Keep It Live – Dodo Street Band at Worksop College

Dodo Street Band

A few months ago I reviewed the Dodo Street Band CD, Natural Selection, and thought it was pretty good (read Mike’s review here). They didn’t have many gigs planned, but one was fairly near to me so booked the date in my diary.

People talk about going out for the evening to the theatre and mention the whole evening – maybe a meal beforehand, meeting up with friends, the expectation of maybe a London theatre, etc etc. With music, people I know tend to talk about the gig, not the whole event. So this is another occasional live review with a broader slant.

Generally, when I book something in advance, there’s more than a hint of excitement. This was certainly the case with gigs as diverse as, say, seeing the Rolling Stones in Roundhay Park in 1981, taking a friend for his sixtieth birthday to a stadium a few years ago to see The Who – but also things like seeing June Tabor live for the first time in a theatre in Scunthorpe (“a voice as smooth as a pint of Guinness” was a remark I overheard) or going to see a mate’s band play their first ever gig in a dodgy pub. But then, some days, other things just get in the way – and this was one of them. As the day approached I discovered I was working away, getting back home the night of the Dodo Street Band gig.

So on a Wednesday night a couple of weeks ago, I find myself driving after some long days away and hotel-bed-limited-sleep to a concert. The gig is in Worksop college, geographically about half an hour’s drive from where I grew up but in other ways, a couple of light years away from the factory towns, rural and pit villages where I used to play cricket. (I mention this simply because about the only thing I thought I knew about Worksop College was that Joe Root smashed to smithereens most of the cricketing records there.) Generally, my venue of choice to watch music is some kind of club/pub, – in the old days with dark walls, sticky floors, smoke and alcohol. I get the feeling I’m not going to be visiting that kind of place……

And it’s not, but it’s rather splendid. Easy to get to, easy to park, students politely pointing me in the right direction – past the cricket pitch on the right – and into the main building. Given work and the drive, I’m feeling too tired to be in the right place mentally for music. But the setting is pretty good, the room light and airy (and hence a long way from places like Sheffield’s Leadmill or Boston’s Axe and Cleaver where I used to watch my music) is fine and with great sound. The college also they fed us canapés and gave us a free drink at half time. My mental rehabilitation was getting fixed, partly because I was being well looked after.

And the gig? Sometimes you’re just glad you ignored the tiredness because you’ve been to see something unique. This was one of them. The band live are stunning as they trade tunes between fiddle, recorder, accordion, double bass – and in Cormac Byrne they have what I can only describe as a lead bodhran player. Like a live jazz band players sit bits out, they watch their fellow band members take the lead, they mingle the combinations of instruments in different ways so the sound varies – but what never varies is the skill and entertainment value. The humour of the Dodo Street Band’s website is translated onto the stage through entertaining introductions: the Dodo flying machine, for example – the Wright Brothers weren’t the first to create a flying machine, it was the escaping dodos.

What we saw that evening was the band members bringing to exuberant life the skills on the album….plus a bit. The skill of Adam Summerhayes’ fiddle playing being not only in the fingers moving fluidly, but in the way he manages – just – not to poke his colleagues eyes with the dancing bow; as well as bodhran, Cormac Byrne played spoons, bones and members of the audience – anything that could make a percussive sound; Piers Adams had a collection of recorders in what looked like a builders tool belt, switched expertly between them and even played two simultaneously (picture above); Malcolm Creese held the rhythm and played bass solo – and had the most deadpan introductory line – for the first tune in a set “which is called […pause…] ‘Tune Number One”; and a particular mention not just for Murray Grainger’s piano accordion playing but his focus as his young family wanted to join him on stage. They describe their instrumental prowess as playing: Scrapes, Bangs, Blows, Twangs and Bellows.

And Worksop College? A cracking setting, the concert room and the mix were both good, but I also have the unique memories of the rather grand hall where we had interval drinks and the cheery helpfulness of the students. There was also a fascinating conversation with the person who organised it all. I discovered that this gig was one in a series of musical events which Worksop College put on and which they open up to anyone who wants to come. The College seems to have a strong musical curriculum and, to my mind, the staging of music events of all genres and opening them up to the community is a great idea.

Lastly, Natural Selection, the Dodo Street Band’s album was good to listen to, but the live evening got me going, even after the drive and the start to the week I’d had. The evening as a whole? A highly talented – and fun – band in a great location. The venue and the band, then – both of them worth writing home about.

Mike Wistow

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

‘Larking’:

DODO STREET – Natural Selection (Extinct Records/Nimbus Alliance NI6369)

Natural SelectionDodo Street released Natural Selection, their first CD, on April 5th. The band are touring to four venues in June and a festival in July, details on their website. I put this at the start of the review because the only way you can get a feel for how gloriously skilled, inventive and fun this album is – is to listen to it or, I’d imagine, see them live.

As a taster, have a listen to ‘Larking’ on the video below – the sheer energy of the playing, the tightness of it at a million miles an hour and then, at twenty-eight seconds and elsewhere, the stop and the coo-coo call (Wikipedia tells me that the dodo is related to the pigeon) followed by a return to the vitality of the tune. There are slower pieces of which ‘Neil Gow’s Lament’ is a highlight, but the video gives a sense of what the album as a whole is like – and fortunately one of their upcoming gigs is near to me.

Dodo Street consists of five musicians. It would be a much longer piece to describe the background of the musicians in any way other than to quote from their publicity material. The band combine “unbelievable fiddle virtuosity from international star Adam Summerhayes; outrageous brilliance from world number one recorder genius, Piers Adams; incredibly high-ABV insanity from accordion master, Murray Grainger; positively feverish power from bass legend, Malcolm Creese; and dazzling bodhran playing from king of folk percussion, Cormac Byrne”. Any one of the five has a musical pedigree that you can only admire, collectively they work superbly together and it makes for a stunning sound (which they call Celtic Gypsy Klezmer) melding Scottish/Irish folk, gypsy and Eastern European tunes and rhythms.

The other aspect to mention is the humour. The album tracks are titled in some way to give a link to the dodo. To give a couple of examples: ‘Flight Of The Dodo’ is described as “Commemorating the invention of a mechanical flying machine by dodos in 1803 (and the subsequent suppression of the fact by humans)”; and Track 8 is called ‘ Historic 1632 recording of Dodo calls (Courtesy of the descendants of Midshipman Alex Whammond)’.

The publicity material is unusually self-deprecating and, of many gems, my favourite is the description of Cormac Byrne’s bodhran playing as complex morse-code-based rhythm patterns which he broadcasts from his bedroom to try and contact the intergalactic Space Dodos. You can only be this irreverent about your playing if you are very good or if you’re sufficiently novice that you’re unaware of it.

Dodo Street are definitely not a band of novices.

Mike Wistow

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‘Larking’:

Damien O’Kane talks to Dave Freak

Damien O'Kane 2

Hailing from Coleraine, Northern Ireland, banjo-playing singer and arranger Damien O’Kane certainly ruffled a few feathers with his recent solo album, Areas Of High Traffic. Featuring a selection of (as he rightly says) “great songs” they’re given a surprising sheen by O’Kane and his band, while the publicity images depict very urban, contemporary, scenes – all blurred traffic lights and graffiti. Very much rooted in the Celtic folk tradition it may musically be, but it doesn’t sound, or look, like your average folk album. Nonetheless, it’s deservedly wowed critics and listeners alike.

On stage since he was 13, performing with The O’Kane Family Band, Damien’s since gone on to partner with Shona Kilping and joined Flook (winning the BBC Radio 2 Folk Award for Best Group in 2006 with them), before embarking on a solo career, teaming up with David Kosky, and forming a professional and personal relationship with Yorkshire songstress Kate Rusby.

Prior to autumn dates with Kate, O’Kane’ll be playing with her, as well as appearing solo, at Oxfordshire’s Towersey Festival 2016, in August.

Areas Of High Traffic had some incredible reviews, and was (of course) nominated for a BBC Radio 2 Folk Award; any thoughts on why the album has made such an impact, and resonated with so many people?

Mmmmm. Sonically it is pretty different to most folk albums that came out last year, or at least the ones that I heard. I wanted a ‘big band’ sound for this album, with a kit and a more overall ‘modern’ sound to coat the fantastic traditional songs I’d chosen (bar one original song on the album). I have an eclectic taste in music having grown up listening to all sorts, from Techno/Dance Music right down to those classic Planxty albums or early Paul Brady material. I always wanted to try and marry the new with the old and I haven’t really had the courage until this album to do it. The album has more influences than just the aforementioned though. The other members of the band, Cormac Byrne on drums and percussion – Steven Iveson on electric guitar and Anthony Davis on keys/synths/pads and more, brought some of their musical experiences to the table and it resulted in a hugely enjoyable time in the studio. Together they cover blues, jazz, electronica and many more genres of traditional material. I brought all the material, all the chords and a shape for the songs, with a different sonic palette in mind for them and we all seemed to ‘pull on the same rope’, which was fantastic. I wanted an ambient, rocky, dancy feel to a lot of the material and I’m really chuffed how the album finished up.

I also think people are a lot more open minded to change these days. It is not such a shock anymore as there are so many interesting things going on in traditional music right now.

The theme of ‘family’ seems to link many of the songs, either in terms of subject or your decision to include – from ‘The Blacksmith’, which you remember hearing at an early age, to the more obvious ‘The Goddaughter’ and ‘Interlude For Mama’. Did you set out with that theme in mind when you were planning the album?

No, I didn’t set out with a ‘family’ theme, but I am hugely influenced and eternally grateful to my family who have supported and encouraged my music career from the very start. My folks introduced us (my three brothers, two sisters and I) to traditional music at a very early age and started sending us to classes. I have loved it since then. A huge number of children nowadays don’t even get the chance to play music and it is an ever declining ‘priority’ in schools from what I can see. That is a very sad thing. When I play music, Irish traditional music, I feel a huge sense of identity and family.

You’ve referred to the book Folk Singing in North Derry: Shamrock, Rose and Thistle as your “‘bible’ of folk songs” – when did you first come across the collection?

I first came across this book around 2008/2009 when I was introduced to a great collector of Irish traditional music and song, Jackie Devenney. Jackie hails from Coleraine in Co. Derry, like myself, and I was incredibly surprised to learn of Jackie and of the wealth of repertoire we boast in the north of Ireland. It is this material that excites me, songs with place names I recognise and places I played as a child. Shamrock, Rose and Thistle is only a tip of the iceberg when it comes to all the songs but I feel attached to it as it was my first learning of all these homeland songs and I love to take the stories out and bring them to life.

What are some of the ‘interesting bits and bangy things’ that percussionist Cormac Byrne is credited as playing on the album?

Well, Cormac could make a pencil sharpener rhythmical! But he did some really interesting things on Areas Of High Traffic on triangles and weird shakers and washboards and other things that I didn’t even recognise! The most interesting bangy thing he used was a bucket! Yes a bucket. You can hear it on the second track ‘The Blacksmith’. It is literally a metal bucket turned upside down. Genius!

The album has a very distinctive urban look – graffiti and skyscrapers; what was the idea behind it? Was there a conscious decision to make it not look like ‘a folk album’?

There was definitely a conscious decision to make it look different. The music is very different to anything I’ve done before so I thought the look should be too. There’s hints of urban music influences throughout the album, it is overall a more mainstream sound and I wanted to depict that through the image as well. I am really not a fan of the ‘stand in a field with a guitar’ photo, which has almost become a stereotype of folk music, and it has always been, arguably more so now than ever, a lot more than this. The next generation are creating some incredible and new sounds with folk music and it’s a really great time to be a part of it. Folk music deserves as much press as any other genre of music but it is hugely difficult to compete with those big bands on big labels where copious amounts of money are spent on image, then comes the music!! So I guess the answer is yes, I didn’t want it to look like a stereotype. I wanted it to be more interesting and David Angel, the photographer for the album, is the king at being interesting. I gave him an idea and he brought it to life.

I understand that you’ve been working on a new album with guitarist David Kosky – will this be a direct follow-up to The Mystery Inch, or something different?

I can’t really say very much about this at the minute but I am indeed working on an album with David Kosky. But not just David! There is another key banjo player involved in the project who will be announced at some point over the net few months but there is a list of guests planned for the album I would never, ever have dreamt I would ever work with!

When do you think they’ll be another solo album to follow Areas Of High Traffic?

I am starting a new solo album in October and would like to have it finished before the end of the year. I waited so long between Summer Hill and Areas Of High Traffic, through no fault of my own, but I’d like to follow up with another. I had so much fun making Areas… and the other lads are excited to get going on another.

Any other plans, projects or collaborations coming up?

Actually, I’ve just finished Producing Kate Rusby’s new album. I have to say, and even though she’s my wife, this is a very, very exciting album and not one people will expect. It is called Life In A Paper Boat and will be released in October but I’m not telling you anymore! As for other plans/ projects/ collaborations coming up, they are all covered in the questions above! I need some time to spend with my family.

You’re appearing twice at Towersey Festival – have you played the festival before?

I think the last and only time I played at Towersey was back in 2007 when I was playing in a duo with piano accordion player extraordinaire, the brilliant Shona Kipling. I can just remember being quite nervous. At that point I wasn’t really used to playing at big festivals but I remember having a great time and having a few drinks after the gig! I’ve been back as a punter since and it’s one of those festivals that has a great festival atmosphere and there’s lots going on all day every day. I’m looking forward to this year where I get to perform with Kate Rusby on the Friday (26 Aug 2016) and my own band on the Saturday (27 Aug 2016).

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Artist’s website: damienokane.co.uk

In case it passed you by – ‘The Mystery Inch’:

Damien O’Kane announces new solo album

Damien O'Kane announces new solo album

You may think you know the music of Damien O’Kane but think again – his inspirational new album will certainly leave you wondering.

With a pervading theme of emigration and homeland nostalgia, Areas of High Traffic is the first solo album in five years from the Yorkshire-based Ulsterman, following on from Summer Hill (2010).

Extraordinary and unexpected after what went before, it sees O’Kane throwing in a number of curved balls, aided and abetted by his fine band – Steven Iveson (electric guitars), Anthony Davis (keyboards, synths, pads), stand-out percussionist Cormac Byrne and a guest appearance on one track by American bluegrass banjo wizard Ron Block (Alison Krauss and Union Station).

Slickly produced by O’Kane and assisted by Joe Rusby, it is something of a homage to his native Northern Ireland. O’Kane cherry picks traditional songs, moulding them into something more contemporary, engaging and stirring – all delivered in his rich Irish brogue.

Growing up in Coleraine his first stage appearance when barely a teenager was with his own parents and siblings in the family band, dubbed “The Von Trapps of Coleraine”.

An outstanding banjo and guitar player and now a vital member of The Kate Rusby Band, Damien’s previous incarnations have included the duo partnership with accordionist Shona Kipling and his time as a member of Anglo-Irish band Flook, as well as the release of an instrumental album with David Kosky.

On Areas of High Traffic he takes songs from the bedrock of Irish music and revisits them in a previously untapped, unconventional but always empathetic way. Says Damien: “Songs like ‘The Blacksmith’ and ‘I Am A Youth’ are so iconic I’ve avoided them like the plague. But I’ve always loved them and I decided I had to overcome this fear of the “don’t touch”songs. Singing them takes me back home.”

The end result is radically original.

“I decided I wouldn’t set any boundaries and I’d perform the songs exactly as felt right. There may be a touch of rebellion about it but I haven’t done anything just for the sake of being different. I’ve tried to get inside every song and the arrangements reflect the lyrics.”

And when all the pieces are fused together with true empathy and care, the results are spectacular. These are songs from the very fabric of Irish music, recorded many times and in many ways over centuries. But never like this.

With perfect harmony vocals from Kate Rusby and a brand new tune he definitely puts his own stamp on the famous ‘The Banks Of the Bann’. Elsewhere the mix of jazz, rock and world influences triggers a whole new sound to songs like ‘Erin’s Lovely Home’ and ‘The Close Of An Irish Day’ whilst ‘The Green Fields Of America’ addresses Ireland’s sad history of enforced emigration.

This theme continues in the one contemporary song on the 11-track album – Robin Williams and Jerome Clark’s poignant ‘Don’t Let Me Come Home a Stranger’, a song which proves a perfect fit for O’Kane.

Damien himself has penned two beautiful tunes to people in his life – ‘The Goddaughter Part 1’ and the exquisite ‘Interlude For Mama’.

Released on the Pure Records label on November 9, Areas of High Traffic is traditional Irish folk for grown-ups – a roller-coaster of exploration into the heart and heritage of Irish music, shaken and stirred by a master musician and vocalist. Thoughtful, provocative, uplifting and inspirational the collection marks O’Kane’s emergence as one of the most vital talents in modern folk music.

An album launch gig with the full band will be held in London at The Forge, Camden on Thursday, November 12.

Further gigs showcasing the new album will be at Manchester’s Chorlton Irish Club (Carousel Sessions) on November 11 and Belfast’s Duncairn Arts Centre on November 14.

“Areas of High Traffic is an extraordinary album. But then, Damien O’Kane is an extraordinary musician…a provocatively original interpreter of folk song.” – Colin Irwin

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

Damien O’Kane – ‘The Close Of An Irish Day’:

Free Stream of Blacksmith’s Prayer form SETH LAKEMAN LIVE WITH THE BBC CONCERT ORCHESTRA

In March 2012, folk-inspired, multiaward winning singer-songwriter Seth Lakeman played with the renowned BBC Concert Orchestra at Plymouth Pavilions in Devon. Seth will release a five track LIVE EP on 03 December featuring recordings from that night mixed by Richard Evans.

The live EP features versions of some of Seth’s best known songs, arranged by Anne Dudley and conducted by Matthew Coorey. It features Blacksmith’s Prayer (streamed below)  from his current album Tales from the Barrel House, Kitty Jay the title track from his 2005 Mercury nominated album, Lady of the Sea and King & Country from his gold-selling album Freedom Fields and Changes from Hearts & Minds.

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Artist’s website: http://www.sethlakeman.co.uk/

Seth Lakeman Band live review plus new EP: live with the BBC Concert Orchestra

Seth Lakeman Band Ipswich Corn Exchange Sunday 21st October 2012. A top-class night at the very nicely refurbished Ipswich Corn Exchange.

After watching Seth grow as a musician on and off since his late teens with his brothers and Equation, through his emergence as a solo performer and post Mercury Prize nomination take off, this was Seth, and band, at one with the stage more than it has seemed in a while and firing on all cylinders, it was great to witness.

Two elements have lifted the live performances lately, one is the return of the much missed Cormac Byrne, the beating heart of a band on Bodrhan and anything else he can hit, including an anvil this time! Now the perfect band line up is complete with the addition of Lisbee Stainton an inspired decision alongside the four guys , and I hope they don’t let her go. Having a female voice on stage has now opened up Seths back catalogue more and taken his shows into a new phase. A live Lakeman show has always had an edge,drive and theatre but now the edges have been softened a bit which is very refreshing. Apart from vocals, Lisbee is a pretty handy musician too, the toys on stage have been added to with a harmonium and she plays a mean Banjo.

We were treated to songs covering the last 10 years and 6 albums. It was great to hear songs rarely given an airing from John Lomas from Kitty Jay to up to date songs like The Sender From Tales From The Barrel House.

It was a fast paced evening and the opening two song weld of More Than Money and the brilliant Blacksmiths Prayer set the tone of the night and it didn’t let up until the end of Race To be King that had everyone up and dancing .

Highlights at Ipswich were Seth and Cormac thrashing out Bold Knight and the band driving a full on Zeppelin like Blood Red Sky (I could always hear their influence in this ) and then as contrast the lovely Changes and White Hare with Lisbee.

I could not write a review without highlighting Seths signature song, the bow shredding Kitty Jay with added eerie back lighting for extra drama, I have never yet seen him play this and the room not been worked into a frenzy and exploded when the last note fades, it’s still thrilling after all these years .

Seths albums from kitty Jay on-wards have always had a sense of the dramatic, now he and his band have the tools and the graft behind them to bring that onto a stage fully, it’s taken a while, but I think they really have a show that they have been trying to perfect for a few years, and now should be proud of.

Seth really has come a long way down the road from the rough and ready gigs with the sudden endings,dare I say he is turning into a showman.

Go see him next time he hits the road.

Trish Roberts

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Artist’s website: http://www.sethlakeman.co.uk/