ALASDAIR ROBERTS, AMBLE SKUSE & DAVID McGUINESS – What News (Drag City)

What News“This is proper folk music”, said my wife on first hearing What News. And it is: big songs full of blood, sex, betrayal and murder. I thought I understood Alasdair Roberts’ working pattern. There would be a traditional album, then a couple of sets of his original songs – very often embodying elements of the tradition – and one or two collaborations that don’t fit either category. What News is both traditional and a collaboration! Supporting Alasdair are David McGuiness, whose piano is the record’s principal instrument, and Amble Skuse who weaves evocative soundscapes around the songs.

First up is ‘The Dun Broon Bride’, a tale of a man marrying for money rather than love, with betrayal, two murders and probably a fair amount of blood. I blame his mother. The failed marital arrangements in ‘Young Johnstone’ are more complicated but the outcome is equally bloody. There is even more blood in ‘Johnny O’ The Brine’.

The style of the album comes from Alasdair’s desire to sing more and play less. He is a terrific unaccompanied singer – the songs seeming to inhabit his whole body – but, sadly, unaccompanied traditional singing isn’t as fashionable as it used to be. What News is a perfect compromise. Alasdair is singing at his very best as he gives each song every ounce of his concentration.

‘Rosie Anderson’ gives us betrayal and sex but also supplies an insight into the mores of the time, with the side having the most witnesses (at whatever cost) winning the divorce settlement. ‘The Fair Flower Of Northumberland’ is one of my favourite songs – mostly betrayal with added forgiveness – and Alasdair sings it almost as reportage; a nod to the album’s title. ‘Clerk Colven’ is essentially a simple song: our hero is told not to do something on pain of death, he does it and dies. Here it is the album’s big production number with Skuse pulling out all the stops – the sound of water combined with eerie droning notes and she doesn’t let up with ‘Babylon’, nothing to do the Home Service song and one I hadn’t heard before – always a bonus.

There are one or two songs I’m not familiar with, or rather variants that I hadn’t heard. I particularly relish a line in ‘Long A-Growing’ in which the bride complains that her groom is only twelve while she is almost fourteen. Game Of Thrones or what?

What News is a superb album – proper folk music!

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: http://www.alasdairroberts.com/news/

‘The Fair Flower Of Northumberland’ – an old recording with Will Oldham but all I could find:

Alasdair Roberts announces a new collaboration for a new album

Alasdair Roberts Trio
Photograph by Eva Gnatiuk

For his twelfth solo album, What News, and his fourth album focused exclusively on the performance of traditional songs, Alasdair Roberts has chosen a typically unusual and eclectic pair of collaborators: Amble Skuse and David McGuinness.

On past albums No Earthly Man and Too Long In This Condition, Alasdair relied on his deep connection with the material to anchor exploratory arrangements that would locate the hundreds-years-old songs in a contemporary milieu. For his first project in this vein since 2010, Alasdair had a desire to sing and not so much to play, so he asked early music scholar and Concerto Caledonia director David McGuinness (a previous collaborator) to play keyboard accompaniment. He started with the choosing of appropriate instruments: a 1844 grand pianoforte and a “Mozart-style” fortepiano of relatively recent vintage – the types of instrument they call in Holland “brown pianos” (as opposed to the “black” sound of the modern Steinway). To these, David added his own circa-1920 Dulcitone, a Glaswegian keyboard that plays tuning forks instead of strings.

While developing the arrangements, David hit upon an idea for an additional collaborator: sonologist Amble Skuse, whose work involves interactive, electronic performance treatments. This provided a third plane for the project, and thus triangulated, they were able to crystallize an approach involving a very open soundstage: David’s keyboard, Alasdair’s vocals and Amble’s structural soundscaping.  This makes for beautiful and driven music that has no analogue in Alasdair’s catalogue – for while he has consistently pursued the dynamic fusion of songs from hundreds of years ago in a modern and progressive context, he has never worked with a keyboard as the central instrument.

What News stands artifacts of history in the unclear light of our modern day for us to compare and contrast. As always, it is shocking and delightful musical entertainment.

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.dragcity.com/artists/alasdair-roberts

The 2017 Folking Awards

Welcome to the 2017 Folking Awards. Last year’s inaugural poll was such a success that we had to do it again. The nominations, in eight categories, come from our ever-expanding team of writers and were wrangled into shape with sweat, tears and not a little blood by the Folkmeister and the Editor.

There are five nominees in each category, all of whom have been featured in the pages of folking.com in 2016.

As with the format last year, all are winners in our eyes. However, its not just down to what we think, so again, there will be a public vote to decide the overall winner of each category.

Soloist Of The Year

Luke Jackson
Ralph McTell
Kelly Oliver
Steve Pledger
Alasdair Roberts


Best Duo

Cathryn Craig & Brian Willoughby
Ange Hardy & Lukas Drinkwater
O’Hooley & Tidow
Ninebarrow
Show Of Hands


Best Band

Afro Celt Sound System
Fairport Convention
Harp And A Monkey
Nancy Kerr and The Sweet Visitor Band
Merry Hell


Best Live Act

The James Brothers
Robb Johnson and the My Best Regards Band
Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys
Mad Dog Mcrea
Megson


Best Album

Tall Tales & Rumours – Luke Jackson
Ballads Of The Broken Few – Seth Lakeman/Wildwood Kin
Preternatural – Moulettes
Somewhere Between – Steve Pledger
Dodgy Bastards – Steeleye Span


Best Musician

Ciaran Algar
Phil Beer
Rachel Newton
Gill Sandell
Kathryn Tickell


Rising Star Act

The Brewer’s Daughter
Hattie Briggs
Said The Maiden
Sunjay
Emily Mae Winters


Best International Act

Applewood Road
The Bills
David Francey
Michael McDermott
Eve Selis


Public Vote

The public vote closed Midday Saturday 22 April 2017 and the winners have now been announced HERE


If you would like to consider ordering a copy of an album for any of our award winners (in CD or Vinyl), download an album or track or just listen to snippets of selected songs (track previews are usually on the download page) then type what you are looking for in the search bar above.

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

VARIOUS ARTISTS – The Food Of Love Project (Autolycus Records AUTO1CD)

The Food Of Love ProjectCommissioned to mark the Oxford Shakespeare Jubilee 2016, The Food Of Love Project falls into the weird and wonderful category. All the tracks are or were traditional – give or take Dave Moran and Nic Jones’ involvement in ‘Tom O’ Bedlam’ and Kirsty Law’s adaptation of ‘Go From My Window’ – but only a few are well known as are the performers, many of whom, like Stornoway, are based in Oxford. All the songs are performed or referenced in the plays of William Shakespeare, albeit “somewhat obliquely” to quote Alasdair Roberts.

The musical styles owe a good deal to the late sixties and as much to the nu-folk of the 21st century. Quite what Shakespeare would have made of Dead Rat Orchestra, I couldn’t say, but their opening sortie, ‘Bonnie Sweet Robin Is To The Greenwood Gone’, is a heavy example of early prog-folk. They had to provide new words as the original text has vanished and the connection is that Ophelia may sing the last line in Hamlet. And that isn’t as oblique as it gets but the result is that the musicians have carte blanche to experiment as much as they wish. ‘O Death, Rock Me Asleep’ from the wonderfully named Children Of The Midnight Chimes (actually Seb Reynolds and Tom McDonnell who curated and commissioned the project) is another example of heavy folk.

Elsewhere, Thomas Truax experiments with a steampunk version of ‘Greensleeves’, James Bell’s take on ‘Tom O’Bedlam’ is light and airy and Brickwork Lizards turn in a weighty performance of ‘Fortune My Foe’.

The final track is ‘Lawn As White As Driven Snow’, an eleven-and-a-half minute epic by David Thomas Broughton, which begins in a relatively conventional style and features two rather nice contrasting solos at its mid-point. The strange synthesisers are beginning the make their presence felt now and by the end has morphed into sonic strangeness.

I can’t guarantee that you will like everything on The Food Of Love Project and indeed there are a couple of tracks I might be wary of returning to but you can’t deny that it’s packed with musical ideas and there is a great deal that you will enjoy.

Dai Jeffries

Project website: https://www.facebook.com/Autolycus-Records

Alasdair Roberts – new album and video

Alasdair Roberts

Alasdair Robert’s high-spirited new album, Pangs, is in stores today – and in commemoration with this forthcoming moment of uplift, we share with one and all the newly-minted video for the title track.

Throughout Pangs, Alasdair’s leads a band on electric guitar, offering an evocation of the 60s and 70s folk-rockers of the British Isles – the electric warriors of Fairport Convention, the Battlefield Band, Planxty, Richard Thompson and so many others. Of course, these sounds travel through the music of Alasdair Roberts, which is set very firmly in the world of today. And even a dark lament can lift the heart – the point in fact is ‘Pangs’ itself, a skipping ode considering the phenomenon of “sympathetic birth” – where the pain of the expecting mother is shared by another. We take this to be  Alasdair’s observation of the Brexit/Trump echo, a collapse that has been heard across nations.

It makes sense then that the  ‘Pangs’ video finds Alasdair hitching a ride through hostile counties, standing on the rock of Hadrian’s Walk (the ancient Roman wall built in the north of England to mark the boundary of their empire) and returning, prodigal-son style to a remote castle where children play and a preacher leads his flock. There’s magic involved, via a selenite Crystal Wand, and an evocation of end times. A stark but compelling vision that reminds us to consider others as we do ourselves. With a guitar solo too!

Alasdair’s UK and Ireland tour (with Alex Neilson and Stevie Jones) is under way check if they’re coming to your neck of the woods!

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.alasdairroberts.com/

‘Pangs’ – official video:

The Food Of Love Project features Shakespearean songs

The Food Of Love Project

Introducing The Food of Love Project, a compilation album featuring some of the great names of folk music performing a rich variety of songs either referenced or performed in the plays of William Shakespeare. The album was curated and commissioned by Sebastian Reynolds of PinDrop and Tom McDonnell of TMD Media to mark the Oxford Shakespeare Jubilee 2016, a festival programme of events exploring Shakespeare’s incredible legacy.

The Food of Love Project album is a treasure trove of varied interpretations and extrapolations of Shakespearean period songs. Opening with the orchestral drone folk chorus created by Dead Rat Orchestra with their version of ‘Bonnie Sweet Robin Is To The Greenwood Gone’, as referenced in Hamlet, the album gets off to suitably grandiose start. Steam-punk inventor/musician Thomas Truax reimagines classic English ballad ‘Greensleeves’ in a typically cosmic, surrealist light, and Oxfordian band Stornoway rework the old Gaelic tune ‘Eibhlín A Riún’ into a beautiful, sonorous nugget of pop gold. Talking about his performance of ‘Caleno Custure Me’, acclaimed Scottish folk troubadour Alasdair Roberts says:

“Of a couple of songs suggested to me in relation to this project, ‘Caleno Custure Me’ (referenced somewhat obliquely in Henry IV Part 2) was the most appealing. I appreciate the mystery of the uncertain etymology of the title/chorus line (although I suppose the most likely explanation is that it’s garbled Irish Gaelic). There’s a beautiful recording of the song by the late Alfred Deller, the great countertenor, who’s a singer I’ve enjoyed listening to a bit over the years. I thought that I would attempt to go ‘historically accurate’ with this new recording of the song and so I enlisted the services of my good friend and lute player Gordon Ferries.”

Having been commissioned and curated by Seb and Tom, stalwarts of the ever-thriving Oxford music scene, the Oxon crowd is well represented, alongside Stornoway, by local heroes Flights of Helios, Brickwork Lizards and James Bell. ‘The Children Of The Midnight Chimes’ is a unique collaboration between Seb (producer) and Tom (vocals), especially for the album. Their abstract, drone noise take on ‘Oh Death, Rock Me Asleep’ is fittingly atmospheric, considering that the poem on which it was based was allegedly written by Anne Boleyn as she awaited her beheading in the Tower of London. The album is completed by a magisterial take on ‘Farewell, Dear Love’ (Twelfth Night) by Rob St John accompanied by cellist Pete Harvey; a collaborative deconstruction of ‘Peg-a-Ramsey’ and ‘Yellow Hose’ (Twelfth Night) by Nathaniel Mann of Dead Rat Orchestra and folk guitarist Nick Castell; a sophisticated retelling of ‘Go From My Window’(Much Ado About Nothing) entitled ‘Strength In A Whisper’ by Scottish folk singer Kirsty Law; and a sprawling, ambient folk adaption of ‘Lawn As White As Driven Snow’ (A Winter’s Tale) to close the album by singer and experimental musician David Thomas Broughton.

The album is dedicated to the memory of John Renbourn, who had committed to participate in the project before he passed away in 2015.

Project website: https://www.facebook.com/Autolycus-Records

‘Farewell, Dear Love’: