Mischief 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.
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An outway songster was one who sang traditional song and popular hits of the time but “actually invented new ones themselves” according to Lucy Broadwood and Fuller Maitland. Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne doesn’t go as far as covering Lady Gaga and it is difficult to point the finger at the song he invented – although ‘Thomas Holt’ probably comes closest – but he admits to taking several liberties with the songs and tunes included here. Outway Songster is as fine an example of the folk process in action as you could wish to find and it’s a damn good album.
The set opens with ‘Ripon Sword Dance Song’, traditionally a Christmas calling-on song from which Cohen has removed the seasonal references and added some extra verses. This is what he does several times on the record, making some songs traditionalish, I suppose, but none the worse for that. Second is ‘Andrew Rose’, a real X-rated song. Cohen is faithful to the printed texts which relish the tortures inflicted on the poor sailor but not actually why it was thought that he merited such treatment. I shudder listening to Cohen’s version.
Many of the songs are variants of well-known ballads. ‘Thomas Holt’ has a tune that is mostly ‘The Devil And The Feathery Wife’ and takes that story and twists it into something new even though it can be traced back to the 17th century. ‘Babylon’ is a Scottish version of the outlandish knight story and ‘Tom The Barber’ is ‘Will O’Winsbury’ in different clothes. There are three instrumental sets and one song I’ve never heard before, ‘Fireman’s Growl’, which was recorded by Tony Rose on Steam Ballads, a long-lost album from 1977. Karl Dallas takes the credit for collecting up the verses and setting them to a very familiar tune.
Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne may have come to your attention as a member of Granny’s Attic, a fine trio, but this is his first solo album – completely solo with melodeon and concertina, with no studio tricks. His voice belies his youthful looks in its drive and confidence and the album is a perfect example of the producer’s skill and Doug Bailey has excelled himself. It sounds as if he just set up the microphones and pressed Record but it probably wasn’t as simple as that.
I’ll say it again: this is a superb record and I hope that we’ll hear much more of Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne.
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Rattle On The Stovepipe are Dave Arthur, Pete Cooper and Dan Stewart who play American old-timey music with the classic guitar, fiddle and banjo set-up, added harmonica and mandolin and a couple of excursions on melodeon. Poor Ellen Smith is their sixth album for Doug Bailey’s label.
Most of the material here is traditional, or as traditional as it can be having knocked around America for anything up to a century and a half and the band squeeze seventeen tracks into the set. Only one, ‘Bonaparte’s Retreat’ can be counted as a vignette so Rattle On The Stovepipe combine the pace of square dance tunes with a laid-back feel particularly in the songs. The set opens with ‘Dead-Heads And Suckers’, somewhat adapted to make sense of the text and put it the context of the early twentieth century. It’s still traditional, though, that’s just the folk process.
The title track is a classic murder ballad from Winston-Salem – a sort of American equivalent of Midsomer where Omie Wise also came to a bad end. ‘Stackolee’ came from further north in St.Louis, committing his crime on a particularly blood-soaked Christmas Day. More modern, and certainly less violent, is Bob McDill’s ‘Rodeo Man’, a pure country song with a touch of melodeon to remind us that we’re close to the Mexican border. I think I’d like to have heard Dave Arthur’s melodeon fills higher up in the mix but it’s a fine line with such a romantic song.
Arthur wrote two songs here. The first is ‘Southern Soldier’ which sounds very English and that’s the point being made. At the time of the American Civil War the country was full of immigrants, few of whom were ideologues but were fighting for their own patch of ground. The second is ‘Blood Red Roses’, not the familiar shanty but inspired by Bert Lloyd’s version from Moby Dick.
The top instrumentals include the well-known ‘Waiting For The Federals’, the twin fiddle attack of ‘Walk Along John To Kansas’ and the bouncy ‘Little Billy Wilson’. The harmonica player front and centre of the cover picture, by the way, is the celebrated painter Jackson Pollock, pupil and band-mate of the artist, Thomas Hart Benton.
I know it isn’t done to review an event like this and I have no intention of doing so. But I do feel that a concert that meant so much to so many people should be reported.
Sarah Morgan died, suddenly but not unexpectedly, on 14th September 2013. In her last days she laboured to complete her doctoral thesis under the watchful eyes of her friends and her doctorate was awarded posthumously. That was the sort of her person she was. It transpires that the idea for a memorial event was discussed before she died and Sarah even made a list of the people she wanted to appear. It was thought by some – those who had given up singing seriously several years ago – that this was Sarah’s last little joke but not one person refused the invitation to appear. It fell to Sarah’s final musical partners, Moira Craig and Carolyn Robson to make the idea a reality on April 13th at Winchester Guildhall.
The Community Choir movement, with which Sarah was so heavily involved in recent years was represented by five groups: choirs from Winchester, Alton and Petersfield, The Spotlight Singers and The Andover Museum Loft Singers. I believe Sarah founded three of these and their repertoires included songs that Sarah arranged, published and sometimes wrote tunes for.
Friends old and new filled the bill. From the past we heard Val Higson, a member of Curate’s Egg alongside Sarah way back in the 1970s and Sheila March, formerly of Bread And Roses, Sarah’s first all-female group. Representing the younger generation was Susannah Starling who proved what a remarkable accompanying instrument the double bass can be. From America came Mary Eagle who first came here thirty years ago and captured everyone’s heart and her friend and fellow Appalachian singer Joe Penland. Sarah’s musical connections covered a lot of ground.
Major names who travelled across the country for their ten or fifteen minutes on stage included Lester Simpson, John Kirkpatrick, The Askew Sisters, Ron Taylor, Jeff Gillett, Eddie Upton and Grace Notes. Mary Humphreys & Anahata, Mick Ryan, Tom & Barbara Brown and Doug Bailey didn’t have quite so far to travel and neither did Belshazzar’s Feast who closed their set and the concert proper with ‘Home Lads Home’ – words by Cecily Fox Smith and music by Sarah Morgan.
No memorial is over without a big finish and ‘Only Remembered’, also sung at Sarah’s funeral, had become a sort of theme. “Only remembered, only remembered, only remembered for what we have done.” Sarah did so much.