THE SERVANTS’ BALL – The Servants’ Ball (D.Wink CD13)

The West Sussex Gazette, December 15, 1938

The Servants' BallThe other evening, I had the good fortune to be assigned by this paper’s editor to attend a performance given at the Whittington Village Hall by an ensemble of performers going by the name of The Servants’ Ball. Individually, they comprise banjulele (a sort of banjo and ukulele crossbreed) player and step dancer Ewan Wardrop, fiddler Ben Paley, Rob Harbron on concertina, Ben Nicholls playing upright bass with Julian Hinton at the piano and Evan Jenkins providing assorted percussion.

Their repertoire ranges wide across a number of popular musical style, some steeped in the folk traditions of this country, Europe and the plantations of America, others harking back to the days of Victorian music hall or reflecting such contemporary fashions as the current enthusiasm for ragtime music. Indeed, they are well versed in popular passions, opening their programme with an instrumental number entitled ‘Egyptian Princess’ reflecting the current craze for Egyptology, it’s snake-charmer rhythms prompting several members of the audience to engage in what is termed a “sand dance”, its strutting movements modelled on tomb paintings, emulating the famous comedy routine of music hall act Wilson and Keppel who, you may recall, enjoyed a successful run at the London Palladium as recently as 1932. Had Howard Carter been among the throng, I feel sure he would have joined in.

Their repertoire for the night intermingling such dance tunes with songs of music hall vintage, they proceeded to delight, Wardrop, a ukulele player to rival George Formby, singing ‘The Bird On Nelly’s Hat’, a turn of the century vaudeville cautionary comedy ditty composed by Arthur Lamb and Alfred Solman about a lovestruck lad being fleeced of all his money by the titular golddigger.

Returning to instrumentals, led by concertina, they had the audience taking to the floor for the polka-influenced ceilidh tune ‘Number One Dance Step’ on which Wardrop demonstrated his foot tap talents to great effect before drawing applause and roar of approval as Hinton launched into the well-known ‘Champagne Charlie’, the lyrics written by Birmingham factory worker Joe Sanders who, under his music hall stage name of George Leybourne introduced the song, sponsored by champagne firms, into his act in 1868, boosting his income to almost fivefold to £120 a week.

Returning to dance tunes, introduced with a roll on the drums, next up was ‘Sultan Polka’, composed by Charles Louis Napoleon d’Albert for Sultan Abdulaziz I of the Ottoman Empire, this was followed in turn by ‘Pretty Little Dear’, not, as you might think, the 1926 comedy number by Frank Crumit, but rather another concertina dance tune, this of Sussex origin, which I understand the ensemble learned from the work of the renowed Scan Tester from Horsted Keynes, whose Country Dance Band often perform at such local functions.

Allowing the crowd to take a respite from their lively footwork, it was back to music hall for ‘I’m A Man That’s Done Wrong’, or, to give it the full title, ‘I’m a Man That’s Done Wrong to my Parents’, a sorrowful lament of a ne’er do well spurned by his family, Wardrop singing “I once wronged my father and mother, Till they turned me out from their door, To beg, starve or die, in the gutter to lie, And ne’er enter their dwellings no more” dating back to the end of the 1880s and reputedly written in Dorsetshire by one H. Strachey.

Having had time to catch their breath, the revellers were then encouraged back on to the floor for ‘Wild West Gallop’, a lively tune encompassing fairground whirligig, minstrel rag and quadrille and, from there, bearing the time of year in mind, straight into ‘Winter Cotillions’ medley before, accompanying himself on piano, Hinton returned to sing ‘Beautiful Boy’, an amusingly far fetched Victroian tale of no known authorship about of how a young lad was forced to undergo any number of surgical procedures, such as stretching his mouth wider, to make him to look more attractive to the opposite sex,with some unfortunate side effects. Let us hope the medical profession never encourages such nonsense.

Coming to to the close of the evening, they had time for two further tunes, Harbron leading them in the bouncing along ‘Les Rats Quadrille’, composed in 1844 by Gervasius Redler for student dancers or “les petits rats”, and returning to the fad for all things Egypt, Egyptian Ballet, an adaptation from Ballet égyptie by the composer Alexandre Luigini’s. Finally, it was the turn of Nichols to lend his stentorian vocals for a lugubrious six-minute variation of the children’s lullaby of ‘Old King Cole’ with the lyrics revised to talk of the monarch summoning Paganini, Paulo Spagnoletti and the London-born Nicholas Mori to satisfy his predilection for trios, the mock serious song continuing to talk of his secretary declaring a mole on his face as “boding something would take place but not what that something would be” and how the musicians parted company when the king started snoring on page 44 of Giovanni Battista Viotti’s ‘Concerto in G’, their dozing alcohol-doused patron then setting himself alight with his pipe and exploding, the number finally ending by inviting listeners to view the records at the British Museum in Bloomsbury.

A perfectly agreeable night of dancing, laughter and merriment that sent the party goers home happy and humming the tunes, I would not be surprised if, in say 80 years, some similarly enterprising folk musicians didn’t reprise the programme to afford equal delight to their own audiences.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website: www.facebook.com/theservantsball

A (possibly) serious video about The Servants’ Ball:

SETH LAKEMAN – The Well Worn Path (Cooking Vinyl COOKCD709)

The Well Worn PathSeth Lakeman’s new album has appeared with surprisingly little fanfare. The Well Worn Path was recorded at the beginning of the year during a break in the Robert Plant/Shape Shifters tour with old comrades and relations Ben Nicholls, Kathryn Roberts and brother Sean and new friends Kit Hawes, who brings something of Sheelanagig’s pan-European influences, and Evan Jenkins. The album is stripped down but not in the way that Ballads Of The Broken Few was – you’d have to call this folk-rock – but I suspect that if Seth has learned anything from The Shape Shifters it is to value the spaces within the music.

His playing is in the English fiddle-singer style with a dramatic keening edge over powerful drumming from Jenkins and Nicholls’ bass. Kit Hawes plays finely judged guitar fills and intros, sometimes gentle and subtle, sometimes strident but never overdone. This folk-rock is definitely 60s style – I can hear echoes of Liege & Lief in one or two songs and the dark, hollow sound that Steeleye achieved on Ten Man Mop. There’s even a hint of Iain Matthews in ‘The Educated Man’, a seemingly autobiographical song co-written with David Prowse, who is definitely not Luke’s father but could be a member of Japandroids.

The songs are all original although Seth accepts help when he needs it. The opening track is his reworking of ‘Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still’ and ‘She Never Blamed Him’ is an old-time American song, probably from the Civil War but made darker by Seth’s new arrangement. Kit Hawes co-wrote ‘Drink ‘Til I’m Dry’ and the album’s title track and Reg Meuross co-wrote ‘Divided We Will Fall’, a thinly veiled political piece. ‘Fitzsimmons’ Fight’ is all Lakeman and harks back to the west country stories of his early work – Bob Fitzsimmons was a Cornishman, after all.

Seth has made another step along his musical journey with The Well Worn Path – highly recommended.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.sethlakeman.co.uk

‘Divided We Will Fall’ – official video:

Catty Pearson releases debut EP

Catty Pearson

London singer-songwriter Catty Pearson, with her musical roots planted in folk, country and blues and her head set on unravelling some of the confusion she feels in today’s world, releases a stunning debut EP Time Tells Me (reviewed in our recent Singles Bar) on Wednesday 24th October, recorded by Rolling Stones producer Chris Kimsey. The launch gig is at Laylow in Notting Hill, London, on October 23rd with Ollie Clarke on the guitar, Lukas Drinkwater on the double bass and bass, Duncan on the mandolin and violin and James Larter on the drums.

These song hold up a mirror and reflect, beautifully and poignantly, what many of us are thinking and feeling.

“Her voice forms an oasis of serenity amidst the chaos of the world.” A fan. 

The new collection was recorded with Chris Kimsey, best known for his work producing the Rolling Stones at legendary Olympic Sound Studios:

“when you listen to Catty Pearson, take a deep, deep breath as her gracious soothing voice transports your blood pressure and heartbeat to a new vista. Truly unspoilt, a breath of Mother Earth.”

Catty, who has been compared to Norah Jones, describes Time Tells Me as her enquiry into materialism and the insidious creeping of technology into all areas our lives.

It’s not unusual for a singer-songwriter to question the state of the world today in their songs. What IS rare is to discover a young musician as prepared as she is to turn words into actions. Catty has lived with a tribe in Malaysia, walked across parts of Northern India with 1000 nuns to raise awareness of and help educate people about the detrimental effects of plastic and pollution on our planet, worked on a farm in California to learn skills for sustainable living, and most recently swam from Albania to Corfu to help raise funds for an orphanage.

So when she talks about the passion behind her writing, we know she’s not just paying lip service, and nor is she preaching. Instead she holds up a mirror and reflects, beautifully and poignantly, what many of us are thinking and feeling.

Catty grew up listening to the sounds of Neil Young, Donovan, Cat Stevens, Norah Joans, Eva Cassidy, Joan Armastrading, Bob Dylan, David Grey, Eddie Vedder, Moby and Leonard Cohen.

Time Tells Me will be released on Spotify and iTunes via AWAL. The EP features Ollie Clarke on the guitar, Evan Jenkins on drums, Lukas Drinkwater on the base and double base, Flora Curzon on the violin, Nichol Thompson on the trombone and Jansen Santana playing percussion.

Artist’s website: cattypearson.com/

‘Electricity’ – the first single:

SINGLES BAR 34 – A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Seth Lakeman announces new album

Seth Lakeman

Fresh from his whirlwind world tour with rock legend Robert Plant, charismatic singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Seth Lakeman releases his stunning, ninth solo album The Well-Worn Path on October 26th via Cooking Vinyl. The first single will be stand-out, upbeat track ‘Divided We Will Fall’.

The Well-Worn Path was recorded in Seth’s garden studio on Dartmoor in January 2018 on a short break from touring with Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters. It is a return to a no-nonsense, organic, classic folk-rock approach with hints of Fairport Convention, Neil Young, Nick Cave and Billy Bragg. Plus Lakeman’s trademark foot-stomping, fiddle bow-shredding and soaring vocals.

Seth brought in top producer Ben Hillier (Elbow, Blur, Depeche Mode, Doves) and his brilliant, new four-piece band consists of long-time collaborator Ben Nicholls (upright and electric bass), new boys Kit Hawes (electric and acoustic guitar) and Evan Jenkins (drums) and one of the finest female folk voices, Kathryn Roberts (Seth’s sister-in-law).
Constantly exploring and moving forward musically,

Seth says “This ninth CD is quite different from my previous album, with more of a prog-rock approach. My last record was a deliberately understated Americana set, but this one is more rocking.”

Artist’s website: https://www.sethlakeman.co.uk/

‘Divided We Will Fall’:

Kings Of The South Seas – new single

South Seas
Photograph by Dai Jeffries

The lead track from the album Lady Franklin is a broadside from the 1850s. After the disappearance of her husband, Lady Jane Franklin sponsored several expeditions to discover his fate and worked hard to keep the search going for decades. When explorer John Rae returned with Inuit stories of cannibalism, she refused to believe them, but they’ve subsequently been proven largely accurate. In fact the recent discovery of the two Franklin ships is mainly thanks to Inuit oral histories, which were mocked by the British Navy at the time of the ships disappearance

Following their acclaimed debut Kings Of The South Seas (DWink Records 2014) this second release by Kings Of The South Seas vividly brings to life the music left by these events and their cultural fallout. Lady Franklin features Canadian Voyageur paddling songs, English folk ballads and songs composed onboard ice-bound wintering ships to Victorian parlour pieces – all delivered in powerful, foreboding and effecting style by this unique band.

The British expeditions in search of the NW Passage through the North of Canada and in particular the loss of Franklin’s expedition to the ice during the 19th Century affected many. The Navy and families who waited at home, the Inuit encountered and the British public who looked on from afar and seemed to signal the beginning of the end of British Empire. These losses and failures left a large wealth of musical, theatrical and literary material as the nation tried to make sense of events. The material was also derived from printing presses and musicals created on board some of the icebound ships during those long, brutal winters.

Lady Franklin was recorded in St Andrews Mission Church in Gravesend under the glow of stained glass windows dedicated by Lady Franklin (wife of John Franklin) to the sailors who lost their lives on his last voyage.

Kings of The South Seas are:

Ben Nicholls – vocal, concertina, organ, banjo (The Full English, Seth Lakeman Band, Nadine Shah Band)

Richard Warren – guitar (Spiritualized, Mark Lanegan Soulsavers)

Evan Jenkins – drums (Neil Cowley Trio)

Artists’ website: www.kingsofthesouthseas.net

‘Lady Franklin’ – official video:

THE SAM CARTER TRIO Live at the West End Centre

The Sam Carter Trio

It didn’t start well. We heard the crash somewhere backstage and when Sam came onstage to find that his DI wasn’t working he confessed that he’d dropped his guitar. A few minutes fiddling got it going, fortunately for all concerned. Sam made a big joke of it and started again, with the audience firmly on his side before he’d even sung a note.

He began, as always, with ‘Yellow Sign’ from his first album. It’s a deceptively simple song that tells a complex story in just a few verses and tunes the listener in to Sam’s songwriting style; at once involved and yet simultaneously an observer. Now he introduced the trio: bassist Matt Ridley and drummer Evan Jenkins for two more old songs, ‘Dreams Are Made Of Money’ and ‘Taxi’. They were quite restrained at this point, cool and jazzy.

Sam went solo again to introduce the first of the songs from his new album, How The City Sings, beginning with the title track and ‘Our Kind Of Harmony’ before changing tack with a song from False Lights – ‘The Wife Of Usher’s Well’. Back came the band for a rockabilly version of ‘One Last Clue’ and as the end of the first set approached Sam announced that they were going to play some “Judas music”. Which meant that Evan picked up the big drumsticks and Sam his electric guitar (a 1960’s Gibson ES125 for guitar nerds) and gave ‘Oh Dear, Rue The Day’ an experience it can rarely have had.

Sam’s sets are always varied and can leave the audience wrong-footed as he does something unexpected. Tonight was going to be rock’n’roll night as the second set opened with ‘Dark Days’ and ‘The One’. Then, quite unexpectedly, he switched to a solo song from Sweet Liberties which may be called ‘One More River’ – Sam wasn’t specific. It relates to a several-times-great aunt who married an escaped slave in the early 19th century, which must have been quite scandalous even in Leicester. Sam constructed the song in the traditional style of a shape-note spiritual and it was quite wonderful, perhaps the highlight of the set.

Sam Carter Electric

The band returned, Judas took over again and brought my one reservation. ‘We Never Made It To The Lakes’ is a great song but it should be poignant and wistful. Sam insists on rocking it up and I really wish he wouldn’t. They wrapped up with ‘Taunting The Dog’ and ‘Drop The Bomb’ in rocking style and encored with ‘Waves & Tremors’

Variety is the key to Sam’s performances. He can pick out delicate acoustic lines or a screaming electric solo; sing the most tender of lyrics or roister through ‘Jack Hall’ and he does it all in one evening. The tour continues – don’t miss it.

Dai Jeffries

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

Venue website: https://hampshireculturaltrust.org.uk

‘Dreams Are Made Of Money’ – official video: