edge to their take on modern rock music”

That’s a pretty fair summation. They certainly pack a lot into their songs and imagination is never in short supply as their official videos show – check out ‘Threads’ and ‘Hold Fast’ on their website.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website:

‘Salt Water’ – the official video:



Down to Believing

The Academy and Grammy Award nominated singer-songwriter Allison Moorer is set to release her Proper Records debut, Down To Believing, on March 16.   Produced by longtime friend and collaborator, guitarist Kenny Greenberg, the album was recorded over two years in Nashville while Moorer commuted back and forth from her home in New York City.  Her eighth studio recording since her 1998 debut Alabama Song, Down To Believing is her most personal collection of songs to date; one in which Rolling Stone has already called “brilliant and extraordinarily candid.”

The 13-song set is in many ways a sequel to Moorer and Greenberg’s second collaboration, the acclaimed 2000 album The Hardest Part.   At the time of its release, Moorer often acknowledged the inspiration her parents’ relationship had on that album.  Fifteen years later, she’s sifting eloquently through her modern day life as the inspiration for Down To Believing’s intensely personal song cycle.

The recording of Down To Believing began in January of 2012, the same month her son John Henry received a formal diagnosis of autism.  The song ‘Mama Let The Wolf In’ is her response to that diagnosis.   Speaking to Rolling Stone, Moorer said of the song:

“As a parent, whatever your children go through I think there’s a certain amount of it that you feel responsible for, even if you know that it has nothing to do with you…When you can’t protect them from going through something that’s hard, you feel responsible for it…Basically the song is channeling that energy and expressing that extreme frustration at not being able to protect him.  It makes me feel very powerless.”

Of the title track, one about the dissolution of her marriage to singer songwriter Steve Earle, Moorer says:

“‘Down To Believing’ is quite possibly one of my best songs, one of the most honest songs about marriage.”  She continues, “Obviously, this is a record about family and relationships.  ‘Blood’ is about my sister (singer songwriter Shelby Lynne).  It’s about loving someone unconditionally and always having your arms open to them no matter what.   Being able to reflect on your own experience and put it in a common language so that people can commune is what the job of a songwriter is.  I’m prouder of these songs than any I’ve ever written.”

Moorer’s 1998 song, ‘A Soft Place To Fall’ was included on the soundtrack to the feature film The Horse Whisperer, which led to an appearance in the film itself, as well as an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song.  The opportunity gained her worldwide attention and set the stage for her career.  She has been featured on releases by Joan Baez, Kid Rock, The Chieftains, while her songs have appeared on records by Miranda Lambert, Steve Earle and more.

She starred in the 2008 play Rebel Voices, based on Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove’s best-selling book Voices of a People’s History of The United States and also appeared in the 2009 film The People Speak.  The film was presented by the History Channel and was inspired by Zinn’s A People’s History of The Unites States.   It also featured Bob Dylan, Morgan Freeman, Bruce Springsteen, Danny Glover, Matt Damon, and more.

“In February 2010, when sultry Alabama-born singer Allison Moorer released her last album, Crows, she was married (to fellow musician Steve Earle) and was just two months away from the birth of the couple’s son, John Henry. Now, nearly five years later, as she prepares for the release of her next LP, the brilliant — and extraordinarily candid — Down to Believing, she is separated from Earle and navigating the bewildering diagnosis of John Henry’s autism.” Stephen L Betts, Rolling Stone.

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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Wish I – Live at Celtic Connections:

THE LOST ART – The Lost Art (own label)

TheLostArtI’m beginning to think that this will be a year when a whole lot of musical rules are going to be broken. Actually The Lost Art was released before Christmas but I’m not one to let facts get in the way of a good theory.

The Lost Art are Gordo Francis and Greg Hooper, two music teachers from Oxford who played as a covers band before deciding to write their own material. What they write is genre-defying to say the least. The album opens with the ethereal harmonies of ‘Equals’, due to be a single. I wasn’t taken at first, particularly when the band joined in with strings and indie drums, but by the third play I was beginning to recognise what a clever song it is. It’s followed by ‘Floating Away’, a hippyish title that disguises a gently jazzy song.

Both Gordo and Greg sing and play guitar and there is nothing on the album package or the duo’s website to identify them and their Facebook page doesn’t go out of its way to help, so: the one with the proper beard, who may be Greg, has a vertiginous vocal range, not unlike Martin Stephenson in some ways, and capable of an extraordinary near-falsetto on ‘Kicking The Habit’ and the one who wears the flat cap (who may be Gordo) has a more conventional tenor but their voices blend exceptionally well. They alternate lead roles; a feature of ‘Equals’ which is essentially a duologue.

They are augmented by violin and viola: Judith Hooper and Aliye Cornish and percussion by Tim Hooper (I’m seeing a pattern here) with Rick Foot on double bass. Together they are capable of switching from rock (topped out with a doo-wop ending) to the doomy piano-based ‘High And Mighty’. The production by Pete Hutchings is excellent as the intensity of the sound ebbs and flows.

Where The Lost Art appear on the genre spectrum, I really wouldn’t like to say, but the final track, ‘Distant Friends’ continues a telling line: “When did nostalgia take over your life?” This feels like new ground for all of us.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website:

‘Equals’ – the official video:

AROOJ AFTAB – Bird Under Water (own label)

Bird Under Water“World Ambient Music” is not a label calculated to set the pulse racing and it has been applied – or perhaps misapplied – to this album. There is a mesmeric quality to the rolling guitar patterns of Ali Farka Touré and the solo kora of Toumani Diabaté but I suggest that anyone who labels them “ambient” is betraying a lack of understanding of the cultures from which the music sprang.

Arooj Aftab is a singer from Lahore, now living in New York, who wrote or co-wrote with guitarist Bhrigu Sahni the five tracks on her debut album. While it is rooted in Pakistan’s traditional music, Bird Under Water also displays its western influences. There are drums, electric guitar, accordion and a trumpet and occidental melodies cropping up in such songs as ‘Lullaby’. There is also a sitar and the beautiful sound of a bansuri on the opening ‘Man Kunto Maula’. There are also sudden changes of style within a track so that ‘Aey Na Balam’, for example, allows the sub-continental instruments free rein for a minute before Arooj’s voice and Bhrigu’s acoustic guitar gather the track together.

Arooj’s style is reminiscent of Sheila Chandra but without, on this evidence at least, Sheila’s remarkable vocal power. Bird Under Water is, however, a beautiful record full of musical twists and turns and an imaginative mix of musical cultures.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website:

This is an old video of a track from Bird Under Water, ‘Aey Na Balam’:


BStJOften described as obscure yet she worked with John Martyn, Mike Oldfield, Kevin Ayers, and Mike Chapman, championed by John Peel (as the leading female singer-songwriter) and even Terry Wogan, during four well-received albums. And that was just in the 1970s. It’s interesting—and crucial regarding career—that Bridget St John was Dandelion Records first-ever signing and release, when folk’s second wave was rolling via Island in England and (Dandelion’s distributor) Elektra in USA. If Dandelion evolved around their first signing, hindsight and eclecticism suggest differently. The DJ said that “the main reason why we started the label was nobody else was going to record her stuff” – not Elektra, Island, or even the fledgling Apple?

Dandelion was a co-operative where artists had creative control, but when it folded in 1973 (“like a family break-up” St John recalled) the ethos was rare and tastes mutating. There was no Plan B. After John Peel’s death this has been accentuated by the sale of their publishing to a conglomerate, against Dandelion’s principles and a nightmare for those of its roster still active. (It would be even worse if Cherry Red Records didn’t exist.) These origins have put a particular spin on their careers, perhaps contributing to major labels’ lack of keenness and thus the obscurity tag.

Her first demo was made at Al Stewart’s home, thanks to her guitar mentor John Martyn. A boyfriend gave it to Peel at a gig, and within three weeks debuted on Night Ride in August ’68. That distant session is on this box-set at an almost-equally amazing budget price. The three LPs are on replica-label discs, plus singles, Montreux 1972, and a CD of (mostly wiped) BBC sessions 1968-1972. The latter was on a double some years ago, as was Montreux (on Thank You For…also from Cherry Red), but are here in context. It was this radio material, based on solid albums and gigging—like the Dandelion Euro tour sponsored by Polydor with Medicine Head, Beau and Kevin Coyne—that attracted a loyal following.

In a cover reminiscent of legendary folk labels—minimalist but evocative with her picture when a baby – Ask Me No Questions (1969) was produced by Peel in one ten-hour session at CBS Studios with Simon Stable on bongos, John Martyn and Richard Sanders on guitars. The seven-minute title track in doubled vocals of “Ask me no questions, tells me no lies”, with Peel ransacking the library for bird song and bells, is pure Dandelion and ’69. Still played live connecting her to the Dandelion people she says, it was one of the first tunings learned from Martyn. It opens with her recent debut single, the bass-string driven ‘To B Without A Hitch’ about France while enjoying “buttercup sandwiches”.  ‘Autumn Lullaby’ lilts through childhood memories of Richmond Park, ‘Curl Your Toes’ tells a by-the-fireside tale, ‘Barefoot And Hot Pavements’ about city wandering, and among the twin guitars one of her most beautiful songs, ‘Hello Again (Of Course)’. There’s even psych without the electricity, a plucking delight (‘The Curious Crystals Of Unusual Purity’). Appended from 45s are Cohen’s ‘Suzanne’ and ‘The Road Was Lonely’, a hypnotic ballad with rare backing harmony.

Peel called her voice and songs “full of woods and hedgerows, startled deer and hedgehogs”, and the rustic imagery and free-wheeling acoustic dexterity is a timeless debut. Songs For The Gentle Man (1971) came from November-December sessions costing £2,000 at Sound Techniques, also used by Fairport Convention and Drake. Produced by Ron Geesin, fresh from Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother, he contributed organ (for Martyn’s ‘Back To Stay’), Sanders returning on guitar, with a chamber ensemble including brass giving a lusher effect. Looking more like an Edwardian muse than a hippy in Kensington Gardens with the photographer’s hound on the gatefold, scenes are woven tapestry-like from another mansion room: ‘A Day A Way’ with jangly guitar/flute/oboe about a seaside day trip, subtle echo-reverb (‘Early Morning Song’), while Donovan’s ‘The Pebble And The Man’ sounds like her own. Absences of people and places, time shared or alone, but it’s not melancholy (the closer’s 40 seconds is about growing into the loved person). Politics are outside her remit but it’s her most confessional LP. Some were ready for her debut as they’re on her January 1969 radio session.

The third disc mirrors Cherry Red’s 2005 release of Thank You For… (July 1972) with a full April ’72 Swiss concert. Here reprised is the MCA 1973 A-side ‘Passing Thru’ (from Leonard Cohen’s own cover on his first live LP), produced by Mike Chapman but uncredited when he rescued its shambolic session. (She guests on his Deal Gone Down the next year.) The Beeb played it a couple of times then decided it was too depressing! With Jerry Boys for co-production, the folk-rock sports the impressive cast of Tim Renwick and Quiver, Andy Roberts (Liverpool Scene, Plainsong, uncredited Beatles sessions), Gordon Huntley (Matthews Southern Comfort), Pip Pyle, Dave Mattacks, Rick Kemp, Sanders, and Martyn. Hand-picked for each song, a spontaneous spark with very few overdubs shines through. ‘Nice’ was on Polydor b/w ‘Goodbaby Goodbye’ about a break-up “at the end of time”; ‘Every Day’ is Buddy Holly with a missing chord! The anti-lynching ‘Lazarus’ (still played with added guitar-thumping) is from early influence Buffy St. Marie’s Many A Mile, and a dreamier version of Dylan’s ‘Love Minus Zero/No Limit’. ‘Fly High’ should’ve charted with its big production, ironically about the music biz (“So please remember all you have and not what you might lose, it isn’t always easy but is better when you do”).

The Montreux concert with Sanders features live premieres of the album, introduced in fluent French, including a hypnotic ‘Fly High’, and a faster ‘Ask Me No Questions’. A visual example is on YouTube from French TV in May 1970. The 19-track BBC disc has an amusing/awful interview with Peel, covers of Martyn, sitar-style guitar Donovan, Joni Mitchell, unreleased songs, and a 1971 In Concert duet with the late Kevin Ayers from their unfinished children’s songs. Her 1970 B-side of his ‘Yep’ is oddly omitted. She contributed to his Shooting At The Moon (1970) with Mike Oldfield (she’s on his Ommadawn and Amarok), and The Unfairground (2007).

After Chrysalis stymied Jumble Queen 1974 (reissued by Beat Goes On), when a ‘Melody Maker’ poll that year rated her fifth best female singer (Maggie Bell was number 1, Shirley Bassey number 9), she emigrated to Greenwich Village where she lives today. From buttercup sandwiches to fast food, it seems a little ironical as she never saw herself in England’s folk scene. A rare recent glimpse is an interview/performance on the excellent TV station of Cherry Red who also released a 19-track sampler (2010, CDMRED440).

“I’m not a narrative songwriter, I don’t sit down to write stories, I just write feelings out,” getting “high off people, ideas and things”. Voice, instrument and lyric allow a place and air for later listening. It doesn’t date, a beguiling delivery of observation and experience tinged with her favourite autumn and nostalgia-driven Englishness swirls like labelmate Beau with a pinch of John Martyn and dash of Donovan. Narrowly missing fame, this is supplanted by cult status more suiting her low profile. This box-set brings dispatches from a more innocent age, when communication meant exactly that and not technology, a time not just to listen but hear. Once heard, never forgotten.

Brian R Banks

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).

Buying through Amazon on helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

‘Nice’ – The Old Grey Whistle Test.