JOHN TAMS – The Reckoning (Topic TTSCD006)

The ReckoningThe Reckoning, John Tams’ third solo album, is the latest deluxe re-issue marking Topic Records’ 80th anniversary. Originally released in 2005, it was the last of a trio of albums that might fall into the singer-songwriter category and the culmination, as far as recording goes, of a career that now stretches back fifty years. Tams has also been an actor, composer and musical director among other roles he’s taken on over the years but is best known for his membership of Muckram Wakes, The Albion Band and Home Service.

The first thing that struck me on listening to The Reckoning again was how gentle it is. Tams is a political thinker but he doesn’t rant in song, preferring to let the ideas enter your mind by a process of osmosis. Take the opening song, ‘Written In The Book’. On the one hand it seems to be a condemnation of the false hopes of the sixties: “Lennon and McCartney have a lot to answer for” and on the other it’s an attack on Thatcherism. ‘Safe House’ is equally complex. It’s clearly about the dispossessed but are they immigrants, Travellers, or the unemployed detritus of industrial decline? Probably all three.

There are several traditional songs here – at least they were once traditional and Tams labels them as such despite the work he’s put into them. ‘Amelia’ is absolutely gorgeous: obviously in shanty form but it leaves us wondering whether it’s ‘Amelia’ who is out on the sea or her sailor who is trying to get back to her. ‘Bitter Withy’ is modernised with Graeme Taylor’s Dobro over Andy Seward’s banjo and ‘A Man Of Constant Sorrow’ is transferred to the Derbyshire and Yorkshire coalfields and 1984.

‘The Sea’ is a song cycle which includes ‘One More Day’, a song that Tams has made his own, and the amalgamation of ‘A Sailor’s Life’ with the chorus of ‘A Sailor’s Alphabet’. The last track on the original release was ‘Including Love’, a decidedly American blues decorated by Steve Dawson’s trumpet. It sounded slightly incongruous then but with the three “postscript” tracks taken from or inspired by productions of John Steinbeck works it seems more appropriate. The first of the three is the cheekily titled ‘Sweet Home Oklahoma’ and the second is ‘No Luck At All’, both featuring Taylor on second guitar. Both of these post-date the first release of The Reckoning but the final track is a gorgeous big band version of Albert E Brumley’s ‘I’ll Fly Away’ from 1990 (remember Plainsong’s version?) and among the familiar names on board you have to single out Trevor Dunford’s lead guitar playing.

If this is the last of Topic’s celebratory reissues, it’s not a bad place to stop but, you know, I can think of a dozen more candidates to continue the series.

Dai Jeffries

Label website:

‘Amelia’ – live (from the folking archive):

BROOMDASHER – Nothing To Do With Me (Clean Sweep)

Nothing To Do With MeFinally settled into a manageable six-piece, Broomdasher has its origins in the Cecil Sharp House Choir and comprise original members Chris Hayes, Deena Marcus-Jedamzik who was mentored by Leon Rosselson), Margaret Moore alongside ‘recent’ recruits Huw Davies, opera trained Josephine Swinhoe and Richard Cryan.

They perform unaccompanied, singing traditional English folk songs and sufficiently impressed Coope, Boyes and Simpson that, when they retired, they gifted them their songs while, after hearing them sing his ‘How High The Price/All Clouds In The Sky’ (included on this debut mini-album, produced by Hayes and Andy Seward), John Tams declared he wasn’t going to sing it again as they owned it.

It’s the only non-traditional number on the disc which rousingly opens proceedings with the ensemble’s live recording of Sally Davies’ arrangement of their saucy namesake song, followed by a brief explanation by Levi Smith who recorded it back in 1975 and is frequently credited as its writer.

Davies, in fact, has arranged the bulk of the material here, including the mournful lament ‘If I Was A Blackbird’, with Swinhoe the solo voice on a tale of a young maiden wishing she could follow her false love sailor, though I’ve never understood why someone who spends his time exposed to the elements climbing the rigging, would have a lily-white breast.

The first of the two exceptions is ‘The Keeper’, Marcus-Jedamzik singing the solo part on a full group arrangement of the euphemistic tale of a hunter pursuing an assortment of, ahem, does, with its familiar chorus of “among the leaves so green, O” once resounding across the nation’s school music lessons. The other, featuring solos by Hayes and Swinhoe, is a shared arrangement by the group and Barry Coope of ‘Rufford Park Poachers’, a song formerly part of the CB&S repertoire and most recently covered by Martin Simpson, which recounts how, in 1851, a gang of thirty or forty poachers was attacked by ten gamekeepers, one of whom was mortally wounded. Four of the poachers were found guilty of manslaughter, and sentenced to fourteen years transportation, the song clearly taking their side.

It all ends with Huw Davies taking the lead on ‘Sam Hall’, a defiantly musically and vocally stirring number sung in the persona of the titular unrepentant criminal sentenced to be hung. On a trivia note, prior to being renamed in the 1840s, the song was originally called ‘Jack Hall’ after a thief who went to the Tyburn gallows in 1707 and who, as a child, had been a chimney sweep, hence the reference in the opening line. The version here is a slightly slower take on the English setting of the tune of ‘Ye Jacobites All’ rather than the American variant of ‘Frog Went A-Courting’.

Featuring some glorious harmonies and finely crafted arrangement, mixing the familiar with lesser known tunes, it’s an impressive calling card to bolster and expand their already flourishing live reputation. Let them sweep you away.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website:

‘Lovely On The Water’ – live:


SHERBURN – BARTLEY – SANDERS – be.guile (own label SBS001)

be.guileIf like me, you tend to dig out the old Last Night’s Fun CD’s and wonder what would have happened if Nick Scott had been woven into a Fairy Queen folk tale, whilst being held in the arms of Chris Sherburn and turned three times into a snake, a lion and finally a suitably clothed, rather attractive and talented female fiddle playing singer in black leggings and floral dress, then you are in for a treat!

LNF always gave you a great night out, got you lost in those beautiful meandering tales such as ‘The Tinkerman’s Daughter’ and played raucous sets at the speed of a stream train. You always looked forward to Chris introducing the songs which would usually involve something Nick Scott related. From a scrapheap challenge reference as Nick assembled his pipes before a tune to Chris inviting the ladies in the audience to take Nick out on a date. In fact, the way Sherburn held the audience with his unique blend of impromptu observational banter made them much loved by festival audiences far and wide.

After the band split, Chris Sherburn and Denny Bartley did a few festival and gig appearances as a duo and recorded a CD but it always left me wondering if another trio project was ever going to be on the cards again and if so, who it was going to be with.

Well even a pair of rough old diamonds like Chris and Denny sometimes need smoothing out and polishing up a little and what better way of buffing them up than introducing the lovely and talented Emily Sanders on vocals, fiddle and viola to the fold.

It’s really thanks to Terry Oliver that this project ever came together at all. It happened back in 2016 when the new trio played a Thursday afternoon concert at the Whitby Folk Festival and it was Terry’s suggestion that they record a CD.

be.guile is a fine record, it keeps that tried and tested Sherburn – Bartley formula of vocal, guitar and Wheatsone concertina and marries it together with Emily’s lead/ vocal harmonies and fiddle. The album also has some great guests, Andy Seward, Martin Simpson and Chris Miley together with Phil Beer in control of mastering.

The track selection and placing also works really well and is listed as follows:

  1. William Taylor (feat. Andy Seward on Double Bass).
  2. Next Market Day.
  3. Sammy’s Bar.
  4. Seven Curses (Feat. Martin Simpson on Slide Guitar).
  5. Adieu Lovely Nancy.
  6. New Railroad (Feat. Martin Simpson on Slide Guitar and Andy Seward on Double Bass).
  7. The Tinkerman’s Daughter/ The Holly Bush (Andy Seward on Double Bass).
  8. Bright Blue Rose.
  9. Bantry Girtls Lament/ Bulgarian Red/The Fisherman’s Lilt (feat. Chris Miley on Snare Drum).

Like the definition, the album sets out to charm and enchant, it may deceive you in to thinking about Last Night’s Fun but its actually a new day, spent in pleasant company.

Darren Beech

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Here is a performance from 2017 of Emily singing ‘Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy’ from the Downend Folk Club

O’HOOLEY & TIDOW – Shadows (NoMasters NMCE47)

ShadowsTheir third album in as many years, after the two-handed format of The Hum and the limited hand-signed micro-release Summat’s Brewin’, the duo’s fifth studio outing, Shadows, sees them return to the fuller sound of their first two albums with a post-Bellowhead Pete Flood on drums, Andy Seward on double bass, frequent collaborator Jude Abbott providing brass and Rowan Rheingans on fiddle and viola. There’s also a, perhaps surprise, appearance from Michele Stodart of The Magic Numbers contributing electric bass guitars and Ebow.

With songs about home, the environment, nature, inspirational women and social issues, it’s familiar territory, comprising a couple of covers alongside the self-penned material, the latter including two instrumentals. But familiarity doesn’t breed complacency, and the writing and performances here as every much as impassioned as any fledgling act looking to make an impressive debut.

