SINGLES BAR 55 – A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 55Evocative opening title track from MARC BLOCK‘s Faerie Fire EP, using the traditional tune of an Appalachian hymn, is a song to order from the first Faerie Gathering song auction. Pleasant energy and illustrative lyrics. ‘I’ve Got It Bad (Elton’s Song)’ was discovered via the Brisk And Breezy album crowdfunder, but the impossible love song written by Tom Robinson, struck a chord with Block who remembers when he too had it bad as a teenager. Gentle and full of yearning, this track also features Block on bouzouki.

Dylan’s ‘Not Dark Yet’ features bouzouki again. A Wickham Festival memory with Ian Brown on guitar, this song crossed paths with Block after Roy Bailey mentioned it is a favourite. I’m not familiar with the Dylan version, this rendition sounds well-travelled and full of troubadour soul. ‘Sudden Waves’ by Les Barker was another crowdfunding request but the song had resonance for Block, leading to his recording this gentle and pleasant version with his bouzouki, Gina Le Faux on fiddle, Simon Dumpleton on accordion and Tom Wright on guitars. ‘Red And Green’ is the final EP track and is a favourite at live shows. Political and spiritually evocative song by Robb Johnson, Block discovered the track through Roy Bailey’s performances. Rousing and well-executed track to finish the EP with gorgeous fiddle and backing vocals from Nancy Kerr and some “rock-god guitar” from James Fagan.

In the beginning was Folk Roots which begat the concept of rogue folk and Rogue Records, home to an eclectic group of artistes who played an eclectic selection of music from around the world. At the heart of the British end was ceilidh band Tiger Moth: Rod Stradling, Jon Moore, Maggie Holland, Chris Coe, Ian A Anderson and John Maxwell. With the addition of Ben Mandelson and Ian Carter they became ORCHESTRE SUPER MOTH and released an EP.

The World At Sixes And Sevens EP+ is that very record re-issued with two bonus tracks. It still sounds fresh although firmly anchored in its time, beginning with ‘Radio Polka International’, an Italian tune decorated with Abdul Tee-Jay’s guitar and the strangest samples you could wish to hear. Maggie Holland was a major player on this record, singing lead first on Dylan’s ‘New Pony’ (featuring a guest appearance by Flaco Jiminez) then on the brilliant ‘Salt Of The Earth’ which she co-wrote with Moore. This featured kora masters Dembo Konte and Kausu Kuyate and finally Maggie sang ‘Lone Wolf Blues’ in the “southern English style”. The bonus tracks are a remix of ‘Sloe Benga’ which turned up in disguise on the Imagined Village album and a lo-fi live take of ‘The Duchess In Blue’. Play it loud in the garden and make some new friends.

THE MELLOWSHIP is a vehicle for West Country singer-songwriter Mo Scott (formerly Dewdney), who, on the self-released Stormcrow EP, is joined by Greg Hancock on guitar and the ubiquitous Lukas Drinkwater on double bass. Comprising four self-penned songs with a Celtic core, it opens with the moody title track, named for the ship on which she arrives, sung in the voice of a female Viking, one of the settler invaders who changed the nature of Scotland.

Backed by minimal bass and guitar, she describes ‘Howl Like A Wolf’ as her attempt to get open mic audiences singing along, but, as the boys join in, is essentially about tribal community. Again steeped in ancient lore and sun in drone-like manner, ‘The Woad’ is actually a shorter-titled ‘The Woad – The Last Battle of Castle Maiden’ from the 2017 album with its circular war dance percussion pattern and featuring Ciaran Algar’s plucked fiddle, drawing on the country’s Iron Age history for its atmosphere and inspiration with plucked strings, imaging herself back in time as one of the defenders of the Dorset castle. Finally, there’s the slow percussive shrug of the fingerpicked mantra- like ‘Not For The Love’ which speaks of a mystical commonality that transcends race and religon to bind us together.

BRAZEN THIEVES are a London based trio: Laura and Rebecca Woolf and Lucy Gaster, playing fiddle, guitar and cello and supported on their debut EP by guitarist Mark Fraser. Laura and Rebecca pinched these songs from their father, singer and guitarist Clive Woolf, hence their choice of band name.

The girls have powerful voices and produce striking harmonies, the short opening track, ‘Consecration’, from the Sacred Harp, being a case in point. The record also closes with a hymn again from the shape note tradition, ‘Wood Street’. Second up is ‘Six Dukes Went A-Fishing’, essentially Bert Lloyd’s text and so powerfully sung that it almost becomes a funeral dirge. ‘The Emigrant’ is a song of the Irish diaspora written as a statement to those left behind. Rebecca underpins ‘I Courted A Wee Girl’ with pizzicato fiddle, the song being a variant on ‘A Week Before Easter’ and others. ‘Salisbury Plain’ and ‘The Flash Lad’ go well together as neither anti-hero comes to a good end.

Brazen Thieves are a bright hope for the future of traditional folk song.

Orkney-based SUE MARA pays tribute to Rackwick, a remote valley on the Isle of Hoy on her Forsaken EP initially part of a 2014 art exhibition of photography, poetry and music first shown in Stromness, with both the unaccompanied ‘Tide Pool’ (on which Davide Ariasso provides harmonies) and the fiddle-accompanied poetry reading ‘Ghost’ written in the valley. The EP opens with the lament ‘Fiddlers At The Wedding’ created from a poem by Orkney poet George Mackay Brown, Henry Sears providing the initial fiddle before Mara sings the lyrics a capella and is followed by the five minute ‘Solace’, on which Paul Cooke provides the spare fingerpicked guitar and backing vocals, with, Sears providing fiddle drone, and ‘Michael’, a reworked translation of a traditional Scots Gaelic song, the narrator casting “a thousand curses on all men” on account of his forsaking her for another.

You probably haven’t heard of ALAN WHITBY but if you look carefully you’ll see a name that you do recognise. Alan is Amy Goddard’s father and it was she who dragged him into folk clubs and then got him up on stage to sing. Finally she told him that he should make a record to which he replied I’ll Give It A Go. It might have been better not to begin with Peter La Farge’s ‘Coyote’. It’s an attention-grabber but as Alan says it’s not one to attempt live. Second is Si Khan’s ‘Go To Work On Monday’, a gentle rolling rendition, but a better opener might have ‘Bright Star Shining’, which would have set the scene nicely.

Next is ‘Merrie Olde England’ by Robb Johnson and now it might seem self-indulgent to include three songs by one of Alan’s (and Amy’s) favourite writers, John Stewart. Actually, Stewart is a favourite of one of the crew here at folking so it’s OK. The last of the three, ‘The Eyes Of Sweet Virginia’ is a live folk club performance and Alan finishes off with a live singalong at another club. The song? ‘Wimoweh’. This is the sort of set that might persuade you to venture out to hear Alan play live.

A member of The Magpies, fiddle player Holly Brandon also flies solo, well, in tandem with brother George, as one half of PAINTED SKY, coming together for debut EP Dawn (The Old Barn Productions) with mixes traditional numbers with original material. One of the former kicks off by adding another inspired variant of ‘The Two Sisters’ to the stockpile, opening sung unaccompanied by George with Holly on harmonies before drone and guitar arrive, the rhythm takes on a military walking beat and fiddle makes its presence felt. A second well-mined folk evergreen ‘Barbara Allen’ also gets a reinvigorated almost anthemic treatment, drawing out Celtic roots as Holly’s fiddle scrapes.

There’s two instrumentals, ‘The Red Bee Set’, which includes a bluegrass tinge to John Reischman’s ‘Salt Spring’, and a restyling of Quebecois fiddle foot-tapper  ‘L’Air Mignonne’ into a more reflective tune more gathering pace in the final stretch. For the closer, they turn to 18th century history for the sparsely arranged self-penned ‘Peter the Wild Boy’, a first person recounting of the feral child found near a forest near Hanover and was brought back to Britain where he became an object of public fascination and a fixture at the court of George I under the care of Princess Caroline, the lyrics referencing Jonathan Swift’s satire The Most Wonderful Wonder that ever appeared to the Wonder of the British Nation and, like a pet, the collar he wore with his name and address lest he stray.

American Poet Pt 1 is the debut EP by American Poet MICHAEL JONES better known for putting his words on paper than on CD. It opens with ‘What Is This Life For?’ starting with piano and acoustic guitar before building into a surprisingly jolly rock song. Jones’ lyrics are reminiscent of the best of Leonard Cohen but his music comes from the rock and country arenas. ‘The Deep’ is a big anthemic song and then ‘This Is The Night’ begins like an old spiritual with Jones’ voice venturing into the depths plumbed by Johnny Cash. Finally the massive ‘We Are Soldiers’ takes us to the apocalypse. We can hope that a full-length album is on the horizon.

Double-bass player and singer-songwriter JOHN FORRESTER releases a new single, ‘To Live Without Fear Of Falling’, which feels like a fine sentiment for these times. The sentiment is actually straightforward as John considers “the birds of the air”, the take-home message being to go for it without fear. It’s a big song, decorated with Jude Abbott’s trumpet and Linze Maesterosa’s voice and flute.

Following on from ‘A Prayer For The Sane’ and ‘2020 Vision’, DANNY SCHMIDT returns with the simply strummed and passionately sung ‘Black And Blue’, a third terrific protest song free Bandcamp download. Inspired by the killing of George Floyd (“another brother/That’s choking on the truth”) and the Black Lives Matter protests (“tonight the street’s on fire/Cause that’s the candlelight required/That’s the holy cost of tape and chalk/That’s the crying of the choir”), the refrain hits home as he sings “I don’t believe that victims go to heaven when they die/They’re stuck here as reflections in our eyes/And of all the false confessions swearing that we’ve tried/They’re the voice of silence asking when, and the voice that answers why”. Outstanding.

With a new album coming next month, THE WATERBOYS have released (or possibly allowed to escape) ‘Low Down In The Broom’. They give it a throbbing insistent rhythm and considerably revised lyrics but it is recognisably the song that Hammond collected in Sussex. Most singers stick with the clean version as does Mike Scott but he manages to imply what goes on in the missing verse which is very clever.

Currently part of both acoustic trio Stillhouse and female folk supergroup The Magpies, POLLY BOLTON takes her bouzouki and steps out solo at the end of July with the self-released ‘Honeyblood’. Also featuring Liam Hardy’s urgent drumming, fellow Magpie Holly Brandon on fiddle and producer Isaac McInnis on electric bass and treated clawhammer banjo, it conjures a heady tempo shifting cocktail of Bjork and The Incredible String Band on a lyric that goes inside the beehive for tale of apiary infanticide as the titular newborn queen kills her four sisters in their cribs to remove any threat to her crown.

As a third taster for her new album, Hand Me Down, KATE RUSBY releases Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake It Off’ as a digital single. It’s a song about doing things your own way and ignoring the nay-sayers. Seemingly at odds with the lyrics Kate sounds rather polite and English but it works and she turns in a polished performance as usual. That sounds like husband Damien O’Kane on banjo.

Welsh folk family THE MEADOWS release their first new material since last year’s debut album, Force Of The Tide, with the gracefully sedate and elegant piano and strings ballad ‘There’s You’ (SWND). Written by pianist Fantasia and recorded in lockdown, it’s a pure-voiced Celtic-inspired number about finding healing and peace in a restless and troubled world that serves as a tempting taster for their work in progress second album.

RYAN HAMILTON & THE HARLEQUIN GHOSTS release a video single, ‘Jesus & John Lennon’. It’s a very clever pop-rock song about good beginnings that lead to bad endings and manages to work in The Rolling Stones and Brian Jones, Martin Luther and the Catholics and Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio. Good tune and a nice rolling arrangement. There’s a new album on the way.

‘Because Of Her’ is the first single taken from DEMI MARINER’s delayed EP, Tales. It’s a haunting song recorded naturally with one microphone and featuring Robbie Cavanagh on guitar and Isabel Williamson on cello. We all have a “her” inside us.

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