THE MANIACS – The Maniacs (own label)

The ManiacsIf there is a band more miss-named than The Maniacs then I’ve yet to discover them, although those who know him will testify that Paul Hutchinson can be quite eccentric. Paul has spent many years working with old tunes from all over the country and this album may be the culmination of his sterling efforts. The ten pieces here come from three 18th century tune books which have been newly published as 60 Country Dance Tunes For The Year 1786 – 1800. To avoid further confusion; one volume is from 1786 and two are from 1800.

Paul, as you must know, plays accordion and he’s joined here by Seona Pritchard on violin and viola, cellist Gill Redmond and Paul’s partner in the Pagoda Project, Karen Wimhurst, on clarinets. The music was recorded live in an old Dorset church and would make a fine accompaniment to reading some Thomas Hardy.

Paul says that this album is dance music to listen to because it isn’t simply two As and two Bs four times through. So the opening track, ‘Admiral Mitchel’s Reel’, begins with slow and stately accordion and clarinet until, about half-way through, it bursts into a more familiar danceable rhythm. ‘Hopeless Love’, is set up in the same way, this time opening with cello before bursting out at about the ninety second mark. Your favourite track might depend on what sets your toes tapping; for me it’s ‘Jackson’s Dream/Jackson’s Nightmare’.

The arrangements employ a great deal of improvisation but it’s not clear how much was worked out in advance. I have to say, though, that you can’t make an arrangement like ‘Roodulum’ up as you go along. As to the band’s name, it actually comes from a tune, ‘The Maniac’, which is paired here with ‘The Loon’.  It could have been worse, I suppose.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: www.paulhutchinsonmusic.co.uk

No video from The Maniacs available yet but here’s Paul and Sheona with ‘Jul’:

JOHNNY CAMPBELL – From Hull And Halifax And Hell (Subversive Folk Records SF002)

From Hull And Halifax And HellJohnny Campbell is a singer/songwriter/guitarist from Manchester who has not forgotten the sixties although I suspect that he’s too young to have actually been there. That doesn’t matter: the spirit of the folk clubs in their heyday runs in his veins. The set, complete with all his introductions, was recorded in a bar in Nôlsoy in the Faroe Islands. It sounds as though the audience is small – the total population of the islands is only 50,000 or thereabouts – but they enjoy a joke and From Hull And Halifax And Hell is indeed live in the Faroe Islands.

The fourteen track set is a mixture of original songs, covers and traditional material – just like sets used to be. The first three songs are Johnny’s and sound traditional. He borrows the ‘Tramps And Hawkers’ tune for ‘Complaint’ – another long-standing tradition – and, but for one line, he could claim that he’d dug up ‘Johnny McGhee’ in a dusty library stack with no-one to gainsay him.

Now he starts to mix things up. The first cover is from protest singer Cosmo. ‘Climate Change Is Coming’ isn’t really suitable for sensitive dispositions but it makes its point forcefully. He follows that with ‘The Derby Ram’ and then Arlo Guthrie’s ‘Victor Jara’ and that made me stop to think. It seems to be a rather incongruous juxtaposition but…where do you place a song like ‘Victor Jara’ in a set? It is at once tender and brutal; a contradiction within itself so slotting it in after a joke is probably quite reasonable.

Johnny does a fine version of ‘Arthur McBride’, followed by the song that gives the album its title. ‘Hook, Line & Sinker’ is his anti-Brexit song complete with a “subtle” Bob Dylan reference and ‘Dark Streets Of Nôlsoy’ is the Pogues song in disguise. He finally closes with ‘Moving On Song’, as angry and bitter as it has ever been. Somehow it feels like a premonition.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: https://johnnycampbell.co.uk/

‘Complaint’ – live:

JOHN MOSEDALE – We’re Not Packing Parachutes (own label)

We're Not Packing ParachutesEarlier this year we reviewed Twenty Seven, the debut EP by Hereford singer-songwriter John Mosedale. Now he returns with his first full-length album, We’re Not Packing Parachutes. This is an entirely solo project although there are one or two uncredited extras which may come from library tapes – I’m damn sure they didn’t get a Spitfire into the studio. Three of the ten tracks are written by fellow solo singer Rob Carey and one, the best track on the album, is a co-write.

The title track which opens the record is a metaphor that I’m still trying to work out. I think it may be about mental health and feelings of the need to escape sometimes. It’s followed, neatly, by the first of Rob’s songs, ‘Not Every Parachute Was Made For War’. This is an exercise in nostalgia beginning in the apple orchards of Kent and soldier setting off for WWII. The narrative isn’t explicit about whether the soldier returned but the inclusion of the opening bars of ‘The Last Post’ suggests otherwise.

One of John’s specialities is the humorous song of the type popular in folk clubs back in the 60s. That was then and this is now and you can’t get near the knuckle anymore. ‘Always Putting My Foot In It’ may be a clever idea that works well in a live setting but shouldn’t be allowed inside a recording studio and Carey’s ‘Plastered In Paris’ seems lyrically illogical. ‘My Dog Has 3 Balls’, which appeared on the EP, is a tribute to John’s Labrador and not a triple entendre although still full of gags while ‘Doc Brown’s Car’ suggests humour but is full of nostalgia for the 50s. I’m sure that you can work out what make it is.

John isn’t the first singer to turn to music full-time after escaping the nine-to-five and ‘Old Man In The Mirror’ is a wry meditation on the aging process. Finally, we have ‘Remember Me’, the best song in the set. It begins oddly with the singer enumerating pi (but only to five decimal places) but develops into a contemplation of Alzheimer’s from the point of view of a carer. It deserves to reach the widest possible audience.

John has enjoyed a successful first year on the circuit and We’re Not Packing Parachutes certainly won’t do him any harm.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.johnmosedale.com

‘My Dog Has 3 Balls’:

GWEN MÀIRI – Mentro (Erwyd ER004)

MentroGwen Màiri is of Scottish/Welsh ancestry and, if you wish, you may explore the mysteries of Yr Hen Odledd for yourselves. Gwen is a tutor and author, singer and harpist and has performed with major orchestras as well as musicians in the Welsh tradition. Mentro is her first solo album, although solo is a relative term these days, and she is supported by our new favourite Welshman, Gwilym Bowen Rhys, on guitar, mandolin, fiddle and shruti and the dark tones of Jordan Price Willams’ cello.

Here we have traditional tunes and words, some original compositions and some poetry including a Welsh translation of ‘Rose Of Sharon’. Gwen opens with the traditional tune, ‘Yr Wylan Gefnddu’ followed by the first of the poems; ‘Tawelwch’ – quietness – written by Gwen’s mother, E Mary Jones. Gwen has written music for this and added the traditional ‘Si Hei Lwli’ to complete a beautiful piece. Next is ‘Rheged’, a tune which is so quintessentially Welsh you could tell that blindfolded. I’m still trying to decide why it is so but it is.

I’m guessing that the three pieces that make up ‘Y Dydd Drwy’r Ffenest’ are dance tunes – they sound good for dancing but the sleeve notes are not exhaustive. I’m amused that the title of the last of the three, ‘Llancesau Trefaldwyn’, is actually longer in English. ‘Rhosyn Saron’ is gorgeous, ‘Teifi’ anchors the music firmly in Wales and uses some notes that most harpers don’t get to. The third song is ‘Hwyr’, which has a hymn-like quality and after ‘Y Feillionen’ comes the fourth, ‘Y Deryn Pur’, a traditional lyric. Finally, Gwen takes a real solo with ‘Cyn Gwawr’.

I’ve said before that Welsh is a beautiful language for singing, even if I don’t have the knowing of it, and it is also a beautiful language for playing. Mentro is your proof.

Dai Jeffries

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

‘Rhosyn Saron’ – official video:

KIM THOMPSETT – The Hollows (Meniscus Hump)

The HollowsIn case you’re wondering that’s Newgrange on the cover and I had a clever paragraph linking Kim Thompsett’s Irish heritage with her music. Then I discovered that she’s from Bexhill-on-Sea. The Hollows is her second album and her first for ten years.

Kim Thompsett’s music has been described as “fairy folk” and is definitely inspired by nature but is rather more powerful than that description might suggest. The Hollows is the sound of the sixties and you’ll hear echoes of every semii-acoustic band from the era that you can remember. Kim is a multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter, adding flute, recorders and harp to her guitars. Lee Igglesden plays guitars, bass and drums but the key player is producer Harvey Summers who provides sampled instruments, synths and effects. The samples are excellent and if you didn’t have the cover in front of you you might ask who played the sitar on the wonderful ‘Strange Garden’.

Marie Milliflore provides the French vocals on the delicate ‘Brocéliande’ a song decorated by Igglesden’s hammered dulcimer and Thompsett’s harp. That’s followed by the folk-rock of ‘Hollow Hill’ with twin electric guitars (Thompsett and Igglesden), Summers switching to bass and a guitar solo from David Kent to top it off. Then we’re back to acoustic guitar and flute for ‘Hollow Tree’.

Finally, there’s the pretty ‘Say It With Flowers’ which surprisingly takes off into a dance tune with crumhorns before ending with birdsong. You may be thinking that The Hollows is terribly fey but it really isn’t. The lyrics have mystical overtones but the playing is strong and full of variety. Let yourself go back fifty years and find your lost youth here.

Dai Jeffries

Please support us and order via our UK or US Storefront 


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Artist’s website: https://www.facebook.com/KimThompsett/

‘Child Of The Breeze’ – official video:

FRANK BIRTWISTLE – Volumes 1-4 (own label)

Frank Birtwistle Volume 1Frank Birtwistle is a guitarist and composer based in Sheffield who has released a set of four EPs of solo pieces – twenty-eight tracks in all. Volume 1 is played on nylon strings although the opening track ‘Flight’ sounds rather robust. You can forget Pre-Raphaelite young ladies playing delicate little pastoral pieces. Closer listening reveals the softness of tone that you don’t get with a steel-strung instrument but the recording process gives his playing a real presence. I particularly like the lightness of ‘Dreamlands’ in this set while ‘Grasmere’ evokes for me not the summer sunshine but the mist on the hills surrounding the water.

Volume 2Volume 2 is recorded on steel strings with all the brightness and sustain they bring. The second track, ‘Gossamer’, explores the richness of the bass strings with a relatively simple melody over the top – rather hypnotic. ‘Komorebi’ is a slower and slow-building track, again with emphasis on the bass notes. In contrast, ‘Seasons’ opens with a distinctly spring-like motif – almost the sound of a bubbling stream – while ‘Regret’ has a lightness overlaying its implied melancholy. I particularly like ‘Midsummer Haze’ in this set.

Volume 3The third volume continues on steel strings with Frank making more use of his instrument’s natural sustain – and maybe a touch of reverb – to leave notes hanging in the air on the opening ‘Daybreak’. The final track is ‘Sunset’ and uses the same technique so I‘m sure you get the picture. ‘Songbird’ feels a bit too heavy for the image he’s trying to convey – it’s probably right in his mind if not mine – but ‘Standing Still’ has a suitable solidity about it while ‘Nowhere’ runs hither and yon.

Volume 4The last volume is also restricted to the steel-strung guitar and I sort of wish that Frank had mixed things up a bit. Not that there is anything wrong with it – the opening ‘Riversong’ is a lovely fast-flowing piece (sorry) – but I was hoping for a touch of bottle-neck resonator or maybe something on a baritone guitar. No, Frank Birtwistle sticks to what he does best and that is very good.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: https://frankbirtwistle.bandcamp.com/

‘Dreamlands’: