CATGOD – Feel It Go Round (own label)

Feel It Go RoundAn Oxford-based five-piece centred around siblings Robin Christensen-Marriott and Catherine Marriott, they trade in slightly woozy, hushed pastoral psychedelia that clearly has an affinity for such similar fey folk spirits as Nick Drake, Vashti Bunyan and Bridget St John. As such, if they don’t flutter your heart, chances are Feel It Go Round won’t either. If they do, however, then you’ll be intoxicated from the start with ‘New Cross’, an apology about getting out of bed on the wrong side and being a bit snappy and the following ‘Sleep In’, a title that, featuring Cat on flute, goes a long way to capturing the album’s general ambience.

The tempo and temperature here pretty much sustains throughout the album, moving from Robin singing the minimally-backed, extreme-introvert, depression-themed ‘Cold, Numb And Empty’, though (unlike the lyrically akin ‘What They Think’ – “when I’m on my own why can’t I feel happy?”) it does have an optimistic breakthrough despite the musical permafrost. However, the pessimism is soon back in play as, on the first line of the piano shaded ‘Heartbeat In My Hand’, Cat sings “What if mum passed away?”, though it actually reveals itself as a sort of love song, or at least a transfer of need to her lover and an awakening of much they actually care.

The problematic nature of relationships gets another prod with the part-spoken narcotic slur of Robin’s ‘Owning You’ where, even if he’s from Oxford, curiously conjures thoughts of Ivor Cutler as he talks of realising that he’s grown up to become his father with the same complexes.

Vague jazz textures seep into ‘Feel It Go Round’ with its scratchy percussion and basic don’t let the moment slip past lyric, Patrick Bolton on early hours piano for ‘Blood’, another song soaked in the way being apart from a new love can send you into despondency (“Is it too soon to tell them ‘I miss you’?”) before the hazy, title track arrives with its French Horn and violin as Robin, tapping into a English bucolic John Martyn, croons “Sometimes when you can’t find what you’re looking for – it’s right in front of you”, the strings swelling as he bemoans “I’m not respected by your dad/It’sbeen two years and it makes me sad”.

It ends with Cat posing the question ‘WhyGo?’ against a spare acoustic guitar as the dark clouds of disappointment and emotional distance settle again over a relationship that’s run its course (“In your eyes all the love’s gone”). Probably not the sort of album you dig out when you take your first date back to your place, but, to borrow the imagery of their name, when you’re not feline groovy this will soundtrack those bedsit shadows nicely.

Mike Davies

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

‘Heartbeat In My Hand’ – live:

STEVE PLEDGER – Alone In The Dark (Noisy Dog Records NDCD02)

Alone In The DarkAs Steve says “live is what happens in a space…in a moment” but he produces a damn good approximation on his mini-album Alone In The Dark. Its only fault is that it’s too short – just eight tracks – but we have to live with that.

With the exception of the closing ‘We Shall Overcome’, an impromptu recording featuring Devon & Somerset Street Choirs, this is Steve taken as far back to basics as it’s possible to get; just one voice and one guitar. He opens the set with the impossibly poignant ‘Friends & Fathers’, the story of a man broken by war and the effect on his family. If this song doesn’t bring a tear to your eye you have no heart.

Politics is never too far from Steve’s writing but, by and large, he sticks to the less strident and more subtle songs. It’s tempting to say that ‘Back To The Beginning’, from his first album, represents the naïve thinking of a young man but its themes recur throughout Steve’s work and then you remember that he was forty when it was released. Both ‘The Parable Of Intent’ and ‘Matches In The Wind’ expound the idea that we should all do our bit, however small. The former turns into a bit of a rant towards the end and that’s OK as it leads into the powerful ‘I Spat Fire’ which contrasts with the delicate, fingerpicked ‘Me & The Silence’ and the upbeat ‘Creation Is Laughing’ which is a sort of “sod the lot of you” song.

The closing ‘Matches In The Wind’ really encapsulates Steve’s philosophy and is one of his very best songs. It is centred on a simple image and both the difficulty of and the importance of being out there, doing something. Alone In The Dark will only be available at Steve’s gigs and on-line and if you don’t have his three studio albums go there to purchase those, too.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.stevepledger.co.uk

‘Friends & Fathers’ – live:

HOTH BROTHERS – Workin’ And Dreamin’ (own label)

Workin' And Dreamin'Having already released his own solo album earlier this year, Bard Edrington V now returns in company with fellow songsmith Boris McCutcheon on a project spawned as they swapped musical ideas and stories while pruning fruit trees in a New Mexico apple orchard. Workin’ And Dreamin’ was recorded in just three days with Sarah Ferrell on upright bass and Greg Williams on drums and draws inspiration from the Appalachian tradition collected on a Harry Smith anthology as well as a novel about Kit Carson, it casts an eye back while taking a contemporary perspective.

It’s underpinned by two politically potent tracks directed at the current White House incumbent, opening with the banjo driven, gospel infused ‘Trees Of Heaven’ with, taking a cue from Jesus driving out the moneychangers, a call to arms to remove the blight that infects us, be that chopping down the Chinese elms, felling “the orange man” and, sending the “devil Pence back to hell” to “give our kids a fighting chance to win”. The other is ‘January’, a nod to the inauguration, as they declare it’s “time to cut the strings on Putin’s pawn” and that “we’re coming for you and your liver, orange man”. It also sports the nice line “you can cry or us a fake news river”.

Again featuring clawhammer banjo, the title track (although reversed on the song itself) continues the idea of turning your efforts to “build what you can, take care of your family” so as to “live your dreams, be what you want to be”.

Written by McCutcheon, ‘Singing Grass’ recalls the pioneers who built a life on the frontier sung in the voice of one such about the Native American woman he married, their life together trapping for pelts to trade and of the fever that eventually took her. There’s similar historical slant to ‘Whiskey And A Woodstove’, a stomping blues about mountain moonshiners while, McCutcheon blowing harp and echoing Erdington’s vocals, the jug band feel of ‘Flint Hills’ continues the theme of working the land to feed hungry mouths back home.

You’d never make it through life in the old west as a working man if you didn’t have a four-legged friend, celebrated here in McCutcheon’s shuffling rhythm folk blues ‘Horses Made Of Wind’ on which, at one point, he even gives an equine snort, that, Stephanie Hatfield on harmonies, is about going stir crazy from being cooped up. The title, incidentally, doesn’t refer to their speed, but rather their farting.

Staying in the same period, ‘Rendezvous Duel’ concerns a shoot-out during the Mexican-American War while, riding clawhammer rails, the New Mexico mesa is the setting for the simple traintime ‘Chili Line’ whistling through the pines. Switching musical styles, the collaboratively-penned ‘The Birds Still Sing’ opens unaccompanied before hitting handclap worksong rhythm about carrying on regardless of trials and tribulations (“give when you have nothing”) just like the birds sing even when they’re starving, offering the homespun wisdom that “sometimes you gotta go down to the basement where the spiders live to see what the angels sent”.

Returning to mandolin and banjo, with a picked acoustic solo, McCutcheon’s sprightly, Guthrie-esque ‘Bitter Frost’ is also a moral lesson to “protect the meek whatever the cost”. Moving into the final stretch, Ferrell on harmonies, the simple fingerpicked love song ‘Fault Line’, the bluesy slouch ‘Rogue Wave’, an Erdington co-write with Andy Keifer, and ‘Balancing Act’, another number about trying to reconcile late 60s America when “there was truth in the air” and “the songs still had soul”, with today, afford further highlights. Referencing the American West explorer John Wesley Powell, it ends with another co-write, all three voices coming together for ‘Wild Robby’, a mandolin strummed Mark Twain-like narrative about a bunch of Utah boys, running wild and raising hell, stealing Indian corn and turkey eggs, before “late spring by the whispering cave, Robby disappeared without a trace”.

Hoth comes with several meanings that have resonance here, among them an acronym for outreach charity Help On The Homefront. Personally, while it may be unlikely, I fancy it as a reference to the planet of snow and ice that serves as base to the Rebel Alliance in Star Wars, the guys in their musical X-wings taking arms against the Death Star on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Mike Davies

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Artists’ website: www.hothbrothers.com

‘Bitter Frost’ – live:

The Leisure Society – September tour dates

The Leisure Society

During the promotion of the band’s previous LP, The Fine Art Of Hanging On, Nick and the band’s flautist Helen Whitaker went through a long process of separation, ultimately resulting in Nick moving out of their Brighton home.

This displacement set the tone for the next 18 months, as Nick moved from one temporary accommodation to the next, writing and recording demos constantly as he came to terms with the break up – which would eventually become the foundation of their upcoming double-album, Arrivals & Departures.

Released on April 12th 2019, the album was recorded in rented and borrowed houses in the Peak District, the Cotswolds and a medieval mansion in Richelieu, France. The band also snuck into Union Chapel in Islington late at night to capture strings and choral sections for the record, which features the likes of Brian Eno and poet Liz Berry, and was mixed by Gareth Jones (known for his work with Grizzly Bear, Nick Cave, and These New Puritans) – and Paul Gregory (Lanterns On The Lake).

Nick Hemming grew up in Burton-on-Trent. The Leisure Society was born when Nick decided to share a London flat with fellow Burton-on-Trent exile and multi- instrumentalist / producer, Christian Hardy.

The years following that initial meet have seen the band release four critically acclaimed albums. Touring extensively throughout, the The Leisure Society have recorded with Ray Davies and were subsequently asked to play at his Meltdown Festival. They packed a tent at Glastonbury. Brian Eno declared himself a fan, and the band have been nominated for two Ivor Novello awards. The band also provided the decisive musical ending to Paddy Considine’s BAFTA winning directorial debut Tyrannosaur, and were invited to perform live with The Heritage Orchestra at a sold out Barbican.

In 2016, the band was derailed by the break-up of Nick and long-term partner, flautist Helen Whitaker. Retreating to their roots, Nick and Christian left the UK to tour Europe as a duo, then another three weeks touring Italy with violinist Mike Siddell in tow. New songs emerged throughout this period and developed in intimate venues, hotel rooms and moonlit courtyards.

In 2017, the band’s album delivery deadline loomed, but rather than rush out a new record, they decided to dedicate another twelve months perfecting it in studios and rented houses across the UK and France. Arrivals & Departures is their most ambitious and diverse record to date, charting the journey from heartbreak, to anger, to hope, in 57 lavish minutes.

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

‘God Has Taken A Vacation’ – official video:

September Tour Dates

17th – Manchester, Night & Day (in aid of Big Issue North)
18th – Belfast, Duke of Yorks
19th – Dublin, Whelans (Upstairs)
20th – Oxford, Bullingdon
21st – Grayshott, Grayshott Folk Club
22nd – Southampton, Joiners
24th – Milton Keynes, The Stables
25th – Newcastle, The Cluny
26th – Birmingham, Hare & Hounds
27th – Sheffield, Leadmill
28th – Liverpool, Leaf

Dervish announce special London show

DerviishBrendan Gleeson, Imelda May, Abigail Washburn, David Gray and Kate Rusby To Join Dervish For A Very Special Evening Of Irish Folk Music

Dervish are delighted to announce that they will be joined by multi instrumentalists and top session musicians, Graham Henderson (Sinead O Connor band / Fairground Attraction/ Moving Hearts) and Seamie O Dowd (Christy Moore band and a long list of others) for their big 30th anniversary show at The Palladium on Thursday September 19th. The eight-piece Dervish have been in rehearsals in Sligo and the band are very excited about how the music is sounding. The set list for the show will have many surprises on the night.

Dervish will be honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards ceremony, to be held at the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester on Wednesday 16 October 2019 as part of the Manchester Folk Festival.

Dervish have been bringing Irish traditional music to the world for 30 years, and have played at festivals across the globe – from Rock In Rio to Glastonbury. The band features some of Ireland’s finest traditional musicians, and is fronted by one of the country’s best-known and most beloved singers, Cathy Jordan.

Shane Mitchell from Dervish says: “We are thrilled and so delighted to be receiving this very special honour at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, particularly as this is the 30th anniversary of the band.”

Tickets on general sale: http://bit.ly/2TW5fpk

‘Down By The Sally Garden’ – live on TV:

MERRY HELL – A Documentary: A Year in the Life (own label)

A Year In The LifeExactly what it says, A Year In The Life follows the much acclaimed and awards-festooned Wigan outfit across the course of a year from February 2018 to February 2019, from rehearsals and hometown gigs to meet and greet Q&A sessions (why are you called Merry Hell?) and festivals, from Portugal to Skegness. As John Kettle stresses from the start, while their familiar live format is as a quintet, Merry Hell are, in fact, 12 piece, including not only keyboardist Lee Goulding, fiddler Neil McCartney (who made the documentary) and drummer Andy Jones who roll up for the recordings and larger stages, but also their manager, Damian Liptrot, merchandisers Julie McKiernan and Mike Jones, and designer Julian Watts. They are, as the film makes clear, very much a family in more than the literal sense of the three Kettle brothers and John’s wife Virginia.

Going behind the scenes, to their homes and into dressing rooms (at one show Virginia marvels how they all have their own, including Damian), each gets their own turn in the spotlight, talking about their background, their role in the band, offering up anecdotes and chatting about their favourite books. For Virginia it’s Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, which she read because she wanted to be like the cool girl in town she’d seen reading it, Nick (filmed with the backdrop of a Merry Helloween banner in St Helens) recalls first encountering The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy while Bob talks of George Orwell’s The Road To Wigan Pier, affording an opportunity for a trip round their native town and a visit to the actual pier, which, and I’m sure most wouldn’t have known this, was actually the loading bay on the canal where they put the coal on the boats. Virginia, on the other hand, takes us on a tour of Chester to where she moved from Manchester in 1982 and kicked off her music career at the Raven Folk Club (chatting to one of the long-standing organisers, Nick Mitchell), taking in the suspension bridge from which she and he mates would dive into the river and an old Anchorite cell.

As with their music, the personal and the politics go hand in hand, the different members talking about their convictions (Bob notes how the world needs more kindness and Andrew talks about the need for a global ecological consciousness) and how the need to keep what they do and sing about real. Surprisingly, perhaps, the music itself doesn’t play a prominent role in the film, there are snippets of songs from shows or rehearsals (including their support acts, such as Ragnari). But none are talked about individually or (save for Virginia’s ‘No Place Like Tomorrow’ over the end credits) played in full, although there are marvellous extracts of the band performing with the Commoners Choir and, with snatches from ‘Bury Me Naked’ and ‘We Need Each Other Now’, the 210 strong Rabble Chorus. As the notes on the back cover say “Merry Hell offer joyful, uplifting folk-rock with a message for troubled times”. This documentary affords an insight into why and how.

Mike Davies

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Artists’ website: www.merryhell.co.uk.

‘Bury Me Naked’ – official video (and why not?):