MISHRA – The Loft Tapes (Hudson MSR004)

The Loft TapesFronted by guitarist Ford Collier and vocalist-banjo player Kate Griffin, winners of the inaugural Christian Raphael prize at last year’s Cambridge Folk Festival, and augmented by jazz-folk double bassist Joss Mann-Hazell, Mishra are a new Sheffield-based ‘global folk collective’, the instrumentation on their debut album, The Loft Tapes,  encompassing clawhammer banjo, African calabash, Irish whistle and bouzouki with John Ball, their mentor at Sheffield university, guesting on tabla.

Each track a single live take recorded on analogue tape, predominantly self-penned, as you might surmise it straddles several musical styles and cultures, opening with a 50 second drone, whistle and banjo intro improvisation on ‘Raag Jog’, a Hindustani classical raga (the trio are named for a Hindu Brahmin surname), before tabla picks up the thread into ‘Road Dust and Honey’ merging eastern and Gaelic flavours and suggesting such influences as Davy Graham and Jack Rose.

Banjo and whistle make the running on ‘Chase The Sparrowhawk’, another instrumental, that sounds traditional but was written by Collier. Indeed, the album has a balance between tunes and songs, the former also encompassing ‘Jog For Joy’, tabla and banjo playing off each other in a hybrid of raga and jig, and the six-minute jam closer ‘Morphology’ that, in addition to banjo, whistle and table, also features Collier reciting in Tabla Bol, the spoken form of tabla drums.

Returning to the songs, among the their own work particularly noteworthy are the plaintively waltzing Appalachian-shaded ‘Beautfully Blind’ which, for some reason, reminds me of ‘Lord of All Hopefulness’, the jazz-inflected, whistle-driven ‘Taru Taru’ (which may or may not have anything to do with race of magic users in Final Fantasy) and, the most folksy of them all, ‘Keep Your Kindness’, the only number on which Collier and Griffin share the vocal parts.

There’s also two non-originals, the first being an arrangement of ‘Angeline The Baker’, a song written by Stephen Foster for the Christy Minstrels in 1850, in which the narrator (male but sung here by Griffin) laments that he should have married the titular Angeline, a slave who has now been sent away by her owner.

The other, and one which further nods to their Americana sensibilities, is a faithful reading of Gillian Welch’s unsettling Southern Gothic number ‘Scarlet Town’ from The Harrow & The Harvest. Together, they make for an impressive and multi-textured debut and it’ll be interesting to see how they expand their global folk fusions in albums to come.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website: www.mishramusic.co.uk

‘Scarlet Town’ – live:

Mishra announce their debut album

Award winning new band Mishra release their debut album The Loft Tapes on December 7th

Mishra

Mishra are an exciting new band based in Sheffield and led by Ford Collier and Kate Griffin. Ford and Kate won the inaugural Christian Raphael prize at the 2018 Cambridge Folk Festival and used the award money to record their first album as Mishra which they are now touring the country with.

Mishra describe themselves as a global folk “collective”. With strong roots in U.K folk, they weave a tight web of intricate, Indian-influenced original music that defies genre labels. Led by Kate Griffin’s voice and inimitable clawhammer banjo and driven by Ford Collier’s continent-hopping instrumental skills (Indian tabla, African calabash, Irish whistle and guitar). Ford and Kate were both separately shortlisted for the 2018 BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Awards in different projects. Both are already accomplished folk musicians (The Drystones and The Unsung Roots) 2018 saw them play Sidmouth Folk Week, Cambridge Folk Festival, Priddy Folk Festival and many more.

Until 2019, Mishra performed as a duo under the name Kate Griffin and Ford Collier; their sound has now been further underpinned by the addition of versatile jazz-folk double-bassist and bouzouki player and fellow Sheffield University alumni Joss Mann-Hazell.

For the debut Mishra album it was important to Kate and Ford that they capture the spirit of their live performances. So each track is made from a single take recorded live on analogue tape. They did this in the seclusion of a farmhouse loft in a secret Gloucestershire location. The result captures the energy of performance and the atmosphere of the setting. It’s interesting to note that on the final track ‘Morphology’, Ford recites inTabla Bol (the spoken form of the tabla drums).

As Ford says “We didn’t want the recording process to interfere with our music. We wanted to capture the fun we have in performing”. For these loft tapes they were joined by their Sheffield university mentor John Ball who is an accomplished table player and has been a mentor to the Mishra performers. His contribution allowed Mishra to produce a full band sound on live-in-room analogue tapes.

Kate says “It was such a pleasure to work with John and it helped us achieve our musical vision. He got all of us passionate about this music, so it was great to have him with us as we finished this project”

The Loft Tapes is officially released on 7th December at a concert in Kate’s hometown of Kempsford and Mishra will be touring the album across the UK in November ahead of the launch. You can find out more about their “uniquely accessible Indo-folk” on their website www.mishramusic.co.uk .

‘Taru Taru’ – live:

THE DRYSTONES- Apparitions (Shedbuilt Records TDSR003)

ApparitionsI quite liked The Drystones previous album, We Happy Few, although I wished for more songs and I was not as prepared as some critics to go overboard about them. I was disappointed when I saw them live although, by their own admission, they weren’t at their best but I was determined to approach Apparitions with an open mind.