It opens with a love letter to their home, ‘Colne Valley Hearts’, and the strength and fortitude it instils, the songs itself beginning with birth (“smacked me head coming out, made me rugged, shoulders broad. Ready to carry, ready to work”) as Belinda provides jittery piano accompaniment to Heidi’s vocals, the chorus refrain “cold hands, warm hearts lighting up the cut tonight” as much a defiant anthem of Northern pride as “the fog on the Tyne is all mine”.

From Huddersfield, the album expands to take in the bigger picture with the first of the socio-political numbers, the trumpet-streaked ‘Made In England’. Written in response to the worrying rise of UKIP a few years back, it draws as much on music hall as it does traditional folk it’s a ‘Ballad of Britain’ for “you everyone that inhabit dear old Albion”, a rejection of the UKIP view (and that of “Mosely’s henchmen” before them) that “foreigners are thieves and perves” who just “pile ‘em high and sell ‘em cheap”, and a celebration of multiculturalism “with me ruby murray, kebab in a hurry, fags and Becks from the corner shop, head to toe in Pradamark.”

Equally pointed, based on an old Sunday School hymn titled ‘Little Reapers’ and sung with starkly interwoven voices, sombre piano ballad ‘Reapers’ is in the voice of a child and initially appears to about innocents, leading lost souls to God, but, in the second verse takes on a darker hue that explains why it is dedicated to all children abused at the hands of the Church.

The abuse of children, in this case their forced migration to Commonwealth countries between 1869 and 1970, is at the heart of ‘The Dark Rolling Sea’. It’s actually a short piano instrumental that grew out of Tidow’s obsession with an instrumental passage in ‘Why Did I Leave Thee?’, a setting of a poem by child migrant Frederick Henderson, the duo set to music for last year’s Ballads Of Child Migration album. The other instrumental, a solo O’Hooley composition, is the simple but no less resonant title track, which, played on the Machynlleth Tabernacle Trust’s Steinway, she says reflects how playing piano helps express emotions she finds hard to verbalise.

It’s not all gloom. ‘Blankets’ may concern baby elephants orphaned by poachers or human-wildlife conflict (it’s inspired by the David Sheldrick Widlife Trust in Kenya), but its tremulously crooned, brass and piano slow waltz focuses on the brightly coloured blankets that give them comfort, safety and warmth. Likewise, turning to inspiring women, the uptempo ‘Beryl’ is a tribute to Beryl Burton, a Leeds cyclist who, despite chronic health problems, became a champion racing cyclist, the track taking an appropriately jaunty approach with the sort of breezy chorus Gracie Fields who have loved. This is followed by its companion piece, the piano tinkling ‘The Pixie’, another tribute (commissioned for the WWI commemoration event at 2014 Glastonbury), this time to Oxenham’s Daisy “Pixie” Daking, a dance teacher and member of the Cecil Sharp’s EFDS, who, in 1917, went to France as part of the YMCA to boost the war-weary troops’ morale by teaching them morris, sword, and country dancing, something she continued until 1919.

Of the album’s two covers, one is the strings-adorned ‘River’, Joni Mitchell’s Christmas-set bluesy regretful rumination on a lost relationship, a song they featured in last year’s winter shows in Marsden, while the other, the dreamy and rather lovely piano ballad ‘Small, Big Love’ was actually penned for them by Kathryn Williams and Graham Hardy to celebrate their wedding.

Which leaves ‘The Needle and the Hand’, a key track yet also the only number that doesn’t have an annotation in the lyric booklet. However, gradually swelling on drums and swirling strings, rhyming pewter and fuchsia and with lyrics that concern changing seasons, regeneration, tattooing – or rather beautilation – (it actually features the sound of a tattoo needle) and memory, it draws on Tidow’s own troubled childhood as seen through now adult eyes and concerns guilt, love, self-worth, self-discovery and embracing the fullness of life. These are shadows you really do want to lose and find yourself in.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website:

‘Beryl’ – live at Grewelthorpe Village Hall:


Will Pound 1Recognised as one of the best harmonica players of his generation, 26-year-old Will Pound shows why he is undoubtedly “A Cut Above” with the release of a barnstormer of a debut solo album and new planned tour dates.

Together with banjo player Dan Walsh he made his name in the duo Walsh and Pound but now he steps out on his own in this eclectic 12-track album.

Nominated for the 2012 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards “Musician of the Year” title Oxfordshire-based Will lives on a narrowboat – making the album title especially apt, with “cut” being slang for canal.

Playing both diatonic and chromatic harmonica he reaches the parts others harp players simply don’t. An outstanding natural talent, Will has quickly made his mark on the acoustic scene against the odds, despite suffering from dyslexia and not reading music. Born with a heart defect and having to undergo several operations as a child, Will was encouraged to take up the harmonica by his father as a way of helping with his breathing and overall health – and it certainly worked!

An effervescent, life-affirming album A Cut Above acrobatically hops across bluegrass, folk and jazz to blues, rock, pop and funk featuring both new arrangements of traditional numbers and inventive original material. Be it a sultry take on Amazing Grace, the jaunty title track written by Will and wife Nicky or the barely-time- to-catch-your-breath bluegrass fave Clinch Mountain Back Step, this is a compelling and dazzling display of virtuosity.

Will Pound 2


“An absolute barnstormer of a debut album – punchy, wonderful energy and virtuoso playing”Tom Robinson, BBC 6 Music

“This album is a complete stunner – damn, damn good! A genius of the tin sandwich!” – Mike Harding

“This album is pretty spectacular – what an incredible gift – what a genius this man is!” – Bruce Macgregor, BBC Radio Scotland

The album is produced by Andy Seward and Andie Thomson and Will is aided and abetted by some of the finest musicians on the scene  –  guitar genius Martin Simpson, melodeon ace Andy Cutting, top Scottish folk musician Kris Drever, 2012 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards Musician of the Year Tim Edey and Irish singer/multi-instrumentalist Damien O’Kane.

Last year the harp ace joined forces with the likes of Sir Paul McCartney, Robbie Williams, Paloma Faith, Beverley Knight, Shane MacGowan, Glenn Tillbrook and Mel C on the Hillsborough charity single – the emotive cover of The Hollies classic He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother – which became the Christmas No.1. Will also played a key role on the accompanying video, opening the song with a poignant harmonica solo.

Will has now formed his own Will Pound Band with key musicians Henry Webster – (violin), the 2013 London Fiddle Convention Competition winner; guitarist Chris Sarjeant (Jackie Oates Band) and John Parker (double bass), one half of UK chart topping Nizlopi, who has also guested with Newton Faulkner, Ed Sheeran and Paper Aeroplanes.

A Cut Above is released on Pound’s Lulubug Records label and distributed by Proper Distribution. On December 4, Will, joined by bass player John Parker, will be live in session on BBC Radio 2’s Mark Radcliffe Show.

Artist’s website:

Folking previews Union Jill’s new album ‘Repectable Rebellion’

Union JillYorkshire’s acoustic duo, Union Jill (Sharon Winfield and Helen Turner) release their new album Respectable Rebellion, on May 11, 2013. Union Jill’s songs combine strong melodies and thought-provoking lyrics. With both Winfield and Turner on acoustic guitar, mandola and vocals , the duo’s sound is distinctive and fresh.

Union Jill’s Respectable Rebellion is a vibrant collection of 13 new tracks. The album has been produced by Clive Gregson (Richard Thompson, Nanci Griffith, Gregson and Collister) and John Wood (Pink Floyd, Cat Stevens, Nick Drake, Fairport Convention) and features an impressive roster of contributing musicians.

The impressive arrangements include rich harmonies, whilst the instrumentation ranges from gutsy and dark to a feathery light touch.  Clive Gregson on guitar is masterful and fluid.  Andy Seward demonstrates he is a virtuoso on upright and electric bass and throws in a delightful banjo on Queen of Holloway.  Mark Boyce on drums expertly drives the rhythm and adds delicate moments throughout. The effervescent Ric Sanders is unmistakable on fiddle, particularly on Morecambe Bay where he characteristically lets fly. Kate St. John on sax and cor anglais brings added sparkle to Trailblazer and Witch Hunt.

Top all that talent off with the genius that is John Wood capturing the detail and the vibe of each track and you have a formidable album.

‘This album is a quantum leap for us,’ says Sharon Winfield, ‘the production brings out the live sound, the results are superb. Working with Clive Gregson and John Wood is a fantastic opportunity to develop our sound.’

‘We’ve really enjoyed making this album,’ Helen Turner adds. ‘We play well together as a duo and working with these brilliant musicians has been inspirational.’

To celebrate the release, Union Jill will perform at the National Centre for Early Music in York on 11th May 2013 at 8pm.

Union Jill will be on tour this Summer. Dates and locations

Folking were really hoping to have a video or soundcloud audio link for the Queen of Holloway, the open track on Respectable Rebellion to share with you.  The catchy banjo, electric guitar and fiddle combination is driving us folking mad . Keep an eye out for this duo, they are going to be folking huge”

‘A great album…this will get Union Jill some well-deserved recognition.’

Dave Pegg, Fairport Convention