Karine Polwart announces new album and tour dates

Karine Polwart
Photograph by Sandy Butler

Multi-award winning songwriter and musician, theatre maker and published writer Karine Polwart – six-time winner at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, including 2018 Folk Singer of The Year – will release a new album, Laws Of Motion, on October 19, 2018 via Hudson Records. Polwart’s seventh release, Laws Of Motion is the follow-up to 2017’s much-praised A Pocket Of Wind Resistance, which earned Karine & co-writer Pippa Murphy a New Music Scotland Award, alongside nominations for the 2018 Scottish Album Of The Year & Radio 2 Folk Album Of The Year. Laws Of Motion – recorded alongside long-term collaborators Inge Thomson (accordion, percussion, synths & vocals) and brother Steven Polwart (guitars & vocals) – will arrive amidst a 13 date UK tour, including London’s Cadogan Hall on October 17, 2018.

Karine is trailing the announcement with the first track to emerge from Laws Of Motion – delicate,  finger-picked album opener ‘Ophelia’. Polwart wrote it having witnessed the portentous, far-reaching after-effects of 2017’s Hurricane Ophelia from her Midlothian home. Says Karine; “When the easternmost Atlantic hurricane ever hit The British Isles, it brought with it Saharan sand and an uncanny light. Meantime, deadly wildfires ravaged Galicia and Portugal, causing black ash to fall as far north as Tallinn in Estonia. Isn’t it time we started acting as if we’re actually sharing the same earth, the same air?”.

A Pocket Of Wind Resistance used the migratory habits of geese to crack open universally human societal & ecological issues. Across Laws of Motion Polwart continues to coalesce the familial and the familiar alongside the unsettling and the unknown, driven as ever by her gift for empathy and accessibility. Subject matter as disparate as Trump, WW2 & holocaust survivors are drawn together by the laws of the album’s title alongside the experiences of migrants and allegorical folk & children’s stories. Speaking about the broad focus of the album (which includes co-writes with Lau’s Martin Green), Polwart says; “I didn’t set out to write songs on a unified theme – they’ve just landed that way. Perhaps that’s no surprise, given the times we’re in.”

Laws Of Motion is the latest in an evolving series of collaborative projects across which Polwart has combined music & storytelling with politics & environmental-societal issues. Karine wrote A Pocket Of Wind Resistance (a Songlines & BBC Radio 3 Late Junction Album Of The Year) as a musical companion to her acclaimed theatre debut Wind Resistance, now published via Faber & Faber and selected by Robert McFarlane as a Guardian Book of 2017. The production, which debuted at the Edinburgh International Festival with a residency at The Royal Lyceum Theatre, was written, musically directed and performed by Polwart, winning her the Best Music and Sound Award at the 2017 CATS. Alongside three other nominations, it also placed Polwart on the shortlist for the Best Actor ‘Scottish Oscar’ in the Sunday Herald Culture Awards.

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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‘Ophelia’:

UK Tour Dates

17 October LONDON Cadogan Hall

18 October PORTSMOUTH Wedgewood Rooms

19 October PONTARDAWE Arts Centre

20 October MANCHESTER Royal Northern College Of Music

21 October EXETER Phoenix

22 October BRIGHTON Komedia

23 October CAMBRIDGE Junction

24 October LEEDS City Varieties

31 October SHREWSBURY Walker Theatre

1 November BRISTOL St Georges

2 November BIRMINGHAM Town Hall

3 November KENDALL Brewery Arts Centre

4 November GATESHEAD Sage

Tickets via https://myticket.co.uk/ and karinepolwart.com

NITEWORKS – Air Faìr An Là (Comann Music, CM002)

Air Faìr An LàIf the combined words “folk” and “electronica” bring on an attack of the vapours, a lie down with the reviving sal volatile of Niteworks’ second album Air Faìr An Là (At Dawn Of Day) might just help. The four Skye lads of Niteworks clearly love their traditional music but, obviously, generations born into techno and its offspring want to reflect contemporary sounds, too. If Martyn Bennett was a pioneer in this field, Niteworks are most ably picking up the reins and forging forward on their own account.

This time around, they’ve engaged top techno producer Alex Menzies (aka Alex Smoke), who overcame his own initial reluctance about the project and has helped to create a vital, full-throttle album that’s subtler than it might at first appear (try the constantly mutating rhythmic pattern punctuating the 1968 spoken-word recording of Skye man, ‘Calum Ruadh MacNeacail’), and definitely stands on its own merits.

Opening with ‘Dookin’’, spacey sonics lope along until first a vibrant fiddle and then pipes drop in, hoisting the melody line across a thumping drumbeat. Kinnaris Quintet’s Fiona MacAskill and her two colleagues provide excellent fiddle parts throughout.

Other guests include Julie Fowlis, whose coolly sparkling vocal soars over ever-intensifying beats in ‘Òran Fir Ghriminis’, and Lewis musician Iain Morrison who brings a slow, atmospheric version of his own song, ‘Like Wolves In The Night’.

SIAN, a trio featuring Ellen MacDonald (recently with Daìmh), deliver crisp vocals on the title track, a waulking song, and also the album’s lead single, reviewed here in a recent Singles Bar. The rapid vocal repetitions are weirdly well-complemented by an ‘80s Kraftwerk-ish bubbling undercurrent. MacDonald’s warm tones also take up ‘Do Dhà Shùil’ (‘Your Two Beady Little Eyes’), a St Kilda lullaby with a soundscape that conjures blowing sand, rattling boat masts and the sea’s sighing fall-rise.

Dragged from the very earth itself is ‘Cumhachd’ (‘Power’ or ‘Energy’): a primal incantation where Allan MacDonald’s hypnotic vocals are slowly subsumed as he picks up the tune on his pipes. More pipes feature on ‘Iain McGee’s’, this time steadily bubbling up through a trance-ish rendering of the tune, before erupting wildly out. In contrast, the increasingly dark, insistent ‘Lùths (Gabh Greim)’ wibbles along, unsteady as an old cassette tape, and closing tune ‘Highlander’s Farewell’ somehow works a traditional strathspey up into what could be an action film car chase soundtrack.

Updating traditional music can be risky, but clearly Niteworks have found their contemporary groove and, right now, they are riding it expertly.

Su O’Brien

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 website: www.niteworksband.com/

Live at Celtic Connections feat. Julie Fowlis:

RACHAEL McSHANE & THE CARTOGRAPHERS – When All Is Still (Topic TSCD596)

When All Is StillIt’s been nine years since Rachael McShane realised her solo debut, the time since then keeping her busy as cellist, fiddler, viola player and singer with the now defunct Bellowhead, of which she was a founding member back in 2004, and, more recently, her role in the reworking of Peter Bellamy’s folk opera The Transports.

However, she’s now found a window to record a follow-up, again predominantly a collection of traditional material, working with two fellow North East musicians, guitarist Matthew Ord fron Newcastle bluegrass outfit Assembly Lane and Kathryn Tickell’s melodeonist Julian Sutton. She’s also joined on assorted tracks by former Bellowhead colleagues Paul Sartin on oboe and Andy Mellon, Justin Thurgur and Ed Neuhauser on trumpet, trombone and tuba, respectively. The album’s produced by Ian Stephenson who also handles double bass and piano duties.

With a couple of exceptions, her choice of material leans to lesser known of less commonly performed numbers from the folk canon, case in point being the opener, ‘The Molecatcher’, a waltzing ditty about infidelity as the titular cuckold catches his wife in flagrante although McShane’s sanitised the original lyrics so that now, he catches the lad by his coat (rhyming with sport) rather than his bollocks (rhymed with frolics) who declares the fine of ten pounds works about tuppence a time rather than a grind. Revisionist delicacy notwithstanding, it’s a fine and cheekily sung number, the tune of Sutton’s ‘Simpson Street Waltz’ written in honour of the studio where they recorded.

More usually known as ‘The Outlandish Knight’, a number she often played with Bellowhead, spotlighting melodeon, ‘Lady Isabel’ tells of a serial killer of young maids getting his comeuppance when his intended seventh victim tumbles him into the sea. The ballad exists in a wide variety of versions and lyrics, and, in keeping with the album’s mischievous tone, this retains the final verse where the girl bribes her parrot to keep quiet about where she’s been.

Originating from Huddersfield, the melodeon wheezing ‘Cropper Lads’ has been part of her repertoire for a while, a song celebrating the titular weaving industry craftsmen that makes reference to Great Enoch, a hammer used to smash up the jobs-threatening machinery during the Luddite uprising. It’s set to a new tune by McShane titled ‘Full Belly’, apparently inspired, not by anything weaving or industrial, but from playing an online game called Sushi Cat.

Lads from a different, ahem, field make an appearance in ‘Ploughman Lads’, a rousingly straightforward chorus friendly love song featuring percussion from Martin Douglas, followed, in turn, by the first of the two instrumental sets, McShane’s stately fiddle-led ‘Waltzing At Giggleswick’, written for a charity of which she’s patron and providing a platform for Ode’s guitar work, twinned with Sutton’s melodeon romp ‘The Ginger Cat Monster’.

By far the best-known number is ‘Two Sisters’ (you know, the one where one sister downs the other over a romantic rivalry and the body is found and turned into as self-playing fiddle and reveals her murder), except McShane reveals a cynical streak with a grizzly ending that shows justice a clean pair of heels.

Learned from the Peter Bellamy version, the mid-tempo swayalong ‘Barley and Rye’ is another song about bored wives who get up to mischief in the bedroom because they’re neglected by husbands more concerned with their work, here a farmer and his crops.

Sutton contributes the second of the instrumentals, the finely crafted and shape-shifting ‘Road To Tarset/Lake Of Swans’ both nodding to favourite haunts in Northumberland. On a darker note, this is followed by another staple, a suitably sombre and brooding take on euphemistically-titled incest ballad ‘Sheath & Knife’ which, variously recorded by Ewan MacColl, Eliza Carthy, June Tabor, Maddy Prior and Maggie Boyle, from whom McShane learned the song, tells how the king’s daughter becomes pregnant by her brother and goes with him to the greenwood to give birth where she asks him to put an arrow through her and bury her with their baby.

Lighter notes are struck on another well-known number, ‘Sylvie’ being a version of ‘The Female Highwayman’ or ‘Sovay’. One of the first songs the trio put together, it opens with a plucked viola before the instrumentation swells as the tale unfolds of a woman disguising herself to test her lover’s loyalty and bravery by demanding the ring she gave him. Given that, in the final verse, she declares that had he parted with it she’d have shot him dead, it’s perhaps not a match for the long haul.

Set to a new galumphing, melodeon-driven cider-swigging tune by McShane with brass arrangement by Stephenson, it all ends joyously with ‘Green Broom’, a traditional tale of a broom cutter who, fed up of his son lying in bed to noon, sends him off to the woods to cut a bundle , the lad catching the attention of a fine lady on his way home and ending up marrying her. There seems to be a Norman Tebbit-like moral for our social benefits times in there somewhere.

Fresh, sparkling and lively in its arrangements and performance, it’s an album that should consign phrases like ‘former-Bellowhead’ member to footnotes rather than a delineation.

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.rachaelmcshane.co.uk

‘Ploughman Lads’ – official video:

John Smith unveils debut single from new album

John Smith

John Smith had just announced the release of his new album Hummingbird.  It features appearances from Cara Dillon, John McCusker and Ben Nicholls, and will be released on October 5th on his own Commoner Records (via Thirty Tigers worldwide).  He had also announced a huge UK headline tour (29 dates throughout October & November), and made the track ‘Willy Moore’, taken from Hummingbird, available to stream now.

An independent musician who has toured the world for almost fifteen years with his guitar and suitcase, he has independently released five albums, supported the likes of Ben Howard and Damien Rice, won critical acclaim in the UK and abroad, and performed a session guitarist and singer for the likes of Joan Baez, Lisa Hannigan and Martin Simpson.

Following his performance last weekend at the Cambridge Folk Festival, and having been played for the first time last night by Mark Radcliffe on the BBC Radio 2 Folk Show, John Smith can today reveal ‘Willy Moore’, the first song from his soon to be announced new album.

Recorded at Sam Lakeman’s Somerset studio in March, John explains how the track came into his life.

“Collected in Harry Smith’s Anthology Of American Folk Music, no-one knows who wrote it, but it’s probably from the early 20th century.  I first heard this performed by the gentleman genius Wizz Jones. It’s a heart-breaking account of two young lovers’ tragedy.”

Listen to ‘Willy Moore’ here:

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: https://www.johnsmithjohnsmith.com/

Live Dates

04 October Aberdeen The Lemon Tree
05 October Ullapool Guitar Festival
10 October Cork  IE Coughlan’s
11 October Cork IE Coughlan’s
12 October Limerick IE Dolan’s
13 October Dublin IE Unitarian Church
14 October Bangor NI Studio Theatre
17 October Chipping Norton The Theatre
20 October Whitby Musicport Festival
21 October Liverpool St George’s Hall
22 October Gateshead Sage Gateshead
24 October Leeds The Wardrobe
25 October Sheffield Picture House Social
26 October Thames Ditton The Ram Club
30 October Newbury Arlington Arts Centre

01 November Bury The Met Arts Centre
02 November Scunthorpe Cafe Indiependent
03 November Halifax Square Chapel
04 November York The Crescent
07 November Middlesbrough Town Hall
09 November Bristol Rough Trade
10 November Plymouth Barbican Theatre
11 November Dartmouth The Flavel
12 November Exeter Phoenix
14 November Southampton The Brook
15 November London St Pancras NEW Church (Bloomsbury)
16 November Brighton Unitarian Church
17 November Guildford St Mary’s Church

NIALL HANNA – Autumn Winds (own label)

Autumn WindsI have to say out the outset that this is rather lovely. Two years ago Niall Hanna received a Young Musician’s Platform Award from the Arts Council which gave him the opportunity to collect and record some traditional songs, mostly from Ulster. He threw in a couple of original compositions and Autumn Winds is the result. Of course, he had a singular advantage in that his grandfather, Geordie Hanna, was a notable singer and two of the songs come from his repertoire.

The album opens with an original song, ‘The Autumn Winds’, a typically lilting piece of Irish music which could be traditional and that says a lot for it. It’s about memory and loss. I must have noticed this before but Autumn Winds brought it home: how many Irish songs are named for a place, whatever the subject matter. Niall follows suit with his second original piece, ‘Sweet Lough Neagh’. After the title track comes ‘Lough Erne Shore’, originally collected by Paddy Tunney. Despite very few points of similarity it reminds of ‘Belle Isle’ as constructed by Bob Dylan who set the song on the banks of Loch Eiron. Given the number of Irish songs that travelled to the Americas I’m sure there’s a link.

‘The Granemore Hare’ is fairly well known but ‘The Mountains Of Pomeroy’ turns out to be a version of ‘Reynardine’. Niall says that the melody is commonly played as a barndance march but the lyrics were written by one George Sigerson. ‘The Stately Woods Of Truagh’ is the first song from Niall’s grandfather and tells of a soldier saying goodbye to his true love before riding off to fight in the Battle of Benburb. It has a happy ending as he survives and comes home to marry her. ‘The Rambling Irishman’ breaks the titling rule and is a song of emigration as is ‘Erin’s Lovely Home’, another song from Geordie Hanna. There is a set of reels and finally we have a real favourite of mine, ‘Banks Of The Bann’.

The album was produced and arranged by Niall and Dónal O’Connor who plays keyboards. Also in support are Ciaran Hanna on concertina and whistles, Rachel McGarrity on fiddle and percussionist Dermot Moynagh of Lonesome George. The arrangements can be delicate based on Niall’s multi-tracked guitars or as lively as ‘The Rambling Irishman’ demands.

Dai Jeffries

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.facebook.com/niallhannamusic

‘The Mountains Of Pomeroy’:

DAN JOHNSON – Hemingway (State Fair)

HemingwayIn 1987, when Dan Johnson was just ten, his father, an injured US Air Force veteran, finding his skill set was not transferrable to civilian life, sank into depression and an eventual mental collapse that led to suicide. Thirty years later, his son is releasing Hemingway, a conceptual five-track EP cum audio book that seeks to raise awareness about the warning signs of suicide, especially among military veterans who, with, on average, twenty a day taking their own lives, account for 18% of all such deaths each year. In tandem with a non-profit online organisation based in Texas, he also wants to educate the public on the resources available to communities to help.

All the songs are autobiographical in nature, opening with ‘The Favor’, a brooding number with a sparse, desert-dry Weissenbaum guitar intro that harks to his own spiral down into a life of drugs and women, electric guitar snarling as Russell growls and part-speaks his way through the lyrics in way that conjures both Cash and Jennings at their darkest outlaw height.

Mingling echoes of Prine and Kristofferson and with Lloyd Maines on pedal steel, the mid-tempo waltzer title track is inspired by his father’s life. It tells the story of a young boy signing up at 18 and earning his nickname for his fiery nature as well as his tale-spinning, invalided out at 19 with loss of limbs and serious facial injuries, “too modest to speak of his pain”, unable to get work, and eventually taking “the Hemingway out.” Closing on haunting trumpet notes, it stands shoulder to shoulder with anything off Mary Gauthier’s similarly-themed Rifles and Rosemary Beads.

Opening on Springsteenesque piano, a six-minute stadium-sized muscular anthem with strings arrangement, ‘Bloom’ is a more upbeat number, one inspired by his three daughters and the experience of watching them grow and blossom underscored by a reminder that he came close to never doing so.

Heralded by the sound of a cigarette being lit and set to a flamenco guitar, Cuban percussion and Texicana shuffle, it’s followed by the punningly titled, trumpet-embellished ‘Tom Waits For No One’, a painful memory of a break-up, smoking with two empty glasses on the table waiting for a woman who never returns.

Framed by desolate sound effects of creaking boards and a cruel wind, it ends with another outlaw country-styled storysong ‘Lone Gunman’s Lament’, a song born from how, haunted by guilt and regret, Johnson came close to following in his father’s footsteps only to finally resolve to see things through and pour his pain and anger into his songs. It comes with a false ending as a sustained drone, punctuated by what sounds like the loading of a gun gradually, ebbs away into a final semi-spoken confession about making wise choices about “what you’ll live, or die even kill for.”

As mentioned, it comes with a second audiobook disc, a collection of short stories (running up to an hour) linked to or inspired by the songs, written in collaboration with novelist Travis Erwin, as well as spoken versions of the songs themselves. It’s also available as a paperback.

Following on from an eponymous 2015 debut with the Salt Cedar Rebels, itself firmly in classic outlaw country mode, this is Johnson’s first solo foray. On the evidence of both the songwriting and the music they feature, both he and the band deserve a far wider audience.

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.danjohnsonmusic.us

‘Hemingway’ – lyric video: