THE CLUTHA – Live From Harvard (own label CLUTHA2019CD)

Live From HarvardThe Clutha were a big deal in Scottish traditional music in the 1970s although not as well known down here in the south as such bands as Silly Wizard and The Boys Of The Lough who were following similar paths. Live From Harvard was recorded in 1981 with the band very much at the peak of their powers. It is very much a product of its time and if you were around back then you will be familiar with many of the songs but you won’t find the pyrotechnics of Treacherous Orchestra or The Peatbog Faeries. In some ways it’s charmingly old-fashioned.

Lead vocals are handled by Ronnie Alexander, Erlend Voy and, most especially, Gordeanna McCulloch who is rated alongside Jeannie Robertson and Belle Stewart – indeed she may be thought of as one of the last of the great traditional Scottish singers. Completing the band are Callum Allan on fiddle and piper Tom Johnstone. There is a great authenticity about the music so much that the first song, ‘Jock Hawk’s Adventures In Glasgow’ really requires the lyrics to understand what’s happening and although ‘Tam Bowie’ is marked for “advisory content” I suspect that you need to be fluent in Scots to find anything offensive. This is the only time I’ve heard Tarwathie (as in ‘Farewell  Tae Tarwathie’) pronounced with a short a.

There are a few songs which we soft southerners knew well. ‘Tramps And Hawkers’ is a rousing come-all-ye and ‘Twa Recruiting Sergeants’ would be heard most nights. ‘The 51st Highland Divison’s Farewell to Sicily’ is sung fairly straight but is enlivened by an up-tempo setting of the melody. ‘The Forrester’ and ‘The Cruel Mither’ are well-known and ‘Peer Rovin’ Lassie’ would seem to be a variant of ‘If I Were A Blackbird’. Meanwhile,  ‘The Deerness Ram’ is a version of ‘The Derby Ram’ from Orkney. How it got there is anyone’s guess. Tom Johnstone gets to star on two pipe sets, the second of which ends with ‘Banjo Breakdown’ which is one of the most extraordinary things you’ll have heard in a long time.

The Clutha are still in business despite the loss of both Gordeanna McCulloch who passed earlier this year and Ronnie Alexander who died in 2017. Live From Harvard turns the clock back to a time that some of us would regard as a golden age.

Dai Jeffries

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‘My Apron’ – the original studio version:

THEA GILMORE – Small World Turning (Shameless Records, SHAME19001)

Small World TurningIf you’ve ever wondered what the sound of a Small World Turning is, Thea Gilmore’s first album in two years has the answer. It’s furious, witty and socially astute. It’s maternally fierce, compassionate and tender. It’s a state of the nation address. It’s a call to arms.

A sense of urgency pervades the album, as darkness skulks around the periphery. The premature fade-out of an intimate, bathroom-echoey, a cappella rendition of traditional lullaby, ‘Mockingbird’, opens up an unsettling sensation of loss. Later, the intensely lovely, bittersweet piano ballad ‘Karl’s Lament’ confirms our fears, “somewhere there are crosshairs on a mockingbird”. Listener, there’s trouble at t’mill.

Fortunately, Gilmore’s songwriting is on searing form, tackling cultural commentary with biting precision. Oxford’s notorious ‘Cutteslowe Walls’ provide the perfect allegory for the country’s ever increasing rich/poor divide, ‘where there’s a line at the foodbank, where they’re handing soup to the boys on the floor, where sleeping bags are blocking doorways, you’ll see the shadow of the Cutteslowe walls”.

That song’s brightly toiling percussion, suggestive of the kind of manual labour seen in the area’s once-booming car industry, is typical of the glove-snug fit of the musical arrangements – with a generous roster of artists including Sam Lakeman and Ciaran Algar making significant contributions. This review copy is light on detail, but Seth Lakeman’s distinctive fiddle graces the ominous ‘The Loading Game’ and Cara Dillon’s Irish whistle coolly pierces the warmth of countryish ballad, ‘Don’t Dim Your Light For Anyone’.

Brimming with fury, the fiercely spat out, heavily sardonic ‘Glory’ condemns media manipulation and fake news with its “welcome to brand new history”, much as the skronky angularity of ‘The Revisionist’ takes angry aim at right wing ‘populists’ – whilst also perfectly demonstrating the power of a well-placed Oedipal insult.

Shuffling percussion and chain-gang vocalisations lead the bluesy, pro-migration ‘Shake Off Those Chains’. A mariachi-style trumpet might suggest Mexico, as might the border-crossing closer ‘Dreamers’. This final lullaby appears to bring the album full circle. But its melodic echoes of Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ plus Egan Stonier’s lamenting, Irish-style fiddle make it more uncomfortable than comforting: more Cormac McCarthy than AA Milne.

Even the vibrant ‘The Fuse (Let It All Come Down)’ – perky tv-jingle meets the gleeful sensuality of Kate Bush’s ‘Eat The Music – bristles with uneasy tension. The Kinks-ish ‘Blowback’ swarms with suitably deceptive pubby jollity, as does the “the people’s reactionary”, a public-school educated millionaire faux ‘man of the people’. Insert name here.

‘Grandam Gold’ (a Chaucerian-era phrase for wealth hoarders) is the most obviously “folky” sounding, with Dillon and Gilmore’s harmonies sublimely delicious. But there’s no mistaking the message, “take up your arms and prepare for the fight, accept what is simple or defend what is right’. Pick your side.

This album turns an incisive female gaze on a small world that’s increasingly turning off-kilter. It walloped me right in the maternals and isn’t about to let go. A brilliant, necessary album for our times.

Su O’Brien

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Artist website: www.theagilmore.net

‘The Fuse’ – lyric video:

FolkEast – the countdown has begun

FolkEast

The countdown to one of the country’s most quirky, friendly and popular music festivals has begun! In just a month’s time England’s most easterly folk festival, FolkEast, will return for the seventh year running to the glorious grounds of Suffolk’s 16th century Glemham Hall – with undoubtedly its starriest line-up to date.

Headliners – Richard Thompson, Karine Polwart & Cara Dillon

Between August 16-18 festivalgoers will be treated to performances across seven stages from an outstanding line-up of musicians from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, spearheaded by the legendary singer songwriter/guitarist Richard Thompson and including Cara Dillon & friends, the Karine Polwart Trio, John Smith, Calan, Sharon Shannon Band, Ross Ainslie, Jarlath Henderson and Ali Hutton, Daphne’s Flight, Blair Dunlop and Siobhan Miller.

The eclectic collective ranges from national treasures to some of the most exciting new kids on the block; numerous BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards winners and notable overseas acts from Canada (Good Lovelies) and Poland (Brasy). Stages include the ‘Sanctuary’ stage at St Andrew’s Church, the open air Sunset Stage and the hidden woodland solar-powered Soapbox Stage.

Two of the defining emblems of FolkEast are back this year – the infamous mythical Jackalope (half antelope; half jack rabbit) and an arboreal art installation that traditionally marks the start of the countdown to the festival.

The annual dressing of the 65 foot dead oak tree on the Glemham Hall Estate began in 2013. Wrapped in hundreds of metres of vibrant red and yellow cloth it has become a recognised totem visible from the nearby A12 and heralding the imminent start of three days of festival fun.

This year’s Jackalope, again constructed by Juan Romero, will be a high-tech one featuring water, lights and fire.

Rekindling the ancient Eastfolk moots on the Glemham Hall estate where for three days a year the folk from the East would meet kith and kin at harvest time for “a bit of a do”, this gathering has Suffolk running through it like letters in a stick of rock.

Becky Marshall-Potter who co -founded the festival with husband John says:

“The tree is dressed, the programme set, tickets are selling briskly and we are almost at the start line again! Our hugely popular patrons The Young’uns unfortunately won’t be with us this year as they are busy making waves in America but the festival will still bear their stamp, the main stages having been programmed by The Young’uns Michael Hughes.”

And this year there will be a special on-site guest – the amazing Pakefield Man, created by Suffolk sculptor Tobias Ford, and last seen stuffed with straw and set alight at sunset on the beach at Lowestoft’s First Light Festival in June.

The steel sculpture was created after worked flints from 700,000 years ago were found on Pakefield Beach.

The Marshall-Potters are committed to creating a sustainable festival for Suffolk and to that end are aiming to make this a single use plastic-free event.

Says Becky: “From the outset we have strived to be as environmentally sound as we can be.” (They have been awarded gold level status by the Suffolk Carbon Charter.)

“This year we are making a concerted effort to do our bit for the planet which means we are asking every one – crew, artists, public and volunteers – to bring reusable drinking bottles and refill them from the on-site water supply. We have asked the traders not to bring drinks for sale in single use plastic and we are not intending to supply any on site. So please bring your own drinking bottles, tankards and flagons.”

Special Events:

The Pitmen Poets and Peter Bellamy’s Maritime England Suite of Sea Songs

Two special events are in the FolkEast 2019 mix. On the Saturday head for the Moot Hall for a concert with a true Suffolk flavour. Aldeburgh Young Musicians will be joined by folk musicians Greg Russell, Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne, and Laura-Beth Salter to perform a new interpretation of Peter Bellamy’s ‘Maritime England Suite of Sea Songs’, described as “songs of the sea from the Saxons to the 19th century”.

Former Suffolk resident Bellamy, who lived at Leiston, was a unique singer, musician and composer who tragically took his own life in 1991 at the age of just 47, but left behind a treasure trove of work.

A landmark event on Sunday will see four of the North-East’s giants of folk music championing the musical and industrial heritage of their stamping ground. The Pitmen Poets features County Durham’s prolific and celebrated singer songwriter Jez Lowe, ex Lindisfarne member Billy Mitchell, renowned singer/instrumentalist Bob Fox and Benny Graham, leading exponent of Tyneside song.

A show that digs deep into the heart of Britain’s coalmining tradition, it has been described as “an epic journey through the life and times of people who made a living in Northumberland and Durham’s coalfields.”

Illustrated by atmospheric archive photography, it mixes storytelling and song, humour and pathos, triumph and tragedy.

When it comes to refreshment, two authentic ‘village’ pubs will be serving competitively-priced ales (including Suffolk-based Green Jack Brewery’s festival ale Green Jackalope) or you can squeeze into possibly the smallest pub in the UK, the 6 x 4’ Halfway Inn.

Then there’s the FolkEast Art Arcade, Instrumental, bringing together some of the country’s top instruments makers, a packed dance programme, poetry, archery, donkey rides, children’s activities (including den building, storybook making and a mud kitchen linked together in a special new children’s trail) yoga, poetry, storytelling, the Eastfolk Chronicle Kinedrome (showing folk and local interest films) and tours of Glemham Hall by estate owner Major Philip Cobbold.

On board again this year as a media partner will be BBC Radio Suffolk.

Advance weekend tickets are available price £120 (adult), £108 (full time students, 65+) and £80 for Youth tickets (12-17 year old) which must be purchased with an adult ticket. Family weekend tickets for two adults and two 12-17 year olds are £365. A great offer sees free admission for children aged 11 and under; camping under canvas is £20 and camping on wheels £30.

Tickets at https://folkeast.co.uk/passes More information: info@folkeast.co.uk

For daily line up information: https://folkeast.co.uk/daily-line-up-so-far/

Located close to the A12, the festival will also be running shuttle buses to the site from Wickham Market station – a collaboration with Suffolk Community Rail Partnership.

Festival website: www.folkeast.co.uk

 

THE SCHMOOZENBERGS – Awaken (Schmusic Records SCHCD01)

AwakenThe Schmoozenbergs are essentially a Gypsy Jazz band who have recently released their second album Awaken – and it’s a gently lovely listen. The video below is the opening track on the album, ‘Cortisol Swing’. If you click through you’ll hear a track with various tune and tempo changes embellishing the main theme – and that’s also when you start to wonder how eight hands and twenty strings (bass, violin, two guitars – all acoustic) can be so accomplished.

Allow me a slight digression and I’ll return to the album directly in a paragraph. It’s been oft remarked that there is something different about having a twelve inch vinyl album, a stylish sleeve and photographs – a tactile, tangible difference in handling such an album – let alone the debate about analogue sound compared with digital reproduction of music. There is then something more solid, classy about the whole 12” experience. I mention this because I first listened to Awaken in the car – several times – and thought it was ‘OK’ but didn’t get a strong sense of the band and their music. Back home, however, on the hifi something much more ‘rounded’ came through. My experience then is that the better the sound system you have – just use it, sitting and listening will repay all the time you take out your day and give to the album.

That said, the tracks also make for a pretty good accompaniment to whatever else you may be doing. If you’ve listened to ‘Cortisol Swing’ it’s a good and representative introduction to the whole album. There are eleven tracks, of which I particularly like the slight eeriness at the beginning of ‘Charmed Snake’, the exuberance of the title track and the mingling of the multiple influences in ‘The Finale’.

As their website puts it “Conjuring up the mood of 1930s Paris, fused with flavours of Eastern Europe and the energy of a campfire jam session, The Schmoozenbergs’ uplifting music will put a smile on your face and a spring in your step”.

The band have a number of concerts from September 5th to the end of the year, mainly in Derbyshire and the south/south west of England.

Mike Wistow

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‘Cortisol Swing’ – official live video:

Bill And The Belles – live at Barnoldswick

Bill And The BellesBarnoldswick Music & Arts Centre, Mon. 26th August (Bank Holiday)

Influenced by bluegrass, hillbilly, classic country and honky tonk, Bill And The Belles have an attractive “vintage” persona, putting their own spin on a golden era of music, specifically the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. They were nominated for four IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Association) awards in 2017 and are a wonderfully entertaining and charming live band.

Kris Truelsen (aka”Bill”) earned a Masters Degree in Appalachian Studies and continues to share his enthusiasm for traditional American music as a presenter and producer for Radio Bristol in Bristol, Tennessee, housed in the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. Kris was nominated as IBMA Broadcaster of the Year for 2017 and 2018, and is a fabulous emcee and presenter as well a talented singer and musician.

Featuring lovely three part harmonies and exquisite musicianship on fiddle, banjo, guitar and double bass, Bill And The Belles also regularly play alongside America’s top country and roots music artists as the house band for the historic Radio Bristol showFarm and Fun Time. Guest artists have included Marty Stuart, Hot Rize, the Earls of Leicester and many more. Bill and the Belles bring to the stage an uplifting show unlike any other, full of engaging humour, high spirits, and all-around revelry!

Event website: https://www.barnoldswickmusicandartscentre.com/bill-and-the-belles

‘Never Get Along With You’ – official video:

Glackin and Flynn announce debut album

Glackin And Flynn

Irish traditional musicians Doireann Glackin (fiddle) and Sarah Flynn (concertina) are neighbours and musical partners who have grown up immersed in the incredibly vibrant traditional music scene in Dublin. At a house party on the eve of 2018 they asked themselves a question: Where were all the women in Irish Traditional Music during the last century? Thus began a two-year road trip as they attempted to find the answers.

And their inquiries certainly yielded the goods – a remarkable collection of music – rare tunes and unusual versions of more common ones, drawn from the repertoires of five extraordinary women – Aggie Whyte, Nora Hurley, Ella Mae O’Dwyer, Ellen Galvin and Mollie Myers Murphy. The results are to be heard on their debut duet album The Housekeepers. Informed by the playing of the five ladies and by the likes of Tommy Potts, Bobby Casey and Frank O’Higgins it is spacious and minimal; for the most part unaccompanied fiddle and concertina.

A 24-page booklet including their research and archival photos accompanies the CD. Designed by Black Rogue Design, it perfectly encapsulates the character of the album – playful yet making an important statement.

Since forming a duet in 2015 Glackin and Flynn have performed both nationally and internationally including Tunes in The Church, Expo Milan and Museo Internazionale e Biblioteca Della Musica, Bologna. Following the hugely successful launch of their debut album The Housekeepers in Dublin they are currently on the road with further launches in Galway, Cork, Clare, Electric Picnic, London and Birmingham, to name but a few.

Artists’ website: https://flynn-and-glackin.ie/