Paul Johnson speaks to Ken Nicol at The Great British Folk Festival 2018

Ken Nicol
Ken Nicol at The Great British Folk Festival 2018

As the curtain was raised on another year of The Great British Folk Festival – it was for me my first year at this event – a newbie to a festival that has now established itself at a major player on the folk festival circuit. Being my first trip, I wanted to pre-book a couple of interviews with some of the artists that were performing  – and one person I was interested in finding out more about, was the ex Steeleye Span, Albion Band and Magna Carta guitarist and singer Ken Nicol.

The set and performance was excellent… one man… two guitars and a ukulele with a few great heart warming stories thrown in that held and enthralled the audience.

Over the years, Ken Nicol has built up a huge reputation as a singer songwriter – and a fairly useful… in fact totally brilliant guitarist in his own right. Ken tours regularly all over the world and has a growing legion of loyal fans. I was intrigued to find out more about the man and his work – and caught up with him after he opened the festival on ‘Reds Stage’ in Skegness.  We spoke about performing solo, medication, health and spiritual song writing.

This is what he had to say.

Paul Johnson

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Artist’s website: https://kennicol.com/

Here is Ken performing I.H. or his Scottish Tune as he calls it.

Happy Birthday to Ashley Hutchings – The Guv’nor

Ashley_HutchingsAshley Hutchings, the man often referred to as The Guv’nor’, who has become synonymous with the creation of the folkrock music genre in the 1960s will be celebrating his 70th birthday on Monday 26 January.

A musician, singer, songwriter, producer, talent spotter (most famously of Nick Drake), broadcaster, poet and most of all band leader – his has been a lifetime of creativity, inspiration and innovation. From his role as band leader kicking off the folk rock genre with Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, numerous incarnations of the Albion Band to that of collaborator, and mentor to his youngest and possibly most sophisticated band Rainbow Chasers he has worked tirelessly upholding and championing the English tradition. He’s played on festival stages large and small, and worked in seedy smoke filled clubs to speaking poetry on the stage at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and being a musical director at the National Theatre. Now in his seventieth year he shows no signs of slowing down with a plethora of projects in the pipeline.

He is following a very busy year that saw the re-issue and re release of some of his favourite projects as well as the publication of his first book, the reissue of his most personal album By Gloucester Docks and the release of an ambitious work Riot Of Spring.

The first of these to be given a new lease of life in 2015 is Twangin’ n’ A-Traddin’. Originally released in 1994 the album is a collection of many of the dance tunes from the 50s and early 60s that first inspired Ashley as a teenager. These were given a traditional arrangement by Hutchings and teamed with some folks songs given the rock pop treatment. The new release is enhanced with the addition of two songs performed by the Velveteens a trio of Yorkshire lasses and Hutchings’ emotive ‘Welcome To The World’ depicts images that anyone who spent time in the coffee bars of the 60s would recognise.

The album under a new title Twangin’ ‘n’ A-Traddin’ Revisited is due for release on 27 April by Talking Elephant Records. For the birthday boy it is well deserved trip down memory lane.

Artist’s website: http://www.folkicons.co.uk/ashley.htm

From 1979, the mostly unrecorded Albion Band with Barry Dransfield, Martin SImpson and Andy Roberts. ‘The Cuckoo’s Nest’ and documentary footage:

Ashley Hutchings folk rock masterpiece available again

By Gloucester Docks I Sat Down and WeptAshley Hutchings’ concept album ‘By Gloucester Docks I Sat Down and Wept’ has been remastered and will be re-released on 11 November 2013. Widely considered to be Ashley’s best ever work it was originally recorded in 1987 but the original release was limited and the album was then unavailable for many years.

The album tells a very personal love story that unusually is not told from a ‘looking back’ perspective. The songs, the poems and stories were all written as the story itself was happening.  Only later did Hutchings realise that all those fragments  could come together to tell the story from start to finish. In creating the finished album Hutchings has drawn on all aspects of the arts from rock and traditional music, through poetry, history, storytelling and cinema. The result is an unfolding drama one might watch on television or at the cinema. But the images conjured by the words and music  become a personal screenplay.

“Heroic writing from Ashley Hutchings. This is an album that should be on every shelf” Chris While

By using this mix of spoken word, songs and tunes Hutchings powerfully captures and imparts the extent of all the different emotions experienced – joy, passion, wonder, confusion and sadness – the latter no more so than in two hauntingly eloquent songs. The first, ‘Brief Encounter’ which like the film of the same name, encapsulates the whole story, and ‘To Ireland I Made My Way’ both beautifully sung by Polly Bolton. As Chris While says: “the narrative reaches into the heart and gently tugs”

The poems have echoes of medieval and traditional love songs while the music on the album is a microcosm of every band that Hutchings has created. The folk rock of Fairport Convention, The Albion Band and Steeleye Span is immediately there on ‘Ring On Her Finger’ and throughout many of the later songs. The first song on the album has all the traditional flavours both in storyline and musicality and the dance tunes capture the spirit of  The Albion Country Band and Morris On. The impressive line-up of supporting artists includes many who were part of those bands – Phil Beer, Graeme Taylor, Dave Whetstone, and John Shepherd have all been Albion Band members. Steve Ashley was in the Albion Country Band and Dave Mattacks in Fairport Convention. Other guest artists -Christine Collister, Clive Gregson and Pete Zorn – have worked with Richard Thompson who along with Hutchings was a founder member of Fairport Convention.

This album is an important highlight in Hutchings’ career and a pinnacle in the volume of work that he has contributed to English music history. In Simon Nicol’s words “… not just heartfelt and personal, but beautiful, original, and fresh. 26 years on, I have still heard nothing remotely like it”

Album title:     By Gloucester Docks I Sat Down and Wept
Cat No:            TECD236
Bar Code:        5028479023622

Track titles:

1. Prologue – I Dreamed A Dream (Died For Love) 2.53
2. Ring On Her Finger 4.15
3. Dancing Under The Rose – Again 4.16
4. What! Must I Now Make An Enemy; Under The Rose 1.34
5. Keep You Warm 4.32
6. Ten Reasons Why They Should Be Together 0.42
7. At The Women’s Institute Dance; Flower Arranging 1.28
8. We Walked In God’s Country 2.11
9. A Letter; Small Town Romance 1.46
10. Don’t Look Back 2.32
11. In The Café 1.04
12. Brief Encounters 5.56
13. Westonbirt Sonnet; T Stands For Thomas 1.03
14. My Dearest To Ireland I Made My Way – Lies 3.33
15. My Dear Friend; Dives And Lazarus – The Blacksmith 2.43
16. I Don’t Go Dancing Any More 3.18
17. Love, Stuff And Nonsense 2.55
18. Epilogue – Died For Love 0.46, 1.23

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CHRIS WHILE AND JULIE MATTHEWS – Infinite Sky Fat Cat FATCD027

CHRIS WHILE AND JULIE MATTHEWS Infinite SkyChris While and Julie Matthews have been making music together for twenty years now, first with The Albion Band and currently with St Agnes Fountain as well as solo and as a duo. They make classy records and this, their eighth studio album together, is no exception.

The album opens with the up-tempo, vibrant ‘This Beautiful Life’, a song which could open or close a live set with equal impact. Here it sets the tone of a record which is full of optimism even when the subject might suggest otherwise. Better perhaps to say defiance in the face of catastrophe: Christchurch after the earthquake and 9/11; or stoicism when times are less than perfect. The new Radio Ballads song, ‘Nie Wieder’, about German Jewish athlete Gretel Bergmann, is the epitome of Julie’s song-writing. There is no triumphalism in her belated honours in her homeland but the statement that ‘nothing cleans the memory’ leaves a deep sense of sadness.

The core band of Howard Lees (some nicely understated lead guitar), Neil Fairclough on bass and drummer Bryan Hargreaves are again in residence with brief guest appearances from Kellie While, Nancy Kerr, Martin Simpson and Andy Cutting. With Chris and Julie on acoustic guitars and keyboards the sound is big but never fussy. It can be gentle as on ‘Hope Springs’ or rock like a good ’un as on ‘Broken Crash Barrier’. Infinite Sky is another fine album from Chris and Julie. Dai Jeffries

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

Phil Beer Box Set Revisited

I wanted to remind you all of the fantastic body of work Phil released in 2010, which was known commonly as “Box Set 1”.

The work would suit both Beer aficionados, Show of Hands fans and anyone that has seen Phil play live. The work, as a whole, is a great reminder of the breath of Phil’s musical partnerships, as well as his diversity of material and multi-instrumental talents. As well as a few Show of Hands rarities, you are also treated to the other Phil Beer collaborations with the Arizona Smoke Revue, Arizonas, Ridgeriders and the Albion Band. The CD box set features music partnerships with a wide range of artists including: Mike Oldfield, Paul Downes, Julie Matthews, Deb Sandland, Miranda Sykes, Ashley Hutchings, Jon Moore, Simon Care, Jackie Oates, Jim Causley, Jenna and Tom Palmer.

The Box Set is made up of three CD’s and a forth disc containing 6 video clips. Here is a full breakdown:

Disc: 1 – Archive
1. The First World War – Phil Beer And School Chums
2. Jan Tregale – Oddfolk
3. Berepper Beach – Oddfolk
4. The Hunting Of Arscott Of Tetcott – Downes And Beer
5. Spanish Ladies – Downes And Beer
6. Morning Sky – Arizona Smoke Revue
7. Factory – Arizonas
8. Take Back Your Pictures – Arizonas
9. Down In Yon Forest – Phil Beer
10. Thomas’s Morris – Phil Beer
11. Set Their Mouths To Twisting – Phil Beer
12. Nameless Kind Of Hell – Phil Beer/Albions
13. Last Picture Show – Show Of Hands
14. White Tribes – Show Of Hands
15. Weathercock – Phil Beer/ Nick Henness
16. Lifeline – Phil Beer/Albions/Swan Arcade
Disc: 2 – Acoustic Live
1. Old Riley – Phil Beer
2. Robbers’ Roost – Ridgeriders
3. Blind Fiddler – Phil And Julie Matthews
4. Long Black Veil – Phil And Deb Sandland
5. Simon Smith And The Amazing Dancing Bear – Phil Beer
6. Devils Right Hand – Phil Beer
7. Willin’ – Phil Beer And Miranda Sykes
8. Youngstown – Phil Beer
9. Bus Stop – Phil Beer
10. Cocaine – Phil Beer
11. Icicles – Miranda Sykes And Phil Beer
12. Exile – Phil Beer And Miranda Sykes
13. Flowers Of The Forest/The Holy Brook/When This Bloody War Is Over – Phil Beer And Miranda Sykes
14. Varso Vianna – Phil Beer
15. Warlike Lads Of Russia – Phil Beer
Disc: 3 – Acostic Studio
1. The Life Of A Fool – Phil Beer With Ashley Hutchings, Jon Moore And Simon Care
2. Lo! What A Glorious Sight Appears – Albion Band
3. Red River Valley – Phil Beer
4. Santiago – Alianza
5. The Three Knights – Phil Beer
6. Sit You Down – Phil Beer With Mike Oldfield
7. Border Song – Phil Beer
8. Blow The Man Down – Phil Beer With Jackie Oates And Jim Causley
9. Bus Stop – Phil Beer
10. Undertow – Show Of Hands With Jenna
11. The Downeaster Alexa – Phil Beer
12. Static On The Line – Tom Palmer With Phil Beer
13. Dakka Dan – Tom Palmer With Phil Beer
14. Crockery Ware – Jackie Oates With Phil Beer
15. I Wish/Ichbod – Jackie Oates With Phil Beer
Disc: 4 – Film Clips
1. The launching of the Pegasus at Bristol
2. A trip around the River Exe
3. A performance at the Minnack Theatre
4. Acadian Driftward Performance
5. Answering questions for a Longdogs web chat
6. A short film of the Band

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Also available via Phil’s Website: http://www.philbeer.co.uk/

ALBION CHRISTMAS BAND – Snow On Snow (Talking Elephant Records TECD135)

I don’t know what it is about Christmas but it always brings out the best in me particularly the seasonal songs. It seems that I’m not the only one either as this is the latest in a long line of several albums that the Albion Band have released on the theme. The band’s choice of material would appear to be inexhaustible and to prove the point they incorporate traditional fare such as “The Seven Joys Of Mary” and standards “In The Bleak Mid Winter” and “Hark The Herald Angels Sing” (each with their original melodies still intact) alongside more contemporary songs “Frozen Man”, “Comfort And Joy” and Dave Goulder’s classic “January Man” which are blessed with titles that settle nicely within the framework of the concept. As ever, Ashley Hutchings along with Simon Nicol, Kellie While and squeeze-box maestro Simon Care provide the core backing and vocals augmented by Guy Fletcher (violin/drums), David Tobin (cornamuse/recorder) and Mark Hutchinson on keyboards/percussion and production. Finally, perhaps it’s my age (or maybe as it’s a Christmas recording and I’m in Scrooge mode) but my only gripe with an otherwise blemish free production is that I’ve had to take up ‘squinting’ as a hobby because I can just about read the sleeve notes…sleeve designers please note 4pt as your choice of font size is not exactly ideal (!) That aside this is a recording that should be on every ‘folk’ enthusiasts Christmas wish list.

PETE FYFE

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Label’s website www.talkingelephant.com