VARIOUS ARTISTS – Vision & Revision (Topic TXCD597)

Vision & RevisionIt can’t have escaped your notice that Topic Records is celebrating its 80th birthday this year. We’ve already had selected deluxe reissues of important albums but how can you really celebrate a catalogue as vast as this? Vision & Revision, subtitled The First 80 Years Of Topic Records, is the solution. Twenty artists, mostly from the younger generation, perform a song that was released on a Topic record some time in the last eight decades. I must congratulate Glen Johnson and Michael Mastrangelo who curated the set but I’m intrigued to know how they set about their task. Did they select twenty songs and parcel them out – surely not? So they must have picked twenty performers and turned them loose on the archives. Each one has a story and you’ll get dizzy following the cross-references.

The first disc opens with one of the old stagers, Martin Simpson, who sings ‘Beaulampkin’ which appeared on his first album. Martin didn’t join Topic until his third record but he learned the song from Hedy West’s Ballads. Of course, Sam Kelly learned ‘Shawnee Town’ from Martin and the baton moves on again. Another veteran is Martin Carthy who cites Sam Larner for ‘Napoleon’s Dream’. Martin heard Sam perform when he was just a teenager and Emily Portman gives Waterson:Carthy as the source of ‘The Bay Of Biscay’ – fifty years separate the two inspirations.

Martin is mentioned again by Chris Wood as the source of ‘Fable Of The Wings’, the Keith Christmas song adapted by Brass Monkey. It’s an unexpected choice and Chris takes it back to something like the guitar original. Anne Briggs is mentioned more than once and Kitty Macfarlane goes as far as singing ‘Go Your Way’ while Olivia Chaney borrows ‘Polly Vaughan’ from Hazards Of Love. Nancy Kerr namechecks June Tabor, Oysterband tackle Nic Jones’ ‘Seven Gypsies’ – an excellent reading of the song – and Peggy Seeger goes to Mike Waterson leaving The Oldham Tinkers to sing ‘Dirty Old Town’.

Another unexpected treat is Richard Thompson’s ‘The Light Bob’s Lassie’, a version of ‘Katie Cruel’ and there are two voices I haven’t heard before. The first is Irish singer Lisa O’Neill who sings ‘As I Roved Out’ with a mighty voice that takes absolutely no prisoners. The second is Lankum – please don’t ask me why I haven’t heard them before – whose lengthy take on ‘The Sea Captain’ closes the second disc.

There’s probably a great pub game to be had from matching twenty singers to twenty songs from the Topic catalogue but this is the official version. Sadly I won’t be around to hear what they select for the second eighty years.

Dai Jeffries

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Martin Simpson – ‘Beaulampkin’ :

VARIOUS ARTISTS – From Here – English Folk Field Recordings Volume 2 (From Here Records SITW011CD)

From Here Volume 2Curated by Ian Carter and Nicola Kearey of Stick In The Wheel, the second volume of From Here is every bit as intriguing and entertaining as its predecessor. Recorded wherever the artists were with just two microphones, these performances are sometimes raw and earthy and sometimes delicate and beautiful. Some of the artists are well known, others less so and same is true of the music.

There is a sort of chronology about the album. It begins with what Nancy Kerr calls a mediaeval song, ‘Gan Tae The Kye’, which she pairs with a popular north-eastern tune ‘Peacock Followed The Hen’. From the same geographical area comes ‘The Sandgate Dandling Song’ sung by Rachel Unthank and I must admit that I’ve never really listened to it properly. It’s a lullaby, yes, but with a very hard story wrapped up in it and Rachel’s matter-of-fact delivery emphasises the hardship. The first instrumental set is the delightful ‘Cottenham Medley’ by C Joynes, about whom I know almost nothing.other than the fact that he lives in Cambridgeshire. The other two sets are from the north-east: Kathryn Tickell’s dazzling ‘Bonnie Pit Laddie/ Lads Of Alnwick’ and ‘Nancy Clough’ by Sandra and Nancy Kerr, who thus gets to open and close the set.

The chronology begins to break down now. Richard Dawson’s ‘The Almsgiver’ sounds old but which Richard wrote recently and is perfectly in keeping with the feeling of the project. You may think you know ‘Barbera Allen’ but this version by Mary Hymphreys & Anahata will be new to most listeners. Coincidentally (or not) it also comes from Cottingham. June Tabor revisits ‘The Kng Of Rome’ and rising star Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne tackles ‘Two Lovely Black Eyes’. There are two distinct versions of this song, both by Charles Coborn, and Cohen goes for the political one. Both this and ‘The King Of Rome’ are set around the turn of the 20th century even though the latter was written much more recently. Appropriately, they are followed by Grace Petrie’s ‘A Young Woman’s Tale’, her updating of a song that began with the words “At the turning of the century…”, a clever juxtapositioning. Politics – although with a small “p” – return with Chris Wood’s ‘So Much To Defend’ which would appear to be made up of true stories.

Other, but not lesser, artists are Cath & Phil Tyler, Laura Smyth & Ted Kemp and Belinda Kempster, who is the mother of SITW’s Fran Foote and a very fine singer, now working as a duo with her daughter. That sort of emphasises the idea that we’re listening to a continuing tradition that has been caught in a moment of time.

Dai Jeffries

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Label website: https://www.fromhererecords.com/

Nancy Kerr – ‘Gan Tae The Kye/Peacock Followed The Hen’ – the video of the recording:

Topic Records celebrates its first 80 years

Vision & Revision: The First 80 Years of Topic Records

Vision & Revision: The First 80 Years of Topic Records is a deluxe double CD and double vinyl of the cream of contemporary British folk artists interpreting a song of their choice from Topic’s vast back catalogue (the only stipulation being that the song was at some time released on Topic). It includes newly recorded and never-before-released tracks by Martin Simpson, Richard Thompson, Lankum, Peggy Seeger, John Smith, Sam Lee, Martin Carthy, Olivia Chaney, Lisa O’Neill, Oysterband, Nancy Kerr, Chris Wood, Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker, Lisa Knapp, Kitty Macfarlane, Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys, Emily Portman & Rob Harbron, Rachael McShane & The Cartographers, Eliza Carthy & Olivia Chaney and The Oldham Tinkers. These artists have delved deep into Topic’s treasure chest to pull out all manner and variety of ballads and broadsides and breathed new life into them.

With its origins in the Workers’ Music Association, through the mid-20th century folk revival to the present day, Topic Records has established itself as not only the pre-eminent British folk music label, but one widely respected throughout the world. Topic has survived, grown and flourished – proof, if any were needed, that “grass roots” interest in traditional music, the artists and the label itself, has remained constant and strong. Topic has released some of the most influential folk recordings of modern times by a host of revered artists, from Anne Briggs to Peggy Seeger to June Tabor to Ewan MacColl and many, many more.

For 80 years, Topic Records has been a fervent and consistent champion of “the people’s music”. During that time, it has withstood wars, shortages, austerity, economic disaster, the vagaries of fashion, corporate onslaught and various cataclysmic shifts in the fortunes of the recording industry, to retain its proud and distinctively individual role as a beacon of integrity and true values. This fortitude has resulted in its unquestionable claim for being the oldest, surviving truly independent record label in the world.

“Folk music never goes away. You may not hear it, but it is always there, just over your cultural horizon. It lives in families, in communities, in the villages and towns and cities, and in the hearts of the people. Each generation takes what it needs and gives what it can to the tradition, each wave of newcomers turning another furrow, sowing new seeds. For eighty years, Topic Records has played a major role in this process, ensuring the old voices are still audible and creating a space for those that hear them to make new recordings of their own. Formats come and go, but like the music, Topic endures. Long may it do so.” – Billy Bragg

This 20-track double album comes in CD and vinyl gatefold formats, both housed in a special deluxe, debossed, silver foil-blocked sleeve. The vinyl issue is limited to 1000 copies only. A digital version of the album is also available.

Vision & Revision: The First 80 Years of Topic Records will be released on May 31st 2019.

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The 2018 Folking Awards

Welcome to the 2018 Folking Awards and thank you again to everyone who participated last year. The nominations, in eight categories, come from our ever-expanding team of writers and were wrangled into shape with considered argument and arm-wrestling by the Folkmeister and the Editor.

There are five nominees in each category, all of whom have impressed our writers during 2017.

As with the format 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 down to what we think, so again, there will be a public vote to decide the overall winner of each category.

*The Public Vote for each category will close at 9.00pm on Sunday 1st April (GMT+1).


Soloist Of The Year

 Jon Boden
Ange Hardy
Daria Kulesh
Richard Thompson
Chris Wood


Public Vote

*And the winner is: Open envelope!

 


Best Duo

Kate & Raphael
O’Hooley & Tidow
Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman
Laura Smyth & Ted Kemp
Winter Wilson


Public Vote

*And the winner is: Open envelope!

 


Best Band

Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys
Merry Hell
Peter Knight’s Gigspanner
Police Dog Hogan
The Unthanks


Public Vote

*And the winner is: Open envelope!

 


Best Live Act

CC Smugglers
Eliza Carthy & The Wayward Band
Fairport Convention
Lau
Merry Hell


Public Vote

*And the winner is: Open envelope!

 


Best Album

Bring Back Home – Ange Hardy
Pretty Peggy – Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys
Long Lost Home – Daria Kulesh
A Pocket Of Wind Resistance – Karine Polwart/Pippa Murphy
Strangers – The Young ‘Uns


Public Vote

*And the winner is: Open envelope!

 


Best Musician

Kevin Crawford
Seth Lakeman
Richard Thompson
Karen Tweed
Ryan Young


Public Vote

*And the winner is: Open envelope!

 


Rising Star

Sam Brothers
Siobhan Miller
Jack Rutter
Sound Of The Sirens
The Trials Of Cato


Public Vote

*And the winner is: Open envelope!!

 


Best International Artist

Rodney Crowell
Anna Coogan
Michael McDermott
Le Vent Du Nord
The Wailin’ Jennys


Public Vote

*And the winner is: Open envelope!

 


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Folkies 2018

CHRIS WOOD – So Much To Defend (RUF RUFCD014)

So Much To DefendChris Wood’s fifth solo album comes across as a model of restraint on first hearing but first hearings can be deceptive. So Much To Defend is an album made up in part of little lives – people who are not even just about managing. There are bigger stories, too, but even these are told in small, personal ways.

The opening title track is a series of vignettes, snapshots of urban life. Some of the characters – Sharon, Maureen and Victoria, for example – are doing all right in their own terms while Bella, Terry and Thomas are struggling with zero-hours contracts, redundancy and unemployment. But Abigail likes her tuna steak “ever so slightly charred” and Svetlana works the night. Everyone has so much to defend even when they have almost nothing. Yes, it is actually a big story.

‘This Love Won’t Let You Fail’ is song for everyone leaving home and the love in question is  that of the mothers who stand and watch them go, worrying all the time. Chris describes ‘Only A Friendly’ as a love song but it’s an oddly tawdry one as Ebbsfleet United lose again. Both are universal stories told in small personal ways.

‘The Flail’ and a setting of Housman’s ‘1887’ are concerned with history. The flail represents the politicians, the police and the media who feed us their version of history; think Hillsborough. Here Chris reminds us to remember what really happened. The latter is a rather acid meditation on monarchy – 1887 was Victoria’s golden jubilee and Housman remembers the men who died to save the queen. I’m still making up my mind about ‘Strange Cadence’ and ‘The Shallow End’. They both seem to be warning us of the siren voices that tell us to be good little consumers and toe the official line but all four of these songs encourage us to question everything we’re told. With ‘More Fool Me’, Chris looks at his own career at the time when there is less money in the music business than when he started and the final ‘You May Stand Mute’ is another of his quasi-hymn tunes with a message that I’m still deciphering.

So Much To Defend is sometimes stark; just voice and one or two instruments, mostly guitars with occasional banjo so Martin Butler’s piano is the only instrument on ‘1887’ although in contrast, Justin Mitchell adds a haunting flugelhorn to ‘Strange Cadence’ and Gary Walsh’s Hammond organ provides another texture to ‘This Love Won’t Let You Fail’. The songs can stand on their own merits and when it comes to live performances Chris and his guitar are all they will need.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: http://chriswoodmusic.co.uk/

Chris has just sent us this video for ‘This Love Won’t Let You Fail’:

And here’s an old favourite live at the BBC Folk Awards:

THE SHEE – Continuum (Shee Records SHEE4)

ContinuumThe concept behind Continuum, supported by Celtic Connections, was to celebrate their tenth anniversary by having each of them commission a musician of their choice to write a piece of music for the album. That’s only half the story, of course, for the band had then to arrange the music for six players and write some pieces to bind the whole thing together.

The opening song is ‘From The Shadows’ by Laura-Beth Salter. It’s a powerful call to arms to … ah, well. It could be a feminist piece, the logical first thought, but it could be a warning to the rich and powerful that the poor and oppressed aren’t going to take it any more. Next come two atmospheric pieces by Kathryn Tickell; one evoking the borders and the other with a Scandinavian feel. The playing, needless to say, is exquisite.

Rachel Newton commissioned Karine Polwart and the result is ‘Song For Mary’. The Mary in question is Mary Brooksbank, composer of ‘The Jute Mill Song’ and an archive recording of one verse forms the introduction. We’re not told that it’s Mary herself but I’d like to think it is. Amy Thatcher naturally turned to a box-player and who better than Andy Cutting? Olivia Ross’ choice was Chris Wood who shares the credit for ‘Cradle Song’ with lyricist Hugh Lupton. The Shee turns what could be a pretty little song into something quite strange so you’re not sure whether this a mother singing to her baby from the safety of a warm fireside or struggling home from the storm outside.

Laura-Beth, Amy and Shona Mooney provide the next two tune sets with Shona responsible for the wonderfully titled ‘The Vampire Rabbit Of Newcastle’. Olivia wrote ‘Precious Tears’, a song for children – possibly the band members’ own – and Brian Finnegan wrote a trio of tunes with Lillias- Kinsman-Blake’s flute and a journey through India in mind. Finally, we have Martin Simpson’s song for his mother. ‘Dance With Me’ might be seen as the companion-piece to ‘Never Any Good’. Laura-Beth sings it and plays mandolin where Martin would use guitar and the band play what is almost an orchestral accompaniment.

Continuum is a monument to musical collaboration and the exchange of ideas but more than that, it is a tribute to six exceptionally talented musicians.

Dai Jeffries

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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.

Artists’ website: https://theshee.com/

‘Ower Late For The Lasses/Sheepolska’ and more with Kathryn Tickell live at Celtic Connections 2016: