WILLARD GRANT CONSPIRACY – Untethered (Loose)

UntetheredRobert Fisher, the band’s founder, singer and guiding force, passed away as a result of cancer in February 2017, but not before he’d laid down the tracks that now form this 10th and final album. Dusted down and hewn into shape by long-time viola player David Michael Curry, with contributions from such names as Steve Wynn and Chris Brokaw, Untethered is a terrific last testament, albeit the familiar melancholic and intimate mood given added resonance by Fisher’s death.

It opens, however, in more robust manner with the abrasive and distorted sound of the two-minute ‘Hideous Beast’ more recalling the work of Captain Beefheart. After this, things settle down into the band’s more familiar languid and melancholic style, perfect examples presenting themselves in ‘Do No Harm’, ‘Love You Apart’ and ‘26 Turns’ with its barely there semi-spoken vocals.

There’s four instrumentals, the poignantly titled ‘All We Have Left’, the simple, viola-based ‘Two Step’, the shimmeringly beautiful ‘Margaret On The Porch’ and the album’s pointedly titled six minute closer ‘Trail’s End’ which brings down the curtain in brooding and at times experimental almost improvisational style (much like the earlier ‘Chasing Rabbits’) with guitar distortions, reverb and effects that feels like being in the middle of desert electrical storm.

It is, however, Fisher’s voice, words and delivery that are the band’s legacy, and three numbers in particular stand out, the spare, forlorn viola-coloured ‘Let The Storm Be Your Pilot’ as he sings “your goodness will save us, you are my reason for waking”, the gorgeous warm and achingly intimate Lou Reed-like ‘Saturday With Jane’ and the simply strummed title track, the song he wrote after he was diagnosed, the semi-spoken lines “Take the last train to the station/Keep my eyes open while I can/Hope we get back home by morning/See the sunrise on the desert once again” suffused with the dignity of acceptance in a way that tears you apart.

The album never began as a farewell, but Curry has crafted it into a moving valediction as his late friend and musical partner sings himself away into immortality.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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Artists’ website: www.willardgrantconspiracy.com

‘Untethered’:

Strawbs celebrate 50 years

Strawbs

Monday 26th November: London,
Under The Bridge
Doors 7pm £26.40 (inc fee)

http://underthebridge.co.uk/events/electric-strawbs/

Although forming in the mid 60s, coming out of the exciting British Folk Movement alongside Fairport Convention, Pentangle, Al Stewart and Roy Harper, this tour will mark the 50th Anniversary of their first major recording, being the first UK band to be signed by the famous Hollywood label A&M, under the guidance of Herb Albert and Jerry Moss.

Major chart success followed with classic albums Dragonfly, Bursting At The Seams, Ghosts, Grave New World and Hero & Heroine earning the band 2 Gold Discs and over 30 weeks in Billboard Charts with seven consecutive albums charting.

Massive coast to coast tours of America swiftly followed, sharing the stage with The Eagles, Santana and Frank Zappa.

From the days of Sandy Denny in the band (pre Fairport Convention) and Sonja Kristina (pre Curved Air), Strawbs have always enjoyed the finest soloists in their ranks. Rick Wakeman and then his son Oliver moving on to join Yes as well as Rick’s other son going on to Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath. Blue Weaver to join the Bee Gees and Don Airey to Deep Purple. The keyboard stool is now being filled by virtuoso Dave Bainbridge of Iona, whose blend of Folk, Rock and Celtic music has endeared them to audiences for over 25 years.

A big influence on bands such as Pink Floyd, Genesis and Yes, the band are constantly producing some of the best and most respected albums since the 70’s.

The new album

received rave reviews on both sides of the Atlantic and saw them back in the album charts for the first time in over 30 years. A recent sold out tour of Canada, producing spectacular reviews of the live show has resulted in two major tours of North America for 2019.

The Strawbs of the 21st Century are the constant guiding force, originator and front man Dave Cousins, described by Rolling Stone Magazine, “as the finest Dylan influenced songwriter to come out of the UK”. Long-time Strawbs cohorts since the 70’s, Dave Lambert on guitar, Chas Cronk, bass, driven on by the powerhouse drumming of Tony Fernandez, (regularly with Rick Wakeman’s band), and the aforementioned Dave Bainbridge on keyboards.

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artists’ website: http://www.strawbsweb.co.uk/

‘The Nails From The Hands Of Christ’:

Simon Todd announces new album

Simon Todd
Photograph by Peter Morrison

Half Empty/Half Full is the eagerly awaited new album from Simon Todd, produced by Boo Hewerdine, ably assisted by Chris Pepper. The album is a collection of songs based upon the concept of considering a wide variety of situations from alternative perceptions. When discussing song selection for this album, Boo Hewerdine (who Simon is so grateful and honoured to have had as a producer) suggested that he select songs that fit together around a theme. Simon immediately had five or six come straight to mind that involve looking at situations from alternative, multiple, or different perspectives. That’s how the album was born; there can be a positive and a negative in everything. Life is about choices. Make yours the right ones.

The songs cover a wide-range of subjects, some very personal, others as an observer or even being completely fictional. Regret and a search for redemption, looking for positives in the peak of personal grief, the horror and futility of the Great War, mental illness, the environment, love & heartache, and the corruption of the many by the few; it’s all here. Working with Boo and Chris Pepper was nothing but an absolute pleasure, and although Simon has never been one for self-praise or promotion, if this wasn’t his music, he’d turn it up when it came on the radio and buy it!

Hailing from the North East of England, Simon Todd is gifted with a powerful voice with a considerable range. He has, over the years, honed his song-writing into a craft, placing equal importance on lyrics, melody and chord structure.

In June 2008, Simon spent a week in Crete with Nashville recording artist and producer, Kevin Montgomery, at Songs In The Sun. Also in attendance were ex Brooks and Dunn drummer Dale Dorman, and the legendary Tommy Allsup – one-time Buddy Holly, and Bob Wills Texas Playboys guitarist; the man who flipped the coin with Ritchie Valens for a seat on the plane  that took Valens, Buddy and The Big Bopper from us on “The day the music died”. “Sitting by the pool in such a beautiful location”, said Simon; “singing ‘True Love Ways’, whilst being accompanied by Buddy Holly’s guitarist, is something that will stay with me forever”.

The experience inspired Todd, who returned home to attack his work with a renewed vigour, ultimately resulting in his debut solo CD release Contracts For The Sale Of Land in 2009. Whilst predominantly writing on his own, there have been collaborations with the likes of Karine Polwart, Findlay Napier, Ali Ingle, Tom Bem, Rosie Bell, Dave Fenley, Kellys Collins, and Pete Sallis. In addition, Simon has also been involved with song-writing retreats organised by the likes as Squeeze’s Chris Difford, and has rubbed shoulders with such luminaries as Darden Smith, and Duke Special. He has performed on both sides of the Atlantic (UK-wide, Texas & Nashville). Previously a regular contributor at the once annual “Heroes & Scarecrows”, Alan Hull (Lindisfarne) celebration night, he toured the UK in 2012 with multi-award winning Texan singer-songwriter, Dave Fenley.

Simon’s songs are guaranteed to get your foot tapping, your mind thinking, or your ears wondering why they haven’t heard him before, and how soon they can do so again.

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

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

‘Demons’:

ASHLEY HUTCHINGS – Paradise And Thorns (Talking Elephant TECD410)

Paradise And ThornsDivided into two discs, Gloucester Docks Revisited and Other Tales Of Love, Paradise And Thorns finds “the single most important figure in English folk rock” (© Bob Dylan) revisiting his seminal autobiographically- based 1987 solo work (already the subject of a live version and revised re-issue) in the wake of reuniting with the old flame (never identified but likely named Patricia) around which it was based and complementing this with a collection of his personal favourite love songs and stories.

Visiting the docks first, this is a sort of continuance of a previously unfinished story that mixes together past recordings, new material, readings and film clips, opening with an echoey Hutchings reading an extract from John Donne’s poem of parted but constant adulterous lovers ‘Elegie XII’ with JJ Stoney providing keyboard effects. It’s followed by a 1985 live recording of ‘Kitty Come Down The Lane’ by the Ashley Hutchings All Stars, featuring Clive Gregson and Polly Bolton, and, in turn, with another reading, this time ‘The Meadow’, a single line extract from Louis MacNeice’ ‘The Strings Are False’.

The first new recording comes with the pastoral ‘Art Nouveau’, exploring the woman as flower metaphor, co-written with Ken Nicol, sung by Barry Coope and featuring string quartet arrangement by Joe Broughton, with himself on violin and Jo Hamilton on viola.

Another reading, ‘St. Valentine Day Sonnet’, is one of Hutchings’ own, about getting a rose tattoo, written in the manner of Donne, then it’s back to 1987 and a recording of the bouncy ‘Trip To Bath’ by The Albion Dance Band, Bolton again on vocals. Jane Wildsmith provides the voice of Pat in ‘Sultana Cake’, a brief extract from a letter, then it’s into the second new song, Tim Walker on trombone and Chris Sheldon on banjo for the New Orleans-influenced ‘Cul-de-Sac’, a playfully wry reference to how the original romance ended. Another live recording, the lost relationship ‘Our Stolen Season’ comes from a 2000 Rainbow Chasers concert, Hamilton on vocal and Ruth Angell on violin, followed by the first of the film clips, a brief extract (in French but translated in the booklet) from Alain Resnais’ 1960 Last Year In Marienbad before Fred Claridge’s drums introduce the Western-movie soundtrack flavoured ‘Devil-may-care In Our Dancing Shoes’, a down to the crossroads lost souls number co-penned with son Blair Dunlop who also plays acoustic guitar, that brings Pat back into the picture with the lines “Years passed by, then out of the blue/ The call of the road and a text or two.”

Michael Maloney voices an excerpt from Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, followed by another French film clip, this time ‘It Was My Heart’ from Robert Bresson’s Les Dames du Boi de Boulogne, the screenplay by Cocteau. Then, preceded by a lengthy introduction in which Hutchings explains the background to Gloucester Docks (and the title’s links to both the psalm ‘By Waters Of Babylon’ and Elizabeth Smart’s ‘By Grand Central Station I Sat Down And Wept’ as well as offering a Tristan and Isolde context to the story of doomed love), a 1988 All Stars concert recordings of ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ featuring just Bolton and John Shepherd’s keyboard.

The last of the new songs, again written with Dunlop, and featuring both him and Nicol on electric guitars, brings things up to the present day with the lyrically optimistic ‘Thirty-two Years And A Lifetime’, which, after the initial set-up, breaks out into a punchy, upbeat folk-rock melody that may well have travelled over the Cork and Kerry mountains.

It ends with the brief spoken ‘Epilogue’ which brings the lost love back into his life, the pondered question “What is to become of us?” possibly answered as the tracks flows into an arrangement of the traditional ‘French Catholic Wedding Tune’ with Stoney on churchy organ and Becky Mills providing the choral vocals.

Having duly conjured a romantic glow, the second disc beats the heart with a collection of all new recordings, again intercut with clips and readings, that gets under way with rising star Kitty Macfarlane on acoustic singing her own ‘Avona And The Giant’, a song based around the legend of the Bristol giants Vincent and Goram and how, after losing the love of Avona, the latter through himself into the river, his torso forming the isles of Steepholm and Flatholm.

Macfarlane also closes the album, this time, preceded by an extract from the prologue to Romeo and Juliet, with her arrangement of ‘Fear No More The Heat O’ The Sun’ from Shakespeare’s Cymbeline.

In-between clips are taken from the 1932 film adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s WWI story A Farewell To Arms with Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes, Tony Richardson’s 1968 Charge of the Light Brigade and, given the theme, what else but Bogart and Bacall in Casablanca, here in the form of the “I remember every detail” scene.

There’s readings too, Michael Maloney giving John Donne another outing with ‘Aire And Angells’, Hutching and cheering crowd with 30 seconds of ‘If Love Has Wings’ from The Marriage of Figaro (Beaumarchais not Mozart) and a brace of Chekhov with two extracts, pre and post-marriage, from the playful ‘Notes from the journal of a quick-tempered man’.

There’s only one previously releases track, ‘Welcome To The World’ taken from The Albion Band’s eponymous 1999 album, the remainder being all new material. Evoking formative Fairport folk rock and preceding the Donne, ‘Above The Angels’ is sung by Mills with Nicol and Dunlop on electric guitars and Stoney tinkling the piano, ‘If There’s No Other Way’ is an acoustic, strings-arranged Hutchings/Broughton ‘love in vain’ ballad with Bolton on soaring vocals and, revisiting bird imagery, simple acoustic ‘The Swift’, with its title wordplay, is written and sung by Mills.

There’s two traditional numbers, ‘Polly On The Shore’ (or at least an except therefrom) providing a solo showcase for Dunlop, accompanying himself on electric guitar, while, co-produced by Joe Boyd, ‘Sykaleshe’ is a love song performed in their native tongue by Albanian folk outfit Saz’iso, and which seems likely to be an outtake from their 2016 album At Least Wave Your Handkerchief At Me: The Joys and Sorrows of Southern Albanian Song. Which just leaves ‘Lost In The Haze’, father and son teaming for a first time ever I saw your face memory of first love recalling how Hutchings was smitten by a girl he met as part of a 1964 Methodist Youth Club ramble though Hertfordshire, immortalised in the photograph in the superb accompanying annotated hardback lyric booklet.

The original ‘By Gloucester Docks I sat down and wept’, released in 1987, ended on a painful note, but it finally now has a happy coda; after waiting by the Quay for 30 years, Hutchings’ ship has come in.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artist’s website: www.ashleyhutchings.co.uk

As close as we can get to a relevant track – ‘Dancing Under The Rose – Again’:

Cara Dillon announces winter tour dates

Cara Dillon

Cara Dillon, possessed of one of the most celebrated folk voices to have come out of Ireland, will be touring her Christmas show Upon A Winter’s Night for a third year running this December. The overwhelming success of previous tours has cemented this magical and memorable festive experience as a firm tradition.

Cara and her band will once again capture the mystery of Christmas with a collection of songs ancient and modern providing a welcome reminder that the festive season is about more than commercialism.

There is another side to Christmas – far away from Bing crooning, Noddy screaming and a world apart from ‘Jingle Bells’ and ‘Santa Baby’ – it’s a place where the story of Jesus’ birth is retold with genuine wonder and celebrated with the dignity, passion and beauty it deserves. Christmas is one of Cara’s passions as her live show and album prove.

Cara will be joined by her wonderful band who weave Celtic and folksy rhythms alongside reverent and atmospheric carols while Cara holds the darkness at bay with the renowned purity of her voice. Husband Sam Lakeman (piano, guitar) will be joined by Toby Shaer on fiddle and whistles, Ed Boyd on guitar and Luke Daniels on accordion.

With seventeen dates on sale in England, Ireland and Scotland there’s plenty of opportunity for people to catch this uplifting and moving concert, on a tour starting in her native Derry and ending at Suffolk’s celebrated Snape Maltings.

As modest and down to earth as they come, Cara admits to being taken aback by the success of her Christmas album Upon A Winter’s Night when it reached Number 1 in the Indie Album Charts not once, but twice in 2016.

Throughout an enviable career which has seen her explore opportunities to tread many different paths – from releasing folk crossover albums on indie label Rough Trade to recording a Disney soundtrack and collaborating with leading UK dance DJ/producers – Cara has always chosen to plant herself firmly within the landscape of her cultural heritage.

Holding a position at the very top of the Irish Folk genre, this extraordinary singer has been captivating audiences, winning awards and achieving exceptional acclaim for over twenty years. She has (according to Mojo magazine) “quite possibly the world’s most beautiful female voice”.

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artist’s website: www.caradillon.co.uk

‘The Wexford Carol’:

Tour Dates

30 November DERRY Millennium Forum 028 7126 4455 /https://www.millenniumforum.co.uk/

01 December DÚN LAOGHAIRE Pavilion Theatre 01 231 2929 / https://www.paviliontheatre.ie/events

02 December BELFAST The Ulster Hall 028 9033 4400 / https://www.ulsterhall.co.uk

06 December  SHEFFIELD Firth Hall https://www.wegottickets.com/event/437108

07 December GATESHEAD Sage 0191 443 461 / http://www.sagegateshead.com

08 December EDINBURGH The Queens Hall 0131 668 2019/ https://www.thequeenshall.net

09 December MANCHESTER Stoller Hall 0333 130 0967 / https://stollerhall.com/whats-on/

12 December BROMSGROVE Atrix 01527 577330/ https://www.artrix.co.uk/whats-on/

13 December MILTON KEYNES The Stables 01908 280800/ https://stables.org/

14 December LONDON Union Chapel – See Tickets 0871 220 0260/ https://www.unionchapel.org.uk/

15 December SOUTHAMPTON Turner Sims 023 8059 5151/ https://www.turnersims.co.uk/

16 December FROME Cheese & Grain 01373 455420/ http://www.cheeseandgrain.com/

18 December MAIDENHEAD Norden Farm Arts 01628 788997/ https://norden.farm/

19 December  BRISTOL St Georges Hall 0845 4024 001 / https://www.stgeorgesbristol.co.uk/

20 December BASINGSTOKE Haymarket Theatre 01256 844244/ http://www.anvilarts.org.uk

21 December CANTERBURY Gulbenkian Theatre 01227 769075/ https://thegulbenkian.co.uk

22 December SNAPE Maltings Concert Hall 01728 687110/ https://snapemaltings.co.uk/

 

STEVIE DUNNE – Live At The Crosskeys Inn (own label SDB003)

Live At The Crosskeys InnIreland is full of fine musicians who, unlike prophets, are honoured in their own country but not so much elsewhere. Stevie Dunne is one such. With two studio albums and an American Irish Music Award to his credit he chose a rather more low-key venue to record his third. The Crosskeys Inn is located half an hour from Belfast and is a place where Stevie has played his banjo and guitar for many years. Accompanying him on this session are Brian McGrath, Cyril O’Donoghue, Gerdy Thompson and John Joe Kelly, whose driving bodhran playing holds the whole thing together.

As he launched into ‘Jim Donoghues’ I thought the sound was disappointingly thin but I’m prepared to accept that the sound man, Cormac O Kane, was still twiddling his knobs at that point. He certainly was unable to edit out the small children during the beautiful and quiet ‘Sally Gardens’. Actually Stevie makes about point of that as they are his sons and he wanted them there and, presumably, heard. After a few bars things improved immensely and the musicians got into their stride. That said, this is very much Stevie’s album and the accompanists show great restraint doing just what is required to support his playing.

Some of the tunes are Stevie’s own but the majority are traditional as in ‘I got it from the playing of so-and-so’. Of course, so-and-so probably got it from such-and-such who presumably learned it from someone else. That’s how it is with Irish music in particular – the tunes are there and musicians like Stevie keep playing them. By the time the band hit the railroad rhythm of ‘The Dog Among The Bushes/The Wisemaid’ I was convinced. This is real music played in a thatched pub in front of an appreciative audience – what more do you need?

Dai Jeffries

‘The Dog Among The Bushes/The Wisemaid’ – live on TV: