Winter Union Bring December Tour Tidings of Comfort & Joy

Winter Union

Well they say Christmas is a special time of year for a Winter Union, when magical things happen, and this year’s Great British Folk Festival is no exception.

There was Darren and I merrily covering this year’s Skegness outing and we happened across Winter Union, a wonderful, hugely talented ‘folk super group’ and all round lovely bunch of chums from the folk scene, who treated us to a fantastic opening afternoon festive set on ‘REDS stage’ yesterday.

Winter Union comprises of Ben Savage, Katriona Gilmore, Jade Rhiannon, Hannah Saunders and Jamie Roberts, who are now in their 4th year as a festive get together.

This was the first date of their 2018 December tour. They played a stunning festive set, mixing traditional Christmas songs with an added blue grass lilt. Darren and I could not let this amazing sleigh ride pass us by without hopping on for an after gig chat in the bar. We also explored Ben Savage’s (or babe as I called him in a text typo) tale of ‘Christmas Ball Balls’.

Paul Johnson

This is what they had to say…..

Tour Dates:

12/12 St Barnabus Church, Cambridge www.junction.co.uk

14/12 Holywell Music Rooms, Oxford www.Holywellmusicandfolk.co.uk

15/12 St Mary Magdalene Church, Dunton, Beds www.duntonfolk.co.uk

16/12 The Greystones, Sheffield www.mygreystones.co.uk

17/12 Barnoldswick Music & Art, Nr Clitheroe, Lancs www.barnoldswickmusicandartscentre.co.uk

18/12 All Saint Hall, Poppleton, York www.poppletonlive.co.uk

20/12 Finchingfield Church, Braintree, Essex www.wegottickets.com/event/449662

21/12 Otford Memorial Hall, Sevenoaks, Kent www.stedithfolk.co.uk

Artist Website: https://www.facebook.com/winterunion/

THE WILLOWS – Through The Wild (Elk Elk014)

Through The WildA sort of folk supergroup that sees singer Jade Rhiannon Ward and multi-instrumentalist husband Cliff joined by Ben Savage on Dobro, percussionist Evan Carson from Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys and, new to the line-up, Katriona Gilmore on fiddle and mandolin and double bass player John Parker, this belated follow-up to 2014’s Amidst Fiery Skies finds the Cambridge-based sextet ranging across genres that span English folk, Americana and bluegrass with a sound that, at times conjures an English Clanaad. That is not the case, however, with full-blooded folk rock album opener ‘Coda’, which, like all but one number, is penned by the band. A number that deals with mortality and loss, it’s echoed in the softer, more reflective and melancholic breathily-sung ‘Better Days’ where, mottled by banjo, grief gives way to hope.

The sole non-original comes with an clopping percussion arrangement of the traditional ‘True Lover’s Ferry’, a song of love on London’s waterways learned from the singing of Peter Bellamy. Gilmore and Carson provide the backbone with Ward’s banjo also prominent for ‘Perfect Crime/Ernest Durham’s’, another musically muscular number, which draws on the true story of Percy Cox, a soldier from the Fens in the First World War who, to get a higher age, stole the identity of Ernest Durham, an Australian soldier who lends his name to the second half instrumental.

A song about the healing power of love, the evocative fiddle and banjo coloured ‘Honest Man’ musically heads out to the Appalachians before they turn to Canada for ‘Pearl Hart, Savage taking on electric guitar and Carson laying down the skittering percussive bedrock on a song that recounts the true story of the 19th century Canadian who gave up robbing stagecoaches to join Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

War rears its head again with ‘Out Of Our Hands’, a rueful acoustic guitar accompanying Ward on a song which, briefly swelling towards the end, was inspired by her reading of A Memory of Solferino, Henry Dunant’s 1862 book about the battle of Solferino in 1859 between Napoleon’s forces and the Austrian army, the suffering of the soldiers and the lack of aid, and which led to the founding of the Red Cross and the Geneva Conventions.

The English landscape serves as inspiration for two numbers, the first being ‘False Light’, pizzicato mandolin and fiddle gradually building to a big production number about the lights people imaged they saw over the fenland marshes, luring them to their deaths. It’s followed by ‘Gog Magog’, a jazzy, airy, puttering percussive rhythm number that, inspired by the eponymous chalk hills of Cambridgeshire and the mythical pagan giants (also to be found in the Bible and Cornish legend) who walked them, again treats on loss through conflict.

It ends on a personal note with the spare six-minute traditional flavoured, fiddle-coloured slow waltz ballad ‘Dear Lilly’ being dedicated to Jade’s great aunt, her courtship, marriage, miscarriage and subsequent nursing of her dying husband , going on to live for over a century, a fitting uplifting conclusion to an album that welcomes the band back in magnificent style.

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).

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Artists’ website: www.thewillowsband.co.uk

‘False Light’ – official video:

GILMORE & ROBERTS – A Problem Of Our Kind (GR! GRR08)

A Problem Of Our KindGilmore & Roberts are Katriona Gilmore (vocals, fiddle, viola, B3 organ and mandolin) and Jamie Roberts (vocals, guitar, percussion). Their album A Problem Of Our Kind, due for release on 12th October 2018, benefits from additional instrumental support from Fred Claridge (drums and percussion), Matt Downer (double bass), Sarah Smout (cello), Ben Savage (Dobro) and Matt Crum (melodeon). And an excellent album it is, too. Of the ten tracks on the album, five were written by Katriona, four by Jamie, and the final track is a traditional tune arranged and played by Jamie.

  1. Katriona’s ‘Gauntlet’ is a kind of murder ballad (or at least a “did he really do it?” ballad): Katriona’s fiddle adds a slightly old-timey feel, but the story concerns an English court case of 1818 whereby Abraham Thornton was acquitted of a charge of murder when the victim’s brother declined the offer of ‘trial by battle’. A fascinating story, and a very effective arrangement arrangement.
  2. Jamie’s ‘The Philanthropist (Take It From Me)’ is based on the life of entrepreneur/philanthropist Laurie Marsh. It’s an attractive song that displays his vocal and fretting talents.
  3. Katriona’s ‘Things You Left Behind’ has a more personal theme about the loss of a family member. It’s a lovely song with slightly country-ish Dobro and fiddle, and it suits her voice very well.
  4. ‘The Smile & The Fury (Jamie Roberts) is based “…on the powerful viral photograph of a young woman calmly smiling in the face of an angry far-right protester…” This is what I’d like to have heard more of in the 70s: rock music giving more than a nod to traditional music and instrumentation but not afraid to use contemporary material to address current issues.
  5. ‘Bone Cupboard’ (Katriona Gilmore) is a sinister song accompanied only by the barest minimum of clapping and percussion. That’s OK, I can appreciate sinister.
  6. ‘On The Line’ (Jamie Roberts) considers the not-always-sympathetic reaction of the traveller delayed by “a body on the line“. An awkward subject sensitively handled, with an ending that hints at a wider social issue.
  7. In contrast, for me, ‘Average Joe’ (Jamie Roberts) is lyrically a bit too reminiscent of the ‘plastic people/protest’ songs of the 1960s: I guess it’s not that easy to write sympathetically about the plight of the commuting classes and avoid a superior tone. Still, musically it’s an assured performance, very much in the folk-rock vein.
  8. ‘All The Way To Rome’ (Katriona Gilmore) is, according to the booklet, inspired by “two characters in the second series of the TV show American Horror Story.” Which means nothing to me, but it’s still an appealing song.
  9. ‘Just A Piece Of Wood’ (Katriona Gilmore) is a bit country/pop-ish, with prominent fiddle, as befits the subject – the relationship between a musician and her instrument. Nice.
  10. ‘From Night Til Morn’ is a traditional tune, beautifully arranged for guitar by Jamie Roberts. It may seem perverse to say so, given all the fine original material on this album, but this is currently my favourite track.

While there’s a definite tinge of folk-rock to this collection, it certainly doesn’t mean that there’s anything dated about it. By any standards, these are fine contemporary songs, very capably performed and produced. Recommended.

David Harley

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.

Artists’ website: www.gilmoreroberts.co.uk/

‘Gauntlet’ – official video:

EMILY MAE WINTERS – Siren Serenade (own label EMW 02)

Siren SerenadeCo-produced by Josienne Clarke’s musical other half, Ben Walker, and Laura Marling knob-twiddler Lauren Deakin-Davies, following on from her Foreign Waters EP (which Walker also produced and which earned her a Folking Awards Rising Star nomination), Siren Serenade is the debut album from Cambridge-based singer-songwriter, poetry enthusiast and sometime theatre critic Emily Mae Winters.

Featuring musical contributions from, among others, Lukas Drinkwater on double bass, Hannah Sanders and Ben Savage as well as both producers, the twelve tracks highlight both her slightly vibrato vocals and the influences in her music, Gillian Welch, Kate Rusby, The Unthanks, Alison Krauss and Sarah Jarosz among them.

There’s a couple of folk chestnuts here, Jenny Lee Ridley’s flute introing a crowd swayalong version of John Connolly’s fisherman’s farewell shanty ‘Fiddler’s Green’ featuring Jack Pout on bodhran, a strummed guitar and fiddle providing the instrumental playout. The second nods to her love of poetry with a haunting drone setting of WB Yeats’ ‘Down By The Salley Gardens’.

The album opens with the ripplingly lovely self-penned reflective ballad ‘Blackberry Lane’ featuring Savage on dobro and nodding to the rootsy Americana in her musical DNA. Maya McCourt who played cello on the EP reprises duties on the gently circling acoustic guitar melody of Anchor, while Winters takes to the piano for ‘As If You Read My Mind’, a soaring vocal pop tinged ballad that, coloured by strings, draws on the classic 60s sound of Carole King but also suggests hints of Joan Baez.

If all these have been relatively sedate, ‘Hook, Line And Sinker’ ups the tempo for, with Savage again on dobro, a catchy slice of strummed rootsy pop, an equally live paced being set on the scurrying Irish-tinted, whistle backed story-song ‘The Ghost Of The Pirate Queen’ showing a more muscular side to her voice.

Mostly though, the mood is quietly bucolic, beautifully rendered on the lullaby-like ‘Miles To Go’ (which, like ‘Anchor’, appeared on the EP) and moody piano and cello ballad ‘The Star’, the former a nod to the poet Robert Frost, the latter to John Keats.

Although her vocals are mesmerising throughout, the remaining two numbers really see them come into the glory. ‘Reprise’, the album closer, is a piano accompanied almost chorale-like stentorian duet with Sanders. And, accompanied only by clicking fingers and hummed vocals, she sings a capella, the title track itself, for me the album stand out, which echoes the Appalachian revivalist feel of ‘Down To The River To Pray’ and ‘Didn’t Leave Nobody But The Baby’ from Oh Brother Where Art Thou. In Greek mythology, sirens lured sailors on to the rocks with their singing; Winters can wreck me any time.

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.emilymaewinters.com

‘Blackberry Lane’ – the Oak Sessions video:

HANNAH SANDERS & BEN SAVAGE – Before The Sun (Sungrazing Records SGR002)

Before The SunHannah Sanders first solo album, Charms Against Sorrow, was produced by Willows guitarist Ben Savage who also played on the record and shared in the arrangements. With Before The Sun their partnership has been formalised but little else has changed except that the duo went to Toronto to record with David Travers-Smith.

To the mix of traditional songs and covers is now added some originals and the first ‘The Fall (Hang)’ opens the set. I’m still puzzling over this track – it could be a reinterpretation of a murder ballad or a macabre accident like Bob Pegg’s ‘The Hanged Man’. I think I lean towards the former. Next is the first traditional song, ‘Come All Ye Fair & Tender Maids’, a mid-Atlantic version finished with a playground round. ‘What’s It Tonight My Love?’, another original, sees Ben take the first lead vocal. Its description of night in the city puts me in mind of ‘Chimes Of Freedom’ even though there is no resemblance between the two songs, other than the feeling that it leaves you with.

Next come three traditional songs. The first is ‘Lady Margaret’, an English song with variants in the United States. ‘Clayton Boone’ is definitely American and gives Ben another lead vocal and the chance to play Dobro. It is, of course, a variant of ‘Gypsy Davy’. Finally in this section we have the haunting ‘Deep Blue Sea’, a version that doesn’t quite match any set of lyrics that I can find. Hannah and Ben’s version is rather more gentle than the standard text and rather lovely.

Hannah and Ben play guitars, dulcimer and autoharp and are joined by Kevin Breit and Katriona Gilmore on melody instruments with Evan Carson and Jon Thorne on percussion and double bass. For the most part they are used sparingly but they do get to have a blow on Richie Stearns’ ‘Ribbons And Bows’. Joining them on vocals are Jim Causley, Robin Gillan and Jade Rhiannon.

The final track is ‘Boots Of Spanish Leather’ sung as a duet as it is written. They slow it down a bit and the singing is sad and wistful where Dylan managed a blend of bitterness and resignation. He knew the back-story, of course, and it all happened fifty years ago but I’d advise anyone tackling the song to read the relevant section of a biography. It’s beautifully performed, as is the whole of the album, but to an old curmudgeon like me it misses something.

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.

Artists’ website: http://www.hannahbenmusic.com/

‘Come All Ye Fair And Tender Maids’ – official video:

HANNAH SANDERS – Charms Against Sorrow (Sungrazing Records SGR001)

CharmsAgainstSorrowHailing from Norwich, Sanders came to folk early, singing with her a capella family group, The Dunns, as a teenager before briefly putting music to one side to travel to America and develop a career as a cultural anthropologist, the album title bearing witness to her study of contemporary witchcraft. Returning to the UK in 2013, she’s resumed her relationship with folk music, releasing an EP last year and now following on with this full-length debut. Accompanied by musicians that include Ben Savage, Evan Carson and Jade Rhiannon from The Willows, bassist Jon Thorne and Anna Scott on cello, not surprisingly, it reflects both British and American influences in what is a predominantly traditional and simply arranged affair recorded in ‘grass roots’ settings that range from an old mill to a Lake District kitchen in order, capturing the intimate atmosphere, not to mention the sounds of fires crackling and birds singing

Sanders has a clear, pure vocal, a slight breathy husk alternating with soaring high notes and, listening to ‘Joshuay’, a sprightly variation on the song variously known as ‘The Prickly Bush’ and ‘Gallows Pole’, it’s hard not to sometimes find yourself thinking of the early Joni Mitchell. She certainly favours Mitchell jazz-folk stylings, both on that and on the ensuing versions of Michael Hurley’s psych-folk number ‘The Werewolf ‘(where her voice also suggests Janis Ian) and Annie Briggs’ ‘Go Your Way’. Elsewhere, the clear air of the Appalachians can be felt on ‘I Gave My Love A Cherry’ and in the Dobro colours of the otherwise softly sung English pastoral ‘I’ll Weave My Love A Garland’ while, in arrangements and vocal, both ‘Bonnie Bunch Of Roses’ (which segues into intricate guitar instrumental ‘Mayflower Stranger’) and ‘Lord Franklin’ are haunted by the ghost of Sandy Denny.

Harking back to her family heritage, there’s an unaccompanied reading of ‘A Sailor’s Life’ (aka ‘Sweet William’) and, her native accent heard in the pronunciations, a wearied, melancholic, cello-hued take on ‘Geordie’. Joined by sister Ruth on backing vocals, she’s slightly sprightlier on folk evergreen ‘Pleasant And Delightful’ (also known as ‘Dawning Of The Day’), though more restrained and tender than the rousing approach usually to be found in folk clubs while the album’s remaining track draws on the inspiration of Nic Jones (and, again, Scott’s cello) for a jazzy blues inflected interpretation of broadside ballad ‘Miles Weatherhill And Sarah Bell’.

It’s early days yet, but, with an extensive tour coming up to promote the album, Sanders could soon find herself numbered among the ranks of today’s contemporary masters of traditional folk.

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: hhttp://www.hannahsandersfolk.com

Hannah sings ‘Lord Franklin’: