JON WILKS – live in Birmingham

Jon Wilks

Kitchen Garden Café, Birmingham. June 9, 2019

Now based near Winchester, but making a welcome return to his hometown of Birmingham, opening with his reading of the Incredible String Band’s ‘October Song’, Jon Wilks made an all too rare live outing in support of his album, Midlife. It’s a collection of traditional folk songs from in and around Birmingham, most of them pretty obscure, but it’s testimony to his passion for the English folk tradition that he’s not only tracked them down to record and perform, but he’s learnt about their origins and the singers from whom they were collected.

That passion informs his live shows, the songs liberally sprinkled with anecdotes (‘babysitting’ Martin Carthy being a particular gem), humour and history, his singing and personality hugely engaging. Here were tales of, among others, a somewhat corporeal randy spectre (‘Colin’s Ghost’), of night visiting in your work shoes (‘Navvy Boots’), a 19th century Dudley protest about animal cruelty (‘The Trial Of Bill Burn Under Martin’s Act’), star crossed lovers (‘Birmingham Sally’), wife selling (‘John Hobbs’), forced marriage (‘There Was An Old Man Who Came Over The Sea’) and the particularly pertinent ‘I Can’t Find Brummagem’, about a chap returning home to find the city changed beyond all recognition. Not only Birmingham, and the Black Country, his set took a tour around the Midlands, from Newbold to Staffordshire, even cajoling the audience into joining in with the slavery-themed shanty ‘Shallow Brown’, originally collected in Dartmouth. You also got to learn what trepanning actually means (ensnaring rather than brain surgery) and that there are some twenty-three references to it in the Cecil Sharp archives!

Encoring with ‘Holly Ho’, collected in the 50s from long gone Halesowen pub The Cross Guns, new verses apparently added every week by the customers and quite possibly the only song to ever mention Phil Drabble, the original presenter of BBC’s One Man and His Dog, Jon Wilks is the sort of performer folk circles mean when they talk of the living tradition.

Mike Davies

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Artist’s website: https://jonwilks.online/

‘I Can’t Find Brummagem’ – live:

Read Mike Davies’ review of Midlife here

NAOMI BEDFORD & PAUL SIMMONDS – Album Launch Interview

NAOMI BEDFORD & PAUL SIMMONDS – Album Launch Interview
Photo by: Darren Beech

“The Men were up from Kent, and out of Essex too – Though naught but the Thames divides us and unites us onwards – Through all the villages of England and on to London town”. Well maybe not quite the “Wat Tyler” rallying cry (by way of Fairport Convention) … However … Paul Johnson was coming from Kent and I from Hampshire to see Naomi Bedford and Paul Simmonds launch Singing It All Back Home at Cecil Sharp House in North London on Wednesday 5 June and it felt like a traditional folk and Appalachian call to arms.

Many will know Naomi Bedford, but for those that have not made her acquaintance yet, she is an English roots singer that was introduced to the wider world in 2001 after a guest appearance on later with Jools Holland with the band Orbital. Justin Currie from Del Amitri describes Naomi as “An English Emmylou” and Shirley Collins as “A favourite voice of mine… I love to hear her sing”.

Naomi Bedford’s official debut album, Tales From the Weeping Willow was released in 2011 and featured guest contributions from Paul Heaton, Justin Currie, Alasdair Roberts and Paul Simmonds (from The Men They Couldn’t Hang). A History of Insolence (reviewed here – https://wp.me/p5SuEn-4eU) followed in 2014 which picked up a Radio 2 Folk Award nomination in the Best Original Song category (alongside her musical partner Paul Simmonds), for The Spider and the Wolf. This was then followed by Songs My Ruiner Gave to Me (reviewed here – https://wp.me/p5SuEn-aGQ) in 2017 which added Paul Simmonds name officially to the album title.

However, the concert was all about the new album Singing It All Back Home, as indeed was the first half of the show. You could tell it was going to be a special night as the musicians joining Naomi Bedford and Paul Simmonds incorporated the national guitar, banjo and mandolin wizardry of Ben Walker (who also produced the album), the 12-string guitar and backing vocals of Richard Leo, the stunning harmonies of Donna Edmead and the bass of Rhys Lovell.

NAOMI BEDFORD & PAUL SIMMONDS – Album Launch Interview
Photo by: Darren Beech

I Must And Will Be Married kicked things off with some great stage banter on the songs content preceding it. I was also filming and taking photos throughout the performance, so I’m not sure of the exact running order but feel confident that A Rich Irish Lady (learnt from Naomi’s mother from the Hedy West version), Hangman and The Rebel Soldier were all in the first set. Hangman had its roots in the Jean Ritchie and Peggy Seeger version with a nod towards the folk/country/rock versions of Gallows Pole. The Rebel Soldier closed the first set and that wonderful moment was captured in my video below.

In the second set, the Hedy West theme continued (one of Bedford’s seminal influences) with The Sheffield Apprentice, again from the new record. The harmonies throughout the night were really amazing with songs like Hands On The Plough and Who’s That Knocking (again from the new album) benefitting from the full 4 part harmony with Bedford, Simmonds, Edmead and Leo.

NAOMI BEDFORD & PAUL SIMMONDS – Album Launch Interview
Photo by: Darren Beech

In traditional territory, but closer to home came Gypsy Davy (from the album A History of Insolence: Songs of Freedom, Dissent & Strife), with a vocal delivery approach from Bedford that was very much on the other side of the Atlantic, drawing on Jean Ritchie (Naomi’s favourite version) and the Tom Paley and Peggy Seeger version to produce a mashed up version of the two with the sentiment of Woody Guthrie.

NAOMI BEDFORD & PAUL SIMMONDS – Album Launch Interview
Photo by: Darren Beech

The second set also included the chilling The Cruel Mother, this version set in New York to accommodate the arrangement from the album Songs My Ruiner Gave To Me. They closed with Railroad Bill from the album Tales from the Weeping Willow from 2011.

A great night, that breathed new life into their collected versions of Appalachian songs that had very much been rooted in the heart of the English and Scottish song tradition. Cecil Sharp House was the perfect place to launch the album.

Paul Johnson and I caught up with Naomi and Paul after the show. Click the play button below to listen to the interview.

Darren Beech

Please support us and order via our UK or US Storefront 


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Artists’ website: https://www.naomibedford.com/

DARIA KULESH – the Earthly Delights launch – June 1st 2019

Daria Kulesh
Photograph by Dai Jeffries

Hosted by Dunton Folk, the church of St Mary Magdalene welcomed a gathering of friends old and new for the official launch of Daria Kulesh’s third solo album, Earthly Delights. Daria’s gigs are like that – there’s always someone good to talk to. This was the big band – the first time I’d seen the line-up – with regular collaborators Kate Rouse, Marina Osman, Jonny Dyer and Vicki Swan on nyckelharpa and bagpipes. With them were Katrina Davies on fiddle, Heather Sirrel, whose 5-string bass is almost as tall as she is and Edwin Beasant on drums and percussion.

We weren’t expecting too many surprises. Daria sang the album in order but embellished the stories behind the songs and sometimes got quite impassioned about the iniquities of rulers, raising an ironic laugh when she talked about coming to democratic Britain after living in Russia and carrying with her the history of the Ingush people. She confessed in her introduction to ‘Earthly Delights’ that one of her delights was turnips – that got a real laugh – but someone reminded me that she is Russian, after all!

Players came and went but everyone was back on stage for the first half closer, ‘Vasilisa’. The mix and the arrangements were tight but this was Daria’s event and the job of the musicians was to project her which, of course, they did admirably. This wasn’t a night for extravagant soloing but even so I do wish that Jonny had been a bit higher in the mix – it may just have been where I was sitting, of course.

In the second half, before ‘Cap & Bells’, Daria introduced the composer, Joseph Sobol. He was sitting just behind us so, of course, my wife had already engaged him in conversation during the interval – I said that there was always someone good to talk to.  I should say that, at the time, I was chatting to someone I hadn’t spoken to in nearly twenty years – that’s the sort of evening it was! ‘Greedy King’ is perfect for a big finish with everyone back on stage.

For the first encore, Daria soloed a song called ‘The Highlanders’ and let us into a secret. This is a hidden track on Earthly Delights – more of an Easter egg actually because it’s track zero. Daria assures me it’s there but I haven’t managed to access it yet. Finally the band came back for ‘Heart’s Delight’ from Long Lost Home – a perfect ending for a evening of songs that are, on the one hand, about human weaknesses but also about human happiness. Of course there were still people to talk to before we wended our way into the night.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.daria-kulesh.co.uk

‘Golden Apples’ – official video:

Julie July Band live in Penzance

Julie July Band
Photograph by Dave Pegg

With lots of milder spring weather finally making an appearance in Cornwall, what could be nicer than venturing down from the hills of Penwith for some live music at the Acorn Theatre? Well, it turns out that many of my neighbours took the opportunity of seeing the Julie July Band on the 30th March 2019, and I don’t think anyone was disappointed.

There has to be a certain sadness in a set comprised mostly of songs written by or associated with Sandy Denny, in that there is always an element of regret that there will be no more Denny songs, or further opportunities to hear that incomparable voice apart from those recordings already available. Yet when that set is executed with such charm, respect and professionalism, no one is likely to leave the theatre without feeling uplifted.

Julie started the show with Richard Farina’s ‘Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood’ – starting an electric set with an unaccompanied song might seem a risky strategy, but the old Irish melody to which Farina set his lyric lends itself so well to an unaccompanied treatment and for me it was the perfect opening, seguing into a full band version of Sandy’s own ‘Listen, Listen’.

The rest of the set ranged over most of Sandy’s tragically short career, from the Dave Cousins songs ‘Tell Me What You See In Me’ and ‘And You Need Me’, from her brief spell with the Strawbs, to the Fotheringay version of ‘Gypsy Davey’, to songs from her solo albums like ‘Solo’ and ‘Blackwaterside’. They even found space to include the Inkspots’ ‘Whispering Grass’, which Sandy covered on Like An Old-Fashioned Waltz. While her time with Fairport Convention wasn’t represented much, two of the songs performed are associated as much with Fairport as with other recorded versions. ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’ was recorded by both Fairport and the Strawbs, and the stunning ‘Fotheringay’, after which the later band was named, originally appeared on Fairport’s What We Did On Our Holidays.

Julie has promised that the band will always include Sandy Denny songs, and so they should: songs like these should never be forgotten, and Julie is an accomplished and sensitive interpreter of Sandy’s material, and the band provides her with excellent support. I was particularly struck by Steve Rezillo’s fluent lead guitar, especially on ‘Fotheringay’ with its interplay with Don MacLeod’s intricate acoustic guitar. That said, I was also intrigued to get my first aural glimpse of several tracks from the band’s forthcoming CD of original material, Lady Of The First Light, due for release in May, and I’m very much looking forward to hearing the whole thing.

Meanwhile, the band proved here that they can do justice to a whole bunch of Sandy’s songs apart from those on their CD from last year Who Knows Where The Time Goes? Given the chance to attend one of their concerts, I think any Sandy Denny fan will find much to enjoy, and if you’re not familiar with these songs, you have a treat in store.

David Harley

Artist’s website: juliejuly.co.uk/

‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes?’ – live:

KATIE MELUA – Live at Methodist Central Hall, Westminster

Katie Melua and choirs
Photographs by Tony Birch

Westminster Central Hall is an impressive venue in an impressive building.  Built in 1912 the Great Central Hall has a capacity of 2,300 who sit beneath the largest self-supporting domed ceiling of its kind in Europe.  It’s a big venue that needs a big artist to fill it and Katie Melua did exactly that on December 8th  in a show that confirms she is one of the best popular singers around.  I had to check exactly how long she’s been in the public eye and was quite amazed to see that her début album Call Off The Search was released in late 2003 and there have been six more albums since.

Despite that, and the obvious loyal following she has, Katie remains a very down-to-earth performer.  There’s no big build up, no MC encouraging the audience.  Instead, as I’ve seen her do before, she quietly enters a darkened stage and starts on the first song with just her and a guitar. The audience were immediately captured, “their Katie” was back on home territory and they loved it.

Katie lets her music do the talking so there are no long stories or introductions, we didn’t get an “Hello” until after song three.  Instead we had twenty songs over two sets, and then the encores.  The show was beautifully paced with plenty of movement on the stage to break the evening up.  As well as her sole songs she had her band consisting of Tim Harries (bass),  Mark Edwards (keys), Nicky Hustinx (drums) and little brother Zurab Melua (guitar) being used in different combinations.  In addition we were also introduced to the Gori Women’s Choir from Katie’s home country of Georgia and who featured on her 2016 album In WinterThe choir consisted of fifteen members plus conductor Shalva Mosidze.  They made a wonderful contribution to the evening.

Katie MeluaWith that many people the staging had to provide a backdrop rather than completion and this was done through animations by Karni & Saul which were muted and restful.  It took me a while to get in to them but they did complement the music which was, of course, of the highest standard.  Although, as mentioned, the songs weren’t introduced most were familiar to the audience and several were greeted with applause including ‘Belfast’ from that very first album and ‘Nine Million Bicycles’.  Of course ‘Closest Thing To Crazy” made an appearance and I was half expecting a sing-a-long, but it wasn’t that kind of evening although it got a huge cheer at the end.  The audience were quite quiet, they’d come to listen, and even the one shout out was noted by Katie as being “very polite”!  Only ‘The Flood’ encouraged a slight clapping along, and that was rewarded with a smile.

In an evening of such lovely music there were some stand-outs away from the big hits.  ‘The Carol Of The Bells’ (Shchedryk) was beautifully presented with just Katie and the choir but I think it was ‘Diamonds Are Forever’; was the one that really caught me by surprise.  We’re all used to Shirley Bassey’s belting anthem to avarice but Katie turns it into a rather bittersweet song of somebody who has probably learnt the hard way that men are not to be trusted so only diamonds give the permanence she seeks.  The evening ended with a well deserved call for an encore and ‘What A Wonderful World’ was a suitable choice, greeted with a standing ovation.  It was a wonderful evening that left a very satisfied audience who will no doubt be back for more in the future.

Before finishing, there are several mentions to be made.  Support came from London based Keeva, who impressed me with her soulful voice and good presentation of her songs.  She’s somebody who is now on my watch list to see again.   Bryony October did an excellent job on sound balancing, at times, sixteen voices and five instruments none of which ever dominated.  Thanks are also due to Sue Harris at Republicmedia for her help and chasing down the photo pass, and to the staff at Central Hall who were unfailingly helpful throughout.

Tony Birch

 Artist website: http://katiemelua.com/

Katie Melua and The Gori Womens Choir – ‘Carol Of The Bells’:

MARTIN STEPHENSON & THE DAINTEES – live Under The Bridge, London

Martin Stephenson & The Daintees
Photograph by Dai Jeffries

Martin Stephenson & The Daintees arrived in Chelsea in the middle of a long tour. The reason is, of course, the revamped Gladsome, Humour & Blue, an album I’ve very much enjoyed reacquainting myself with over the last few weeks. The core Daintees are lead guitarist John Steel, Kate Stephenson on drums and bassist Chris Mordey with a brief guest appearance by vocalist Anna Lavigne. The re-recording took a back-to-basics approach and the live band now trimmed away anything that wasn’t strictly necessary. The plan was simple: play the album through, more or less in order, and have some extra fun at the end.

So they started with ‘There Comes A Time’ which, with the audience full of the band’s friends, became something of an anthem – the hook line being irresistibly singable. There was a bit of messing about with a lead and it felt a bit shambolic. Sometimes it seemed that Martin was working on his stand-up routine with improbable stories and iffy jokes but after a while I had him sussed. He may look as though he’s winging the whole show but behind the joking he is razor sharp and the band is tight as a drum.

‘Slaughterman’ was followed by an acoustic solo of ‘The Wait’, less being more. ‘Even The Night’ became another anthem with just Martin’s guitar and John and Kate doing backing vocals. And the audience who took over the chorus and harmonised like professionals. A huge roar greeted ‘Wholly Humble Heart’ with a stunning guitar solo from John and then Martin did something that really impressed me. In the midst of a story about how the Americans pinched everything from us and in particular how Merle Haggard learned Kentucky thumb style from Chas And Dave he demonstrated the proof. First the chunky chords on the middle strings, then a bass lick and finally adding a melody line – plus a ‘brass’ chord hit over the pick-up. I saw it and I still can’t get my head round it.

‘Goodbye John’ saw a guest appearance by John Perry, formerly of The Only Ones. He’s a fine player but looks seriously scary and now we had two lead guitarists on stage, both under tight control – it could have got messy otherwise. ‘Signposts To Heaven’, a track from a new side-project album, Thomasina, co-written with Anna was followed by the country-rock of ‘Running Waters’ and with John Perry firmly ensconced we were treated to ‘Another Girl, Another Planet’, The Only Ones’ biggest hit. ‘The Folk Singer’ wasn’t the Tommy Roe hit, I’m pleased to say, but ‘The Whisky’ is likely to get Martin exiled from the Highlands.

Finally, Martin gave us ‘Rain’, solo-ish and acoustic-ish before the band came back to encore with ‘Boat To Bolivia’ and its infectious blend of Latin and reggae beats. The Daintees’ tour continues well into the new year and I urge you go and hear them. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never heard Martin before you’ll still have a great night out.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.daintees.co.uk

‘Rain’ – live from an earlier date on the tour: