There’ll be an excellent, eclectic and truly international line-up at this summer’s 14th Gate To Southwell music festival (June 4th-7th). English roots stars Show Of Hands, the Galician piper-powered Anxo Lorenzo Band, Breton/Scots The Celtic Social Club and 2019 BBC folk award winners The Breath (featuring Rioghnach Connolly) are among the headline acts alongside three exceptional Scottish bands Imar, The Jellyman’s Daughter and Talisk, two Canadian duos in Madison Violet and Pierre Schryer & Adam Dobres, and last summer’s Californian bluegrass stars AJ Lee & Blue Summit.
Now regarded as one of the UK’s best family festivals, set in beautiful rural surroundings near Southwell Racecourse, Nottinghamshire, Gate To Southwell all kicks off on Thursday June 4th with a classic Blues Night starring Dutch-based singer/guitarist Ian Siegal. Over four days of great music will also feature “the renaissance man of English folk”, Chris Wood, the increasingly-influential and charismatic BBC Horizon award-winner Blair Dunlop, master storyteller and emotional songwriter Reg Meuross, plus Texan-born troubadour and guitar virtuoso Rodney Branigan.
If all this wasn’t enough to whet appetites for this action-packed festival – which features music workshops, ceilidhs, dance displays, great children’s entertainment, a craft fair and fine food and drink stalls – GTSF 2020 also brings you the folk-meets-gypsy swing of Beaubowbelles, the French reggae of Simawe from Angiers, great Irish folk and harmonies from Donegal’s The Henry Girls, Italian country blues-meets-ragtime double act Veronica Sbergia & Max De Bernardi and the highly-acclaimed, sweet-voiced multi-national Americana band Track Dogs.
Ian Siegal releases All The Rage on March 16th, his eleventh album. Folking.com has already announced the new album so what follows is much more of a personal reflection.
It’s a long time ago, but if memory serves me right, I first saw Ian Siegal about twenty years back in the kind of venue that every town should have – decent beer, dark once you’re past the bar, black walls with a great graphic painted on, sticky underfoot and a great sound system (‘one of Kerrang’s Top Five Venues’ or words to that effect were emblazoned on the walls). Ian Siegal came on second and I remember thinking, “I thought the first guy was good, this is something extra”. Twenty years on, this new album proves that Ian Siegal is still something special.
If you don’t know Siegal’s work, this album is essentially electric blues with a band that adds depth to the sound and means you can turn the volume up full – whether it’s in your living room or in the car. Do it – In writing this paragraph, I’ve just blasted the house out on ‘The Sh*t Hit’ (the title is more coy than the singing); it’s got moody electric lead with a steady blues rhythm section. Good as it is quieter, it really should be played loud. Actually, just do this from the start of the album (I just have). The aggression of ‘Eagle Vulture’ which opens the album repays volume just as much – as do ‘One-Eyed King’, ’Sailor Town’ and the almost gospel soul/blues of ‘Sweet Souvenir’ where Siegal, “shipwrecked with no guiding star” and trying to cheer himself up, bends the ear of the barman and drinks till the bar shuts. A beautiful arrangement plus gospel-ised backing vocals lifts the song to magnificent heights in capturing that kind of night.
If you know Ian Siegal from the past twenty-five years, you’ll know why Classic Rock magazine has called him “a national treasure”. If not then this would be a great introductory album because the other tracks on All The Rage are more varied and I suspect will give it a breadth of audience wider than, say, the more purely blues-focused 2009 album, Broadside (which Mojo magazine picked as Blues Album of the Year).
The remaining tracks, then: ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ is “a porch-blues bone-rattler with a gang-chanted vocal” (I defy anyone to better that description from the publicity material); ‘Won’t Be Your Shotgun Rider’ is country-flavoured in the way that The Band or Counting Crows do non-sentimental country; ‘Ain’t You Great’ somehow manages to be somewhere between Latin-American/I’m Your Man era Cohen/and Blues – and it works; ‘My Flame’ is a revelation in its simplicity.
Ian Siegal has been inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame for his achievement in receiving the award for male vocals in 2011, 2012, and 2013. The video below takes you to the promo for the new album. It’s little over a minute long, so have a listen but then flick round YouTube for other Siegal videos to get a sense of just why his work is so admired (Mojo, for example, called him, “One of the most innovative, gifted and engaging blues performers on the planet today”).
Siegal is touring from March 24th. All The Rage is probably the best new album I’ve played this year; they should be great gigs – and loud I hope. If only that venue was still open.
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A studio album from Ian Siegal is always a seismic event. Recent times have seen this award-winning British songwriter put untold miles on the clock, with the spit-and-grit of his shows bottled in several live albums. But in 2018, it’s tantalising to find his name alongside ten new original songs and to anticipate where All The Rage might take the man whose material was rightly trumpeted by Mojo as “awash with wit, lust and distraction”.
A darkening world calls for dazzling songs. As Siegal looked out last year, he saw a planet with poison in its veins, as evidenced by the ascent of President Trump and the insidious rise of right-wing factions across Europe. A double-edged album title grew from his observations – “All the rage” is usually a reference to popularity and being a craze, the twist here being a nod towards anger and frustration, emotions that are evident in a clutch of reactive songs, from the military beats and aggressive slide-guitar of opener ‘Eagle-Vulture’, through the biting electric-blues of ‘The Sh*t Hit’, to the Latin-tinged apocalyptic imagery of ‘Ain’t You Great?’.
Since Siegal’s post-millennial breakthrough, he has proved himself a prolific talent. An acclaimed album catalogue takes in highlights like 2007’s Swagger, and two Mississippi-recorded releases – 2011’s The Skinny and 2012’s Candy Store Kid – that saw him showered with transatlantic blues awards and touted by Classic Rock magazine as a “national treasure”.
All The Rage has him collaborating with Jimbo Mathus as producer. Seasoned Siegal-watchers will recall the British songwriter first worked with Mathus when the Grammy-winning Mississippian collaborated on 2013’s The Picnic Sessions. Having further bonded on a 2014 acoustic duo tour, Mathus this time stepped forward to the role of producer for this full-on electric album, crossing the Atlantic to record at Amsterdam’s Island Studios.
Writing with Mathus had also been an ambition and here we have three co-writes, ranging from a finger-picked confessional ‘My Flame’, to the stark cyclical blues ‘If I Live’, and the lilting gospel-soul stunner ‘Sweet Souvenir’, which finds Siegal bending a barman’s ear with his trademark grit-and-honey vocal.
The band members are Siegal’s young stalwarts recruited in 2013 and since honed into a telepathic unit. Dusty Ciggaar (guitars), Danny Van’t Hoff (bass), and Rafael Schwiddessen (drums) bind seamlessly with Siegal’s vocals and guitar. Some additional instrumentation from Jimbo Mathus and occasional backing vocals by Merel Moelker were all that was needed to create a big, real sound.
“We were close together in one room, old school, so it was almost like playing a live gig. The whole thing was completed in four six-hour sessions, so you might say it was done in 24 hours. Job done and such a pleasure.”
Dig into the track listing and you’ll find an unbroken run of modern classics. ‘One-Eyed King’, co-written with Isa Azier and Mischa den Haring, is described as “kind of a murder ballad”, while ‘Jacob’s Ladder.’again written by the trio, is a porch-blues bone-rattler with a gang-chanted vocal (“It’s about both kinds of luck, bad and worse”).
Siegal’s own ‘Won’t Be Your Shotgun Rider’ combines a sunny-side-up country vibe with a lyric advising that, in extreme circumstances, it’s better to let a lost soul sink (“Sometimes people need to jump that particular ride for everybody’s sake”).
Finally, there’s ‘Sailor Town’: a hooky, black-humoured story-song initiated over coffee with multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Hook Herrera, its lyric telling of a hardscrabble dockside district where “some of my friends got locked up, most of the girls got knocked up”.
“Hook Herrera and I were discussing the areas where we grew up and I described mine as kinda rough, y’know, a ‘sailor town’, At which point Hook declared, ‘Boom, there ya’ go – that’s the title of our first song together!’”
As All The Rage plays out, reality bites. This album won’t bring about world peace or take down a wayward president. But while the music plays it’s a balm for troubled souls, a lifeline in a sinking world – and another rung in Ian Siegal’s climb to the summit of the international blues scene.