DARREN BLACK – Wisperau (own label DBCD005)

WisperauDarren Black is not a man to repeat himself. His previous album was inspired by his boyhood in industrial south Wales but Wisperau is a meditation on the seasons in rural Hampshire where he now lives. I suppose that every songwriter feels compelled to do something of the sort at some time – the trick is to be original. Darren goes for originality by writing a suite of four songs coupled with four sets of paired instrumental pieces with titles drawn from the lyrics. This gives him a chance to show off his fiddle playing but to my mind it’s a trifle short, clocking in at just about half an hour. But, come to think of it, that’s what LPs used to be back in the day.

The other good thing about this album is that all the tracks could sit comfortably into any live set. The opener, ‘Pale Winter Blue’, is a painting in words and Darren talks about deer making their silent display – I imagine that to be hoof prints in the snow. But he also remarks that a whiteout is rare these days, something that anyone who has moved to this part of the country from less balmy climes knows far too well.

‘Chalk Streams In Sunbeams’ is about the renewal of life in spring and Darren picks on the reappearance of butterflies – let’s hope that they will not become a rare sight – but also the return of migratory birds, notably seabirds coming back to their summer home on the Solent. ‘Sow It Right’ feels like a love song wrapped up in the metaphor of ploughing and sowing but it’s rather melancholy. I’d hate to think of Darren going through a bad patch but that’s how it feels. Perhaps it’s just poetic licence.

Finally, ‘Queen Of The Forest’ is another painting in words, a description of a great tree shedding its (her) leaves and standing like “a waiting mannequin” and “a sylph-like skeleton”. Somehow, Darren manages to bring a sexual element to the song, or is that just me? The production is simplicity itself: just fingerstyle acoustic guitars and voice with overdubbed violin on the tunes and ‘Queen Of The Forest’ and it’s all rather lovely.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.darrenblack.net

‘Chalk Streams In Sunbeams’:

Hampshire singer/songwriter Darren Black announces his new solo album

Darren Black

Wisperau is the new album from Darren Black. Consisting of vocals, acoustic guitar and fiddle, and recorded over Spring/Summer of 2017, it is an album about the Seasons. Darren says of it:

Wisperau is my journey through Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn, with a nod to the Hampshire countryside in which I live. A song and a pair of fiddle tunes for each season – timely in their arrival but each dealing an increasingly unpredictable hand. I can remember weeks of snow in the Winter, months of parched lawn in the Summer. Odds were still on for a white Christmas. Mixed grassland with livestock grazing on pasture, hedgerows and hedgehogs. But, everything changes over time and this isn’t a misty-eyed reflection on what has been, more an appreciation of what still is. I love the transition, the colours and the contrast, the native and migrating birds. Each season has its own distinct charm and beauty, and that is what inspired me to write and record this album.”

Contemporary, yet rooted in the acoustic folk tradition, Darren’s music has a unique sound which captured the attention of the British Library where it is now stored for preservation in the National Sound Archive. His first album Silent Poetry was recorded in 2007 at legendary fiddle player Dave Swarbrick’s home studio and gained rave reviews. His 2008 follow-up Thinkers & Fools went a step further, featuring a smorgasbord of guest musicians including Joe Broughton, Kevin Dempsey and Dave Swarbrick. 2014’s Rise Above The Mumblings was recorded with Kevin Dempsey at the controls and on guest guitar. Lord Abergavenny’s Hills was released in 2015. Also featuring Lennie Harvey on slide guitar it is based around stories and tales from the South Wales mining industry where Darren was born and where his grandfather worked for nearly a quarter of a century.

Aside from his solo work, he was in Black Peak which he formed with ex-Bluehorses fiddle player Deborah Peake. Their album In Times Back When was released in 2011, having previously been runners-up for Best Debut in the Spiral Earth Awards. He has also guested on other recordings including Naomi Bedford’s album Tales From The Weeping Willow, which also features Paul Heaton, Alasdair Roberts, Justin Currie and Paul Simmonds.

Darren is also part of the In A South Downs Way cast. This is a performance of dialogue, poetry and music – singing alongside actors Hugh Bonneville, Christopher Timothy and Juliet Howland. It is a show based around composer Damian Montagu’s album of the same name, also featuring ex Paul Weller sideman Stewart Prosser and the Tippett Quartet. It premiered two sell-out shows at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester in late 2016.

Wisperau will be released with an intimate show at the Hyde Tavern, Winchester on Friday 6th October 2017. See Darren’s website for details and tickets.

Until then, here is an oldie from the folking archive:

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

DARREN BLACK – Lord Abergavenny’s Hills (own label DBCD004)

LAHDarren Black is well-known in these parts: a musician who has paid more than enough dues to merit some real recognition. I’ve heard him in small cellar bars and on the big stage, supporting Buffy Sainte Marie. This could be the album to do it for him.

Lord Abergavenny’s Hills is an area of land around Blaenavon and the album tells the story of the rise and fall of the mining industry in the area with big stories and small tales. The opening track, ‘Intro: Before The Revolution’, is a pastoral piece representing the land before the miners came. It’s very simple with Darren multi-tracking his acoustic guitars and sets the style of the album. Later, Darren plays also fiddle and percussion and Lennie Harvey adds resonator and Weisenborn to two tracks.

‘The Head Man’ is one of the small tales, the story of the Blaenavon Ironworks from 1794 and something of a rarity – a benevolent ironmaster. Darren immediately changes the scale with ‘Pig Iron’ telling of the first industrialisation which began in 1789 and changed the face of that part of south Wales for two centuries. ‘Tell It To The Cow’ is another amusing small tales and ‘The Enemy Within’ is …well, you don’t need me to explain it.

The contrast between Darren’s clean, stripped back style and the history of heavy industry is quite stark and gives the album a little edge. One track I have reservations about is ‘Hats Off To The Rest’. Admittedly there is an element of slapstick comedy about some of the ways in which death came but, although Darren notes that he didn’t want the song to be morbid, I find the light-heartedness rather jarring. That said, Lord Abergavenny’s Hills is an excellent album.

Dai Jeffries

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

DARREN BLACK – Rise Above The Mumblings (own label DBCD003)

DBRATMRise Above The Mumblings is singer/songwriter Darren Black’s third solo album and his first for six years having worked for the last few years with Deborah Peake as Black Peak. I’ve heard him a few times and enjoyed what he’s done in what felt like his usual role as a go-to support act in these parts. That’s grossly unfair, of course, but his profile has never been terribly high.

Darren plays finger style guitar and fiddle and has pared back his sound on this album to the very basics. He plucks a little violin and producer Kevin Dempsey adds some lead guitar on four of the ten tracks but otherwise it’s just voice and guitar. Dempsey’s contributions are restrained and immaculate but you’d expect that, of course. The songs are deceptively simple and easily accessible but sometimes you have to drill down for his meaning – or perhaps that should be your meaning; the meaning you take from his poetry.

The opener, ‘Leave No Trail’, is about going your own way even though you know that you’ll be on your own and that fame and riches will not be yours. ‘My Snowman’s Melting’ is a song of longing for a returning spring but with hints of dystopia – why must you avoid the dogs, Darren? Guard dogs, a pack of feral hounds or just an unfriendly game-keeper? ‘Time Swallows Time’ and ‘Brevity Levels’ are comments on contrasting lifestyles but neither is exactly straightforward. And so it goes.

I wish Darren – and this album – well. His dues have been well and truly paid and he deserves his time in the sun.

Dai Jeffries

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

Rise Above The Mumblings is officially launched at The Railway, Winchester on Saturday 1st February.

JIM MORAY – folking live concert review…

JIM MORAY, Black Peak: 
Folking Live at Wilde Theatre, South Hill Park, Bracknell – October 24th 2012.

Reviewed by Colin Bailey.

It was the first time a Folking Live event had taken place in the august surroundings of the Wilde Theatre at South Hill Park, and expectations were high. We even applauded promoter Phil Daniels as he came on stage to introduce the evening. For this auspicious occasion the support act were the planned Cellar Bar headliners for January 2013, Black Peak. Darren Black and Deborah Peake, masterfully accompanied by Chris Gatland on bass and percussion, played a fair number of the tracks from their first full-length CD In Times Back When, and were well received. Darren’s delicately modulated vocals and accomplished guitar work along with Deborah’s strong yet restrained fiddle playing perfectly suited their pastorally tinged songs of social conscience.

Jim Moray is a walking folk encyclopedia and gave us fulsome background information to each carefully chosen song he played. After opening with the plaintive “night visiting song” ‘Three Black Feathers’, he moved into the only “happy ever after song” he claimed to know, ‘Jenny Of The Moor’. ‘Hind Etin’ from this year’s acclaimed Skulk was the first Child Ballad of the night, and ‘The Captain’s Apprentice’ from the same album took us even further along the path of morose though brilliantly executed songs. While he remained at the piano, the mood was somewhat lifted through a shift from older trad material to the lyrically more contemporary ‘Poverty Knock’. A slightly up-tempo rendition of his Skulk version of ‘Horkstow Grange’ was delivered complete with synthesised 4 part harmony (à la Percy Grainger wax cylinder recording).

Introduced as a happy song from his home county of Staffordshire, ‘The Golden Glove’ was performed on bouzar (or was it a gazouki?) One curiosity was an early song of his own, ‘Adam Ant Alone In His Padded Cell’, played as a country song as he thought that’s how Adam would like it! Given the sad news that Dundonian singer-songwriter Michael Marra had died the day previously, we listened with mixed emotions to Marra’s noted anti-war song ‘Happed In Mist’. Showcasing his voice to excellent effect, the high spot of the evening was ‘If It’s True’ from Anaïs Mitchell’s Hadestown folk opera (in which Jim had played the part of Orpheus). ‘Lord Douglas’ was another vocal highlight, featuring lovely accompaniment. As we moved towards the end, Jim engaged the crowd to join in with the chorus of Bruce Molsky’s ‘Peg And Awl’. The last song of the set, sung for his hero Nic Jones, was ‘Billy Don’t You Weep For Me’ and was a tour-de-force. We ended the evening altogether on a light note with the song he’d written for his sister, Jackie Oates, ‘Wishfulness Waltz’. Not only a leading innovator in today’s folk world, this was an accomplished performer, still scaling the peaks. The evening was a fine showcase for the potential of high-quality events of this genre on the Wilde Theatre stage.

“One of the great album releases of 2012!” folking.com

Artist Web link: http://jimmoray.co.uk/