Four of the tracks have traditional elements but, for the most part, the album is self-penned and again I would have liked more songs particularly along the lines of ‘Jack Crook’, which you might take for traditional if you weren’t told otherwise. There is a good deal of experimentation going on here from Alex Garden’s sawing fiddle that opens ‘Oscar’s Ghost’ to the mocked up radio announcements and field recordings and the way that the tracks sometimes meld into one another. Alex and Ford Collier are both multi-instrumentalists and seem to have assembled a whole studio full of conventional and unconventional instruments. With both of the playing synths it can be hard to tell what’s natural and what is synthetic at times.

Speaking of which, ‘The Story’ is a fine song about fake news and manipulation in the media – another reason why I wish they would write more songs. There are lighter moments such as ‘Nonesuch’, the Playford dance tune reimagined as a dance track in the 21st century meaning of the word. The last five tracks, beginning with the delightful ‘Daydream’ topped out with Ford’s whistle, are all instrumental and the boys really give themselves a workout. It all gets a bit heady as The Drystones rattle through eleven mostly self-composed tunes – something to break it up would have been nice.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: www.thedrystones.co.uk

‘Poltern’ – live:

THE DRYSTONES – We Happy Few (own label)

We Happy FewThe Drystones are two young chaps from Somerset: Alex Garden and Ford Collier; singers and multi-instrumentalists who made their debut album at age 16. Remarkably, this is already their third outing. On the surface, We Happy Few seems typical of albums of our age. Three songs and eight instrumental sets and, seemingly, I have dozens like it.

What singles The Drystones out is the imagination that has gone into the selection and arrangement of their material, aided by producer and percussionist Will Lang. They open with a pair of original tunes, ‘Green Room Strathspey’ and ‘Arc Reel’, together entitled ‘Treekend’. The second tune, written by Alex, has some rather odd progressions that immediately grab the attention. They then switch to a set of three Irish tunes featuring Ford’s whistles and that isn’t entirely expected. Admit it, you’re interested now.

The first song is ‘My Son John’. This is Martin Carthy’s version as rewritten for The Imagined Village and gives the duo the opportunity for some multi-tracking and Ford the chance to strap on his electric guitar and unpack every percussion instrument he owns. After this comes ‘The Cheshire Set’, rather more stately, and another original tune before ‘Man Of Words (And Not Of Deeds) a nursery rhyme from the 17th century. The words may have originated earlier or may be a satire on Charles II but we may speculate all we want. Again, this isn’t quite what we might expect.

‘Katy Cruel’ was originally heard from Fay Hield and The Drystones have tried to make an essentially American song sound English. Later we get as English as you like with ‘Hole In The Wall’, a hornpipe that may have been written by Henry Purcell, before a set of Irish and Irish-influenced tunes called ‘More Nyah’ and I’m going to wince at that.

This is a good album from two young performers but I could wish for more songs.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: http://www.thedrystones.co.uk/

‘My Son John’ – live in the shed:

The Drystones release their third album this month

The Drystones

Somerset based young folk duo The Drystones have just recorded their third album entitled We Happy Few. Ford Collier and Alex Garden started performing when they were just fifteen. Six years on they have notched up performances at festivals and concerts including Glastonbury (where in 2013 they were Steve Lamacq’s “recommendation of the day”), Sidmouth Folk Week, and have supported Steeleye Span, Seth Lakeman, The Shires and Ray Davies. They were also Larmer Tree’s 2015 Breakthrough Music Award winners, and are now represented by Alan Bearman Music. All this whilst finding time to complete A levels and their degree courses in Music (Ford at Sheffield and Alex at Southampton)

Their first album The Album, Or What You Will was produced whilst they were only 16 and was made album of the week on BBC Somerset’s Emma Britton show. Their second album A Tale Of Sound And Fury financed by crowd funding was a more ambitious affair working with Will Lang as producer and Tom Wright as Engineer. This third album We Happy Few was again crowd funded and produced by Will Lang (known for his collaborations, Nitin Sawhney, PBS6, National Youth Choirs of Great Britain, Halsway Manor, has had airplay on BBC Radio 2, 3 and 6Music) and this time was recorded by Julian Batten at the Loft Music studios in Newcastle (Julian has worked with KAN, Kathryn Tickell, Bella Hardy and The Elephant Sessions).

Once more the album title is taken from Shakespeare (Henry V AI, SIII), but chosen to reflect the tone of the album being as Ford says “much cheerier!” than the last album. We Happy Few includes a mix of their own compositions, arrangements of traditional and current folk tunes, mostly instrumental but with three songs. Their cover of Martin Carthy’s reinterpretation of ‘My Son John’ is perhaps the darkest track on the album, but buzzes with energy and includes performances on tabla, kanjira and electric guitar as wells as vocals from both Ford and Alex.

They both feel that throughout the album they have been able to bring a lot of new influences from their time at University, as well as a new found confidence. You might be surprised to find Purcell alongside the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, but Ford and Alex have brought to the album their sense of fun that is always evident in their live shows. So although their style is unmistakable the album keeps surprising on you with its twists and turns.

We Happy Few is officially released on June 30th. The Drystones are playing festivals and clubs around the country this summer.

Artists’ website: http://www.thedrystones.co.uk

‘My Son John’ – live: