The second track from the Refugee compilation album has surfaced.
‘Scarce of Fishing’ is the contributed track from Scottish singer/songwriter Alasdair Roberts. Premiered on Brooklyn Vegan, the folk artist has had previous support from the likes of Uncut, Pitchfork, BBC, The Observer, The Times, and much more, before joining the ‘Refugee’ project, spearheaded by fellow musician Robin Adams.
The project got it’s first exposure with the first track which dropped a few weeks back – ‘Most People’ is the contribution from Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy. Listen to the single, which premiered on Pitchfork.
Featuring Richard Dawson, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Linda Thompson, Alasdair Roberts, Ricky Ross, BMX Bandits and many more, the Refugee album is a united effort from some of folk’s most esteemed and cult figures, who’ve contributed an original or unreleased song each to the Refugee project.
Refugee (out digitally on July 5th through Brainfog) is a highly significant collaborative recording project which reflects, through song, the issue of the refugee crisis in its many forms, from Syria and beyond. It’s been curated by Scottish folk artist Robin Adams, who called on his close friends and musical colleagues from around the world to contribute to the project.
Each track is an unreleased original song, with contributions from the likes of the above artists. All proceeds go to the MOAS organisation (Migrant Offshore Aid Station) who’ve saved more than 13,000 lives since 2013 in the Mediterranean Sea. Read more on them at www.moas.eu.
Mayday 2012: an email from James Green in Sheffield reached me in Glasgow. I knew James a little – not particularly well; we had met a few times over the years and had collaborated a little too (I’d sung on a couple of songs on the album Folk Songs 2 by his group The Big Eyes Family Players). I understood that he played the harmoniflute, an instrument somewhere between a harmonium and an accordion, and seemed very enamoured of it. His email read: “had an idea about approaching you with… an EP or few songs (trad or otherwise) accompanied by my harmoniflute, and nothing else…just an idea once the dust has settled, maybe…”.
The dust was not long in the swirling before coming to rest upon both of our past endeavours, and shortly we set to work on the project which became Plaint Of Lapwing. My initial thought was to concentrate on just four pieces – I’d just recorded the Drag City LP/CD A Wonder Working Stone and had some songs left over from that. In a process which James was later to characterise as “surreal”, I started emailing him recordings of my disembodied voice; in response I would eagerly await, tracks featuring aforesaid voice with James’ harmoniflute accompaniment.
The project gradually, almost imperceptibly, developed in scope and complexity over two years. I began sending James more vocal takes as well as other sonics I’d generated, for a variety of original compositions and some by other authors (including a song by the Perthshire folklorist Hamish Henderson, an arrangement by Benjamin Britten of a piece by the Irish poet Thomas Moore, a lyric by beekeeping Cornish film maker Timothy Neat and a setting of a work by the Angus poet Violet Jacob). James in turn increased his instrumental palette to include drums, guitars and all other kinds of musical things.
As the project developed, so did a wonderful friendship blossom between James and myself. I found I was sending vocal tracks attached to emails detailing current grievances in my personal life, as if envisaging James as some kind of agony aunt. James, in return, sent completed tracks and, apparently regarding me as some kind of sounding board, emails venting his strident opinions (invariably in line with my own) on whatever political matter ruled the day. Before we knew it the disembodied sounds had become incarnate and James and I found we had an LP’s worth of material – an LP featuring beautiful artwork by Frances Castle which you, dear listener, now have the opportunity to welcome into your own home. The album is released in two editions one with a red cover (500 copies) and one with a blue cover (300 copies). It will also be available to download and stream.
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Unreleased and original tracks from Bonnie Prince Billy,
Linda Thompson, Alasdair Roberts and more All proceeds go to MOAS (Migrant Offshore Aid Station)
Released on June 3rd 2016 through Brainfog Records
Refugee is a highly significant collaborative recording project which reflects, through song, the issue of the refugee crisis in its many forms, from Syria and beyond.
The concept came about from singer-songwriter Robin Adams who took on the challenging role of curator for this beautiful collection of music. Featuring the likes of folk familiars Linda Thompson, Bonnie Prince Billy, Rachel Sermanni, BMX Bandits, Richard Dawson and many more, each song stands with individual character, yet the delicate ties of each subject make this a well-formed and consistent body of work. As Adams says about the collection:
“What amazes me is that every song works. Every song seems to fit the sentiment of the record effortlessly even though the songs vary largely in subject and spirit.”
A poignant and moving assembly of songs, the album contains perspectives from different visions in the crisis. Focusing in on the issues addressed, the subject matter leans toward one particular area of the refugee’s journey – the daring move to cross the oceans. From the warm home recording of ‘Scarce of Fishing’ by Alasdair Roberts, to Richard Dawson’s chanting ‘To The Sea’, and to Adam’s own beautiful contribution ‘The Devil’s War and God’s Blue Sea’ (the single which spawned the initial concept), the topic keeps surfacing as a reminder of the overall cause – to raise money for MOAS, whose rescue missions operate in the Aegean, Andaman and Mediterranean Sea.
“The first and foremost priority should be getting these people safely to dry ground and so MOAS was always the obvious choice. Their work has already saved around 12,000 lives in the first two years. All of the money made from this album will go straight to MOAS to aid them in saving more lives… Although the motivation for the record was primarily sparked by the Syrian crisis, there are so many other Countries enduring humanitarian crises, so the record is really dedicated to all refugees.”
Here are some further details on the project from the curator of the project and contributor, Robin Adams.
“Around the beginning of last year I found myself increasingly disturbed by a growing number of reports from many reputable independent media outlets, not only describing the horror of the Syrian crisis itself but also a shocking lack of coverage in the mainstream media. What little coverage there was I found to be deeply troubling given the insensitive nature of the reporting.
All of this moved me to write a song that directly addressed the problem. The obvious thing to do was to release it digitally via Bandcamp as a charity single to raise money for MOAS At the time [of the single], the severity of the crisis hadn’t quite resonated with the general public, because it simply wasn’t being reported frequently or clearly enough in the mainstream media. Months later there was a shift in awareness after [the media] published heartbreaking photographs in September 2015 of Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi washed ashore on a Turkish beach. That moment seemed to turn public perception on the crisis around very quickly.
It occurred to me that organising a charity album might be the best way I could help. I got in touch with anyone I could think of whose music I admired and asked if they’d be interested in contributing. I just asked if they’d like to write a song or contribute something new which they felt might be fitting. The response was wonderful and it just grew from there.”
Although this is her third album, until now my only aural encounter with the Sussex-based folkie was her collaboration with James Yorkston, playing fiddle on a very brief a capella ‘My Doffing Mistress’ on the 2012 Daily Worker benefit album We’re All In It Together. However, my extended introduction fortuitously coincides with a new stage in her career. Working with such luminaries as Yorkston, Alasdair Roberts and, from Trembling Bells, Mike Hastings and Alex Neilson, the latter of whom has likened her voice to a cross between Lal Waterson and Nico, the album marks the first time she’s recorded her own rather than traditional material. Indeed, not only did she write it, she arranged and produced it too.
There is one traditional number here, a spare, plucked fiddle version of ‘Come Write Me Down’, taken from the Copper family songbook and from whence comes the album’s title. However, if you weren’t already aware, there’s several tracks that (were it not for some of the lyrics) you could be persuaded had been knocking round the folk archives for a century or so, particularly the fiddle-led relationships-themed ‘And Everything’, that almost imperceptibly gathers pace as it proceeds and the band join in, and the a capella ‘The Hired Hand’ (where she harmonises with herself under the name Dusty Springsteen).
Raised on the North Sea coast of Lincolnshire (which explains the accent), she’s perhaps inevitably drawn to songs of ships and the sea. Bearing a lilting melody reminiscent of Dylan’s ‘To Ramona’, featuring sax and melodeon, ‘This Ship Is On A List’ wittily uses a disintegrating ship as a metaphor for a collapsing relationship, launching into a full on trad-sounding shanty mid-way (though perhaps the line “Now the focsle is fucked”, isn’t perhaps one Fisherman’s Friends might include). Featuring Hastings on Jews harp, ‘Salt’, one of the albums many standout numbers, addresses the dangerous allure of fishing fleets, delivering a chorus of “In like a lion out like a lamb. Set sail a boy, came home a man” that fires up thoughts of classic Richard and Linda Thompson.
Again Jews harp and featuring Dan Quinn on melodeon, the same is true of ‘Toast (The Ballad Of Michael ‘Mini’ Cooper)’, a luminous fiddle waltzing number that tells the story of the titular 1970s child arsonist, a bright but troubled young 10-year-old from Co. Durham who set fire to his parents house, allegedly knowing his abusive father was asleep upstairs. The subject of two BBC documentaries, in 1974 (directed by Franc Roddam) and a decade later, after spending most of those years in psychiatric care at a series of high security special schools, he was sentenced to life in 1990 after setting fire to a bottling plant, Osborne cuts to the heart of his morally ambiguous story (the full details of which, including Cooper’s shattered dreams of a film and being a playwright, make powerful reading), seeing him as a victim as she sings “when you’re silenced with violence and you’re given no chance and no choice. And when you’re brilliant and bored and you’re beaten, fire is your vengeance and voice.” If this isn’t among next year’s Radio 2 Folk Awards Song of the Year nominees, then there’s no justice.
The album comes to a close with the traditional lyric styled ‘Undone’ (“Cut off my long yellow hair, dress in mans’ array, make myself unbeautiful, no more will I stay”), set to a backing of fiddle drone and Neilson’s unconventional percussion and drums with Osborne humming the playout coda, and, finally, ‘All One’, featuring just her and Hastings’ plangent acoustic guitar, which, her delivery of the ‘One small space and a letter between all one and alone’ refrain, putting me in mind of Sandy Denny.
However, perhaps because of the time of year and the fact that the cascading tubular bells recall Jethro Tull’s festive ‘Ring Out, Solstice Bells’, I have to say that my personal favourite is the album opener, ‘I Don’t Like Sundays’, a song that sets the theme of survivors and survival with the protagonist encouraging a friend to fight against their depression ( “I saw the cloud come like a shroud, stealing all your joy”) and reminding that “Sometimes all you can do is put one foot before the other and heed the conversation tween the future and the past.”
The album cover is a 1960’s picture of Osborne’s grandmother, Katharine Compton, in a Sidmouth Festival drinking competition. Having given The Watersons and Peter Bellamy their first club gigs, Compton is something of a legend in folk circles; with this album her granddaughter should become one too.
Blow Out The Moon is a five track EP from The Furrow Collective: Alasdair Roberts, Emily Portman, Lucy Farrell and Rachel Newton. All the tracks are traditional except for the tune of the title track which was written by Lucy for a children’s verse found in a book called Far, Far Away and it goes without saying that it isn’t anywhere near long enough.
It has to be said that The Furrow Collective don’t always pick the jolliest material and, indeed, the centrepiece of this record is Rachel’s version of ‘The Unquiet Grave’. There is, however, a sprightliness about this set that isn’t the band’s rather stately debut album, At Our Next Meeting. Lucy zips through ‘Poor Old Horse’ in under two minutes and Emily gives us a positively bouncy ‘Shule Agra’.
Alasdair can hold an audience spellbound with just his voice and an old ballad but here he contributes a bit of Irish gentleness in ‘Lament To The Moon’ from the singing of the late Packie Manus Byrne. The final track combines ‘Oh To Be In My Bed And Happit’ led by Alasdair and ‘Blow Out The Moon’ to send us happily to bed. Blow Out The Moon is a splendid set which whets the appetite for more.
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For those who are unaware, Bedford is the personal and professional partner of Paul Simmonds from The Men they Couldn’t Hang, so it’s not too surprising to find a similar political vein to her work. Plus, of course, she has a history of political activity, having been, for example, the Artists Liaison for Artists Against The Poll Tax. This is her third album and, as the title suggests, isn’t overflowing with stories of lover’s trysts and break-ups, although nor is it a hectoring collection of unfurled protest banners.
The template’s set with the opening track, ‘Davidson/Wilder Blues’, a traditional Tennessean union song about strikebreaking written by miners in the 30s and learned from Hedy West, one of Bedford’s seminal influences. With Dan Stewart on banjo and Bedford singing in an Appalachian twang, you’d not think she was born in Putney. She remains in traditional territory, but closer to home for ‘Gypsy Davy’, although, having said that, her approach is very much on the other side of the Atlantic, drawing on Jean Ritchie and Woody Guthrie, adding a chorus and inviting Justin Currie along for harmonies. Currie also shares vocal duties and plays piano on his own contribution, ‘We Are Not The People’, a stirring, fiddle accompanied ballad about those in power from the perspective of those who will never have it and don’t want it.
Other than the two traditional arrangements, Bedford only contributes one writing credit, a collaboration with Simmonds on ‘The Wild And Charming Energy’, a nervy folk blues number about machismo with handclaps, itchy percussion and a mariachi feel, other than that the bulk of the material is courtesy of Simmonds: ‘The Spider & The Wolf’’s fable about debt with Bedford again channelling West and Jackie Oates on fiddle, ‘Overseas’, a banjo dappled song about religious intolerance that centres on the Crusades; ‘Raise These Sails’, a clopalong duet between him and Bedford spun around the provisions taken aboard the Mayflower; ‘Junktown’, a loose loping blues duet that sounds like a nod to Johnny and June about corporate culture, market forces and the powerbrokers ghettoising the common herd and featuring the defiant line “a hand up is not a hand out”; ‘Fields Of Clover’, about the rise and fall of the baby boomers and on which she sounds like Baez circa ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’. The last of the Simmonds’ tracks, ‘The Old Abandoned Road’, offers a view of the pointlessness of the English Civil War through the eyes of a soldier in the Quaker army, set to acoustic strum, military drum beat and a Gaelic skirl of fiddle and mandolin.
The final cut returns to the traditional archives for ‘The Watches Of the Night’, the words taken from an optimistic poem about the rise of socialism by Tom Maguire, a British Trade Unionist, sourced and set to music by Alasdair Roberts, who sings and plays guitar, with Bedford on harmony, Ellie Wyatt on violin and Helena Ashworth on psaltery. Naomi’s name may not be as well known as others in the folk field, but, justly championed by the likes of Shirley Collins and Peter Buck, she most certainly deserves your listening attention. It would be impertinent not to.
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