THE KIMBERLEYS – The Kimberleys (Popla OB7)

The KimberleysIt can be difficult to take a well-known traditional song and attempt to do something new with it. Those of us with long memories will recall that once upon a time you could be run out of town just for thinking about it. The Kimberleys do it seven times over – I’m counting ‘The Whitsun Dance’ as quasi-traditional here – and make a fine fist of it. Although veterans in the business, this is actually their debut album, and if I tell you that they have toured with the reformed Comus you may get the idea that they are not entirely mainstream.

They open the album with ‘Elsie Marley’ and I found it odd that Isobel Kimberley was singing “honey” when I was expecting “hinny”. I checked and Northumbrian Minstrelsy has “honey” so what do I know? The Kimberleys also sing seven of the eight verses, with a few amendments and the song is typical of their style. Isobel imposes her own meter on the tune over Jim Kimberley’s rolling guitar part with each line separated by four instrumental bars and meanwhile the chorus gets bigger and bigger. The verse they alter most is the one co-opted by ‘Byker Hill’.

‘Sally Gardens’ is sung by Jim over a shruti drone decorated by Isobel’s harp while ‘The Doffin Mistress/Broom Bezzums’ is only one step away from folk-rock. They use a lot of musical effects and found sounds, particularly on this track. ‘The Smart Schoolboy’ is a variant of ‘The False Knight On The Road’ as collected, I think, by John Jacob Niles and ‘Pleasant And Delightful’ and ‘Tam Lin’ are taken relatively straight over a rolling guitar building up to a big finish. I’m less taken with ‘The Whitsun Dance’. Isobel’s vocals are excellent, as they are throughout the album, and the harp and autoharp decorations add a sparkle but I find Jim’s guitar rather ponderous, which is odd because he’s capable of much more imaginative accompaniments than this. With that caveat, this is an intriguing debut.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: www.thekimberleys.org

‘Tam Lin’ – official video:

JAMIE MACDONALD & CHRISTIAN GAMAUF – The Pipe Slang (own label JMCG01)

PIpe SlangJamie and Christian met on the Isle Of Uist and, having participated in a cultural exchange in Asturias and paid their dues at small gigs, eventually making it to Celtic Connections, they started work on their debut album, The Pipe Slang. The title tune is an old reel but be careful if you Google it – you’ll learn more than you needed to know. Jamie plays fiddle and Christian performs on a variety of pipes. They keep it very simple, with just a guitar or piano continuo added to most tracks with Jack McRobbie (guitar) and Adam Young (piano) sharing arranging credits.

Much of the material is traditional in spirit, but in Scotland the tradition is an on-going process so here you’ll find tunes by James Scott Skinner and Pipe Major Donald Macleod – both legends in Scottish music. Although they keep coming back to the Hebrides, Jamie and Christian spread their net wide with tunes from Asturias and several by the late Jerry Holland, who is clearly a favourite – Adam is also from Cape Breton.

The exceptions to the pattern are the well-known waulking song ‘Mo Nighean Donn à Cornaig’ and ‘Iorram Nan Itheach’, a rowing song from Tiree with a melody by Donald Shaw. These are sung by Jamie’s sister Anna Rachel who also plays clarsach and add a contrast to what is an album dominated by pipes. ‘The Step Dancer Reels’ are augmented by the feet of Sophie Stephenson, another unexpected variation. I’m convinced that several tunes were chosen just for their titles: ‘The Highlandman Kissed His Mother’ and ‘The Boy’s Lament For His Dragon’, for example, not forgetting Scott Skinner’s ‘So I‘m Off With The Good St. Nicholas Boat’. But what do I know?

There is some fine playing here and I found that The Pipe Slang benefits from speakers with a good bass response to bring out the undercurrents.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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Artists’ website: www.pipeslang.com

‘Asturian’ – official video:

HECTOR GILCHRIST – Gleanings (WildGoose WGS426CD)

GleaningsHector Gilchrist, as you will quickly discover, comes from Ayrshire but is much travelled. To misuse a common phrase, however: you can take the man out of Scotland but you can’t take Scotland out of the man. There is someone like Hector in just about every folk club: always welcome, able to produce a set at a moment’s notice. They may not be stars but some can elevate themselves above their apparently humble status. Gleanings is a collection of traditional and contemporary songs that might seem typical except for Hector’s skill in finding a previously unconsidered piece.

He begins with the lovely ‘Baltic Street’. It’s a tale of love and self-sacrifice with words by Violet Jacob and a melody by Carole Prior and I guess it’s unique to Hector. It slips easily into ‘How Many Rivers’, Robert Burns’ ‘A Rosebud By My Early Walk’ and Steve Knightly’s ‘Exile’. By now, the album is feeling rather downbeat and I’m hoping for something rather more lively. Although a guitarist himself, Hector only plays on one track, ‘Sir Patrick Spens’, and leaves most of the work to Bob Wood. Also supporting him are Carol Anderson on fiddle and the myriad talents of Vicki Swan and Jonny Dyer. Moira Craig takes the second vocal lines – I’m not going to belittle her contribution by referring to “backing vocals”. You’ll note that all of them are regular visitors to WildGoose studios.

The liveliness begins with ‘A Waukrife Minnie’ – a night visiting song of the sexual encounter not the supernatural sort – with Carol throwing in a fiddle tune at the end. ‘My Ain Countrie’ is a wistful song of exile and then comes the first of those unconsidered pieces. ‘The Stag’ was written by Angelo Brandaurdie, an Italian composer, songwriter and Renaissance music specialist. It’s an oddly philosophical piece in which the titular beast urges the writer, a hunter, to use every part of his body instead of just taking a trophy. Whether the hunter actually kills the animal is not recorded. After ‘Sir Patrick Spens’ things cheer up again with ‘The Gallowa’ Hills’ and then comes the second unexpected gem. Janis Ian’s ‘When Angel Cry’ is a real downer, written at the height of the AIDS crisis. Vicki and Jonny provide the accompaniment with all the delicacy you’d expect.

Gleanings is an album reminiscent of a time when singers didn’t overthink things. It’s a collection of songs that Hector likes and enjoys performing which is where we all came in. That’s not a veiled criticism; I’d not heard ten of these sixteen songs before proving that there is always something new to discover.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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.

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

‘Baltic Street’:

HÒ-RÒ – Hex (own label)

HexSince their eponymous debut album two years ago, Hò-Rò have expanded to a six-piece with Paul Martin and DC Macmillan joining Calum MacPhail, Lucy Doogan, Sean Cousins and Crisdean MacDonald. Thus we have the cunningly titled Hex. The band talk about the melding of six musical styles but really it’s about two factions: pipes, accordion, fiddle and whistles on the one side with guitar, keyboards and drums on the other.

On the instrumentals Hò-Rò manage to be tight and wild at one and the same time. The short opener, ‘Hex’, could be a dance tune in one of these new-fangled urban styles if it continued for longer but it segues into ‘Muc’ which is more like a traditional tune set but I know no more. The first song is ‘Walk The Road’ sung by Lucy. It sounds traditional the way Hò-Rò handle it but it’s actually by Kate Rusby. You begin to realise that this album isn’t as conventional as you might have thought. ‘The Pup’ is another big tune set followed by Damien O’Kane’s ‘Raven’s Wing’, a powerful song about alcoholism.

Then comes ‘Nuggets’, possibly the star of the show. It begins, for a few bars at least, like a disco track until Calum piles in with finger-breaking accordion. Then the rhythm changes as Lucy’s fiddle comes in followed a magnificent, but far too short, guitar interjection from Sean. ‘Big Dog Collections’ begins with a field recording into another whirlwind instrumental set – I think I recognise one of the tunes but I’m not sure.

‘Muinntir Mo Ghràidh’ is a gentle song by Sandy Rankin, a distant relative of Lucy’s, sung over a piano-led accompaniment – a contrasting low-key moment and a nice back-story. ‘Mornington’ is another high-energy instrumental follow by the funkiest ‘Puirt-A-Beul’ you could wish to hear. Finally, we have an initially quite restrained take on Findlay Macdonald’s ‘Elliot Finn Macdonald’ which allows everyone to showcase – it feels like a perfect set closer to me.

I feel like I say this an awful lot but here we have another fine young Scottish band who are interpreting traditional music their way.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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://www.musichoro.com/

‘Elliot Finn’ – official video:

FAIRPORT CONVENTION – What We Did On Our Saturday (Matty Grooves MG2CD055)

Our SaturdayIf you’ve ever been to a Cropredy Festival you’ll know exactly what they do on Saturday. They gather together a bunch of former band-mates and old friends and play a mammoth set long into the darkness (subject to health and safety restrictions, of course). These days, Fairport Convention don’t need an excuse to mount a celebration but 2017 marked the band’s fiftieth anniversary and so this was the perfect opportunity to tell the band’s story in music – although not strictly in the right order. Thus we have What We Did On Our Saturday, packaged in an homage to their second album.

The album begins with their first album and (almost) their first line-up. For younger readers that was Ashley Hutchings, Simon Nicol, Richard Thompson, Iain Matthews and Judy Dyble now with Dave Mattacks on drums. They kick off with ‘Time Will Show The Wiser’ and ‘Reno Nevada’ and I was impressed at the way Richard played the sort of guitar lead appropriate to 1967. He couldn’t help himself, of course, and went off on one but I don’t suppose that anyone complained.

Chris While took over on lead vocals for ‘Suzanne’, a slightly less off-the-wall arrangement than the original. Chris does a very good Sandy Denny particularly on the rockier numbers but she’s her own woman and the grace notes and decorations are all her own. Judy and Iain get time off and the others take it in turns so the current line-up doesn’t actually appear until ‘Crazy Man Michael’ when Gerry Conway briefly wrestles the drum stool away from DM. The remainder of the first disc is taken up with selections from Liege & Lief and Full House and they keep ‘Sloth’ to under ten minutes.

The second disc opens with ‘Now Be Thankful’, a song which Chris Leslie is rapidly making his own, even though Richard elbows him off the mic on this occasion. It’s worth noting that Chris doesn’t get a break after the third track until the Fotheringay homage of ‘Ned Kelly’ and ‘Rising For The Moon’ which feature Sally Barker and PJ Wright and introduce Maartin Allcock to the stage. The latter is a feature of the revamped Fotheringay’s set but sadly, of course, Jerry Donahue isn’t available. I have to say, in passing, that Simon does a wonderful job with ‘Fotheringay’. Maart gets to lead ‘A Surfeit Of Lampreys’ and Ralph McTell takes centre stage for ‘White Dress’ but Simon keeps ‘The Hiring Fair’ for himself.

There is only one song that originates with the current line-up and that’s Chris Leslie’s ‘Our Bus Rolls On’ and now we’re on the downhill run. You know how it ends: ‘Matty Groves’ – with both drummers – and ‘Meet On The Ledge’ with everyone back on stage.

As you might imagine, I own a lot of Cropredy recordings and all have their own attractions. For me the 25th anniversary set stands out while the earlier ones: A.T.2 and The Boot have the particular ramshackle charm that we used to associate with Fairport Convention thirty-odd years ago. What We Did On Our Saturday is tight and slick without much in the way of stage chatter – an appropriately serious set to go with such a milestone in Fairport’s history. Exemplary performances as we’ve come to expect, of course, but sometimes I do miss Simon playing rhythm viola!

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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: www.fairportconvention.com

‘Meet On The Ledge’ – what else?

MISCHIEF AFOOT – Mischief Afoot (WildGoose WGS424CD)

Mischief AfootMischief Afoot are a trio of English musicians based in the Cotswolds and I think it’s fair to say that John Davis, Becky Dellow and Jeff Gillett are best known for the musicians they have worked with over the years. Their repertoire is largely traditional or tunes that have a known composer but have travelled far out of their hands – such names as Michael Coleman, Martin Mulhaire and Paddy Fahy. Their sound is all acoustic and delicate, partly because one of the two lead instruments is Davis’ recorder which could be easily lost under Dellow’s violin. Gillett is the soul of restraint as an accompanist although he gets to shine as the trio’s vocalist and, as ever with Doug Bailey’s productions, the elements are perfectly balanced.

That’s not to say that there is no excitement. Mischief Afoot have a penchant for speeding tunes up, sometimes beyond what is entirely reasonable. The first time they do this is with the set ‘Cats Of Camazan/Pressed For Time’ which is a whirlwind of notes and repeat the trick with ‘The Star Of Munster/Pigeon On The Gate’. They slow down ‘Tell Her I Am/Out On The Ocean’ allowing Becky to play some surprising sliding fiddle notes.

‘The Deserter’ is the best known of the songs and, although the story is familiar, Jeff has a version with elements that I haven’t heard before and that’s always a pleasant surprise. ‘Blow The Candles Out’ is a song I haven’t heard for a long time and a tale of love that’s definitely requited unlike that of the protagonists in the lovely ‘Bridget O’Malley’. ‘The Golden Willow Tree’ is an American take on ‘Golden Vanity’ that is becoming more and more popular and ‘Jimmy And Nancy’ is another sailor-coming-home-from-the-sea story, although he doesn’t try to trick her in this one.

If you like your folk music pure and uncluttered, Mischief Afoot is definitely for you. Come to think of it, that’s true of pretty much all of the WildGoose catalogue.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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: http://www.mischiefafoot.co.uk/

Label website: www.wildgoose.co.uk

‘Tell Her I Am/Out On The Ocean’ – live: