MARTIN STEPHENSON talks to folking about life, music and everything

Martin Stephenson

Martin Stephenson had his rather more than fifteen minutes of fame in the late eighties and early nineties. His first albums were critically applauded and sold well but then things changed. How did he get into music in the first place? Continue reading MARTIN STEPHENSON talks to folking about life, music and everything

Introducing Wolf & Clover

Wolf & Clover
Photograph by Leeann Hanson

We are contacted by musicians from all over the world and recently Matthew McCabe of the band Wolf & Clover got in touch to send us some album tracks and tell us a bit about themselves.

Wolf & Clover is an acoustic quintet from Columbus, Georgia, USA. Heavily influenced by Irish and Celtic musical traditions, the group’s first album features tune sets, songs, interpretations of classic material, and innovative twists.

Band Members

Jeremy Bass (mandolin, guitar, bouzouki) holds a doctorate in guitar performance from the University of Kentucky and has many years of traditional Irish music experience.

Justin Belew (guitar, accordion, pipes, vocals, etc), an experienced engineer, producer, studio owner, and musician from Georgia who attended Point University majoring in piano.

Jessica Bennett (violin, viola, vocals), a graduate of the Schwob School of Music and an expert singer, songwriter, and session player. She is also the owner of JLB Studio, where she teaches music to young people.

Matthew McCabe (guitar, bouzouki, banjo, vocals, etc) earned his Ph.D. in music composition from the Univeristy of Florida and has been studying the Irish language for several years. He teaches Audio Technology at the Schwob School of Music.

Stephanie Payne (flutes and whistles, backing vocals) performed with the Florida State Univeristy Irish Ensemble while earning her Master’s Degree in Arts Administration. She is also an alumna of the Schwob School of Music, and is currently Executive Director of the Youth Orchestra of Greater Columbus.

Album Tracks

  1. Top of Cork Road – First Avenue – Merry Maiden (trad.-McCabe-trad. jigs)
  2. The Wild Goose (trad.)
  3. Tam Lin – The Bucks of Oranmore (trad. reels)
  4. Shanagolden (trad.)
  5. After the Battle of Aughrim – Seán Ryan’s – Maggie in the Woods (trad. air & polkas)
  6. Eleanor Plunkett (O’Carolan)
  7. Go and Leave Me featuring Neal Lucas and Mike Jerel Johnson (trad.)
  8. Sí Bheag, Sí Mhor (O’Carolan)
  9. A Chailín Álainn (trad.)
  10. The First Night in America – Jerry’s Beaver Hat – Will Smith’s (trad.-trad.-McCabe jigs)
  11. Drowsy Maggie – Sleepy Maggie – The Magpie’s Nest (trad. reels)
  12. Blue Sky (Patty Griffin)

Here’s preview stream of their debut album: https://soundcloud.com/drmccabe/sets/wolf-clover-promotional-stream/s-9Uo1I

Artists’ website: http://www.wolfandclover.com/

Burning Salt’s “love letter” to Holloway Women’s Prison

Burning Salt

Burning Salt – Hannah Hull (vocals, guitar, piano), Bobby Williams (electric guitar) and John Parker (double bass) – base their music on Hannah’s distinctive voice and sometimes painfully direct songs. Among other things, Hannah is resident artist on Islington Museum’s Echoes of Holloway Prison project, focused on oral histories from Holloway Prison, which closed in 2016. She has used some of those transcripts, from ex-prisoners, prison officers and other staff, as inspiration for a number of songs to be released on the EP Dirt, for release on the 7th September 2018.

Hannah says:

“Many of the stories left me in tears. Not just because of the horror contained within them, but also the strength. I wanted to provide a platform for the stories and themes contained within them to be heard, listened to, connected with. These stories complicate the issue of prisons. They demand empathy, and confuse narratives of punishment.”

“I think this was probably the most surprising theme found within the oral history transcripts: love. Love for the prison, love for the prisoners, love despite the prison environment, love despite the incredible scale of pain and loss suffered by the women who end up in prison.”

As you might tell from the above, the six songs on the EP deal with difficult topics: not just suffering and loss, but the cycle of abuse, suicide and self-harm, cleaning up after dirty protests, and closes with an ambivalent “love letter” to the prison – ‘The Worst Place I Was Ever Scared Of’. In combination with Hannah’s unusual low-register vocals, understated yet with an extraordinary underlying intensity, this may not suit those who prefer their listening easy, but an exceptional recording that demands and deserves close attention. It may change the way you think about the prison system: it might even change your life a little. In any case, it’s an important release from a major talent.

Dirt will be publicly available on all major streaming platforms, and for digital download via www.burningsalt.com from 7 September 2018.

Burning Salt will perform the songs at a launch event on 7 September 2018 from 8pm to 10.30pm at the New Unity Chapel, 39A Newington Green, London N16 9PR. The £12 ticket price includes a special edition digital download of the EP and a poetry booklet.

David Harley

Tickets: https://dirtep.eventbrite.co.uk

Artist’s website: www.burningsalt.com

‘The Worst Place I Was Ever Scared Of’ – official video:

Daphne’s Flight talk to Folking.com

Daphne's Flight

Reunited after a 21 year gap in 2017, Daphne’s Flight brings together the talents of five highly acclaimed singer-songwriters: Julie Matthews, Chris While, Melanie Harrold, Helen Watson and Christine Collister for a veritable rootsy flavoured supergroup!

Last year’s Knows Time, Knows Change, the surprise (and belated) sequel to 1996’s eponymous debut, was accompanied by a successful UK tour which has now resulted in a third album from the quintet. The soon to be released Daphne’s Flight Live features a collection of songs from both their studio albums, along with several new choices, and arrives with a series of live appearances beginning at Oxfordshire’s Towersey Festival (24-27 Aug 2018).

“We all bring two songs to the table that we think will work as a group,” explains Chris While, of the group’s way of working. “These [songs] can be original new songs or covers, they can be old songs too that we think are worth re-working.

“If one or two of us don’t think a song will work, out it goes – obviously it can only work if the whole group loves the song. As everyone is very versatile and has vast vocal ranges, dynamics and experiences, the decision of who will sing what is really easy, and it just falls into place.”

Despite their long period of silence, everyone in Daphne’s Flight has remained close, often performing with each other in various combinations. As a result, they work well together, dividing roles between them.

“We are all very old friends now,” says Chris, who is also one half of a firmly established duo with Julie. “I have known Christine since the ’80s and Mel, Julie and Helen since the early ’90s. We want what’s best for each other and are a very supportive and diplomatic group.

“Of course, as we all live so far apart, really far – Essex, London, Sheffield and The Isle of Man – a lot gets decided on the phone, email and FaceTime regarding the managing of the group, but when we rehearse we spend up to a week together, which is really bonding and amazing, and the songs really flow.

“In between, I do the website, Julie and Christine take care of social media, and this year Mel and Christine have been doing lots of interviews and media stuff.

“Helen Watson grows marvellous vegetables and makes us laugh,” she adds with a smile.

The live album sums up the group’s approach perfectly, and finds them calling on a variety of influences from traditional and country (Susanna Clark and Richard Leigh’s ‘From The Heart’), to gospel and soul (Percy Sledge’s ‘Out of Left Field’).

“Daphne’s Flight is steeped in the heritage of contemporary and traditional music,” says Melanie. “Our repertoire ranges from the fantastical of myth and fairy tale to songs of land and plough, of growth and renewal. In our set there are tales of seas and safe harbours and anthems of political social and economic change.

“We unify these influences through beautiful layers of blended harmony, inspired arrangements and ‘stop you in your tracks’ singing,” she says. “We are a very British band of women with a world of experience, embracing the land of the Celts and the Saxons, the mountains of Appalachia and the basin of the Mississippi.”

Although Daphne’s Flight are very much active, all members continue to juggle the group with their own projects.

Says Chris: “Well Julie and I never seem to stop. We are performing in BBC Radio 2’s Friday Night is Music Night on the 9 November [2018] with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. It’s a life-long ambition of mine to sing with a great orchestra. The theme is Radio 2’s Ballads of the Great War. A lot of the songs were written by the brilliant Julie, and I got to sing many of them.

“Then we have the Ballads Of Child Migration UK tour (November), which is very exciting. The awesome line-up is Barbara Dickson, narrating, singer songwriters, me and Julie, Jew Lowe, Belinda O’Hooley and Heidi Tidow, Boo Hewerdine and John Doyle. And the band, as always will be John McCusker, Michael McGoldrick, Andy Cutting and Andy Seward … wow! The show is a very levelling and emotional experience and the music is beautiful with a large screen featuring testimonies from former Child Migrants.”

And then there’s a certain significant birthday looming …

“2019 is the 25th anniversary of the duo,” Chris confirms. “Julie and I will be recording a new album in the spring followed by a busy festival season in the summer all leading up to a big autumn tour to celebrate our silver jubilee!

“As well as all the wondrous things that Chris has mentioned we have coming up, I’m also excited to have been asked to be part of another songwriting project in 2019 that commemorates the 100th anniversary of the peace celebrations after WW1 along with Greg Russell, Findlay Napier and Bella Hardy,” interjects Julie.

The others are just as busy.

Helen: “I have been working with Snake Davis (horns) and Dave Bowie Jnr (double bass) for several years now, and we have gigs coming along into next year. No plans for any solo stuff now. Happy in collaboration!”

Christine: “I’ve been blessed with numerous collaborations over the intervening years and there was a ten year period where I was a predominantly solo performer. More recently I’ve been working with a brilliant Australian guitarist – Michael Fix – and have worked in Australia for a number of years, and we’re now branching out into the UK performing scene, with a handful of shows this November, and a three week tour in October 2019. We have one studio album, Shadows and Light, and a second one in the making ready for next year’s UK tour.

“I also have a delightful but intermittent musical partnership with Dave Kelly (of Blues Band fame) … we have a live CD with our band The Traveling Gentlemen from 2006, but only a few weeks ago performed as an acoustic duo at the Vancouver Island Music Festival. We enjoyed it so much we’re planning a duo tour for next May,” says Christine, whose first two studio albums, Blue Aconite and The Dark Gift of Time, have been re-released “as a double CD package with a foreword from myself talking about my thoughts on then and now. Quite a ride!”

Melanie: “I am working a new CD of original songs with Harvey Summers at Broadoak Studios in Bexhill. I also develop, write and arrange for performing amateur a cappella choirs. In June, Vocal Chords Choir launched Songs of Protest in aid of Praxis at The Conway Hall in London. In the autumn of 2019 we will be presenting our project on Home and Homelessness. Trade Winds is a multi-access European women’s choir that develops collaborative cultural exchanges with choirs throughout the community.”

So where does that leave Daphne’s Flight?

“We plan to do more,” says Christine, suggesting new material for a 2019 studio album will be aired for the first time at Towersey.

It seems Daphne’s still in flight…

Dave Freak

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 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.

Artists’ website: www.daphnesflight.com

The reunion gig – Cambridge 2017:

Dave Whetstone talks about returning to The Resolution

Dave Whetstone

“Why did I stop?” asks melodeon player Dave Whetstone, as he prepares to return to the stage for only the second time in twenty years. It’s a fair question.

Dave had been a key player in the 1970s folk/ dance scene, who’d been turned onto “the notion of a dance band” after his band, Hemlock, visited Towersey village’s vibrant folk club, on the Oxfordshire/ Buckinghamshire border. As a result, the band changed direction to become The Hemlock Cock And Bull Band, and then simply the Cock And Bull Band.

“When we first went [to Towersey’s folk club] Jean-Pierre [Rasle] was not playing the bagpipes and I didn’t have a melodeon. I didn’t know what a melodeon was! I sent off from one and got it in the post – that was around 1977/1978, and Jean-Pierre knew some chaps in France [with pipes], so we started playing tunes with Dennis [Manners] calling,” Dave recalls. “At that time there were the New Victory Band, The Old Swan Band, doing variations to the repertoire.”

Dave went on to The Albion Band/ The Albion Dance Band, formed the well-regarded Waz! with Maartin Allcock (Fairport) and Pete Zorn, and released a well-regarded solo album, The Resolution, in 1996, with Allcock, Zorn, Dave Lockwood and Simon Nicol.

Dave WhetstoneThe Resolution was surprisingly very well received,” reports Dave. “It got reviews in Q and various other magazines, it was very well received, and we did a few ceilidhs with that line-up, but not with Simon as he was so busy with Fairport Convention, so we got in another guitarist.”

But within a couple of years, despite mounting acclaim for Waz!, Dave simply felt it was time to move on.

“I can’t remember the exact sequence,” he says. “The Resolution came out and I did the trio thing (Waz!), which was a short lived thing, maybe a year or so getting work. I didn’t really enjoy it enough. I’d been doing music and tunes since the mid-70s with Jean-Pierre, music has always been with me, music courses through my veins, but I like to do other things – like riding a bike, family …

“There’s a difference between a musician and a performer and I considered myself a musician – with a small ‘m’; I don’t read music, I feel it – I’m not a performer, though some of the most enjoyment I’ve had from playing has been at ceilidhs.

“I haven’t done a great amount of music, but there’s been Cock And Bull and with Jean-Pierre with melodeon and bagpipes. I quite like the idea of singing, but that’s not me. I put a lot into it for a long time and it was all very interesting … but I didn’t want to pursue all that.

“Why did I hang up my melodeon? It felt like I’d lost interest in it, there was a feeling of being overly constrained by it.”

So he stopped.

“I make decisions like this. I’m not a hoarder – if things need to change, I’m not scared. I did the Albion Band for a time, and I knew that was not me and I stopped. I didn’t shirk from making the change. Either it fits or it doesn’t.”

He continued to play at home, in private – mandolin and guitar – but then in 2014, Towersey Festival, scene of many fondly remembered performances, invited the Cock And Bull Band to reunite as a one-off. The show was a huge success which Dave enjoyed, though didn’t feel the need to repeat. But the idea of performing The Resolution in full was something different. He pitched the possibility of a Resolution show to Towersey who were excited, so Dave called on Martin Brinsford (Brass Monkey, Old Swan Band) and Benji Kirkpartrick (Faustus, The Transports, Bellowhead) for assistance, who were also enthusiastic.

“I haven’t played out since Towersey 2014, and before that, not since 1998, since The Resolution. I play a lot more freely now … so I’m looking forward to playing now, in a more expansive way,” he says. “I like playing but playing is only part of it. I like it simple. With Martin and Benji, it’s something very specific, for a very specific thing, and that’s easy.”

As the trio to prepare to make their one and only performance at Towersey Festival on Friday 24 August 2018, Dave reports that things are “sounding good” and that the set-list, though focused on his solo album, will span his career.

After some thought, he picks a few of his personal highlights.

“The tune ‘The Resolution’, I s’pose it was intended to be, not square the circle, but something like that. It’s a waltz tune – I can go to it and it’s a very calming tune. I think they all do different things, but there is some kind of fulfilment with The Resolution.

“There are simple ones, ‘like Hotfoot 2’, which in on a row, no chords, it’s so simple you can go just on and one. It’s very deceptive … good for dancing.

“And there are more recent ones, like ‘Mind Your Manners’, which is a Morris jig I concocted for Towersey in 2014. It’s simple, efficient. I wrote it for Dennis [Manners]; it’s only ever been done once, so this will only be the second time.

“There are also some tunes that pre-date The Resolution, like from The Albion Dance Band’s Shuffle Off – ‘Frog Is For Jumping/ Beetle On The Wine’. They are tunes I concocted around 1983 and are the opening tunes on the album.

“I think they’re tunes that are played in sessions now. Brinsford said I had to play it, ‘… that’s one of your hits!’ They may have entered the repertoire now,” he says proudly.

As Dave prepares to take his leave, there’s just one question: why Towersey?

“Towersey is special … it always had a feel about it – there was something homely, safe about it,” he says. “Towersey always held a special place.”

Dave Freak

* Whetstone Brinsford Kirkpatrick play Towersey Festival, Oxfordshire, on Friday 24 August 2018. The festival runs from Friday 24 to Monday 27 August 2018 and also features appearances from Richard Thompson, The Proclaimers, The Shires, Big Country (Acoustic), Sharon Shannon, Fisherman’s Friends, Peter Knight and John Spiers, Roy Bailey, and The Pink Weasel Big Band (a one-off team-up of Tickled Pink and Whapwesel). For more information and tickets see: www.towerseyfestival.com

‘Donkey Riding/Buffalo Girls’ by the Hemlock Cock And Bull Band all those years ago:

Adrian McNally talks to Dave Freak about The Unthanks and Molly Drake

Molly Drake
Photograph by Sarah Mason

The songs of Molly Drake have been slowly seeping into public consciousness for the best part of a decade. There was a fleeting glimpse of her home recordings on the Nick Drake-and-co compilation Family Tree in 2007, followed by an album of her home recordings in 2013. Tracey Thorn and Eliza Carthy are among the artists who’ve since recorded cover versions, but it’s arguably The Unthanks’ The Songs And Poems Of Molly Drake which really pushes Molly into the spotlight.

Released last year as the fourth in The Unthanks’ ongoing Diversions series, the project (spread over two albums, the second billed as Extras) was created with the direct input of Molly’s daughter, actress Gabrielle Drake, and has been described by the band as some of their best work.

For many, Molly – who passed away in 1993 – has been simply the mother of treasured songwriter Nick Drake whose reputation, based on three previously obscure (though now ridiculously popular) albums, continues to grow. And while her influence on Nick has been acknowledged, the arrival of the private demos tell us she was more than a footnote, but an equally rare and impressive talent in her own right.

“Certainly I think that an element of Gabrielle’s motivation to release her mother’s music was to show the world that her brother, the troubled troubadour, who we are often encouraged to think was born into a stuffy upper middle class English family, with parents who didn’t understand him, in fact had a mother with as much emotional introspection and poetic articulacy as he,” says The Unthanks Adrian McNally. “We can see now that Nick was from a close and loving family, with inspiration and talent passed down.”

When it came to arranging Molly’s starkly recorded material the band explored two approaches.

“On some songs, we have been quite faithful and sympathetic. With others, we have created totally different chordal and arrangement structures, retaining Molly’s story, sentiments and tune, but removing the vernacular of the time she wrote them in, to present them in a way that hopefully shows the quality of the song as being completely independent of the music of the time,” says McNally.

“Some of the creativity that produced those results was born out of necessity. As a piano player, I do not have Molly’s chops. I am not versed in the styles and ornamentations of her day. In most cases, my starting point, which is a common one in The Unthanks, was to get Rachel or Becky to do an iPhone recording of themselves singing a Molly song unaccompanied. I work to that only, so I am free from and not influenced by the song’s original chords and voicings, which often results in a completely different sounding song – because of course, a melody can be given a totally different emotion resonance, if it is set to different chords or rhythms.

“Only in instances where that route proves to be a dead end, do I then go to Molly’s originals.

“This is not a hard and fast rule. There are some instances when just through listening, a decision is made to remain faithful, or that an alternative idea is instantly recognised.

“In all cases, it is the song that comes first,” he stresses. “If we rework, it’s because we can see another way of capturing or putting a different spin on the sentiment of the song, or if we don’t, it’s because we cannot see a better way of expressing the sentiment of the song.

Touring the album last year, McNally and the band were touched by the way audiences connected with the material.

“The show is very subtly lit, so it was more possible than normal, to see faces in the audience, and quite how many tears were being shed!” he says.

“Molly’s writing is the very essence of bittersweet. In defence of her mother’s leanings towards darkness, Gabrielle has said of her mother that ‘happiness was something she understood profoundly – the more so, because she was so conscious of its opposite – sorrow.

“It’s the understanding and acceptance of both as part of life that brings about the condition of yearning that is equal parts hopeful and melancholic, and it’s the equality between beauty and tragedy that breaks our hearts, I feel.”

And while the songs have been the main focus for many, as The Unthanks’ album rightly pointed out, there’s also Molly’s poems too, which were recorded for the project by Gabrielle.

“It’s not just the songs. Her poetry too, through Gabrielle’s performances, is incredibly effecting. Every one of Gabrielle’s performances caused a strong emotional reaction in me on first listen, be that tears or laughter – both of which were caused by the same ingredient – beauty.

“Molly’s messages are profound, but the joy I feel is towards the brilliance and precision with which the truth of that message is articulated. The success of any art should ultimately be judged on how successful the artist has been in conveying what they intended to.

“On those terms, Molly’s writing is amongst the best I’ve ever heard.”

Dave Freak

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 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.

The Unthanks perform The Songs Of Molly Drake at Lunar Festival (26-29 July 2018) in Tanworth-In-Arden, Warwickshire (the home of the Drake family) on Friday 27 July 2018. Other artists appearing at the festival include Goldfrapp, The Stranglers, Amadou and Mariam, Songhoy Blues, and Jane Weaver.

For more information, see: lunarfestival.co.uk

Promo video: