VARIOUS ARTISTS – Sunshine Of Your Love: A Concert For Jack Bruce (MIG Records MIG02192)

Sunshine Of Your LoveOn the 24th October 2015, a year after the death of Jack Bruce – widely acknowledged as one of the best electric bass players of all time – a small galaxy of star (admittedly not very folky) musicians gathered for a tribute concert at the Roundhouse in London. Sunshine Of Your Love, released on the 25th October 2019, is a DVD and double CD set recorded at that concert. Among the musicians taking part were Ian Anderson (frontman of Jethro Tull), Dave ‘Clem’ Clempson (Bakerloo, Colosseum, Humble Pie, Jack Bruce and Friends), Phil Manzanera (Roxy Music, Quiet Sun), Bernie Marsden (Whitesnake, Paice Ashton Lord), Uli Jon Roth (Scorpions, Electric Sun), Hugh Cornwell (The Stranglers), Mark King  (Level 42), Joss Stone, members of Jack’s own Big Blues Band, and many more. There is also archive footage of Jack Bruce himself, including an energetic ‘Traintime’ and an emotional ‘Music For An Imaginary Western’. And while Cream bandmate Eric Clapton didn’t perform at the concert, the CD does include as a bonus track his pleasantly understated acoustic guitar piece ‘For Jack’.

Ginger Baker, Jack’s bandmate most famously in Cream (but also in Blues Incorporated and BBM – perhaps we shouldn’t mention the Graham Bond Organization in this context), also appears in the film, famously walking off during the performance of ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’, though that isn’t as obvious from this film as from a video widely viewed on YouTube. Sad, but perhaps not an altogether inappropriate footnote – not so much in the light of the notoriously difficult relationship between Bruce and Baker, more in that there is a clear difference in approach between Baker and the other drummer (Frank Tontoh? – he isn’t actually credited in the booklet that accompanies the set), who is way too obtrusive for my taste. In sharp contrast, Baker’s playing behind Aruba on ‘We’re Going Wrong’ is an object lesson, surprisingly sensitive for such a difficult man.

Certainly there was much more to Cream than the internal conflicts, and much more to Jack Bruce than that band, influential and well-remembered though it might be. Still, there are quite a few more songs here most associated with Cream, including ‘I Feel Free’, ‘White Room’, ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’ (of course) and ‘Politician’, as well as some Cream songs that Bruce didn’t co-write (the Skip James classic ‘I’m So Glad’ and ‘Badge’, written by Eric Clapton and George Harrison). While some of Bruce’s best-known songs written with Pete Brown were first recorded with Cream, there are many other songs here from their longstanding writing partnership. In general, the Cream songs follow the original arrangements with augmented arrangements, and in the ‘Sunshine…’ finale, a slightly-extended jam. Liam Bailey does a good job of the lead vocal on several songs. Mark King’s vocals are sometimes uneven, but his love for the songs carries him through. Still, on the whole I rather prefer the re-interpretations from the 2005 Cream reunion, even if they don’t always have the energy of the original recordings.

Standout tracks for me: the jazzy interpretation of ‘Milonga’; Ayanna Witter-Johnson’s ‘Rope Ladder To The Moon’, accompanied only by her own cello; ‘Candlelight’, a song written by Bruce and his wife Margrit Bruce Seyffer; Ian Anderson making ‘Tickets To Waterfalls’ sound very much his own; the harmonies between Chloe Fiducia and Julie Iwheta on ‘Ships In The Night’; daughter Aruba Red’s heartfelt ‘Folk Song’; and while I’ve never quite acquired the Joss Stone habit, ‘Never Tell Your Mother She’s Out Of Tune’ suits her perfectly.

Not so good: Hugh Cornwell’s pitchy vocals on ‘Hear Me Calling Your Name’; while Uli Jon Roth does a good job of recalling the old Clapton solos, his use of the whammy bar sometimes seems a little over-enthusiastic on ‘I Feel Free’. A matter of taste, I suppose: I can’t deny his technique.

There’s a lot to enjoy here. Certainly there’s plenty of technique on display here throughout, from a crop of talented musicians who generally do justice to a much-missed musician (yes, by me too). I’m particularly pleased to have been introduced to some songs I haven’t heard before: clearly, I have some catching up to do.

The 2015 concert apparently raised over £35,000 for East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices (EACH), for which Jack had frequently raised money, and a percentage of the sales from the box set is promised for donation to the same charity.

David Harley

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‘Sunshine Of Your Love’ – from the concert:

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

KÍLA – Pota Óir (Kíla Records, KRDVD003)

Pota ÓirKíla, a band with a mutable line-up around the core of the Ó Snodaigh family has been around since the late 80s, with a prodigious output of band and offshoot projects over that time. Last year, the band released a live album, Beo/Alive to include some of their less-performed tracks and Pota Óir (Pot of Gold) is its accompanying DVD. Shot in atmospheric black and white by director Anthony White (a stylist in the mould of the great Anton Corbijn), it intercuts band talking heads with live and backstage footage.

Mercifully, that’s about where any relationship to a bog-standard music DVD ends. A faintly sinister opening section with a droning musical track over choppy edits of band members, like an outtake from a ‘found footage’ horror film, invites the bold viewer in. Kílaland is then gradually revealed as a curious, liminal place of tall tales and shifting perspectives, where even the band’s name is open to conjecture.

Right from the first track, ‘Matatu’, Rónán Ó Snodaigh seizes the eye with his intense physicality, ferociously pacing the stage with his bodhrán. Standing like a flamingo in ‘Pota Óir’ or brooding on his knees in the beautiful ‘Babymouse’ (Dee Armstrong’s stunning melody paired with Colm Ó Snodaigh’s tender lyrics), he’s a truly elemental presence.

There’s no real conscious ‘showmanship’ here, just a breathtaking intensity of performance between musicians working it out in real time. Guest vocalist, Polish singer Kayah, adds a rich throatiness to the intricate ‘Seo Mo Leaba /Am Reel’ as different parts and musical lines cross and intersect in a constant dynamic flowing stream. The band’s influences are prolific: there’s a jazz looseness, there’s funk in the bassline, soul and rap in the vocals, there are world influences from Africa to the Middle East – everything gets caught up in the Kíla tornado.

The film really captures the idea of music being a living entity, from its origins and gestation into a working piece, to feeding off the audience in order to attain spontaneity and transcendence in performance.

‘Raise The Road’, a rare song in English and a guide to growing up, features the line “don’t be afraid, be courageous and shine”. Sung largely a cappella, it’s a goose-bumpy moment but it also seems to sum up the band’s philosophy. There’s a casual bravery in their risk-taking, their willingness for things to be imperfect or under-rehearsed, as long as they create an energy. Kíla, then, is not so much a band, more an unstoppable force, cheerfully straddling chaos in order to craft magic.

Su O’Brien

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Artists’ website: www.kila.ie

‘The Derry Tune’:

CHRIS TAVENER – Is He Joking? (own label)

Is He Joking?Recorded live over two sold-out nights in Manchester’s Three Minute Theatre, Is He Joking?, the debut album by satirical singer-songwriter, Chris Tavener is available now on CD and DVD. Cleverly, the show begins with an internal monologue (which the live audience are privy to) as Tavener tries to get himself prepared to go on stage. This is an ongoing gag which runs throughout the evening, with this “inner voice”, consistently second guessing, distracting and sometimes “talking for” the “real” Mr Tavener. That said, this is also something that works better as a DVD joke, as it is Tavener’s visual engagement with his psyche which makes this this technique work.

“Are we ready to rock, Manchester!?” asks Tavener to an enthusiastic audience, before confessing “This is a soft song” and performing, ‘Praise Him’; his ode to former One Direction heartthrob, Harry Styles.

While his on-stage banter and seemingly off the cuff one-liners are decent, Tavener has an undeniable talent for observational “it’s funny because it’s true” humour, and this really plays into his songwriting.

‘Let’s All Go To A Festival’, for example, is a scarily accurate summary of attending a weekend-long music festival, the charmingly vulgar ‘Modern Romance’ has some pretty relatable images but perhaps no lyrical observations are as accurate as ‘Postcard Home’; a song about travelling during a gap year, which is crammed full of hilarious imagery that feels completely true to life…even if one’s own experience of gap year activity has been vicariously lived through the persistent posts of an annoying friend on social media.

Another clever write, is ‘Phoney Supremacy’, written from the point of view of Tavener’s hammed-up mistrust of iPhone users, which starts life sounding as if it could be a close-to-the-bone right wing, Daily Mail rant:

“…When you see that they’re coming over here, there’s a million more in a single year/ They speak a different language and they’re not compatible with the rest of us, they look out for their own/The government won’t make it stop/I saw one in my corner shop near home/I just don’t like the people that use iPhones.”

It’s much funnier when he does it. Believe me.

Billed as a satirical singer-songwriter, it is part of Tavener’s remit that his lyrics are the standout part of his performance, yet I feel would be doing him an injustice to overlook his musical talents; the ragtimey ‘Apocalypse Prediction’ is wonderfully fingerpicked for example and ‘Cliché Blues’ uses a very convincing, drivey blues pattern, appropriately loaded with all sorts of clichés from the blues genre; from waking up this morning, to meeting the devil at the crossroads.

In short, Mr Tavener is very good at what he does, and his excellent observations, wonderful turn of phrase and musical ability make for a very funny, very engaging and very enjoyable debut album. While there isn’t that much in the way of bonus material with either the DVD or CD (extra track on DVD and lyric book with CD), the show itself is a strong enough selling point to take a punt on this. Good stuff.

Christopher James Sheridan

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Artist’s website: http://www.christavener.co.uk/

‘Modern Romance (She’s So Drunk) – official video from 2016:

MERRY HELL – A Grand Night Out (Focal Media)

MERRY HELL A Grand Night OutThree albums to the good and a growing reputation, Merry Hell, have seen fit to release a live DVD. Having seen the band perform live and reviewed their last excellent album The Ghost In Our House and other stories…, I slipped the DVD into the player with some anticipation. I was not disappointed.

The selection of songs come from across the three albums and with exception of the elusive ‘No Money’, which I have yet to catch live, all my favourites are in evidence.

The first thing that hit me was the high quality of the sound recording. I actually wondered, initially, if the track was overdubbed, but could see after a few minutes that it was the actual live soundtrack. The performance starts a little restrained and then eases into more comfortable delivery. Not unusual for any live show.

So, what we have here is Merry Hell moving from jig, to light folk to Celtic rock and all colours between. Top of the list, for me: ‘Let’s Not Have A Morning After’, ‘There’s A Ghost In Our House’, ‘The Butcher And The Vegan’ and ‘BLINK… and You Miss It’. Although, I am sure you will all have your own favourites if you are a fan. If you have never heard any of Merry Hell’s music you really are missing out on some damn fine folk/folk rock.

Not seen Merry Hell live? Well, here is the next best thing. Support the band, buy the DVD and have a Grand Night In.

Ron D Bowes

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Artists’ website: www.merryhell.co.uk

‘The Baker’s Daughter’:

JAMES KEELAGHAN – new album

HistoryJAMES KEELAGHAN – Celebrating 25 Years Of Performing

History contains eighteen studio versions of James’ most beloved songs, while on the accompanying DVD we find James in the comfort of his home telling the stories behind the music

The CD booklet contains twenty eight pages of pictures and text from James’ own pen.   

Called Canada’s finest singer songwriter by the respected American journalist and historian Dave Marsh, James Keelaghan is an artist who has proven to be a man for all seasons. As the calendar pages have turned, for a quarter of a century now, this poet laureate of the folk and roots music world has gone about his work with a combination of passion and curiosity. His masterful story telling has, over the course of eleven recordings, have been part of the bedrock of his success, earning Keelaghan nominations and awards – including a Juno and acclaim from Australia to Scandinavia.

Possessed of an insatiable appetite for finding the next unique story line, Keelaghan forges his pieces with brilliant craftsmanship and monogrammed artistic vision, making him one of the most distinctive and readily identifiable voices on both the Canadian and international singer-songwriter scenes.

His songbook has enlightened, enthralled, and been embraced, by audiences around the world. “I’ve always had the urge to write,” says the Calgary native who now calls Perth Ontario home. “Some things weren’t being said in the way I wanted to say them, some things were not being written about at all. That’s why I started to write the historical material. That led me to writing my own personal narratives as well.” .

Admiration and respect for his work amongst his peers is reflected in the words of David Francey who recently stated that “James Keelaghan is a voice in contemporary Canadian songwriting that has helped us define who we are as a people. He writes with great humanity and honesty, with an eye to the past and a vision of the future. He has chronicled his times with powerful and abiding songs, with heart and eyes wide open.”

Terry Wickham, the producer of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, is one of many longtime admirers of Keelaghan’s music, and he sums up the artists appeal by saying, “James has become the complete artist. A brilliant tunesmith who has become one of the most engaging performers of our time. You always know the journey with James is going to be great, you just never know what all the destinations are. That is why the curve on his career continues to rise.”

And these words from James:

 “I think that people who have no regrets have neither imagination or conscience. We can all look back over the arc of a lifetime and see things we might have done better or differently.

Hearts we would not have broken or ethical dilemmas we would have handled with more grace. The trick to not being bitter or overly nostalgic is to not dwell on regret.

Despite any regrets I have been able to spend the last 25 years of my life making the music that I wanted to make. I have known an army of friends who have helped me take that music to far flung bits of the globe. I have performed in the company of some of the most creative awe-inspiring musicians on the planet. I have participated in the creation of organizations focused on the furthering of music. Music is a vocation, not a vacation. I’m looking forward to the next 25 years”

Artist’s website: http://keelaghan.com/

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DVD Excerpt: