ROBBIE SHERRATT – Provenance (own label)

ProvenanceRobbie Sherratt comes from north Staffordshire, as his repertoire readily testifies. In fact, the music of his home region is part of the rationale of this record. He has studied at the Sibelius Academy and is just completing his final year at university. He first encountered folk music in the now closed George Hotel in Buxton, aged nine  – I’m sure there’s a great story there – and Provenance is, unsurprisingly, his debut album.

There are a few more points to clarify. Firstly, Robbie is a classical violin player even though his chosen instrument has five strings so his supporting instruments include oboe, cello and bassoon. His borrowing from Havergal Brian and the final piece, ‘Compliments To Doruk Bilek’, which is more modern classical than anything, confirm his true nature. Secondly, if you’re accustomed to hearing traditional fiddle played in a Scottish or Irish style, you’re going to hear something new.

The opening track, ‘Hole In The Ceiling’ is one of Robbie’s own compositions written in his Newcastle digs on a rainy day. The opening pizzicato section cleverly mimics the rhythm of raindrops collecting in a bowl and the theme he composes recurs later in the piece. Next comes ‘Potters Hay’; two tunes by the late Sean Heeley who was a major influence on Robbie in those early days. Third up is ‘Havergal’, again written by Robbie and incorporating the theme from Havergal Brian’s Gothic Symphony and if you wonder why, Brian came from a working class Potteries family and, like many 20th century composers, borrowed from traditional music. A perfect role model, wouldn’t you say?

There are two songs in the set. Robbie has a decent baritone voice and a delivery that might be described as leisurely but he doesn’t seem very confident in it and mixes himself low with the accompaniment often overwriting the words. That seems a shame and I do think it’s something he should develop but you can’t do everything at once.

Robbie’s own composing skills come to the fore again with a set of variations on ‘The Staffordshire Hornpipe’ and the adaptation of parts of Psalm 119 into a polska and a waltz for ‘Chapel In The Wilderness’, a nod to the west gallery tradition, and I’m left thinking ‘will classical music’s loss be folk music’s gain?’. Or will it be the other way round?

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.robbiesherratt.com

This isn’t on Provenance but who could resist ‘Duelling Banjos’ played on fiddle and trombone?

Hayseed Dixie new album – Hair Down To My Grass

Hayseed DixieHayseed Dixie began in the summer of 2000 in the fertile valley of Deer Lick Holler, deep in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains of East Tennessee USA. In this area which was completely isolated from outside cultural and musical influence, the boys grew up playing the traditional music of their forefathers on banjo, fiddle, mandolin, acoustic guitar and acoustic bass.

All of this changed abruptly one afternoon when a stranger crashed his car into a stately old oak tree on a particularly dangerous curve, which the locals refer to as the “Devil’s Elbow.” Sadly, the stranger expired, but his legacy lives on! As the boys searched through the wreckage looking for identification, they discovered several vinyl AC/DC albums. After playing these back on an old Edison 78rpm Victrola, everyone agreed that the songs were rather fine country music . . . and that the ‘Lost Highway’ of Brother Hank Williams and this ‘Highway To Hell’ of AC/DC were indeed the exact same road!  And the rest is now enshrined in musical history.

Hayseed Dixie are now the acknowledged creators of the musical genre, Rockgrass. They have released 15 albums since 2001, consisting of both original material and reinterpretations of previously rendered songs, selling a combined total of over 500,000 copies. They have also performed over 1,000 live shows in 31 different countries.

Most recently, Hayseed Dixie are exploring the inspired catalogue of the stadium rock of the 1970’s and 1980’s. This interest began during a 2014 Spring tour of Germany, in which the band heard the song ‘Eye of the Tiger’ 6 different times on 6 different German radio stations in a single day while driving between Dortmund and Frankfurt. “As the seed is planted, so the tree shall grow” – this very quote appears on the inner sleeve of the 1980 album Escape by Journey. How true indeed.

Artists’ website: www.hayseed-dixie.com

Classic Hayseed Dixie:

Press Quotes:

“The Hayseed’s berserk hedonism is indeed refreshing! ***** (5 Stars)” – The Guardian

“Hayseed Dixie highlights the worth of mountain music to all things rock: energy, dirt-punk rhythm, careening harmonies and the fundamental right of all no-good fuck-ups to raise hell come Saturday night.” – Uncut

“Superlative musicians with a deep love and understanding of the dynamics of both modern rock and ancient hillbilly music” – The Times

THE DUBLINERS – 50 Years (Irish Music Licensing IMEXCD0150)

THE DUBLINERS 50 YearsThroughout my learning curve on the ‘folk’ scene one of the constants has been Irish band The Dubliners. Now into their 50th year and no name change…take note Mr Gavin…this superb collection is personally better even than The Ultimate Dubliners CD released in 2003 and is proof positive that longevity can indeed be obtained if the will is there. Of course you can’t mention their name without smiling at the very thought of favourite songs and tunes including “Seven Drunken Nights”, “The Irish Rover” (with The Pogues), “The Wild Rover” and the astonishing rapport (long before Eric Weissberg’s “Duelling Banjos” was a twinkle in Hollywood’s eyes) between Barney McKenna and John Sheahan on the staggering “Mason’s Apron”. In his succinct sleeve notes folk-o-phile Colin Irwin manages to name check every past and present member of the band something unfortunately I can’t do here. Finally I’d like to thank the compilers of this set of tracks for including the plaintive “I Wish I Had Someone To Love Me”. I vividly remember being in the audience at The Fairfield Hall in Croydon two or three years ago along with a packed auditorium (nearly 2,000 seats!) and hardly a dry eye in the house by the end of the song performed by ‘banjo’ Barney. Sadly last year McKenna passed away but he can rest assured that we did love him and his antics on and off stage will be sorely missed. Let’s raise a glass of the black stuff to some true legends. 

PETE FYFE

WE BANJO 3 – Roots Of The Banjo Tree

WOW (followed by as many exclamation marks as it’s possible to give!) this album gets a resounding ten out of ten and then some. I chanced upon the title of the band via an E mail from folking.com and to say that I was intrigued would be to understate the issue. Banjo players (at least those I have the pleasure of knowing personally) won’t mind me saying that the instrument is much derided within ‘music’ circles but (if you) trust me and are a true ‘music’ lover then do yourself a favour and buy this remarkable offering. Enda Scahill, Martin & David Howley between them show just how, given the right instrument you can engage the listener with displays of brilliant musicianship in both an entertaining (dirty word I know) and truly astonishing technical delivery without having to pander to the “’Ere mate do you play Duelling Banjos?” that is so often encountered in pubs these days. Having delved deep into the Traditional, Old Time and American Music Hall genres as well as doffing the cap to the likes of banjo maestro Gerry O’Connor by performing his beautiful air “Time To Time” alongside the great man himself our heroes all deserve gold medals. I knew the Olympics would crop up somewhere. On another subject it would be great if other ‘folk’ artists would take a leaf out of We Banjo 3’s books and invest some time and money in marketing their product with as much care and attention including the quality of the gatefold jacket, logo and website…ten out of ten for that as well! Dare I say it but if you hadn’t guessed it already this CD will hopefully one day be considered on a par (in folk music terms) with say the first time you heard Steeleye or Fairport. Well, a man can fantasise can’t he?

Pete Fyfe

Artist web link – www.webanjo3.com