RETURN OF THE CROPREDY EXILE – By Dai Jeffries

Whisper this, but I hadn’t been to for twenty years. I had felt it was getting too big for my personal comfort – when I first went there was one campsite, now there are seven – but an insistent invitation drew me back this year. In fact what are bigger are the camper vans, the folding chairs and, dare I say, the waistlines. We older and …er…more substantial punters do like our comforts. Some aspects of the festival are more technological and sophisticated. The bar is a marvel of mobile opulence although initially no more efficient than in the days when there was one Wadsworth’s lorry, lots of barrels and one choice of beer. That’s no reflection on the brilliant bar-staff, by the way, but logistics do sometimes let the side down.

An innovation during my absence is the big screen which, in between displaying safety information, “televises” the show. It can be a boon for those at the top of the field although it’s often obscured by a forest of flagpoles. The interesting thing is that even down the hill at the front, unless you’re actually leaning on the pit barrier, you find yourself watching the screen, not the performers. Sure, you get 10 foot high images of John Tams’ face and Graeme Taylor’s plectrum technique but it feels wrong. If they could just pipe it into the cable TV network we wouldn’t actually have to go there. Er…maybe not.

Everything else is pretty much the same. The stewards are unobtrusive, laid-back and helpful and with road closures around the site their help was invaluable. The familiar spirit of the festival remains. Two examples that I heard about: one couple left their car keys in the door when they went to bed and woke to find the car locked and the keys safely guarded and a purse containing credit cards and a good deal of money was lost overnight and returned intact the following day. I’m not sure where else that would happen. T-shirts remain the badges of identification and mutual recognition although in general clothes are less outré – that goes with the Aldi and Tesco carrier bags. There are still more food concessions than can you eat from without the aid of a tapeworm, lots of silly hats to buy and, increasingly important as one gets older, civilised toilets. Don’t laugh, it’s important. And despite promising myself that I wouldn’t visit the CD store, I failed to keep my promise.

The rain loitered with intent on Thursday afternoon but stayed away as Fairport Convention opened the proceedings with a short and none too serious acoustic set followed by Katriona Gilmore & Jamie Roberts and Blair Dunlop. Hearing ‘Walk Awhile’ as the second song really sets you up for the weekend. Bob Harris introduced Home Service as the evening’s compère, John Tams, was too modest to introduce himself. It is so good to have the band back together although it has to be said that their failure to invite Bill Caddick to return raises awkward questions. Their set was familiar material – new boy Paul Archibald had to learn another back catalogue after all – and, in the current climate, it was impossible to listen to ‘Alright Jack’ and ‘Sorrow’ without reflecting on how little things have changed.

Hayseed Dixie might be considered a one trick pony but they perform the trick very well, although I have my reservations about their interpretations of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’. A couple of serious moments were hidden in the rockgrass but I’m not sure if anybody noticed. They had a lot of fans at the festival, particularly among those who found Home Service too intellectually challenging to actually bother listening to. UB40 closed the day – slick, professional and, I have to admit, not my thing at all.

Before it actually opens to the public the arena is rather eerie. I watched Seasick Steve sound-checking with his pounding drums reverberating around the empty site. Steve was Friday’s headliner and I still can’t make up my mind whether he’s the great original everyone reckons he is or a charming old fraud. Don’t get me wrong, I love his music, but I don’t buy into his story. If I’m right he’s only following in the tradition of Bob Dylan who, in his early days, fed interviewers the most outrageous lies and watched them lap up everything he said. Listen to Folksinger’s Choice for prima facie evidence.

Moore Moss Rutter provided a suitably relaxed start to Friday, another day when the weather couldn’t make its mind up. The Travelling Band began with a Blind Lemon Jefferson tune which felt like a smart move. They moved on to their own material variously augmented by viola, cello and brass and played an exciting set which was also VERY loud. I rather liked them despite that but the contrast in approach was hard on Steve Tilston who had to follow them. I also like Steve and his partnership with The Durbevilles feels like a very natural match on a song like ‘Jackaranda’. This was a good set and The Oxenhope EP was one of my purchases. Charlie Dore provided yet more country-style music – the theme of the day, it seems. I found her set rather relaxing which was good for the late afternoon slot but I confess that I was waiting for The Dylan Project.

Like his hero, Steve Gibbons is seventy this year. How did that happen? Everything about him is unique from his look to his guitar style and the way he used to make Keith Richards appear the picture of robust good health. They played a tight set with none of Steve’s extemporising as they mixed the downbeat – ‘Dark Eyes’, ‘Sweetheart Like You’ and ‘Cold Irons Bound’ – with the simpler sentiments of ‘Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You’ and ‘Rainy Day Women #12 & 35’. ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’ seemed a most appropriate choice given the events of the preceding week.

The Urban Folk Quartet was another band who benefited from my visit to the record stall but they had released a live album at a special Cropredy price and I wasn’t about to pass that up. UFQ are another band who have found a new approach to traditional music. Frank Moon’s oud features heavily, Joe Broughton seems to play more guitar than fiddle but who’s counting, Paloma Trigas is a bundle of energy and Tom Chapman joins a small roster of singing percussionists. If you haven’t heard them yet, you really should.

The Coral: ahead of their time or brilliantly retro? They included ‘Ticket To Ride’ in a spectacular show of their 21st century rock and would have made a better final act. It was unfortunate that there was a delay before Seasick Steve took to the stage. There was none of the redneck southerner schtick you get on TV and he seemed rather low key. I chose to watch him from the top of the field to see how he would work with such a big crowd and sad to say people around me were drifting away into the cold night long before the end of his set. I’d like to see him live in a smaller, more intimate, venue but so meteoric has been his rise to fame that he doesn’t play small gigs any more.

Richard Digance is a fixture as Saturday’s opener. Part comic, part social commentator and all warm-up man he did a superb job, getting the crowd on its feet doing silly things and listening to some serious songs – ‘Jobs’ is absolutely brilliant. It’s a combination that pulled the audience together and pointed it in the right direction. Next up, it was lovely finally to see The Shee on stage: fiddles, flute, mandolin, accordion, harp and voices performing their mixture of Scottish and American music and songs. I like the way they wear their posh frocks on stage, too.

Blockheads without Ian Dury: does it work? Well, the sun came out and England won a test match while they were on stage so I guess it does. The band isn’t exactly the same, inevitably, but in Derek “The Draw” Hussey they have a suitably eccentric lead vocalist who doesn’t attempt to imitate Dury but manages to channel his attitude. Songs like ‘Inbetweenies’ and ‘What A Waste!’ have been part of the band’s DNA for so long that they can’t fail to sound good.

My live experience of Lau suggested that they could be even louder than The Blockheads but the festival sound crew just about kept them in check. Martin Green seems to have more equipment every time I see the band – now he has a keyboard to go with his accordion and pedals adding new textures to Lau’s sound palette. The accordion was frequently used as a bass instrument with Martin playing a melody on the keyboard.

A decade ago Jim Lockhart introduced me to the art of ligging Dublin-style. This involved more pints of stout than I care to remember, being invited to a couple’s engagement party and being told by a lady with the reddest hair I’ve ever seen that my destiny was linked with the sea. As the ferry back from Rosslare didn’t sink I haven’t taken her too seriously. At the time Jim was head of production at RTÉ 2fm but in his previous life he played keyboards and flute with Horslips. Sadly they broke up before I had chance to hear them live which made their performance at Cropredy something of a milestone for me. Yes, Horslips are back, although Johnny Fean’s brother Ray now sits in for drummer Eamonn Carr. The outrageous stage clothes are gone and the band is rather more soberly dressed now but can still play those hits: ‘Dearg Doom’, ‘Trouble With A Capital T’, ‘Charolais’ and ‘Mad Pat’ as well as the soaring instrumentals from The Book Of Invasions.  It was a moment of magic.

I’ve tried listening to Badly Drawn Boy several times and it hasn’t worked. He has one great song, ‘Born In The UK’, but that’s not enough to hold my interest. My opinion was not helped by the fact that Horslips were cut short while Bad milked a smattering of applause for two encores. Look, this is personal recollection and I’ll be as partisan as I like, OK?

A typical Saturday set by Fairport Convention consists of some compulsory songs, explorations of the byways of their back catalogue and a succession of alumni and friends doing their thing. This wasn’t typical. Its centrepiece was a complete “Babbacombe” Lee which occupied a third of the programme and, of course, there’s a new album to promote which doesn’t leave a lot of time. They opened with ‘Walk Awhile’ and closed with ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’, ‘Matty Groves’ and ‘Meet On The Ledge’. ‘Crazy Man Michael’, ‘Honour And Praise’, ‘Mr Lacey’ and ‘The Hiring Fair’ were the other oldies. Ralph McTell dropped in for a couple of songs and PJ Wright and Phil Bond augmented Fairport when lead guitar and keyboards were required but otherwise the band stood up to be counted. I’m glad I heard “Babbacombe” Lee having managed to miss it on the spring tour and the use of films on the big screen added an extra something to the show. ‘Matty Groves’ was illustrated by a video featuring Barbie and Ken and what appeared to be a meerkat in a submarine – it was late, I’d had a beer or two: who knows what I saw?

So, has Cropredy grown too big? Yes, I think it has but I’ll qualify that by saying that the infrastructure is quite capable of coping with the 20,000 people who turn up each year. But on Saturday afternoon it was almost impossible to move around the field without kicking, jostling or stepping on someone and it was impossible to sit quietly and mind one’s own business without being kicked, jostled or stepped on. Thursday has now grown into an official day and the fringe occupies two pubs in the village. It may be time to consider a second stage. I would have been more than happy to see some of the acts play a second set in a smaller venue or some of the fringe artists accommodated there. It would take the pressure off the main area and restore the relaxed atmosphere that existed back in the eighties. I missed that. 

Dai Jeffries

For more information on Fairport Convention visit: http://www.fairportconvention.com/

Dai has also created a Flickr photo set from the festival which you can view by clicking on the following link:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/daijeffries/sets/72157627345454269/

Are there any women here? Bearded Theory 2011 review

In the quest to experience something new every year, it was the turn of The Bearded Theory to fulfil this self-indulgence.

Situated in the picturesque grounds of Kedleston Hall, in my home county of Derbyshire, the Bearded Theory Festival took place from 13 -15th May this year.  An eclectic mix of music, entertainment, characters with never a dull moment.

It was the Festival’s third year, but it’s first year at Kedleston Hall.  An easy-to-reach venue that was easy on the eye but which was also a celebrity site, having been the key location for the Keira Knightley film “The Duchess”.    The site was well-proportioned, with many delights for old and young alike.  The weather decided to be surprisingly co-operative, but in the sparse times of rain, there was cover to take refuge under.

Why ‘Bearded Theory Festival’, I hear you ask?  Well, during the festival, there was a guiness book of record attempt for the “most amount of fancy dress Beards in one place and at one time”.  What an opportunity to achieve another first of being able to say that I was part of a record attempt and also to be able to wear a beard and enact a favourite Monty Python scene… “Are there any women here?”  Fantastic.

The main attraction of the Festival were ‘The Waterboys’ (officially) and what an act they were.  Absolutely brilliant, a stunning set.  The sheer understated showmanship of Mike Scott with his Jaggeresque arrogance and superb musicianship; the flamboyant fiddle skills of Steve Wickham; and the brilliance support of the other members of the band created a feast for the ears and the feet!

Why were they the main attraction officially?  Well, X-Factor reject, Wagner, was this year’s curiosity and faux-star feature and that is all the publicity I am going to give him in this review.

There were three main areas for the music.  The Main Stage; The Beard Top and the Magical Sounds Area with so many great acts playing across the weekend.  In no particular order; Dan Donnelly; 3 Daft Monkeys (The stalwart and honorary patrons of the Festival); Ferocious Dog (great name); The Whip; The Undertones; Justin Sullivan  of New Model Army fame; an awesome Swiss trio – Mama Rosin; Dub Pistols; The Bad Shepherds; Martha Tilston; Little Jonny England; Trans Global Underground; Athlete; Eddie and The Hot Rods.  Apologies to any one who I have missed out, but you were all excellent.

Whereas the Friday and Saturday were the opportunity for me to experience the Festival as a “grown-up”, I had the privilege to experience the Sunday as a “family day”.  Accompanied by my children, siblings and their younger children, we trooped along to the festival to see what else it offered for those not so enamoured by the music.  What a treat; – there was face-painting; craft activities; hula-hooping; hunt for the Gruffalo (found him and got a hug!); bouncy slide; bedtime fireside story;  Then there was the food; yum – something for all palates and not that pricey too – always a bonus!!!  For the retail therapy aficionados, then stalls to peruse and purchase from and of course, a variety of beards to deliberate over for the record attempt.  Then to wind down and relax, a calming massage that soothed the muscles and the mind.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable weekend and one that I hope to repeat next year and maybe even brave the camping!  I definitely recommend this festival.  There is entertainment galore and not just from the artists, but from members of the audience as well.  Book now for next year’s event (18th, 19th, 20th May 2012) peeps and wear your beards with pride!!

Sarah Burch 2011 

Festival weblink: http://www.beardedtheory.co.uk/

Folking Bearded Theory 2011 photo set: http://www.flickr.com/photos/folking/sets/72157626737349334/

GOSPORT & FAREHAM EASTER FESTIVAL – 03 to 04.04.10

I suppose it seems a little weird reviewing a festival that you are a participant as a performer. Still, why not? Firstly let’s set the record straight. I’ve always enjoyed the Gosport & Fareham Easter Festival because it is so audience and performer friendly. Our host is the ever affable Peter Chegwyn who, like myself has impeccable taste when it comes to selecting which artists to utilise…only joking. Along with his own dynamic duo Keith and Jayne Humpleby, the festival has established itself as one that most performers would give their right arms to get on the bill such has its reputation for hospitality and respect for the artists gone before it. Unfortunately I was only able to judge the festival this time round on the merits of a full evening and one afternoon concert but to be honest having chatted to a fair few of the audience and traders we were all in agreement that this was yet another successful year. Now, for those who have wondered what it’s like in the ‘Green Room’ (yes, this festival has a genuine one!) let me tell you that the conversations are sprinkled with outlandish tales with each artist trying to outdo each other and that you’d better watch out if you sing “The Wild Rover”. Still, if you can’t roll with the punches…don’t get in the ring. You have been warned. Onto the evening performance and Saturday night’s packed auditorium. Garry and I haven’t performed as Band Of Two at the festival for a good five or six years but the reception we received was like a real home-coming. More than likely because we didn’t play “The Wild Rover!” Unfortunately due to me having to chill out in the Green Room I missed Kathryn and her band’s first set of the weekend but, via the sound from speakers in the room she was extremely well received. Having recouped my energy I managed to catch the Feast Of Fiddles (of which Garry is also a member) opening with the first track from their new album “The Magnificent Several” and was particularly impressed by Peter Knight’s “Sharpe Goes Walkabout” and Chris Leslie’s “Geronimo’s Cadillac”. From the audience point of view it was the set of tunes including Dave Roberts’ French Waltz that had many octogenarians swaying in time to the Parisienne style melodies accompanied by evocative guitar chords and sleazy (in the nicest possible way) melodeon from Hugh Crabtree that proved the highlight of the gig. After a good night’s sleep back at the hotel (well, it would have been if it hadn’t been for some serious folk ‘buffs’ tripping upstairs at four in the morning) we woke up to a hearty breakfast joined by Ron Kavana and Ms Tickell (boy, can this lad name-drop). So, onto my final concert of the weekend and what a cracker it turned out to be with an outrageous set performed by Kathryn and her band of happy chappies. Peter Tickell whipped up the audience with dervish digits flailing on his fiddle accompanied by Julian Sutton’s pumping melodeon and Joss Clapp’s truly ‘funky’ rhythm guitar chops. Like me, the rest of the audience were inspired by new heights of professionalism and pleasantly exhausted by the end of the set. So a fine finishing finale (at least for me) and many thanks to Peter Chegwyn and his team for providing possibly the best ‘folk’ festival in the UK…here’s to plenty more. ps/ Many thanks to the Gosport sound and lighting crew and Feast Of Fiddles soundman Paul Smith for turning a good sound into a great one…nice one.

PETE FYFE.

Celtic Connections reviews by Pauline Keightley

Fyfe Dangerfield ABC Glasgow Celtic Connections 20th January 2010… Dangerfield stormed the ABC Glasgow as part of the Celtic connections festival with his latest solo album ‘Yellow Moon’. He is a vibrant, energetic and expressive performer, who brought the audience with him with fun and interactive chat. This is an album of love songs, that covers all the high euphoria and depths of feeling that the first rush of love can bring. Fyfe plays guitar and also for several songs he had violin strings with him as he played piano. With Fyfe on piano he performed a tear jerker called ‘Barricades’ which moves the heart with stirring emotions. Other stand out songs were the light guitar song ‘Livewire’; the very quiet ‘Firebird’ that sings of ‘that bicycle made for two’; the comforting lyrics of ‘my memories ring like telephones’ in the sunshine feel of ‘She Needs Me’; and the instant feel of ‘Don’t Be shy’ with lyrics such as ‘Ask her to sing for you, adore you.’ For the rock song ‘Faster than the Setting Sun’ Fyfe used a foot pedal and managed a truly tight professional sound. He has a powerhouse vocal. There were shades of the Beatles and other musical influences here – and his music ranges from upbeat rock, poignant piano songs and rhythmic guitar tunes. With the audience on its feet by now for his encore he gave us the Guillemot’s ‘Made-up love Song #43’ – and we sang along. Well there is nothing made up about these new feel-good love songs! Fyfe is also a composer of choral music, and leader of the pop alternative and indie rock band the Guillemots, whose first album, Through the Windowpane, was nominated for the 2006 Mercury prize and for a Brit award. His new album was recorded straight in only 5 days, and the album has that raw live feel about it. Go out and listen to his music. I recommend it. An intoxicating performance.

Beth Nielsen Chapman Royal Concert Hall 25th January 2010… Beth Nielsen Chapman showed us why she has had many hit songs covered by well known American artists as she sang her sweet and moving love songs from her latest album, as well as some of her older hits. Her songs have strong melodies and insightful lyrics. Playing piano and with violin strings accompanying she takes the mood down on songs like ‘How We Love’ and ‘Peace’. On stage she has a warm and relaxed style. Stand out songs are the emotive Sand and Water, Peace, How We Love and Even As It All Goes By. She sang emotionally deep songs with piano and strings, which made me think of other well-known female writers such as Carole King and Sarah McLaughlan. Introducing several songs she talked about her writing collaborations with other respected songwriters. She also took the tempo of the concert up performing foot- tapping county guitar songs, with close harmonies. On her new songs she returns to her previous soul-filled style, and her voice sings with a subtle compassion. This concert was the first show of her tour to coincide with the release of her latest album, Back To Love, which was BBC Radio 2’s album of the week on January 18th 2010, and has an expected US release mid-year. Scottish musician Phil Cunningham joined her on stage for several songs. Her song “Even As It All Goes By” closed out 2009 as BBC Radio 2’s “Record of the Week” and was the only new single added to the “A List” of BBC Radio 2’s playlist at the top of 2010. She has had songs covered by Faith Hill, Bonnie Raitt, Willie Nelson, Trisha Yearwood, Neil Diamond, Patty Griffin and Emmylou Harris among others. She lives in Nashville. Charlie Dore was the support.

Angelique Kidjo Old Fruitmarket Glasgow 21 January 2010 … Angélique Kidjo had the Old Fruitmarket dancing on Friday night. Kidjo and her band brought rhythmic delights and the vibrancy of Africa’s sun- with songs such as ‘Hush Now Child,’ several rumba’s, and afropop dance tunes. She also sang the song La Petit Fleur with simply bass accompanying her heart-stirring voice. She is known for her wide-ranging musical influences – she mentioned James Brown, Steve Wonder, Santana and Otis Redding. Her musical influences include the Afropop, Caribbean, rumba, jazz, gospel and Latin. Kidjo is a grammy award winning Beninoise singer-songwriter. She studied at a Jazz school in Paris and she has recorded four albums for Island Records and in 2000 she was signed by Columbia Records. She has been a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 2002. She has also recorded songs for movies, Tv and documentaries. Later during the concert Kidjo danced through the packed audience, and it was surprising to note how tiny she was, as on stage she has a big presence. She then invited around15 audience members up to dance behind her on stage, and along to her drummer’s exciting dance beats. An exhilarating and upbeat gig.

Laura Veirs Oran Mor Glasgow Celtic Connections  17 January 2010… Laura was in a print dress and 6 months pregnant she enjoyed a few heckles. She is songstress from Portland Oregan. She sang her coloured lyrics that often draw their roots from the natural world, and sang with her clear vocals and unexpected rhythms on guitar, alongside strong vocal harmonies with the band. She sang songs from her new album ‘July Flame’ to an enthusiastic Scottish audience. A fun summer song inspired by a peach. She played a few requests and had the audience clapping and singing along for a couple of songs. Her backing band consisted of long time members Kate O’Brien-Clark on fiddle, Eric Anderson and Nelson Kempf (Old Believers) on guitar, vocals, balalaika, bass and drums. She is releasing her seventh album, July Flame, under her own label in January 2010. She tours frequently in Europe, North America and Australia.

The Future Trad Collective, Old Fruitmarket 21st January 2010… The Future Trad Collective is the latest band with flutist Michael McGoldrick, producer and guitarist Ian Fletcher and fiddler Andy Dinan. I was stuck with their energetic and accomplished playing, and by their dynamic, fresh and eclectic mix of sounds at this gig. They play several instruments – pipes, whistles, flute, fiddle and guitar – and performed Jigs and Reels, polkas and Breton gavottes fused with everything from AfroCuban Cross-Rhythms, Tabla-driven Funk, Flamenco, Samba, Afrobeat, HipHop to House, Reggae, Disco, Breakbeat and Jungle. Mike has been a member of the respected Scottish ceildih band Capercaillie for nine years. He has also played with many top musicians including Mark Knopfler, John Cale, and Youssou N’Dour. He won the BBC Musician of the Year Folk Award in 2006. Their guitarist Ian has produced film soundtracks ranging from Ambient to Breakbeat and has been collaborating with many different artists. Andy Dinan, is a master of the fiddle having won the all Ireland fiddle championships twice. He has played with Adrian Edmondson and Troy Donockley and the Punk Folk Group, the Bad Shepherds.

Kirsty McGee and the Hobopop Collective Classic Grande  January 16th 2010… Kirsty McGee performed at the Classic Grand as part of Glasgow’s Celtic Connections. She covered several genres including roots, Americana, jazz and blues. Kirsty has a soothing and engrossing vocal that resonates with depth and soul. The Hobopop Collective performed songs from their new ‘Live album No 5’ at the Classic Grand – and they were ably supported by accomplished and versatile singer songwriter John Smith (who has toured with legend John Martyn) and singer Ruth Rotman – for an evening of new folk traditions. The audience were seated on the floor surrounded by candles for thee intimate sets. Kirsty and Mat Martin, with whom she has performed as a duo for the past four years, have a flowing and engrossing vibe to their hopeful love songs. She has moving soul-filled vocals and Mat, with his string instruments, provides energy, colour and shade. They play a mix of laid back jazz-infused bluegrass acoustic tunes and Kirsty’s songs feel light and easy yet full of mystery and meaning. Her travelling songs take inspiration from a close affinity with nature. Stand out songs were the ‘Sandman’, a song backed by Matt’s fun upbeat banjo jazz rhythms; ‘The Last to Understand’ when Kirsty sings with her mellow, caressing voice; The sensitive love song ‘Bliss;’ ‘Stonefruit’ foot tapping jazz basslines from Nick Blacka alongside a strong vocal melody; ‘Dust Devil’ – a moody introspective love song which is soft and slow – yes a song about dust! No, more about how, when we love we have those special connections everywhere we look. Kirsty and her Hobopop Collective finished with ‘Faith’ – an optimistic song full of quiet hope and honest vocals.

The Low Anthem, the Old FruitMarket 28th January 2010… Haunting and even spiritual – they play their music with flexible bass and lots of space. Their lead singer has one of those perfect high tenor voices. They describe their music as Alternative or folk rock. The Low Anthem played their enriching Americana and minimalist rock to an appreciative audience at the Old Fruitmarket Glasgow. The band consists of Ben Knox Miller, a folk musician, Jeff Prystowsky, a jazz bassist and composer Jocie Adams. They played tracks from their third self-released album, 2008’s Oh My God, Charlie Darwin. This album was named Album of the Month by Uncut and was also nominated for the 2009 Uncut Music Award. For me the stand out songs were “Charlie Darwin” ” To Ohio” and “Yellowed by the Sun.” The band also picked the energy of the set up and performed some jazzier and rockier tunes.
They play around 30 instruments between them – including zither, pump organ, Tibetan singing bowl, trumpet, banjo and clarinet – and have influences such as Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Tom Waits. To give you an idea the Low Anthem is now travelling with – WWI portable pump organ, harmonium, AJ & HH 29″ thunder drum, nipple gong, 3 clarinets, a really big fiddle, E flat marching horn, sizzling set of crotales, electricity aided guitar, rusty saw, accordion, 2 fiddles…and enough harmonicas to summon a swarm of locusts – apparently! They met at Brown university and the band made me think of hippies and various influences from Connor Obrest, the Shins to the Eagles. I enjoyed the ethereal and atmospheric nature of their live performance – low key yet also uplifting. There was very much a student/indie music crowd at this gig. It was worth seeing them live, and I recommend checking them out. They were ably supported by Fraser Anderson a singer-songwriter from Edinburgh who is now living in France, and is due to release his third album, 151, in January 2010.

Danny Thompson and Friends Old Fruitmarket 30th January 2010…  Renowned bass player Thompson introduced an all-star line up that included – Darrell Scott, Luka Bloom, Donald Shaw, Michael McGoldrick, Eddi Reader, Martin Simpson, Mollie O’Brien, and Tim O’Brien. They each recalled memories of Martyn and included several of Martyn’s best loved songs, finishing with his best known , May You Never. This concert was part of the Celtic Connections festival and a tribute to John Martyn who died in January 2009. Thompson came out firstly for a short bass solo centre stage. He is known best as a double bassist, who over his long career has played with among others, respected folk/rock musicians Richard Thompson and John Martyn. Thompson has played with nearly every major artist all over the world, over his fifty five year career. He received a Lifetime achievement award in the 2007 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. One aspect that I enjoy at the Celtic festival is the artists collaborating, and its clear how much fun they were all having working with each other on stage at this gig. Many of the artists at this gig and others, talked about their writing with other artists, and being inspired by them. In this world it is the norm to co-write or cover others songs. This was a quality and stately gig – and uplifting and heartfelt by the performers. Some of Martyn’s songs performed were – Over The Hill, Love Me With Your Head And Heart, May You Never, and The Jelly Roll Blues. Plus other songs that seemed to be chosen to fit with a general theme of optimism in the human spirit. Mollie O’Brien from Tennessee, Tim O’Brien sister, had a very strong jazz-filled voice.

(postscript) Thompson’s initial experience of bass playing was with a skiffle group, with whom he played a tea chest bass (a bass he built himself out of a tea chest, which folded up so he could carry it). In the early 1960s he bought a second-hand double bass from an old man in Battersea who let him have the instrument for £5 (despite the fact that it was worth much more than that), on the basis of his keenness to play it. He christened the instrument “Victoria” and it has remained his instrument of choice ever since. The bass was built by Gand, a French luthier in 1865.