MIRANDA SYKES & REX PRESTON – HANDS ON MUSIC HMCD035

Miranda and Rex play together in other Celtic bluegrass projects. Miranda is, of course, well known as the third member of Show Of Hands and Rex is a rising star in mandolin-playing circles, working with Cara Dillon and Brian Finnegan.

It’s clear from the start that their backgrounds have shaped their debut album together. The songs are mostly covers with one original instrumental and a traditional arrangement from Rex. The first two songs are by Kate Rusby and Karine Polwart – the latter being a gorgeous gently rocking version of ‘Only One Way’ – and from the first few notes you know that this is something rather special. The sound is incredibly rich and I searched in vain for a list of guest musicians. There is a guitar in there and I’m guessing that Rex plays it but top marks for production whoever it is.

Later writer credits might be unfamiliar unless you’re deeply immersed in American roots songwriters. Karin Bergquist, Ryan Roberts and Peter Bradley Adams are not exactly household names in the UK so Miranda and Rex have had their pick of some fine songs. Miranda’s voice is flexible and expressive from the delicacy of ‘Between Sheets’ to the jazziness of ‘Sweet Pea/Mean To Me’ and ‘Trouble’ and you can only marvel at Rex’s playing. From simple ingredients Miranda and Rex have created an exceptionally good album.

Dai Jeffries

Artist Web link: www.mirandasykes.com

Folking.com’s favourite Radio 2 moment…

The Radio 2 Folk Awards are chosen and voted for by a panel of professionals (broadcasters, promoters, festival organisers and record companies) who all work in the world of folk, acoustic and roots music. These people (now in their hundreds) are asked to nominate and vote for the people that they consider to have produced and performed the most outstanding work during the past 12 months.

For folking.com the 2002 Folk Awards was a haven for such music. It not only celebrated the pioneers of the genre but also gave birth to something very special, a new energised passion for the music and a new set of ambassadors for the tradition.

Many of the artists that pioneered the folk-culture movement in the early “noughties” were in the room on the night of 11 February 2002. There were performances from Eliza Carthy and Cerys Matthews. “The Barnsley Nightingale,” Kate Rusby, performed “Who Will Sing Me Lullabies” which she had written for the late, great singer-songwriter Davy Steel. Martin Simpson’sThe Bramble Briar”, (in my opinion one of the greatest folk albums of all time), was awarded “Best Album”. Arguably the greatest ambassador of the tradition, Martin Carthy, was awarded “Folk Singer of the Year” and the icing on the cake was having him accompany Martin Simpson on his live version of the much-missed Cyril Tawney’s classic “Sammy’s Bar”. The award for Best Group was such a close run thing that year, that either Show of Hands, Old Blind Dogs or Tarras could have pipped Cherish the Ladies to the number-one spot post. The “Guv’nor,” Ashley Hutchings, presented Nettlebed Folk Club with the “Good Tradition Award and Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull presented the “fabulous, fruity, funky, fecund, Fairport 5Fairport Convention, with a “Lifetime Achievement Award”. Best Live Act went to the rambling, constantly-touring inspiration that is Rory McLeod.

Willy Russell presented Ralph McTell, (in my view, one of the finest singer-song writer of all time), with the second of the night’s “Lifetime Achievement Award”. Jim Moir, the man that cared enough to put the money and passion behind the Folk Awards idea in the first place and the man that presided over the format and programming of Radio 2 at the turn of the century to make it the most listened to Radio Show in the country, awarded The ChieftainsIrelands Musical Ambassadors” with, the third of the night’s  “Lifetime Achievement Award”. I clearly remember the first words Jim said when he came out on stage “What an evening”. It certainly was Jim!

Out of all of the live acts mentioned above, any of them could have been chosen as a classic performance. However, I have chosen Cara Dillon’s “Black is the Colour” as my favourite of the night.

For folking.com, this performance represented the beginning of this exciting new change in folk music, as it was the first time in years that a folk artist and a traditional folk song were taking pride of place on the Radio 2 playlist. Johnny Walker, who presented Cara with the award for “Best Traditional Track”, summed it up perfectly by saying that “Cara had the courage to resist corporate pressure to commercialise her music and change it to try and get it to a wider audience and instead the audience has come to her”. This was an important point which could be cited as one of the fundamental reasons why the music is so strong today. A certain pre-Mercury Music prize nominee, Seth Lakemen (now truly an ambassador in his own right), accompanied Cara on backing vocals. The whole piece was woven together beautifully by the piano arrangements written and performed by Seth’s brother, Sam Lakeman. Darren Beech – June 2011

CARA DILLON – Live At The Grand Opera House (Charcoal Records CHARDVD001)

OK, some of us lesser mortals working within the confines of the poverty stricken ‘folk scene’ would find it hard to muster enough funds to run to making a top-notch DVD but thank goodness that some can. Seth Lakeman, Bellowhead, The Transatlantic Sessions and of course Cara’s previous DVD “The Redcastle Sessions” are all shining examples of how well this minority music can flourish in the art of visual presentation. Cara will require no introduction for those that have followed her burgeoning career from the early days with the band Oige (and yes, I’m pleased to say “I was there”) to the full-blown heights she has arrived at today. A thoughtful selection of songs predominantly selected from her critically acclaimed album “Hill Of Thieves” plus extras including “Black Is The Colour” and “There Were Roses” along with a set of tunes “The Knotted Hanky/The Huntsman/The Gold Ring” and you have a perfect evening. Although the DVD is squarely focused on the lady herself, Dillon’s associates as one would expect are a who’s who of the Celtic music scene and in this respect we have Ed Boyd (guitar), Zoe Conway (fiddle), James Fagan (guitar/bouzouki), Brian Finnegan (flute/whistles), Sam Lakeman (piano/guitar), Eamon Murray (bodhran/shaker) and James O’Grady (Uilleann pipes/low whistle). Full credit must also be given to the excellent camera crew (I think I counted about five) who between them managed to capture the musicians flailing fingers and plenty of smiles from both the audience and band. The only thing I can find at fault with this otherwise well produced DVD is the ‘behind the scenes’ extras which is a video played over and over again…three times actually…accompanied by different songs. Cheap, but not so cheerful – Hey Ho but I suppose you can’t have everything.

PETE FYFE

Dillon hits the spot by Sarah Burch – artsdepot, North Finchley

After a hectic, stressful week, it was such a panacea to chill out at Cara Dillon’s gig at the artsdepot, North Finchley on March 5th.

Cara Dillon’s exquisite voice, coupled with the superb musical accompaniment of Sam Lakeman provided an evening of sheer joy and enjoyment. The couple provided the audience with a variety of experiences – the soulful, heart-rendering Irish folk ballads;; the richness of Cara’s beautiful voice – apparently slightly marred by a “tickle” but barely imperceptible by the audience; the marvellous support and arrangements provided by Sam’s keyboard and guitar skills; and the diversity and randomness of Sam Lakeman’s facts (did you know that giraffes don’t have any vocal chords? No, nor did I!). Cara performed songs not just from her award-winning album, Hill of Thieves, but reintroduced the audience to her past work.

The artsdepot was a fabulous venue; great acoustics, good facilities and a welcoming feel. It seemed slightly incongruent – the modern space contrasted by the traditional Irish folk songs, but there was a certain charm to this incongruity. The seating was comfortable and the ambience enhanced by the soft lighting.

A great evening, top notch performers, receptive audience and welcoming venue – perfect. For more info on Cara visit

Sarah Burch

Artist Website: http://www.caradillon.co.uk/