NAOMI BEDFORD & PAUL SIMMONDS – Album Launch Interview

NAOMI BEDFORD & PAUL SIMMONDS – Album Launch Interview
Photo by: Darren Beech

“The Men were up from Kent, and out of Essex too – Though naught but the Thames divides us and unites us onwards – Through all the villages of England and on to London town”. Well maybe not quite the “Wat Tyler” rallying cry (by way of Fairport Convention) … However … Paul Johnson was coming from Kent and I from Hampshire to see Naomi Bedford and Paul Simmonds launch Singing It All Back Home at Cecil Sharp House in North London on Wednesday 5 June and it felt like a traditional folk and Appalachian call to arms.

Many will know Naomi Bedford, but for those that have not made her acquaintance yet, she is an English roots singer that was introduced to the wider world in 2001 after a guest appearance on later with Jools Holland with the band Orbital. Justin Currie from Del Amitri describes Naomi as “An English Emmylou” and Shirley Collins as “A favourite voice of mine… I love to hear her sing”.

Naomi Bedford’s official debut album, Tales From the Weeping Willow was released in 2011 and featured guest contributions from Paul Heaton, Justin Currie, Alasdair Roberts and Paul Simmonds (from The Men They Couldn’t Hang). A History of Insolence (reviewed here – https://wp.me/p5SuEn-4eU) followed in 2014 which picked up a Radio 2 Folk Award nomination in the Best Original Song category (alongside her musical partner Paul Simmonds), for The Spider and the Wolf. This was then followed by Songs My Ruiner Gave to Me (reviewed here – https://wp.me/p5SuEn-aGQ) in 2017 which added Paul Simmonds name officially to the album title.

However, the concert was all about the new album Singing It All Back Home, as indeed was the first half of the show. You could tell it was going to be a special night as the musicians joining Naomi Bedford and Paul Simmonds incorporated the national guitar, banjo and mandolin wizardry of Ben Walker (who also produced the album), the 12-string guitar and backing vocals of Richard Leo, the stunning harmonies of Donna Edmead and the bass of Rhys Lovell.

NAOMI BEDFORD & PAUL SIMMONDS – Album Launch Interview
Photo by: Darren Beech

I Must And Will Be Married kicked things off with some great stage banter on the songs content preceding it. I was also filming and taking photos throughout the performance, so I’m not sure of the exact running order but feel confident that A Rich Irish Lady (learnt from Naomi’s mother from the Hedy West version), Hangman and The Rebel Soldier were all in the first set. Hangman had its roots in the Jean Ritchie and Peggy Seeger version with a nod towards the folk/country/rock versions of Gallows Pole. The Rebel Soldier closed the first set and that wonderful moment was captured in my video below.

In the second set, the Hedy West theme continued (one of Bedford’s seminal influences) with The Sheffield Apprentice, again from the new record. The harmonies throughout the night were really amazing with songs like Hands On The Plough and Who’s That Knocking (again from the new album) benefitting from the full 4 part harmony with Bedford, Simmonds, Edmead and Leo.

NAOMI BEDFORD & PAUL SIMMONDS – Album Launch Interview
Photo by: Darren Beech

In traditional territory, but closer to home came Gypsy Davy (from the album A History of Insolence: Songs of Freedom, Dissent & Strife), with a vocal delivery approach from Bedford that was very much on the other side of the Atlantic, drawing on Jean Ritchie (Naomi’s favourite version) and the Tom Paley and Peggy Seeger version to produce a mashed up version of the two with the sentiment of Woody Guthrie.

NAOMI BEDFORD & PAUL SIMMONDS – Album Launch Interview
Photo by: Darren Beech

The second set also included the chilling The Cruel Mother, this version set in New York to accommodate the arrangement from the album Songs My Ruiner Gave To Me. They closed with Railroad Bill from the album Tales from the Weeping Willow from 2011.

A great night, that breathed new life into their collected versions of Appalachian songs that had very much been rooted in the heart of the English and Scottish song tradition. Cecil Sharp House was the perfect place to launch the album.

Paul Johnson and I caught up with Naomi and Paul after the show. Click the play button below to listen to the interview.

Darren Beech

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NAOMI BEDFORD & PAUL SIMMONDS – Singing It All Back Home (Dusty Willow Records DWR005)

Singing It All Back HomeIt has been my experience that any record with Naomi Bedford’s name on it is worth listening to and adding Paul Simmonds to the mix practically makes it mandatory. With Singing It All Back Home they turn their back on their customary songwriting and present a set of Appalachian songs with roots in English and Scottish traditional songs. Despite their southern English backgrounds, Naomi and Paul sound authentically American particularly when they hit their harmonies.

Alone, they are just two voices and acoustic guitar but here they’ve assembled a cast of musicians who work together seamlessly well. Dan Stewart and Ben Walker, who co-produced the album, play banjo because you can’t have an Appalachian album without banjo and Ben also plays guitar and mandolin. Ben Paley plays fiddle, Rory McLeod adds harmonica and Lisa Knapp supplies hammered dulcimer. All of this comes over the engine room of Rhys Lovell’s bass and Billy Abbot’s drums and percussion.

The first few titles are the less familiar ones – Naomi and Paul have delved deep into the archives – but from the first notes you know what these songs are and where they are from. The first, ‘I Must And I Will Be Married’, begins in a Celtic style but when Walker’s slide guitar comes in you know that you’ve crossed the Atlantic. The melody of ‘The Fateful Blow’ sounds vaguely like ‘Johnny Todd’ but not quite and ‘A Rich Irish Lady’ surfaced later as the better-known ‘Pretty Saro’.

The first well-known track is a raucous ‘Hangman’ (‘Prickle-Eye Bush’ or ‘Gallows Pole’ if you prefer) and ‘Matty Groves’ needs no introduction but here there are rarely sung verses and variations I haven’t heard before. ‘The Sheffield Apprentice’ isn’t a song I expected to find here but I should have known that Hedy West recorded back in the 60s. Finally we have ‘The Foggy Dew’, a song well-known on both sides of the water.

If I must be critical, I would have liked notes about the origins of these versions. Not only is Singing It All Back Home a very enjoyable album, and it can be listened to on that basis, but also an important collection, particularly for someone like me – by no means a scholar but with a more than passing interest in the history of the songs.

Dai Jeffries

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Artists’ website: www.naomibedfordandpaulsimmonds.bandcamp.com/

‘Who’s That Knocking’:

Naomi Bedford and Paul Simmonds announce new album of Appalachian songs

Naomi Bedford and Paul Smmonds

The Appalachian ballad form has been liberally sprinkled throughout Naomi Bedford and Paul Simmonds’ albums to date. For the next project, they have recorded a full set of songs with English and Scottish roots entitled Singing It All Back Home.

This is no museum piece. In keeping with the folk tradition, the songs have been revised and re invigorated whilst staying true to the heart of the stories.

The project began with a very simple premise; to rediscover, explore and celebrate the ballads that had been such a strong influence throughout Bedford’s childhood. It’s only the most vital works that can survive nearly three centuries as living, still valid pieces and the Appalachian ballads are certainly that.

Greatly aided by the marvellous Shirley Collins, who generously donated her time, encouragement and research materials, and by Folk Award winner Ben Walker on production and multi instrumental duties, the material was chosen, rehearsed and recorded live in the summer and autumn of 2018 in Brighton. With a cast that also included Justin Currie, Rory McLeod and Lisa Knapp, the album moulds influences from England, Scotland and South East USA to stir the great melting pot of folk and roots styles.

Launching officially at home of folk music Cecil Sharp House in London on June 6th, the project will then tour throughout the UK in 2019. With new arrangements and the power of Bedford’s evocative voice, these legendary songs continue their transatlantic voyage.

‘A partnership that is complementary in every respect’ Songlines Magazine

‘Easy to get besotted with’ Froots Magazine

‘Thrills, soothes and haunts in equal measure’ Uncut Magazine

Artists’ website: www.naomibedford.com

‘I Must And I Will Be Married’ live:

NAOMI BEDFORD & PAUL SIMMONDS – Songs My Ruiner Gave To Me (Dusty Willow DWR004)

Songs My Ruiner Gave To MeConcerning Love, Madness & Obsession” is what is says.  I’m never sure what to expect from Naomi Bedford but I’m not sure that this was it. Songs My Ruiner Gave To Me sort of picks up on Tales From The Weeping Willow except that it’s more Americana, verging on C&W. I confess that I listened to it three times through before I even felt able to venture an opinion.

The first track, ‘We’ve Hardly Started Yet’ is pure country. I’m guessing that it’s about two people in the prime of middle life rejoicing that they still have lots to look forward to. Probably autobiographical, then. ‘Misty, Golden Road’ picks up on the same theme, this time reflecting on the places they’ve been and the things they’ve done and featuring Ben Walker’s banjo. Then comes ‘The Cruel Mother’, located in New York to accommodate the arrangement. It seems oddly placed given that it’s followed by ‘The Still Want You Blues’ with Andy Summers’ slide guitar. Things get even stranger, now. Percy Bysshe Shelley could never have imagined ‘Young Parson Richards’ sounding like this. It’s not the most pleasant poem but it takes Gerry Diver – who else – to really bring out the oddness in it. This track also supplies the album’s title.

Paul Simmonds wrote six of the songs here but mostly takes a back seat to Naomi when it comes to lead vocals. An exception is ‘Ballad Of A Self Made Man’, which Paul might have considered for The Men They Couldn’t Hang but it isn’t really them although it does have the political edge of their best work. ‘Ramshackle House’ revisits and updates ‘Misty, Golden Road’ then it’s Naomi’s turn with ‘I Hate You’, reminiscent of ‘Positively 4th Street’ but with rather more empathy.

Finally, Paul’s ‘Better Than The Best’ is a sort of song of praise to his partner, Naomi. I’ve omitted mention of a couple of titles, mainly because I’m still figuring them out but Songs My Ruiner Gave To Me is an album that I’ve really enjoyed getting to grips with.

Dai Jeffries

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Artist’s website: http://www.naomibedford.com/

‘The Still Want You Blues’ – live:

Emily Mae Winters – video preview of debut EP

Emily Mae Winters

Born in England, raised in and around the rugged coasts of southern Ireland, Emily Mae Winters’ haunting folk songs are quickly permeating the folk and song writing scene. Her formative years were spent living in Clonakilty, Co. Cork where she immersed herself in a local music scene. Influenced by the sounds of folk, Celtic and Americana music, she learned to play the guitar and piano and began playing local music festivals .

Emily Mae moved to London in 2009 to pursue a History degree. Whilst at university, she began writing her own songs and in 2010 was a finalist in the UK Live and Unsigned competition. In 2012, she was offered a place to study music and theatre at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. After graduating she performed in numerous theatre productions whilst continuing to enter song writing competitions – at the same time, gigging in and around the heart of the acoustic / roots scene in London, quickly establishing herself as a writer and performer to be reckoned with.

A poetry enthusiast, Winters worked at the Poetry Cafe in Covent Garden and at Keats House Museum, Hampstead Heath where she ran ‘Playing Poetry’ events for fellow poets and musicians. She also ran poetry and music workshops for children at libraries and schools. As she became more involved in the London folk scene and began performing her own headline shows, she met Radio 2 Folk award winner and musical partner to Josienne Clark, Ben Walker.

Influenced by the likes of Nancy Kerr, The Unthanks, The Staves Kate Rusby and Sarah Jarosz, Emily teamed up with Ben Walker to produce her first commercial release, Foreign Waters. Walker plays steel guitar and mandolin on the EP. Of the four songs on the EP, two are already award winning with ‘Miles To Go’ in the UK Song writing contest Folk Category and ‘Anchor’ winning the folk category in the Guardian Song writing Competition.

Artist’s website: www.emilymaewinters.com

‘Anchor’ – a first look:

The Winners of the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2015 Announced

At this years 2015 Radio 2 Folk Awards, Lifetime Achievements went to the legendary “Peace Trained” musician Yusuf / Cat Stevens and Grammy Award-winning “double lifetime” artist Loudon Wainwright III.

BBC Radio 2 Folk Award 2015 Lifetime Achievement winner YUSUF / CAT STEVENS with David Gray who presented the awarded earlier that night at the Cardiff Millenium Centre. Photo courtesy of the BBC.
BBC Radio 2 Folk Award 2015 Lifetime Achievement winner YUSUF / CAT STEVENS with David Gray who presented the awarded earlier that night at the Cardiff Millennium Centre. Photo courtesy of the BBC.
Tom Robinson presents BBC Radio 2 Folk Award 2015 Lifetime Achievement to LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III at the Millennium Centre in Cardiff. Photo courtesy of the BBC.
Tom Robinson presents BBC Radio 2 Folk Award 2015 Lifetime Achievement to LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III at the Millennium Centre in Cardiff. Photo courtesy of the BBC.
BBC Radio 2 Folk Award 2015 Lifetime Achievement winner "Mr Moonshadow" Yusuf / Cat Stevens performing at the Cardiff Millennium Centre on the 22/04/15. Photo courtesy of the BBC.
BBC Radio 2 Folk Award 2015 Lifetime Achievement winner “Mr Moonshadow” Yusuf / Cat Stevens performing at the Cardiff Millennium Centre on the 22/04/15. Photo courtesy of the BBC.
BBC Radio 2 Folk Award 2015 Lifetime Achievement winner LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III performing on the night. Photo courtesy of the BBC.
BBC Radio 2 Folk Award 2015 Lifetime Achievement winner LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III performing on the night. Photo courtesy of the BBC.

Ewan MacColl was inducted into the Radio 2 Folk Awards Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame exists to recognise the special contribution of an individual to the world of folk music; someone whose impact and influence has had a lasting impression.

Meredydd Evans is the 2015 recipient of The Good Tradition Award. The award is given to a person, group or organisation for their contribution to the preservation, dissemination and continuance/progression of traditional music over a number of years.

BEST DUO WINNERSJosienne Clarke & Ben Walker
Nominations:
Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker
O’Hooley & Tidow
Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar
Chris While & Julie Matthews

Congratulations to BBC Radio 2 Folk Award 2015 Best Duo Winners Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker. Photo courtesy of the BBC.
Congratulations to BBC Radio 2 Folk Award 2015 Best Duo Winners Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker. Photo courtesy of the BBC.

BEST TRADITIONAL TRACK WINNERSamhradh Samhradh – The Gloaming
Nominations:
Bedlam – Stick In The Wheel
Handsome Molly – The Furrow Collective
Manus Mo Rùin – Cruinn
Samhradh Samhradh – The Gloaming

Congratulations to Iarla Ó Lionáird & THE GLOAMING on winning the BBC Radio 2 Folk Award 2015 "Best Traditional Track" for their composition "Samhradh Samhradh".
Congratulations to Iarla Ó Lionáird & THE GLOAMING on winning the BBC Radio 2 Folk Award 2015 “Best Traditional Track” for their composition “Samhradh Samhradh”.

HORIZON AWARD WINNERSThe Rails
Nominations:
Ange Hardy
Maz O’Connor
Stick In The Wheel
The Rails

Charlie Dale presenting R2 Horizon Award to James Walbourne & Kami Thompson from THE RAILS. Photo courtesy of the BBC.
Charlie Dale presenting R2 Horizon Award to James Walbourne & Kami Thompson from THE RAILS. Photo courtesy of the BBC.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG WINNERSSwim To The Star – Peggy Seeger/Calum MacColl (performed by Peggy Seeger)
Nominations:
Swim To The Star – Peggy Seeger/Calum MacColl (performed by Peggy Seeger)
The Necklace Of Wrens – Michael Hartnett (performed by The Gloaming)
The Pitmen Poets – Jez Lowe
The Spider And The Wolf – Paul Simmonds (performed by Naomi Bedford)

BBC RADIO 2 YOUNG FOLK AWARD WINNERSTalisk
Nominations:
Cup O’Joe
Roseanne Reid
Talisk
Wildwood Kin

BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award winners TALISK with Nancy Kerr. Photo courtesy of the BBC.
BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award winners TALISK with Nancy Kerr. Photo courtesy of the BBC.

MUSICIAN OF THE YEAR WINNERSam Sweeney
Nominations:
Martin Green
Will Pound
Sam Sweeney
Kathryn Tickell

A huge folking well done to BBC Radio 2 Folk Award 2015 Musician Of The Year winner, SAM SWEENEY. The boy wonder has done good! Photo courtesy of the BBC.
A huge folking well done to BBC Radio 2 Folk Award 2015 Musician Of The Year winner, SAM SWEENEY. The boy wonder has done good! Photo courtesy of the BBC.

BEST ALBUM WINNERTincian by 9Bach
Nominations:
Fair Warning – The Rails
Nothing Can Bring Back The Hour – Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker
Sweet Visitor – Nancy Kerr
The Moral Of The Elephant – Martin & Eliza Carthy
Tincian – 9Bach

BBC Radio 2 Folk Award 2015 Best Album winners 9Bach performing with the Penrhyn Male Voice Choir. Photo courtesy of the BBC.
BBC Radio 2 Folk Award 2015 Best Album winners 9Bach performing with the Penrhyn Male Voice Choir. Photo courtesy of the BBC.

BEST GROUP WINNERSThe Young ‘Uns
Nominations:
Bellowhead
The Furrow Collective
The Gloaming
The Young ‘Uns

THE YOUNG'UNS, winners of the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2015 - Best Group with Tim Dowling of The Guardian. Photo courtesy of the BBC.
THE YOUNG’UNS, winners of the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2015 – Best Group with Tim Dowling of The Guardian. Photo courtesy of the BBC.

FOLK SINGER OF THE YEAR WINNERNancy Kerr
Nominations:
Cara Dillon
Julie Fowlis
Nancy Kerr
Jez Lowe

Ruth "Nessa Jenkins" Jones parachutes in from Barry Island to present Folk Singer Of The Year award, to winner Nancy Kerr. Photo courtesy of the BBC.
Ruth “Nessa Jenkins” Jones parachutes in from Barry Island to present Folk Singer Of The Year award, to winner Nancy Kerr. Photo courtesy of the BBC.

Live footage of the night is available from http://bbc.in/1DgKsI9

It’s also on tonight from 7pm via http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p02p7539/bbc-radio-2-folk-awards-2015-folk-awards-2015-highlights then highlights on in May.