SINGLES BAR 44 – A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 44As a taster for his somewhat delayed album, From Coalfield To Battlefield, GARY MILLER releases his DLI EP. The DLI is The Durham Light Infantry and the final track, featuring Ferryhill Town Band, has previously been released as a single. The long opening track, ‘The Final Letter Of Jimmy Durham’, is the story of the first African to join the British army. He became a bandsman and a popular man in the regiment but sadly died of pneumonia in Ireland in 1908. In contrast is ‘Ballad Of Lance-Sergeant William Stones’ who was executed for cowardice in 1916. Like so many others, Stones was posthumously pardoned when it was far too late to make amends.‘Euphonium And Cornet’ is about the bandsmen who, like the Scottish pipers, put themselves in harm’s way to rally their comrades. Gary’s powerful voice and equally powerful songs are complemented by big brass arrangements. We’re looking forward to the album.
www.garymillersongs.com

Featuring Orkney fiddler Louise Bichan alongside American colleagues guitarist Ethan Hawkins, mandolin player Ethan Setiawan and recent addition Casey Murray on cello and clawhammer banjo, Boston-based CORNER HOUSE release their second EP, Smart Folks, a collection of four originals and two contemporary Irish numbers that ranges cross Irish, Scottish, Appalachian stringband and bluegrass influences. It’s Ireland that provide the opening instrumental ‘Slip Jigs’ (‘Farewell To Whaley Range’ and ‘Soggy’s’) before they follow on with ‘Happy Now, a number about depression and family life penned, as is ‘You’re Great’, as low, minimalist spooked-mandolin ballad which briefly perks up rhythmically midway before a fiddle solo, by Hawkins. Setiawan, contributes the musically shape-shifting instrumental title track before, starting slow and gathering pace, a third instrumental, ‘Through The Snow-Covered Pines’, Murray’s clawhammer evoking the quartet’s Appalachian aspects, brings things to a close. They’re due to return to the UK in 2020 for a Spring tour, I suggest you keep a close eye out.
http://www.cornerhouseband.com/

THE PORTLAND BROTHERS are Steven Adams and Tim Victor and their first EP is the download set First EP. Fortunately, their music is rather more imaginative than their titling. The key to their sound is their tight harmony singing over acoustic guitars sometimes bolstered by organ but the lead track, ‘Shake Off The Dust’, begins with a decidedly country vibe and it’s a while before you realise that they are from neither Oregon nor Maine but actually got together in Cambridge. They aren’t exactly informative on their web page but this is clever songwriting – deceptively simple but also complex and raising questions. Is ‘Invisible Love’ about hiding one’s sexuality or is that reading too much into it? Steve and Tim could really go somewhere.
https://www.portlandbrothers.com/

An echo of Simon Garfunkel comes with the self-released The Kivalina EP from New England/Nashville duo JESSE TERRY & ALEX WONG, the title referring to the Alaskan village where the indigenous population have hunted whales for generations.  However, climate change and thinning ice has made both this, and indeed their very existence difficult with experts predicting Kivalina will be uninhabitable by 2025, making them the first climate change refugees.

As such the six tracks revolve around the villagers’ predicament, extending it to more personal and universal considerations, opening with the shimmering, percussion cascading, gradually swelling ‘Landfall’ and proceeding through the similarly styled ‘Nowhere’, the more musically muscular ‘Dangerous’ and the introspective, softly sung fragility of ‘Thieves’. It ends with the tumbling drums and keening harmonies of the lyrical desperation of ‘Ten More Years’ and, finally, the simple strum of the strings-coloured ‘Fight Or Flight’. A simple but beautifully crafted and performed record that delivers a timely and important narrative.
https://www.jesseterrymusic.com/

ERIN RAE adds her contribution to the current spate of covers with the download only Lagniappe Session EP (Aquarium Drunkard), opening up a dreamy 60s psychfolk reading of Gene Clark’s ‘Some Misunderstanding’. Formerly recorded by The Monkees, Carole King’s ‘As You Go Along’ here, Rae on 12-string, more recalls a slow burn Byrds, leading on to a loose late 60s West Coast vibe take of Jonathan Richman’s ‘You Must Ask The Heart’. The final cut is an ambitious interpretation of Scott Walker’s ‘Duchess’, featuring Jerry Bernhardt on fuzz guitars, 12 string acoustic and Casiotone, a fine conclusion to an excellent indulgence.
https://www.erinraemusic.com/

Mandolin, Violin And Saw is one of the best titles we’ve come across all year. It belongs to an EP by DAVID SQUIRE AND THE LONG LAST LOOKS and being recorded in Tennessee it’s pure(ish) country – David says the song is inspired by his maternal grandfather. To confuse things, David is actually from Bristol and despite many years living in the USA he doesn’t really have the accent – whether by chance or design is impossible to say. He is back in England now but his lyrics betray his love of all things American – ‘Savannah Days And Nights’ being a perfect example. As well as mandolin and violin there are guitar, piano, organ and drums but the band’s sound is light and gently rolling and the songwriting is excellent.
https://www.davidsquireandthelonglastlooks.com/

A UK Americana four-piece comprising siblings Callum on vocals and rhythm guitar, drummer Theo and lead guitarist Jack Lury with Peter Dixon on brass, THE BLUE HIGHWAYS make the running with their self-titled, self-released debut EP. An energetic four-track collection it kicks off with the Southside Johnny saloon soul swagger of ‘He Worked’, a horns-embellished song about an old man reflecting on his life now he’s retired and to the future of his kids, continuing in a similar but Stonesy blues style with piano-accompanied lying-themed ‘Blood Off Your Hands’. Co-penned with David Burn from Orphan Colours, ‘Matter Of Love’ is an upbeat swaggering Southern country pop track about not having the courage to end a relationship and they end with the reined in reflective acoustic balladry chug of ‘Have You Seen My Baby’, coloured by Henry Senior on mournful pedal steel. It doesn’t push the envelope, but it handles the staple ingredients in solid style
https://thebluehighwaysband.com/

After a run of singles, SJ DENNEY releases a six-track EP, Forgotten Friends. The most recent of the singles is ‘A Fond Farewell’, the final track in the set while ‘Here I Am’ opens it..’(Feels Like I’m) Hearing Things’ is something of a departure in musical style, spikier than his usual material and a powerful song and the drive carries over into ‘All The Signs Were There’, the predecessor to ‘A Fond Farewell’. SJ is big on brass solos in his arrangements which give him a distinctive sound and the pounding drums on ‘The Good Times’ are equally powerful.
sjsongs.co.uk

BANDITS ON THE RUN are a NYC-based trio consisting guitarist Adrian Enscoe, cellist Sydney Shepherd and Regina Strayhorn on percussion and xylophone, all three handling the vocals. Bandits Live At The Power Station (The MTA) is the latest EP, a four track collection of three originals and one cover kicking off a splash of Hispanic musical colours on ‘Potted Plant’ before the intertwined harmonies of the folksier, blues shaded ‘Sweet Thing’. The swayalong feckless lover-themed ‘Cowboy On The Run’ takes you to the New Mexico desert, complete with cod coyote howl, closing up with their inspired, sultgrily-sung, cello-led lurching take on Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back To Black’. It certainly makes you want to check out their studio recordings too.
http://www.banditsontherun.nyc/

Folking award winner REG MEUROSS releases a new solo album, Raw, very soon but before that we have a single, ‘We Looked Away’, which has to be one of his best ever songs. There’s a delightful hint of Dylan in the melody that serves to root the track in the protest movement of the 60s and if ‘We Looked Away’ doesn’t make you question yourself and everything that is going on in the world you have no soul.
www.regmeuross.com

JOSHUA RADIN serves up a taster for his forthcoming new, eighth, album with ‘Here, Right Now’ (Netwerk Music Group), a fingerpicked acoustic-based, whisperingly sung number about embracing the moment that, featuring Maria Taylor, on harmonies, calls to mind early Simon & Garfunkel.
https://www.joshuaradin.com/

‘Mud’ is the new single from Londoner YVONNE McDONNELL. It has a beautiful, ethereal sound and according to her PR it’s an important song. Sadly, the production and stylised vocals are such that it’s impossible to make out a single word of the lyric.
http://www.yvonne-music.net/

GARY MILLER – Mad Martins (Whippet WPTCDB24)

Mad MartinsI shouldn’t need to explain about Gary Miller but for our younger readers: Gary was lead songwriter with The Whisky Priests, a very fine (and rather tough looking) post-punk folk-rock band from the north-east. After a while away from the front line he returned in 2010 with the excellent album, Reflections On War. The first of two projects emerging this year, Mad Martins is a three-CD box set housed in a lavish hard-back book and will later be a stage presentation

I didn’t know much about the three Martin brothers, although I have seen at least one of John’s paintings – an enormous apocalyptic Biblical scene, probably The Day Of His Wrath. More of John later. Each of the three CDs is dedicated to one of the brothers and will be one act of the stage play, so we begin with William, the eldest brother. He aspired to be a renaissance man, sorry THE Renaissance Man, and if you want evidence of his madness, just listen to ‘William Martin’s Dream’. He had been a soldier and a ropemaker, became an inventor and pamphleteer and the world’s greatest natural philosopher – at least in his own mind.

Now you might think that this is an odd subject for a major project but Gary’s skill as a songwriter and his construction of the piece is sufficient to draw you in from the start. His style is earthy and robust and his borrowing of traditional tunes adds an extra authenticity. He handles most of the lead vocals and about half of the instruments, most of the rest being played by producer Iain Petrie. Keith Armstrong leads the important spoken word sections – Gary’s accent is perhaps a little too strong – with an ensemble including Richard Doran, Mick Tyas, Ann Sessoms and Gary’s brother Glenn. There is a separate album, Fair Flowers Among Them All, featuring these instrumental sections.

Next we come to Jonathan Martin: now he was mad! A strange child, by all accounts, he was first a shepherd, then press-ganged into the navy. His naval adventures are quite remarkable if his own accounts are to be believed but it allows Gary to compose a shanty and a hornpipe. Next he became a tanner and then a preacher with a remarkably anti-authoritarian take on religion. He was committed for plotting to assassinate the Bishop of Oxford. ‘Shoot The Bishop’ recounts the circumstances that brought this about. Remarkably, he escaped the asylum twice and his next plan was to burn down York Minster. He set the fire and escaped but was captured and committed to Bedlam where he died.

Again, Gary blends original songs with Jonathan’s own words with two extracts from writings by Charles Dickens and traditional tunes. The whole disc rocks along and you almost feel some sympathy for Jonathan by the end.

John Martin probably wasn’t mad but he heard the Word of God. He’s probably the most famous and the most enduring of the Martin brothers as his monumental biblical paintings attest. Like William, John was something of a polymath; one of his projects was a sewage system for London, related in earthy relish in ‘Drainage Scheme’. His ideas inspired John Bazalgette who designed the system that is still in use. On this final disc, Gary looks to Keith Armstrong for many of the spoken word sections.

As a painter, John was a friend to royalty and Gary’s music has an appropriately bombastic tone which is where the orchestration of The Albert Ness Ensemble and The Lick Spittals’ horns come into their own. Despite his success, John fell into poverty and the later songs have rather simpler accompaniments but he fought back beginning with The Coronation Of Queen Victoria before died peacefully in1855.

Mad Martins is a magnificent piece of work, transcending both the traditional ideas of folk-rock as represented by The Whisky Priests and the established view of what a singer-songwriter should be. It isn’t inexpensive, as you might imagine, but it’s worth every penny that you spend on it.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: http://www.garymillersongs.com/

Buy Mad Martins from: https://madmartins.bandcamp.com/merch

Promo video:

SINGLES BAR 27

A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 27MERRY HELL will launch their eagerly awaited acoustic album, Anthems To The Wind, in a couple of months. Forget Costa del Folk, Wigan will be the place to be! To whet our appetites they have an EP, Bury Me Naked, led of by one of our favourite songs. The acoustic line-up has given them the opportunity to completely rearrange the song with Virginia Kettle’s voice well out front and what sounds like a barrel organ giving it a jolly lift. ‘Sailing Too Close To The Wind’ is based on acoustic guitar and ‘Drunken Serenade’ is given a ceilidh feel with Neil McCartney’s fiddle driving the song. The set is finished off with an anthemic ‘No Place Like Tomorrow’. Brilliant from start to finish.
www.merryhell.co.uk

Gary Miller‘The Durham Light Infantry’ is an old song by the mighty Whisky Priests. It has now been re-recorded by writer GARY MILLER and is now the lead single from his new project, From Coalfield To Battlefield. In this version Gary is accompanied by The Ferryhill Town Band brilliantly scored by Sam Lord and producer Iain Petrie. The single includes vocal and instrumental versions and is one of the very few occasions when an instrumental is the equal of the vocal version. There’s a gorgeous riff, if that’s the right word, that serves as a fill in the song and decorates the second version. Lovely stuff.
www.whippetrecords.com

Ben Morgan-BrownHaving self-produced his first two EPs, BEN MORGAN-BROWN has enlisted Josh Clark to oversee his third, Cold Rooms. You might think that a solo voice and guitar doesn’t require a huge amount of production but Josh has certainly got the best out of the Exeter based singer songwriter. The opening title track begins gently enough but Ben’s guitar rings underneath his voice while building up to a big finish. The instrumental, ‘I See That You’, is gorgeous with an almost retro feel as Ben finger-picks a low continuo while striking plangent top notes. There are some nice synth tones at the end of ‘No More Fooling’, too.
www.benmorganbrown.co.uk

The DarkDARWIN’S DAUGHTER is better known to her family as Fiona Ruth Hannon. She lives in Ireland and The Dark is her first EP. The first thing to say is that she has one hell of a voice which stands up well to the orchestra that tries to dominate the opening track, ‘Dark Fires’. It’s better when the production takes its foot off the gas and lets us hear the trio of Anthony Gibney, Max Greenwood and Kim V Porcelli – Greenwood’s piano played at the top end of the keyboard decorates beautifully.
https://www.darwinsdaughtermusic.com/what-we-do-1/

Inni-KEithne Ní Chatháin goes by the INNI-K which is a blessing for those of us who don’t have the Gaelic. Following her debut album, The King Has Two Horse’s Ears she releases a single, ‘Edges’, before going on tour. She’s impossible to categorise with her powerful voice, fiddle and electric guitar supported by double bass and percussion. We need to hear more.
http://www.inni-k.com/

I Am A BoyKRIS WOODBIRD is something of an enigma. He lives n Stockholm and has released a number of singles over the last year of which ‘I Am A Boy’ is the latest. Very simple: just one voice and one voice, it’s desperately fragile with self-destructive overtones. He talks about smashing his head against a wall, being unworthy and living far away from home. A new album is expected this year.
https://www.kriswoodbird.com/

Mad Martins – CDs, book and stage show by Gary Miller

Mad Martins

Mad Martins is the latest project from internationally acclaimed songwriter and performing and recording artist Gary Miller (“As a song poet there are few in the world today to match him”, Green Man Review, U.S.A.), in collaboration with renowned Tyneside poet Keith Armstrong (“A fine poet… he is one of the best”, Adrian Mitchell), produced by award-winning producer Iain Petrie and featuring contributions from a range of notable guest musicians.

Epic in scope and scale, hugely ambitious and highly original, Mad Martins is a unique performance, recording and book project featuring original songs, music, poetry, spoken word narration and illustrations depicting the extraordinary lives and times of the notorious Martin Brothers, William, Jonathan and John, who were born in the late eighteenth century in the South Tyne area of Northumberland.

Eldest brother, William was the self-styled “Philosophical Conquerer of all Nations”, a doggerel poet, pamphleteer, engraver and inventor. Like his younger brothers, he aspired to be a ‘Renaissance Man’ and aimed for the “defeat of learned humbugs”.

Jonathan Martin has gone down in history as “the notorious incendiary” of York Minster. Frequent fits of rage against the clergy, including an attempt to assassinate the Bishop of Oxford led to his committal to several lunatic asylums, from which he escaped twice, before setting fire to York Minster in 1829, for which he was again committed to Bedlam, where he later died.

John, the youngest, was, like his brother William, an all-rounder, devising sewage schemes for London, along with a number of other inventions but is most famous for his epic New Romantic paintings of Biblical scenes. One of these, ‘Pandemonium’, based on Milton’s ‘End Of The World’, sold in 2003 for a record £1.65 million.

Mad Martins is released on Whippet Records (cat. no. WPTCDB24) in 2018, as a 50-track triple CD by Gary Miller with Keith Armstrong, Iain Petrie & Friends; house in a lavishly-packaged 104-page deluxe book, beautifully designed by highly acclaimed artist and illustrator Helen Temperley. The book contains lyrics to all the songs, poems and spoken word pieces, with additional inter-linking text and many beautiful images, including paintings, engravings, sketches, illustrations and original artwork, further enhancing the story.

A companion piece CD Fair Flowers Among Them All (The ‘Mad Martins’ Instrumentals) (WPTCD25) is also available.

A Mad Martins stage show in three acts is currently being planned which will feature specially-made period costumes, props, and set design, accompanied by a pit orchestra of specially selected musicians, amid a projected backdrop of stunning visual images, all of which will contribute towards bringing the whole story of the Martins to life.

In the meantime, look out for news of special launch events coming soon.

Project website: www.mad-martins.co.uk

Gary Miller announces new single and album

Gary Mller
Photograph by Ralph Pieper

2018 sees the launch of an exciting and unique collaboration between two leaders of the North East of England music scene in their respective musical genres.

Internationally-acclaimed musician and singer-songwriter Gary Miller (“As a song poet there are few in the world today to match him” – Green Man Review, U.S.A.) has teamed up with the award-winning Ferryhill Town Band to record a brand new version of his song ‘The Durham Light Infantry’, arranged and produced by award-winning producer Iain Petrie, released as a CD and digital download single this month on Whippet Records (WPTCD26) with front cover artwork by acclaimed artist and illustrator Helen Temperley.

Gary Miller is co-founder of internationally-successful Durham-based cult folk-rock band The Whisky Priests (“You’ll never see another live band to touch them” – Manchester Evening News, UK) and director of Whippet Records. The Durham Light Infantry was the second song Gary wrote for his band The Whisky Priests, in 1985. The original version was eventually recorded in 1989 as the final track on the band’s debut album Nee Gud Luck (“The contemporary folk masterpiece” – Rock ‘N’ Reel, UK).

Ferryhill Town Band (www.ferryhilltownband.org.uk) is a 2nd section band based in County Durham. Under the direction of Gareth Sykes, the band performs concerts and competes at various competitions within the North East and neighbouring regions. During 2017 they enjoyed success at eight competitions throughout the year.

‘The Durham Light Infantry’ is the first advance single to be taken from Gary’s forthcoming album From Coalfield To Battlefield. The album is based on a collection of songs he was commissioned to write by the DLI Research & Study Centre for When The Bugle Calls, a year-long travelling exhibition celebrating the Music of the Durham Light Infantry, launched at Bishop Auckland Town Hall on 5th December 2017. It follows ‘hot-on-the-heels’ of his epic-scale Mad Martins 3 CD and 104-page deluxe book (“This is a major contribution to the North East music scene” – Jez Lowe, Northern Echo, UK).

Initially approached for permission to use the original Whisky Priests version of The Durham Light Infantry for the exhibition, Gary saw this as an opportunity to overhaul and reinvigorate the song with new lyrics and a full brass band arrangement…

“Born in Durham and raised in the County Durham mining village of Sherburn, with family members who were colliery bandsmen, I was familiar with brass band music from an early age. I distinctly remember marching round the living room, from being able to walk, to the sound of my father’s many brass band albums. I recall the excitement of seeing the colliery banners and hearing the music, as the bands marched proudly by at the Durham Miners’ Gala, every year as a child. All of these things hugely inspired me and the influences are clear in the very first songs and tunes I wrote for my band The Whisky Priests. It has been a long-held ambition of mine to record one of my tunes with a full colliery band, for the last 30+ years in fact. True, The Whisky Priests recordings throughout the late 80’s and 90’s often featured colliery brass guest musicians, but never a full band in its own right. I am overjoyed that this ambition has finally been achieved, through my collaboration with the Ferryhill Town Band. To hear my old song ‘The Durham Light Infantry’ renewed in this way has been an incredible and unforgettable experience – this was the one song I most had in mind for a full brass band treatment throughout those 30-odd years. I feel truly blessed creatively and am proud to be able to share the results through this new single.” – Gary Miller, 2018

Artist’s website: http://www.garymillersongs.com/

‘The Durham Light Infantry’ – official video: