Burning Salt Live In London

Burning Salt
Photograph by Jean-Francois C. Lemay

Burning Salt have a knack when it comes to finding interesting venues. The last time I saw them was at Shrewsbury Unitarian Church, an impressive venue associated historically with Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Charles Darwin. And on 28th September I had the privilege of seeing them at a ‘secret gig’ in the oldest house in Bloomsbury. But the honesty and searing quality of a Burning Salt performance are well in tune with the angst of Britain in 2019.

This time, Hannah Hull and John Parker performed nineteen songs from which the tracks comprising their next album, Close To Home, will be selected, with Hannah’s unmistakeable low-register vocals supported by her own guitar and piano and John’s outstanding double bass work.

Many songwriters hide behind a self-protective veneer of storytelling that might have roots in fact or fiction. Hannah Hull’s writing is more direct, and stunning in its integrity and emotional impact. In her own words: “These are some of my most direct and intimate songs yet, including an early song written when I was just fifteen which I have never shared before. Songwriting has been a survival mechanism for me since I was teenager, and this album contains my private reflections on self-abuse and self-resurrection.

Not an obvious candidate for enormous commercial success, then, but on the evidence of the Bloomsbury performance, musical success is guaranteed. And it does occur to me that one song with light blues overtones called ‘Groundskeeper’ – performed here with Hannah’s vocal accompanied only by John’s bass – might just be surprisingly successful if it were released as a single.

You can find out more about the album from the crowdfunding page here, and you might even feel inspired to contribute (I was!).

David Harley

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

There are no videos of this material so far. Here’s a good version of ‘Ginnie’ from the Dirt EP [reviewed at https://folking.com/burning-salts-love-letter-to-holloway-womens-prison/].

BURNING SALT – Automatic Lullaby (Own Label)

Automatic LullabyBurning Salt’s EP Dirt, inspired by the women and workers of Holloway prison and released in September 2018, was a stunningly intense and original aural and lyrical experience that earned the band a nomination for the Folking 2019 Awards in the ‘Rising Star’ category, but also gave them a lot to live up to when it came to releasing Automatic Lullaby, their debut full-length album. Fortunately, while the album is less conceptually cohesive, it has no less impact, giving us a more personal glimpse into Hannah Hull’s haunting songwriting.  It has all the (sometimes painful) honesty that I’ve come to expect from her work, with her distinctive vocals and acoustic guitar framed by the very capable and sympathetic musicianship of electric guitarist Bobby Williams (who also played piano and keyboards and produced the album) and double bassist John Parker.

Burning Salt are augmented on this recording by Daisy Palmer’s percussion on several tracks, Oli Arlotto’s baritone saxophone on ‘Superstitious Woman’, and Rupert Gillett’s cello on ‘Hold Me Down’.

Nevertheless, here’s the full track list.

  1. On the title track ‘Automatic Lullaby’ Hannah adopts an appropriately mechanistic vocal delivery in sharp contrast to the instrumental playout, in which mellifluous country-ish guitar is undercut by subdued discordance.
  2. ‘By These Words’ is a little more conventional, with a haunting tune carrying a harsh lyric.
  3. The melodic structure of ‘Hold Me Down’ for some reason reminds me of the sort of music I was apt to listen to in the early 70s, though the arrangement is economical where the 70s tended to be overblown. Still, I could almost hear Jim Morrison singing something like this. Actually, I’d probably buy this as a single if I didn’t already have it: it was still going through my head an hour after I first heard it.
  4. ‘Plateau’ starts from a slow-paced vocal that stretches the conventions of the love song well beyond the Top 40 – “I need you / I need you / I need you / but only if you behave” – and builds climactically.
  5. ‘Residue’ is a perfect exercise in saying exactly what you need to say, and no more.
  6. ‘Superstitious Woman’ has something of a rock ‘n’ roll vibe: I’m not sure about the freeform baritone sax solo, but even that has a certain OTT charm. And it’s rather a good song, its commercial potential presumably behind its release as a single.
  7. ‘Burn’ seems to me like rather a good rock track. Future single material, maybe?
  8. Thematically, ‘Lovers On A Ledge’ resembles ‘Residue’, and again needs only about a minute to make its point with precision, though its arrangement is quite different and rather daring.
  9. ‘King’ has a chillingly submissive timbre to the lyric, framed as a minor-key ballad.
  10. ‘Honey’ has been around for some time on the Burning Salt website as a video, and has also been released as a double A with ‘Superstitious Woman’. While at first blush it sounds almost like a 50s pop ballad, it has a sting in the tale, so to speak. “Keep your hands to yourself / I don’t need that kind of love…
  11. ‘Old Bones’ is an oblique lyric tied to another tune that lingers in the memory. Very effective.
  12. ‘You Missed Me’ is the shortest track on the album, with the main vocal line carried only by backing vocals.
  13. The uncomfortable lyric of ‘Take Me Home’ is carried by a simple chord sequence and some adventurous sound effects. An entirely suitable ending to an album that probably isn’t going on to the shelf labelled Easy Listening. In fact, after a few listens, I couldn’t think of a better choice for a final track.

This isn’t an album that makes much in the way of concession to commercial appeal – though there are some surprisingly catchy tunes and lines here – and the mood is generally downbeat, so it’s not going to appeal to everyone. However, if you heard and appreciated Dirt, I don’t think you’ll find this disappointing. If the band is new to you, check out the videos on the Burning Salt website.

Automatic Lullaby will be launched at the Hermon Chapel in Oswestry, Shropshire, on Friday 24th May 2019, the day on which it becomes publicly available on all major streaming platforms (or for download via the band’s own website). Going by the live set I heard the band do last year, the launch will be well worth your time if you’re in that area.

The album tracks ‘Honey’ and ‘Superstitious Woman’ have been released as a double single.

David Harley

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Artist’s website: www.burningsalt.com

‘Superstitious Woman’ – official video:

The 2019 Folking Awards

Welcome to the 2019 Folking Awards and thank you again to everyone who participated this year. The nominations, were in eight categories, and came from our ever-expanding team of writers and were collated into shape by the Folkmeister and the Editor over a pint or two, which also involved, a few arm-wrestles and a spot of beer-mat aerobics, in a convenient local watering hole.

There were five nominees in each category, all of whom have impressed our writers during 2018.

As we said last year, all are winners in our eyes, as are quite a few who didn’t make the short list. However, it’s not just about what we think, so once more, it was down to you, our ever-growing readership, to make the final call.

We will now compile the results and announce the winners of each category at some point next week.

*The Public Vote for each category closed at 9.00pm on Sunday 31st March (GMT+1).


Soloist Of The Year

Keith James
Reg Meuross
Rachel Newton
John Smith
Andy White


Best Duo

Gilmore & Roberts
Daria Kulesh and Jonny Dyer
Ninebarrow
Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar
Winter Wilson


Best Band

The Men They Couldn’t Hang
Merry Hell
Skipinnish
Trials Of Cato
The Young’Uns


Best Live Act

The Men They Couldn’t Hang
Grace Petrie
The Salts
Martin Stephenson & The Daintees
Andy White


Best Album

A Problem Of Our Kind – Gilmore & Roberts
The Well Worn Path – Seth Lakeman
The Joy Of Living – Jackie Oates
Queer As Folk – Grace Petrie
Hide And Hair – Trials Of Cato


Best Musician

Martin Harley
Aidan O’Rourke
Marina Osman
John Smith
Richard Thompson


Rising Star

Burning Salt
Robert Lane
Kitty MacFarlane
Smith & Brewer
Vision Thing


Best International Artist(s)

3hattrio
Tyler Childers
Mary Gauthier
Kíla
Larkin Poe


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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. Can’t find what you are looking for? Search Amazon Store below.

SINGLES BAR 33 A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 33BURNING SALT – Hannah Hull (vocals, guitar), Bobby Williams (electric guitar) and John Parker (double bass) – base their music on Hannah’s distinctive voice and sometimes painfully direct songs. Among other things, Hannah is resident artist on Islington Museum’s Echoes of Holloway Prison project, focused on oral histories from Holloway Prison, which closed in 2016. She has used some of those transcripts, from ex-prisoners, prison officers and other staff, as a starting point for a number of songs to be released on the EP Dirt.

The six songs on the EP deal with difficult topics. The slow and lyrically bleak ‘Anon’ deals with the cycle of abuse. The rockier ‘Born Again’ is more abstract, but closes with the merest hint of hope. ‘F2052SH’ takes its name from the form prison staff could open when a prisoner was considered to be at risk of suicide or self-harm: its inspiration is drawn from the writing of a nurse at Holloway, and graphically suggests the frustration of many who have worked within the mental health system. The comparatively upbeat ‘Ginnie’ is based on the account of a woman held for protesting at Greenham Common. The harrowing ‘Dirt’ is about prisoners trained and paid to clean up after dirty protests and questions the “economy of pain”. The EP closes with an ambivalent “love letter” to the prison – ‘The Worst Place I Was Ever Scared Of’’ set to a sparse piano accompaniment. The combination of these topics and Hannah’s unusual low-register vocals, understated yet with an extraordinary underlying intensity, may not suit those who prefer their listening easy, but an exceptional recording that demands and deserves close attention. It may change the way you think about the prison system: it might even change your life a little. In any case, it’s an important release from a major upcoming talent. And the other members of the band, incidentally, do an excellent job of providing sympathetic musical support.
www.burningsalt.com

Singles Bar 33MATT SPICER, a Glasgow-based singer-songwriter, is busily forging his own path, including the July 2018 release of this self-titled, self-recorded and self-produced EP. In a deceptively gentle voice that conceals a steely core and a powerful falsetto, Spicer delivers a quartet of his own compositions, accompanying himself on guitar and piano, augmented with some satisfying drum, violin and cello playing.

Having enjoyed the pleasure of encountering Spicer out busking with his guitar, his EP production feels rather too rich, initially. Although it grows with repeated listens, becoming easier to hear what he’s trying to achieve, it’s perhaps not quite ‘there’ yet. ‘On Clouds’ offsets Spicer’s falsetto vocalising against bright electric guitar and thudding drums. The semi-submerged, layered vocals on the shimmering, dreamlike ‘Build You A Home’ are underscored by melancholy violin, cello and a shuffling percussion.

There’s more simplicity to ‘Strangers’, about the uncommunicative sadness of a dying relationship, “your mouth is sealed, your thoughts a mystery”. But it’s final track, ‘Where You Are’ – a complex, grown-up love song – that is the EP’s standout, its moody piano and cello underscoring some mature songwriting. A strong debut from a talented artist.
https://www.facebook.com/mattspicermusic/

SongsTHE KING HEAT ENSEMBLE are Jeff Kightley and  Dave Goldsmith and their debut EP, Songs, is an impressive piece of work. The opening track, ‘While The Snow Falls’ begins with what sounds like reversed tape but may just be Goldsmith’s keyboards. There is a lot going on and the duo have recruited a number of friends to support them. In contrast ‘Give Or Take’ is based around Kightley’s acoustic guitar and pared-back percussion. ‘Landslide’ leans less heavily on the Americana style of the first two tracks but it boast an electric guitar solo that doesn’t sound quite like anything you’ve ever heard.

Kightley has a rough gravelly voice – most of the time – but also has a surprising range that he exploits on ‘Triumph’. They almost save the best for last with the slow bluesy ‘Ten Years’ – stripped down guitars and percussion and Kightley’s soulful voice. This is a fine debut.
www.thekingheatensemble.co.uk

In The DarkIn The Dark is the new EP from Aberdeen’s blues-rock trio, FULL FAT. The opening track, ‘Le Funk’ is a bit heavy for folk tastes and is a fine vehicle for Fraser McKain’s guitar but with ‘Come Break My Heart’ they get back to old-fashioned rootsy blues and ‘Doctor Longhair’ is pure rockabilly. ‘Brand New (Again)’ gives Fraser Urquart’s bass and McKain’s guitar the opportunity to duet and you can imagine how that could expand on stage. ‘Temper Temper’ takes us back to blues-funk but with a surprisingly delicate vocal line at the beginning before moving to a big finish with wah-wah guitar.
http://www.fullfatband.com/

Allan Yn Y FanThey have been together for twenty-one years and finally ALLAN YN Y FAN release their first single. They have several albums, of course, but who’s counting. The record has two contrasting tracks. ‘Ym Mhontypridd Mae’n Nghariad’ is a bucolic love song involving speckled cows and, in contrast, ‘Gorthrwm Y Gweithiwr’ is a 19th century song warning the Ironmasters of dire consequences if they don’t mend their ways. Both songs appear on the band’s last album, Newid, and have been remastered for this release.
www.ayyf.co.uk

Barry AllenBARRY ALLEN, singer-songwriter from South London, has released two CDs and now a single, ‘We’re Here We’re Queer We’re Not Going Away’. No need to guess where he’s coming from but the song specifically tries to imagine how it must have been to be gay in 1967 and Barry laments that fifty years after the Sexual Offences Act gays are still ghettoised. It is a clever song – strong words and tune with a tasteful accompaniment assisted by Paul Carr on guitar, keyboard and drums.
www.facebook.com/barryallenmusic1

Hung Up Alone‘Hung Up Alone’ is the first single taken from their debut album Cut It Down, Count The Rings by COPPER VIPER. It opens with the sound of bullfrogs and a verse sung like a gentle gospel hymn before the song bursts out in a blaze of fiddle. We’re clearly in the deep south … and then we learn that we’re closer to south London. Copper Viper are Robin Joel Sangster, who wrote the song, and Duncan Menzies and they went to the US north-west to record their album. Nice one.
https://www.copperviper.com/

Burning Salt’s “love letter” to Holloway Women’s Prison

Burning Salt

Burning Salt – Hannah Hull (vocals, guitar, piano), Bobby Williams (electric guitar) and John Parker (double bass) – base their music on Hannah’s distinctive voice and sometimes painfully direct songs. Among other things, Hannah is resident artist on Islington Museum’s Echoes of Holloway Prison project, focused on oral histories from Holloway Prison, which closed in 2016. She has used some of those transcripts, from ex-prisoners, prison officers and other staff, as inspiration for a number of songs to be released on the EP Dirt, for release on the 7th September 2018.

Hannah says:

“Many of the stories left me in tears. Not just because of the horror contained within them, but also the strength. I wanted to provide a platform for the stories and themes contained within them to be heard, listened to, connected with. These stories complicate the issue of prisons. They demand empathy, and confuse narratives of punishment.”

“I think this was probably the most surprising theme found within the oral history transcripts: love. Love for the prison, love for the prisoners, love despite the prison environment, love despite the incredible scale of pain and loss suffered by the women who end up in prison.”

As you might tell from the above, the six songs on the EP deal with difficult topics: not just suffering and loss, but the cycle of abuse, suicide and self-harm, cleaning up after dirty protests, and closes with an ambivalent “love letter” to the prison – ‘The Worst Place I Was Ever Scared Of’. In combination with Hannah’s unusual low-register vocals, understated yet with an extraordinary underlying intensity, this may not suit those who prefer their listening easy, but an exceptional recording that demands and deserves close attention. It may change the way you think about the prison system: it might even change your life a little. In any case, it’s an important release from a major talent.

Dirt will be publicly available on all major streaming platforms, and for digital download via www.burningsalt.com from 7 September 2018.

Burning Salt will perform the songs at a launch event on 7 September 2018 from 8pm to 10.30pm at the New Unity Chapel, 39A Newington Green, London N16 9PR. The £12 ticket price includes a special edition digital download of the EP and a poetry booklet.

David Harley

Tickets: https://dirtep.eventbrite.co.uk

Artist’s website: www.burningsalt.com

‘The Worst Place I Was Ever Scared Of’ – official video: