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GREG HANCOCK –The State of My Hair (own label)

The State Of My HairAn intoxicating musical and lyrical cocktail of Al Stewart and Ray Davies, infused with his own unique brilliance as a guitarist and songwriter, for his follow up to 2017’s A303, Devon based Hancock mines memories from childhood to middle age, from hanging out with fellow teens playing at being grown ups drinking ‘Thunderbird Wine’ to seeing the ‘Creases And Marks’ slowly appearing in the mirror.

The telescoping of time that underpins the album is laid out in the opening track, ‘My Mother (And The State Of My Hair)’, beginning with a wash of electronics and sampled sounds out of which gradually emerge the keyboards, drums and guitar for a song that starts in 1928 with the discover of penicillin, the 1930s Wall Street Crash and the birth of his mother, throwing in a reference to Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’ on a blues and jazz tinged number that, embellished by trumpet, muses on the unreliability of memory.

Featuring Kathryn Tremlett’s violin and Jo Hooper’s cello double tracked into a string quartet, ‘Sarky Sally’ has Hancock playing a Puerto Rican cuatro on a song recalling a sharp-tongued schoolfriend who could make people laugh but “couldn’t make them happy”, schooldays also informing ‘Christopher’, a cello-accompanied composite portrait of a misfit coloured with a fair degree of autobiography.

A lively instrumental flavoured with strings, brass, accordion and euphonium, ‘Odyssey FC’ is a tip of the hat to the old Southend-on-Sea folk club that set him on his current career path, while, at nearly six minutes, ‘The Men In A Pub’ calls Pete Atkin to mind as, to simple fingerpicked acoustic, he reminiscences on three old codgers that used to inhabit the local pub’s snug bar on another number about time passing.

Featuring Ben Homer on piano and Devon-based music manager and promoter Katie Whitehouse on backing vocals, the waltztime ‘Four Spanish Words’ moves the album on to 1999 and an unreciprocated love that, in tandem with being broke, led Greg to relocating to Saudi Arabia, romantic disappointment being briefly alleviated when he was 40 by the short but passionate Paris affair commemorated in the all-acoustic fingerpicked ‘One Weekend’.

If you’ve ever met up for a reunion with someone you’ve not seen in years only, like a cornered animal, to remember why, then the rain-washed bluesy moodiness of ‘Coffee And Cake’, guitar complemented by warm sousaphone, cello and euphonium, will strike a chord, though whether you’d have the same courage to unleash the beast and speak your thoughts is another matter.

Featuring just acoustic guitar and subtle electronics, ‘A Cube Of Space’ is a particularly poignant moment, the first verse recalling an unsettling dream about his mother and the second an observation of his father succumbing to the slow ravages of dementia (“for a moment it seems there mighty yet be a trace left of the man she met when she was twenty-three”).

Another six-minute number, Ashley Height’s lap steel imparting country colours to its strum, ‘The Way Of These Things’ returns to his relocation to Saudi Arabia, subsequently followed by a move to Abu Dhabi and, a decade or so later, a return to the UK, giving rise to a song that considers and accepts the often transient nature of even close relationships, whether you’re in a country or a marriage.

It ends, appropriately, with the lazing, dappled melody of ‘Bedtime Now’, looking back on childhood and youth for a reflection on changing attitudes to bedtime, being sent upstairs by his mother or, in his teens, getting up at 5am or rolling in after dawn, the song coming up the years, looking for a beacon in the dark, and ending on an optimistic note, still leaving for work at five, but warmed throughout the day by the image of someone still in the bed he’s had to leave, waiting on his return.

Reflective and wistfully melancholic, but suffused with the warm glow of a life lived, his songs speak of lessons learned, hearts broken, people lost to time and of dreams that refuse to fade with the years. It may be very personal, but the feelings and experiences strike universally recognisable notes. Baldly put, it’s locking good.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.greghancockmusic.com

Promo video:

FOLKLAW – We Will Rise (Fiddle of 8 Records – FO8R02CD)

We Will RiseFolklaw are a folk rock band made up of Nick Gibbs, vocals, fiddle and strings, Bryn Williams, vocals and guitar, Martin Vogwell, vocals, mandolin electric guitar and banjo, Jon Dowling vocals and bass guitar, Gaz Hunt, vocals, drums and percussion, Jacquelyn Hynes Irish flute and whistle and Emi McDade, vocals and piano. They are joined on We Will Rise by Lyndon Webb on mandolin and guitars and Paul Hutchinson on accordion.

The album starts as it means to go on with the title track ‘We Will Rise’ with its upbeat tempo. There is a chance to slow down for a moment with ‘Love Again’, then it’s back to the upbeat tempo again.

Subject matter for the album is a good folk mix of suffragettes, the environment, stories of the heart, mental health and life on tour. Song writing and vocal duties are shared amongst Nick, Bryn and Martin, though I must say I think my preference edged towards Nick’s songs, especially ‘Rocks Of The Burren’ and ‘Angels Wings’.

The album is nicely produced and if you’re a fan of fiddle driven foot tapping songs, then this is an album for you.

Duncan Chappell

Artist’s website: www.folklaw.com

‘Folky Pirates’ – official video:

 

Simon And The Astronauts release debut album

Simon And The Astronauts

Simon And The Astronauts really is a fascinating project. Simon Wells is a writer who had attended several of Boo Hewerdine’s song-writing workshops. Over the course of a year together Simon and Boo have made this superb album. Enlisting such talents as Karine Polwart, Darden Smith, Findlay Napier, Ben Hewerdine and Chris Pepper they worked in a very unusual way. Simon would bring a lyrical concept to the studio and together with these musicians would spontaneously write and record each track. Simon himself is a fine performance poet and also leads three of the tracks. There is spontaneity to this album that means you hear new music at the moment of its creation. Stylistically it moves between dream-pop, indie-electronica, delicate acoustics and edgy poetry. It was a chance for these musicians to work outside their comfort zones. Simon’s vision makes it all hang together in a deeply cohesive way.

When looking at tracks on the album, the album opener ‘Astronauts’ was the first track Simon and Boo recorded, at the end of the day, playing back this track that was both eccentric and accessible, they knew they were onto something special. ‘Grantchester Meadows’ follows, co-written with Ben Hewerdine, Boo’s son, who is also a very talented songwriter who has had songs recorded by, among others, Eddi Reader and Dan Whitehouse. Ben took Simon’s lyrics and made this sweetly unsettling recording. ‘Zinc’, which talks about the war in Afghanistan, is augmented by archive recordings of Leon Therimin playing his new invention. The song ‘Bridge’ was also written on day one and is the true story of a bridge in Sheffield, sung by Boo, this was the last track to be finished. Airmail is another Boo song, where he and Simon were remembering those ultra-thin letters people used to send abroad, this recording using a high strung guitar. ‘Love Is’, features Karine Polwart, a joyous take on Simon’s words, recorded with Findlay Napier and other attendees at a workshop. A personal favourite for me, ‘I’m Just A Cat’ is a blissful song, sung by Boo, about, well, being a cat. “Without Simon I would never have a written a song like this” says Boo. Chris Pepper’s production work is just fantastic on this track. ‘Oscar’ is a track where Darden Smith took Simon’s lyric about Oscar Wilde and made this beautiful piano ballad. Tight Metal Jackets features fiery poetry by Simon set against Darden’s rootsy Americana. ‘Trampoline’ is Ben’s jerky indie take on Simon’s concept and ‘Box Of Tears’ which is basically where Simon’s wonderful lyric led Boo to write this tender ballad, the track recorded as soon as it was written. The album closes with ‘Patti’, a simple yet heartfelt tribute to Patti Smith.

Artists’ website: https://simonandtheastronauts.bandcamp.com

‘Astronauts’:

KATIE SPENCER – Weather Beaten (own label GUK-PR002KRS)

Weather BeatenRalph McTell has likened the Yorkshire progressive folk singer-songwriter’s guitar playing to Bert Jansch. I’d not disagree, but I’d also suggest Davy Graham and Wizz Jones have also helped shape her highly distinctive and often esoteric patterns and structures, while she herself cites Roy Harper, John Martyn and Laura Marling among her influences.

Produced by Spencer Cozens, who, of course, collaborated with Martyn, and accompanied by Tom Mason on double bass, percussionist Miles Bould and Martin Winning on woodwind, this is her album debut following two EPs, and is very much informed by the East Riding landscape in terms of atmosphere, mood and imagery.

She opens with, at just over two minutes, the shortest track, ‘Incense Skin, with its circling crystal shimmering fingerpicked guitar and double bass bookending the poetic four line lyric. It sets the musical mood and the war, intimate vocal style for the subsequent ‘Drinking The Same Water’ with its lightly dappled melody, Bould’s subtle percussive shadings and a lyric in which simple actions, like counting the trees on the way to school or washing her hands, prompt thoughts about an absent parent, wondering if they are doing the same and thinking of her.

Coloured with clarinet, the title track follows, again with a circling guitar and touching on a fractured relationship, unexpectedly seeing the face of a former (and jealous) lover across a room, things shifting into jazzier guitar territory for ‘You Came Like A Hurricane’, an almost 90-second instrumental intro giving way to a more lyrically upbeat number about finding new love (outside a supermarket), the sort that feels like discovering twenty pound notes under your duvet.

Continuing in the same vein of weather imagery, the languidly sung ‘Hello Sun’ has a lovely summer afternoon vibe and a lyric about looking to spend some time in the sunshine again after having been hanging out for too long with the darkness; for some inexplicable reason it reminds me of Melanie.

A delicate, pastoral folk instrumental that serves to showcase her guitar virtuosity, Helsa (which may or may not connect to the Norwegian for saying hello) provides the bridge to the album’s second half which gets underway with ‘Too High Alone’, a parting song (“today you have your boots on”) that, featuring Winning’s clarinet, has vague musical hints of ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’.

Albeit with some minor tweaks to the lyrics, the sole traditional number is an arrangement of (fittingly) ‘Spencer The Rover’, a folk staple that’s been recorded by, among others, Shirley Collins, The Copper Family and John Martyn, and, while taken a slightly more uptempo pace, it’s his reading this most recalls. Interestingly, while the lyric has mention of Spencer rambling in Yorkshire, only one variant of the song has ever been collected in the county, in 1907, as sung by George Hall in Hooton Roberts, which, as per the song lyrics, is “near Rotherham”.

Another parting song, ‘The Best Thing About Leaving’ is structured in two parts, opening with a bluesy feel, Andalucian tones etched on resonant Spanish guitar to a wind-like drone backdrop, and the strongest indication of Martyn’s influence, the first two lines of the lyric followed by a lengthy instrumental passage before, just over half way in, the track shapeshifts for a more lilting section containing the remaining uplifting two verses.

Featuring sampled bird trills, it ends with ‘The Hunter’, the album’s most musically fluid and upbeat track, riding a rippling rhythm and hand percussion with lyrics that melds images of both restlessness (“the cuckoo flew this morning”) and permanence (“discontent with rented goods”) as she sings “I am not the hunter you say I am/The bird’s nest it’s always in my head/Never in my hands”.

McTell calls her a musical weaver threading tapestries of song. Long may her loom spin.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.katiespencer.net

‘You Came Like A Hurricane’ – live:

Copper Viper announce debut album and European tour

Copper Vipers
Photograph by Anna Orhanen

Copper Viper is an acoustic folk group from London, comprised of prolific songwriter and guitarist Robin Joel Sangster and fiddle/mandolin player Duncan Menzies. The pair were introduced through a mutual musician friend in late 2016, and decided to meet for a jam based on a shared love of harmony singing duos such as Simon & Garfunkel and The Milk Carton Kids. After arranging and learning a couple of songs Sangster had recently composed, they soon found that they made a productive songwriting partnership and swiftly set to work building up an ever-growing catalogue of original material.

Prior to forming Copper Viper, both members had been active in a variety of musical projects for a number of years.  Sangster has performed widely as a soloist and with “Americana Noir” group Affa David, and has written songs for performers across a wide range of genres.  Menzies grew up playing traditional Scots fiddle music; since moving to London he has worked with a multitude of artists as a session musician, and toured extensively in the UK and Europe as a member of country/rock & roll band Ask Sally and gypsy swing/jazz quartet Harp Bazaar.  The diversity of these previous musical experiences is strongly reflected in Copper Viper’s music.

The duo performed their first public show at the Filey Folk Festival in April 2017, and since then have been honing their live set at folk clubs and venues around the UK.  September 2018 saw the group’s first overseas performances, with a European tour taking in Germany, Switzerland and the CarnieFest music festival in Mallorca. 2019 promises to be Copper Viper’s busiest year to date, with confirmed shows so far including several UK festivals, an April UK tour opening for renowned Celtic folk group PerKelt, followed by several dates in Germany & Belgium.

In 2018, the group contacted platinum-selling producer Ryan Hadlock (The Lumineers, Brandi Carlile) who agreed to record their debut album at the legendary Bear Creek Studio in Woodinville, WA and was mastered by Grammy-winning engineer Gavin Lurssen (O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss).  Comprised of eleven original songs and titled Cut It Down, Count The Rings, the album explores a range of lyrical themes, mixing hope, regret, joy and melancholy while maintaining a sufficient degree of enigma and ambiguity to allow the listener space for their own unique interpretations.  Musically, the record draws inspiration from across the broad spectrum of British folk, American country and bluegrass, combining haunting melodies and intricate vocal harmonies with searing instrumental passages to create a stylistic blend that is at once familiar and unique.

As of January 2019, Copper Viper has released two singles (‘Hung Up Alone’ and ‘Fly’) from the forthcoming album.  These have been variously described as “a foot-stompin’ racket that’s a joy to listen to” (Americana-UK), “truly uplifting” (Fortitude Magazine) and “totally addictive” (York Calling), and are available on all major online streaming services.

Cut It Down, Count The Rings will be released on April 5th 2019, with the album launch show taking place at London’s prestigious folk venue, the Green Note, on Saturday April 6th.

Artists’ website: www.copperviper.com

‘Hung Up Alone’ – official video:

TOUR DATES

MARCH

Saturday 9       London C2C Country To Country 2019, The 02, Icon Stage (11:00)
Sunday 10        London            C2C Country To Country 2019, The 02 Big Entrance Stage (11:10) & Icon Stage (14:20)
Tuesday 12      Birmingham      The Wagon & Horse  with PerKelt
Wednesday  13            Salford The Eagle Inn  with PerKelt
Thursday 14     York    The Fulford Arms  with PerKelt
Saturday 16      Hull      The New Adelphi Club  with PerKelt
Monday 18      Newcastle upon Tyne     The Cumberland Arms with PerKelt
Wednesday 20 Nottingham       The Old Salutation Inn  with PerKelt
Thursday 21     Cambridge The Boathouse  with PerKelt
Sunday 24        London  The Hope & Anchor  with PerKelt
Friday 29         Oxford Oxford Folk Club, The White House

APRIL

Wednesday 3   Kingston upon Thames Woody’s Bar and Kitchen
Saturday 6        London    Green Note  Album Launch Show
Friday 26         Hanau, Germany    Ellis Bistro & Café
Saturday 27      Frankfurt am Main, Germany    Cafe Sugar Mama
Sunday 28        Köln, Germany    Weißen Holunder
Tuesday 30      Turnhout, Belgium   Barzoen

MAY

Wednesday 1   Lontzen, Belgium   House Concert

THE LEYLINES – Recover Reveal (own label)

Recover RevealBased in Weston-super-Mare, with numbers like ‘Breakout’, False Hope’, the rhythmically choppy ‘This Is Your Life’ and the aptly titled ‘Kicking Up A Storm’, the five-piece collective’s second album, Recover Reveal, bolsters their claim to be included alongside the likes of Skinny Lister, McDermott’s 2 Hours, Ferocious Dog, and The Levellers in the roll call of rowdy British folk punk. However, there’s more shadings to them than just that. Featuring the sterling violin skills of Hannah Johns, The stomping ‘Control’, ‘Long Way From Home’ and break-up number ‘In My Head’ are all rousing examples of urgent contemporary fiddle-driven folk rock while, in distinct contrast, the narrative lyric title track is a downbeat slow sway ballad about moving on and starting over and ‘In Your Shadow’ extends its fingerpicked guitar lines and pulsating rhythm over six ebb and flow minutes as it moves from spare acoustic to more anthemic heights.

‘Fly Away’ is equally infused with that soaring spirit of defiance, while on ‘Broken And Alone’ frontman Steve Mitchell delivers a stirring working class heroes battle cry from Brexit Britain that surely has a hint of Merry Hell about it. Although probably best experienced in a packed club or better yet shaking the skies at a festival (where they have built their reputation for a wild live performance), whether you bung this in the player while you’re hurtling down the motorway or raise a flagon or two with friends in the living room, The Leylines will connect you with a very vibrant natural energy.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website: www.theleylinesmusic.co.uk

‘This Is Your Life’ – official video: