DAN WALSH – Trio (Rooksmere Records RRCD118)

TrioI’ve always liked Dan Walsh ever since his debut album, Tomorrow’s Still To Come. It was perhaps unpolished by modern standards but the potential shone through every note. Sadly, I was disappointed by his previous album, Verging On The Perpendicular, but I’ve always thought that Dan was at his best with someone to spark off. At first it was Will Pound, then the UFQ and his partnership with Alistair Anderson was something to be seen and marvelled at. Now his trio with Ciaran Algar and Nic Zuppardi have committed themselves to record and, for me, everything is back on track.

All the material is Dan’s except for the closing ‘Sleep With One Eye Open’ by Lester Flatt. We’re told that it’s a bluegrass classic but it seems oddly hard-bitten.  The opener is ‘Late Night Drive’, a real knees-up with Algar’s fiddle and Zuppardi’s mandolin sharing the second lines. Next is the first song, ‘Life On The Ground’, about homelessness and inspired by a lady Dan met on the street. It holds a political message if you listen carefully. ’80 Years Of Pleasant Half Hours’ is a funky tune which lets Ciaran stretch out a bit and ‘Same Time Different Place’ was inspired by a street cleaner in Stafford.

‘Dizzy Heights’ is a real show-stopper, allowing the chaps to explore their jazz leanings and giving Nic a chance to show off, although there are chances to do that a-plenty throughout the record. Dan gets really country on the next song, ‘The Light Of Day’, and reflects on the life of a touring musician on ‘When I’m Back Around’. It’s a familiar theme but done very well in this song. Two more instrumental sets bring us to the Lester Flatt closer. If I were to be critical I might say that it’s an odd note to finish on but it’s such a good song and it’s great to hear Dan, Ciaran and Nic firing on all cylinders.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: https://www.danwalshbanjo.co.uk/

‘Late Night Drive’ – live:

JUNE TABOR – Airs And Graces (Topic TTSC004)

Airs And GracesAs you must know by now, to celebrate their 80th birthday Topic are re-releasing a series of classic albums in deluxe editions. Airs And Graces is among the first tranche and is arguably one of the most important. When June Tabor first appeared on the scene I’d just moved into the area and was still finding out where the folk clubs were – it was word of mouth in those days – thus I read about her long before I’d seen her on stage or heard her on record. I’ve made up for it since but coming back to a remastered issue of this debut is a real delight.

From this vantage point in time most of the songs are familiar enough but I’m certain that June introduced the world to ‘The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’ and it was several years before we could get our hands on Eric Bogle’s first album. Airs And Graces opens with the dancing sound of ‘While Gamekeepers Lie Sleeping’ – that’s Nic Jones on guitar. He was one of the few guitarists who could have matched the liberties June, who was brought up singing unaccompanied, was wont to take with the rhythm of a song. This is still my favourite version of the song. Nic appears again on ‘Bonny May’ which is also decorated by Jon Gillaspie’s sopranino recorder and I must admit that I’d forgotten Jon’s atmospheric accompaniment to ‘Young Waters’ – probably the only use of a roxichord in traditional music.

Next is ‘Plains Of Waterloo’ and June follows Shirley and Dolly Collins in recording it. It’s gobsmacking to think that this was only the third freely available recording of the song. ‘Bonny May’ is a relative of ‘The Broom Of The Cowdenowes’, which I didn’t know until now but I think everyone knew ‘Reynardine’ by then. In fact, June had a remarkable ability to find a song, then find a variant of it and then make it popular. ‘Young Waters’, ‘Waly Waly’ and ‘The Merchant’s Son’ are familiar stories in folk-song but when did we hear them first, I wonder.

There are four bonus tracks, all predating the recording of this album and essentially field recordings. ‘The Fair Maid Of Wallington’ includes the words “silly sisters”, which were to become famous later and ‘The Royal Oak’ was recorded at the venue of one of those folk clubs that I didn’t know about. Sadly, it wasn’t released on the LP that Stagfolk issued. Two others did and good luck with finding them.

We are used to hearing a rather more sombre June Tabor these days but even forty years ago she couldn’t be called a flibbertigibbet. That voice was magnificent and could deliver a song like few others.

Dai Jeffries

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Label website: www.topicrecords.co.uk

There weren’t many videos in 1976 but this may suffice:

NAVARO – So Long Wichita (Leading Horses Records LHREC02)

So Long WichitaIt’s been far too long since we’ve heard from Navaro. Steve Austin has posted lots of pictures from his narrowboat where the majority of So Long Wichita was recorded but there hasn’t been much music. This is their third album and is rather stripped down from its predecessor, Home Is Where Your Heartlands. The songs are, in the main, short and this time Navaro haven’t printed the lyrics but that isn’t really a problem – the vocals are crisp and clear.

The trio have three distinct voices and styles. The opener, Pete White’s ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’, is up-beat and poppy and laden with harmonies and if it was aimed at radio play, it’s a cracker. His second song in the set, ‘If Only’, is in the same vein as is ‘One Day At A Time’ but I can’t help thinking that there isn’t an established place for bands like Navaro. Fifty years ago they would have given Peter, Paul and Mary a run for their money but they don’t have the resources of a big record company behind them.

So Long Wichita is a fine album that whips by in a flash and that may be its weakness although in these days where digital music prevails and you can select a single track to buy it may be a strength. OK, enough philosophy. The second track is Steve’s romantic ‘In Midnight Sky’ decorated by James McNair’s lead guitar. Steve has a smooth voice that suits this style of material but he allows Beth Navaro to take the lead on the more up-tempo ‘Poetry In Motion’. The title track is inspired by a “close encounter” with Jimmy Webb but whether this was walk-by or something more meaningful we aren’t told. In keeping with its inspiration it quotes from Joni Mitchell, which always worries me, but I guess that it’s only us oldies who would still recognise the sources.

Mark Stevens adds drums to seven of the ten tracks and PJ Wright plays a grumbling rocky lead guitar part on ‘One Day At A Time’ but otherwise it’s down to the multi-instrumental talents of White and Austin.  It’s great to welcome Navaro back again.

Dai Jeffries

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Artists’ website: www.navaromusic.co.uk

‘Slipping Through My Fingers’:

DOUGIE MACKENZIE WITH BRIAN MILLER – Along The Way   (Greentrax CDTRAX403)

Along The WayDougie Mackenzie began his musical life singing Gaelic songs but later turned his attention to the Scots ballad tradition. The result is Along The Way, a collection of mostly traditional songs sensitively produced by Ian McCalman. Dougie comes from a tradition of unaccompanied singing – some would say that’s the only way to sing these songs – but some need a little more which is where the guitar and cittern of Brian Miller come in.

Most of these songs are well-known. That said, I don’t believe that I’d heard the opener, ‘The Bonny Wee Lassie’s Answer’ before and, without buying The Greig-Duncan Collection or at least the first volume, I’m unlikely to discover much more about it. It’s the record’s big production number with two instruments and a chorus and it seems to be about a man enlisting in the army but the significance of her answer evades me. One “new” traditional song on an album is a fair return, however. The other unfamiliar title is ‘Here’s A Health To All True Lovers’ which is a variant of a familiar night-visiting song.

The first of the two contemporary songs is Dave Goulder’s ‘The January Man’ and so widespread has it become I confidently expect to see it credited as traditional very soon. The other modern song is Mike Waterson’s ‘Jack Frost’ in which he invokes Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow as he contemplates the frost patterns on his window.

As for the rest – take your pick of your favourites. The set ends with Sean Cannon’s version of ‘The Wild Rover’ (no table banging) and Sheila Stewart’s ‘The Parting Glass’. I‘ve always liked ‘Mill O’ Tifty’s Annie’ and Brian’s arrangement of ‘The Bonny Light Horseman’ doesn’t let the song drag as it sometimes can. Finally, I will draw attention to ‘Erin Go Bragh’, a song which seems to be taking on a new and different resonance in these troubled times.

Sometimes simple and direct traditional songs are just what you need and this set will do nicely.

Dai Jeffries

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Artist’s website: www.facebook.com/dougiemackenziemusic

‘Ned O’ The Hill’ – live:

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:

DUIR – Sodden Dogs & Blind, Winged Horses (Songs Of The Oak DUIR-CD-003)

Sodden Dogs And Blind, Winged HorsesSometimes an album comes from so far out that it’s difficult to know where to start. Sodden Dogs & Blind, Winged Horses is one such – a beast of a double CD – that one might compare with Comus or Principal Edward’s for its scope and imagination. Duir is as much a collective as a band. At its heart are Terry Welbourn, Simon Brighton and Stephen Coalwood who rejoice in the nicknames of TEKH, TEMPLAR and COMPUTER respectively – there are reasons for them but they are beyond the scope of this review. All three have a long history in music and Terry and Simon are both authors.

The music on Sodden Dogs & Blind, Winged Horses derives from the stories and folklore of rural Lincolnshire in which past and present are inextricably mixed but more so, perhaps, from the landscape of the county. Many places and landmarks are woven into the story.  Duir describe themselves as folk-rock but that doesn’t do them justice. Let me try to give you a flavour of the album.

The first disc opens with a gentle acoustic guitar introduction, ‘Larking Around At The Bowthorpe Oak’, which leads into the prog-rock of ‘Hills Of Slain’, telling the story of a civil war battle. Next is another short instrumental, ‘The Cocked Hat Plantation’, and now the story really starts. ‘Loki Had Been Drinking’ is a spoken word piece over a complex arrangement explaining how Loki, Norse god of mischief, traveled to Lincolnshire, got drunk and caused havoc. His story crops up now and again throughout the record and, if Duir are to be believed, he is still making mischief.

Then we move on to traditional customs with ‘Ran-Tan-Tan’ a raucous interpretation of rough music featuring stentorian vari-sped vocals by Stephen and in a rather lighter vein we have ‘A Dry Doddington Pig Song’. The second disc includes a reference to the Whittlesey Straw Bear in ‘Fen’, essentially a solo by Edgar Broughton, no less, with a very odd accent and ‘I Dream Of Shony’, thoughts on an ancient beer pouring ceremony. There is a tune inspired by the Sterigot radar station and a song about the alchemist John Dee who was once rector of Leadenham church. The final song, ‘The Drift’, concerns Victor Hugo who supposedly visited the county when in exile.

Sodden Dogs & Blind, Winged Horses is definitely off the wall. It’s more prog than folk with reality and fiction mixed up almost randomly and it’s big, powerful and great entertainment. What a find!

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: www.duir1.bandcamp.com

Go to the website to hear excerpts from the album.