WINTER WILSON – Far Off On The Horizon (The Launch Event)

Winter Wilson
Photograph by John S Wright

If you go to a Winter Wilson gig you can expect great songs well-played, but also humour in their introductions. I saw them play at a small festival last summer and they stopped their set for five minutes so we could watch the Spitfire fly past. This is a duo good enough to break the rules. They launched their new album, Far Off On The Horizon at Sleaford Playhouse Theatre on May 11th.

The evening opened with the two walking on stage, relaxed, joking and self-deprecating before moving into the title song of the new album. If you’ve never heard them, then their style is, at heart, a combination of Dave Wilson’s clean picking and the two voices – strong separately but gloriously harmonized for both gentle or up tempo songs to give greater impact to the lyrics and the tune. This opening song is about being awake in the middle of the night, alone after a break up. The scene begins as one of everyday experience but then, as Dave Wilson’s songs do so often, there are lines to stun you into admiration at both the insight and the ability to weave the words seamlessly into song lyric, “Treachery comes with a smile/ And deceit the warmest handshake.”

How do you move from this to a song, ‘Merciful Father’, about killing in the name of your faith? For most people this would be the cue to start a considered discussion; for Winter Wilson, it’s an opportunity for Kip Winter to pick up the guitar while Wilson swaps to the banjo. The song is introduced with banjo jokes that have the audience in laughter – but as soon as they start playing, the mood changes to thoughtful listening, and for the acapella finish you could hear a pin drop.

And so the concert moves on – high class singing and playing are interspersed with insight and self-deprecating humour between the songs. ‘Ashes And Dust’, the title song of the previous album, came next followed by a couple more new songs – first a shift of style into blues with ‘Tried And Tested’ and then ‘When First I Met Amanda’ , a girl Wilson met a primary school and how the years have treated her (which is unkindly). There is something simultaneously specific and general about Wilson’s best songs and this is one of them. The lyrics move beyond a simple tale of the fall of someone you once knew into a reflection on humanity “Some never get to say I love you;/Some whisper ’neath their breath./Some spend their lives saying they’re sorry,/While others can’t forgive.”  And then it moves back into individual humanity with Wilson reversing the first verse of primary school love and praying that “she felt a little better/when she looked into my eyes” .

The duo have been playing as Winter Wilson since the 90’s, mostly in the folk tradition. As well as the serous aspects you can see above, their songs are also just good fun to sing. They moved next to 2007’s ‘Metagama’ and encouraged the audience to sing. Another blues-based song ‘The Freo Doctor’, about the cooling Western Australian afternoon breeze is airily introduced, with a schoolboy smirk, as ‘a song about wind’. The first half ended with three songs of great humanity: a solo from Kip Winter of a Burl Ives song her father used to sing; ‘Ghost’ – a classic Wilson song about a Big Issue seller and the impact of changes in the benefits system, a catchy chorus and the stunning image in final line of the chorus, “Well the government said it was self inflicted, / So I don’t show up on their statistics./With the click of a mouse I disappeared;/ From a girl to a ghost at eighteen years”; and a song with lyrics found after the death of a young local musician “I can’t take any credit for it, I just knocked a few edges off”.

By half time we’ve had a classic Winter Wilson concert: humour, self-deprecation, humanity – and some great songs. You have to be good to be able to take an audience from the laughing humour of the introduction to silent thoughtfulness in the first four bars of the following song and in recent years Winter Wilson have honed their talent and travelled a long way: they spent this winter opening around the country for Fairport Convention, and in the recent past they have toured Australia and New Zealand, Germany and Holland, Scotland, Wales and Ireland as well as all corners of England; they’ve played to small folk clubs and large festivals; they’ve written, sung and played some of the best songs currently on the folk and acoustic scene. John Tams, who knows a thing or two, has said, “It’s a rare gift you have – cherish it mightily.” Sleaford is Winter Wilson’s home town and the gig was a sell out. While there were local Sleafordians in the audience, there were also many who traveled for the concert.

The second half was made of the same stuff. It opened with a joke about a Welshman on a desert island and then moved into ‘Someone else’s Bed’ an early song about an enduring human pain, gripping to listen to, “knowing that you’re lying in someone else’s arms and someone else’s bed” – Dave Wilson’s driving strum on the bass strings forcing us to listen to the tale. The story grows, the higher strings chipping in, occasionally at first and then bursting in to the chorus, Kip Winter’s voice adding volume and fullness to a great tune in this song about something in life that hurts both male and female equally.

Then they took us from humour to empathy again – the humour in the bizarreness of knowing the German word, Schwangerschaftstest, for pregnancy testing kit – the empathy in this tale of ‘Doreen and Joe’ in their tenement, yearning for a baby. It has a happy ending, but it takes you through the agony of failed tests before the joy of the ending.

‘The Ship It Rocked’ is another new song with a lyric to stop you in your tracks, “They say you can’t trade human flesh,/No man can own another./But when the devil calls you’ll sell your soul,/You’ll turn upon your brother.” ‘Grateful For The Rain’ is a song of emigration to Canada with an introduction about the social history of lone female emigrants.

Having played most of the new album they treated us to a request for ‘This Day Is Mine’, another song that got the audience singing, and then to other favourites. It’s generally impossible to know the impact of songs that you write and sing, but for the song that followed, ‘Is It True That His Eyes Are Like Mine’, the duo have had two people come up to them (one after crying through the whole song) and let them know that they too have had babies taken away at an early age, the adults turning up years later to find their mothers – one ‘child’ aged 30, one aged 55.

The blues ‘Find Myself A Lover’, from 2001, came next – still powerful and a great showcase for Kip Winter’s vocal talent – and then ‘We Still Get Along’ from 2013. They finished with ‘Still Life In The Old Dog Yet’, the song they played jointly with Fairport on the recent tour. They couldn’t not do an encore after the ovation they received and finished with ‘Common Form’, based on the story of Rudyard Kipling bending rules so that his son could fight in World War One – then and losing him at the Battle of Loos only weeks after his arrival in France. It includes another magnificent line, “Testosterone and bullshit it’s a heady potent brew” but is much too nuanced to be described as an anti-war song (though it is). As ever with Wilson’s songs, it’s about humanity at a personal level (a father and his son) first, but also allowing you to draw out a wider understanding of humanity as a whole.

And there we had it – a typical Winter Wilson concert, but even more of one because it was both a homecoming and a launch of the new album. Twenty-five years since I first saw them perform they have eight albums to their name and international success. Have a listen to ‘Ghost’ in the video link below and you’ll get a feel for the songs, the clarity of the playing and the strength of their voices both separately and together. And if you like musicians who can move you from humour to compassion in about ten seconds, go and see them live.

Mike Wistow

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Artists’ website: https://winterwilson.com

‘Ghost’ – live:

ANNIE GALLUP – Ghost (Gallway Bay Music GBM108)

GhostAs well as having being one half of Hat Check Girl for the past five years, the Ann Arbor born singer-songwriter has an extensive solo career to her name, dating back to her debut release in 1994. This is her tenth solo album and, along with musical partner (and now husband) Pete Gallway on hand as ever, although this time only on string bass, it features Paul Simon’s go-to fiddler Gabe Witcher and David West on dobro and mandolin.

Maintaining the “quiet conversations” of 2012’s Little Five Points, it’s a gentle, reflective collection of hushed folk songs wrapped around tales of relationships, of love and loss, at least two of which specifically seem to call on her own family background, first up being ‘Diamond Ring’, a fiddle led number about her mother’s ring, serving as a symbol of the women herself and prompting Gallup to question the gulf between what’s remembered and what was. Indeed, the album title and the sleeve image of the ladder to an open attic, underlines the nature of memories and things hidden away that permeates several of the tracks.

The late Jack Hardy, a Greenwich Village folkie and playwright, is the inspiration behind the elegy and memories of the mandolin backed ‘Ghost Town Kite’, it’s rural tone spilling over into ‘West Memphis, Arkansas’ where she sings of there being four ways out of the dead-end town, the road, the rail, the river and, so the lyrics suggest, motherhood. Geographical location underpins the next track too, ‘The Battle of Brooklyn’, an uncluttered telling of the Revolutionary War battle as the redcoats marched on the town’s outnumbered rebel defenders.

If Hardy has inspired one track, banjo wizard Danny Barnes actually gets a song named after him as Gallup recalls seeing him in concert for the first time, wisely opting to keep the track’s own banjo work understated. Then it’s back to matters of the heart with ‘A Loves B’, a tenderly played bittersweet story of a true love, but one in which he hides a secret life, sleeping around and playing away from home while the singer is torn between loyalty to them both as she wonders “which of them do I betray?

The first of the album’s two covers comes with a bluesy take on Utah Phillips’ ‘Rock Salt And Nails’ featuring West on Dobro, reprising an association with the song from when he toured with the late Kate Wolf in the 80s. The second non-original closes the album, a version of Dougie MacLean’s much covered ‘Caledonia’, Gallup’s delivery evoking a poignancy I thought had long been squeezed out by overfamiliarity.

Between the two are the three remaining self-penned numbers, ‘The Weapon Of Choice’, another family-related song which, accompanied by Witcher’s forlorn fiddle, talks of receiving a telephone call from her mother (about her father’s death, perhaps) that “made a hole in my heart”.

The only vaguely uptempo number here, ‘Unravel’ is a burbling banjo, swamp and Appalachia hybrid blues written in the wake of tending to someone with a serious illness (“it’s only hair, he said, and I said it will grow back”) and how it made her want to cling to every moment, before returning to family once more for ‘Raised By Wolves’, a fiddle scraping, waltzingly playful portrait of what, if are to believe the lyrics (“My mother found fault with my father, my grandparents slept in twin beds… my brother could jimmy the lock…my step sister bullied the cops”), was a seriously dysfunctional, but decidedly interesting family where the narrator “would hide under my quilt with a flashlight, write poetry over their heads”. Regardless of whether it’s Gallup’s family or not, she is, after all, a storyteller, it’s a terrific song on an album that, like its title, offers a haunting listen.

Mike Davies

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‘West Memphis Arkansas’ – official video:

Merry Hell – news from The Ghost In Our House tour

The first leg of the “Ghost In Our House Tour” is behind us and we are now busy rehearsing for the forthcoming acoustic leg.  For those who haven’t seen the acoustic incarnation of the band we can’t recommend it highly enough. Some of the venues on this leg will be seated giving you the opportunity to enjoy the more subtle side of the band but as ever there will be the opportunity to belt out an anthem or two! There may even be other new songs added to the set…

The band have been worked hard on the tour and actually played two sets in both Derby and Lancaster.  Derby saw the first performance of material from the new album when “The Baker’s Daughter” was aired for the first time by the six piece acoustic band.  It was played again by the full band at night along with ‘The Ghost In Our House’ and another driving rocker, ‘Rage Like Thunder’, though Stocksbridge were denied the latter which, due to a special request, was replaced in the set by ‘Emerald Green’. We made our third visit to Telfords in Chester, a venue where the audience are as close to the band as its possible to be which always makes for a lively night!

Our return to The Miller in London was an eventful night and a late one.  The pizzas and chips were as good as we remembered and so was the atmosphere.  Nothing could dampen our spirits even though the van key snapped in the lock of the tour bus. We had to leave the gear at the venue, get taxis back to the hotel then pay the congestion charge again the following day to get the van out of central London! Thanks to everyone who travelled to get there, especially our local contingent (Julian, Rachel, Janie, Denise, Anita, Col & Chrissie). We also held a raffle for 2 tickets for our London gig next April supporting The Men They Couldn’t Hang and the lucky winner was Yann Kerbiriou from Kent.

From there we headed back to the Midlands for a gig in the old Tansads’ stronghold of Chasetown, local haunt of Iron Man CD cover star, Oz, where John treated the locals to a special encore of ‘Horses’.  The band and crew were also treated to top quality pre-gig catering and hospitality from Oz.  Massive thanks again to Andrea and Ed in Stocksbridge who laid on a mighty feast that would have fed a football team and provided the most luxurious merchandise space to date with three entire tables to display our wares and to sign people up for the free Ghost EP.  We then switched South Yorkshire for North with our first visit to Keighley and an intimate seated venue, The Exchange, though it didn’t take too long for people to abandon their seats for the dance floor!

MERRY HELLOWEEN III

Closing the first half of the tour our third Merry Helloween event again proved to be one of the highlights of the year. With the Citadel packed to the rafters, the crowd suitably fired up and the band raring to go, a good time was guaranteed.  Turning the set list on its head as usual, ‘Hope You Don’t Mind’ was the surprise opener, followed by ‘Finest Hour’. The band were backed by screen projections showing an array of ghost related images.  All the usual favourites were there, just not necessarily in the usual order with the likes of ‘Drunken Serenade’ and ‘This Time’ appearing later in the set.  There was a welcome return for Lee’s ‘The Gentle Man’, which hasn’t been played in a long time with Lee’s Grandad, subject of and inspiration behind the song, appearing on screen at the end.

The band were visibly moved by the audience singalong sections with ‘Lean On Me’, ‘War…’,  ‘One More Day’ and John’s now traditional ‘Horses’ encore, all being loudly and proudly sang back at the stage. Making his Citadel debut, Nick also commented afterwards on how impressed he had been with the audience singing.  All too soon the fluorescent balloons were bouncing around in the crowd and on stage as the evening closed with a full tilt ‘Let The Music Speak’…or so we thought. The band returned for a surprise 2nd encre and how had no one noticed that ‘Rosanna’s Song’ hadn’t been played yet?  So many favourites, so little time – so who is up for doing it all again next year?

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

‘Ghost In Our House’ – the official video:

 

KATE RUSBY – Ghost (Pure PRCD38)

KRGhostAn album by unquestionably my favourite female voice in contemporary folk (it’s those homely, but somehow also sexy Barnsley vowels) and a version of ‘Martin Said’, the song that first introduced me to folk music – Christmas has definitely come early.

Working, as ever, with guitarist husband Damien O’Kane and variously joined by Michael McGoldrick on whistles and flute, double bassist Duncan Lyall, bouzouki player Steven Byrnes, accordionists Nick Cooke and Julian Sutton, electric guitarist Steven Iveson and Rex Preston on mandolin with Union Station’s Ron Block providing banjo, not to mention the occasional string quartet, Rusby’s 12th studio recording is also her first all new material in four years, Unlike Make The Light, however, there’s only three self-penned tracks here, the rest being arrangements of traditional numbers.

One such opens proceedings in the shape of her take on the familiar Child Ballad, ‘The Outlandish Knight’, the unease in the lyrics about a maiden getting the better of her murderous suitor underscored by guitar drone and haunting diatonic accordion. It’s traditional again for the second track, ‘The Youthful Boy’, another false heart tale as, her lover having gone off to sea, the abandoned woman declares she’ll not mourn his death, Block’s banjo dappling notes around Rusby’s airy tones.

Buoyed up by accordion, the first original is ‘We Will Sing’, a sprightly contribution to the canon of songs celebrating May and spring’s renewal while its two companions are the liltingly lovely, melody cascading ‘After This’ with its affirmation of the healing power of song and the rather darker title track album closer, a somewhat gothic tale of a departed lover’s brief haunting visits (reflected in the booklets artwork) played out with just voice and piano.

It’s a theme mirrored to implied or overt extent in two of the album’s traditional numbers, the gently wistful ‘Night Visit’, set to a tune by Tony Cuffe, where a man braves the ‘roaring tempest’ for a night of passion with his lover, and the suitably subdued air of ‘The Bonnie Bairns’, where a lady encounters two mysterious children who lead her deep into the woods to deliver new of her lover’s fate.

Heartbreak weighs heavy too on ‘I Am Sad’’s acoustic melancholic lament of blighted love, but you’ll be pleased to know that it’s not all doom and gloom, with the remaining traditional contributions including a spiritedly upbeat ‘Three Jolly Fishermen’, the electric guitar (courtesy of Doyle) and accordion refrain friendly swayalong ‘The Magic Penny’ and, with McGoldrick on whistles, ‘Silly Old Man’, another tale of coming good financially as the titular protagonist turns the tables on the thief who tries to rob him. As R. Dean Taylor once said, there’s a Ghost in my house. There really should be one in yours, too.

Mike Davies

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Artist’s website: www.katerusby.com

A behind-the-scenes look at Ghost: