BILL JONES – Wonderful Fairytale (Brick Wall Music BRICK007CD)

Wonderful FairytaleFifteen years on from taking a short break to raise a family, the Sunderland-based former Radio 2 Horizon Award winner finally returns with her fourth studio album. Produced by Ian Stephenson, who also plays guitar and double bass, and featuring Jean-Pierre Garde on strings, percussionist Stephen Henderson, Santi Jayasinha on flugelhorn and with backing vocals from Anne Hills and Gareth Davies-Jones, the wait for Wonderful Fairytale has been worth it. Indeed, opening with the Hills co-write swayalong ‘The Arboretum’ (its traditional feel partly down to the fact it’s a version of ‘The Trees They Do Grow High’), a tale of love blossoming over a shared love of botany, it’s like she’s never been gone.

There’s another borrowing for the piano waltz inner Cinderella/Snow White domestic drudgery-themed title track which interpolates the well-known chorus from Lavenders Blue before moving to one of only two non-originals, ‘A Far Cry’, a swaying love song by Peter Crossley, in whose band Who’s That Man? she played in the 90s and which also features on his own new debut album.

Her passion for traditional music is clear throughout the album, both in her own songs and in arrangements or reworks of songs from the repertoire. A case in point being ‘The Cold Susquehanna’ which, again co-written with Hills and coloured by icy piano, Henderson’s rumbling percussion, and Niles Krieger’s violin, offers a twist in ‘The Two Sisters’ that spins a gender twist on the original murder ballad’s victim as well as its sibling bonds.

Featuring just her yearning warbling voice and piano, ‘My Elfin Knight’ is a dreamy pastoral folk ballad about love and loss that gives way to another love song, this time for her adopted home in the piano country waltz roll of ‘The Wear County Line’, a widow’s coming home song. Krieger’s fiddle puts in another appearance, Jones providing the accordion, on the playful ‘Humphrey Kynaston’ which, in 70s folk rock manner, tells the story of the Shropshire highwayman and spendthrift son of the county’s High Sheriff.

The only actual traditional number comes with ‘The Three Ravens’, her doomy arrangement for sombre piano and mournful viola and featuring flugelhorn that combines words from that, the ‘Twa Corbies’ and her own additions, the pace picking up with jaunty sway of ‘Never A Lad’, her accordion giving it a European folk flavour, Hill’s lyrics drawing on the same lover poisons her man to stop him straying narrative of ‘Lord Randall’.

The last of their collaborations comes with ‘Myself At Home’, a descending scales, almost hymnal piano ballad Garde’s viola adding extra wistful emotional texture to a lyric about reflection and self-discovery, time passing and growing older that chimes with the earlier ‘Wear County Line’.

Featuring a full string quartet, ‘Caden’s Lullaby’ is what it says, a song for her youngest son, a “little bonny boy” with a habit of not being inclined to visit the land of nod and referencing his dad and two brothers too. It all ends with the other cover, an acapella reading of English folk singer and promoter Alan Bell’s ‘So Here’s To You’, a parting glass song she first performed 17 years ago alongside Hills and Aoife Clacy as with Faire Winds, Hill here harmonising on the second verse and joined by Davies-Jones for the chorus.

After fifteen years’ absence, when she sings the line “now I know we will meet again”, it fair gladdens the heart.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.brickwallmusic.com

‘My Elfin Knight’ – official live video:

Bill Jones returns with new album

Bill Jones

Bill (Belinda) Jones is an English folk singer/songwriter, who started her career in 1999, winning a BBC Radio 2 Folk Award (Horizon Award) in 2001. Three studio albums later (Turn to Me, Panchpuran, and Two Year Winter), countless festival appearances, and tours across the UK, USA, and Japan, Bill took a long break in 2004 to raise her family. Back then a young singer, Bill received accolades from audiences across the folk and acoustic music scene. Live sessions on Radio 1’s Andy Kershaw Show, Radio 2’s Mike Harding Folk Show, and Radio 3’s In Tune programme followed, as well as an interview and live performance on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. Bill’s beautiful voice and catchy tunes led to a stream of messages over the years asking Bill if she is coming back, and now it’s finally time.

With a release date of 1st May 2019, Bill’s new album Wonderful Fairytale features traditional, contemporary and self-penned songs, all stamped with Bill’s appealing and accessible style. Produced and recorded by Ian Stephenson at Simpson Street Studios, Bill is joined by Ian (guitar/double bass), JP Garde (violin/viola), Stephen Henderson (percussion), Shanti Jayasinha (flugelhorn) and Gareth Davies-Jones and Bill’s co-writer Anne Hills (harmony vocals). Two tracks also feature string quartet arrangements. Review copies are available by request. Bill will be touring the album in the UK from May 2019 onwards, and is also visiting the USA in June 2019. Go to Bill’s website to see the video of Bill singing new song ‘My Elfin Knight’. You can also hear previews of the album

Artist’s website: https://www.brickwallmusic.com/

‘My Elfin Knight’:

RACHAEL McSHANE & THE CARTOGRAPHERS – When All Is Still (Topic TSCD596)

When All Is StillIt’s been nine years since Rachael McShane realised her solo debut, the time since then keeping her busy as cellist, fiddler, viola player and singer with the now defunct Bellowhead, of which she was a founding member back in 2004, and, more recently, her role in the reworking of Peter Bellamy’s folk opera The Transports.

However, she’s now found a window to record a follow-up, again predominantly a collection of traditional material, working with two fellow North East musicians, guitarist Matthew Ord fron Newcastle bluegrass outfit Assembly Lane and Kathryn Tickell’s melodeonist Julian Sutton. She’s also joined on assorted tracks by former Bellowhead colleagues Paul Sartin on oboe and Andy Mellon, Justin Thurgur and Ed Neuhauser on trumpet, trombone and tuba, respectively. The album’s produced by Ian Stephenson who also handles double bass and piano duties.

With a couple of exceptions, her choice of material leans to lesser known of less commonly performed numbers from the folk canon, case in point being the opener, ‘The Molecatcher’, a waltzing ditty about infidelity as the titular cuckold catches his wife in flagrante although McShane’s sanitised the original lyrics so that now, he catches the lad by his coat (rhyming with sport) rather than his bollocks (rhymed with frolics) who declares the fine of ten pounds works about tuppence a time rather than a grind. Revisionist delicacy notwithstanding, it’s a fine and cheekily sung number, the tune of Sutton’s ‘Simpson Street Waltz’ written in honour of the studio where they recorded.

More usually known as ‘The Outlandish Knight’, a number she often played with Bellowhead, spotlighting melodeon, ‘Lady Isabel’ tells of a serial killer of young maids getting his comeuppance when his intended seventh victim tumbles him into the sea. The ballad exists in a wide variety of versions and lyrics, and, in keeping with the album’s mischievous tone, this retains the final verse where the girl bribes her parrot to keep quiet about where she’s been.

Originating from Huddersfield, the melodeon wheezing ‘Cropper Lads’ has been part of her repertoire for a while, a song celebrating the titular weaving industry craftsmen that makes reference to Great Enoch, a hammer used to smash up the jobs-threatening machinery during the Luddite uprising. It’s set to a new tune by McShane titled ‘Full Belly’, apparently inspired, not by anything weaving or industrial, but from playing an online game called Sushi Cat.

Lads from a different, ahem, field make an appearance in ‘Ploughman Lads’, a rousingly straightforward chorus friendly love song featuring percussion from Martin Douglas, followed, in turn, by the first of the two instrumental sets, McShane’s stately fiddle-led ‘Waltzing At Giggleswick’, written for a charity of which she’s patron and providing a platform for Ode’s guitar work, twinned with Sutton’s melodeon romp ‘The Ginger Cat Monster’.

By far the best-known number is ‘Two Sisters’ (you know, the one where one sister downs the other over a romantic rivalry and the body is found and turned into as self-playing fiddle and reveals her murder), except McShane reveals a cynical streak with a grizzly ending that shows justice a clean pair of heels.

Learned from the Peter Bellamy version, the mid-tempo swayalong ‘Barley and Rye’ is another song about bored wives who get up to mischief in the bedroom because they’re neglected by husbands more concerned with their work, here a farmer and his crops.

Sutton contributes the second of the instrumentals, the finely crafted and shape-shifting ‘Road To Tarset/Lake Of Swans’ both nodding to favourite haunts in Northumberland. On a darker note, this is followed by another staple, a suitably sombre and brooding take on euphemistically-titled incest ballad ‘Sheath & Knife’ which, variously recorded by Ewan MacColl, Eliza Carthy, June Tabor, Maddy Prior and Maggie Boyle, from whom McShane learned the song, tells how the king’s daughter becomes pregnant by her brother and goes with him to the greenwood to give birth where she asks him to put an arrow through her and bury her with their baby.

Lighter notes are struck on another well-known number, ‘Sylvie’ being a version of ‘The Female Highwayman’ or ‘Sovay’. One of the first songs the trio put together, it opens with a plucked viola before the instrumentation swells as the tale unfolds of a woman disguising herself to test her lover’s loyalty and bravery by demanding the ring she gave him. Given that, in the final verse, she declares that had he parted with it she’d have shot him dead, it’s perhaps not a match for the long haul.

Set to a new galumphing, melodeon-driven cider-swigging tune by McShane with brass arrangement by Stephenson, it all ends joyously with ‘Green Broom’, a traditional tale of a broom cutter who, fed up of his son lying in bed to noon, sends him off to the woods to cut a bundle , the lad catching the attention of a fine lady on his way home and ending up marrying her. There seems to be a Norman Tebbit-like moral for our social benefits times in there somewhere.

Fresh, sparkling and lively in its arrangements and performance, it’s an album that should consign phrases like ‘former-Bellowhead’ member to footnotes rather than a delineation.

Mike Davies

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

‘Ploughman Lads’ – official video:

BRYONY GRIFFITH – Hover (Selwyn Music SYNMCD0009)

HoverIt’s funny how things go but there seems to something of a resurgence in English fiddle music at the moment. Hover is Bryony’s second solo album although these are in addition to her work with The Witches Of Elswick, partner Will Hampson and The Demon Barbers. Although mostly solo, Ian Stephenson adds guitar and double bass sparingly.

Some of these tunes were collected on Bryony’s travels. ‘The Gaubeo, The Ladds Of Dance & Oaks Assembly’ came from various manuscripts but have gone back into the tradition in reinvigorated form as Bryony’s set for the Newcastle Kingsmen’s rapper dance. ‘Ladies’ Pleasure’ & Constant Billy’ were learned first hand for Bryony to play for Dog Rose Morris and I’d like to think that tunes have been passed around like this for three hundred years or so, although perhaps without the impetus of a Morris weekend. ‘Queen’s Delight & Bonnets So Blue’ came from Lionel Bacon’s book and were also put together for Dog Rose.

It’s not all straightforward Morris tunes, however. ‘Oranges In Bloom’ is Cotswold tune adapted as a slow waltz and paired with ‘The Castle Minuet’. I particularly like ‘Slingsby’s Allemand & The Spanish Spy’ which were collected from old manuscripts but, this being the 21st century, the other sources of tunes are records and websites. It does seem a bit easy when a song or a tune can be taken from the interweb without leaving the comfort of your own home. Now, when I was young… Bryony, however, is scrupulous about naming her sources so anyone wanting to learn one of these tunes has a first port of call.

That may sound cynical but I can see many young fiddlers wanting to learn some of these tunes or a band in need of a new set pouncing on this album. It is also pleasant listening on a summer’s afternoon.

Dai Jeffries

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Artist’s website: www.bryonygriffith.com

CANNY FETTLE – Still Gannin’ Canny (Canny Fettle Records CANNYCD001)

Still Gannin' CannyYou know the kind of friendships where you don’t see one another for ages, yet when you next meet up, you just pick up right where you left off, like you’d never been away? Well, that’s the sound of Still Gannin’ Canny, right there.

It might be some 30 years since Canny Fettle last released an album, but it could just as well have been a week ago. There’s such an easy meshing of the musical talents, a comfortable way of playing together that simply shines through. The trio of Bobs Morton and Diehl, plus Gerry Murphy produce a rich, warm yet roomy sound that producer, Ian Stephenson, has captured superbly, ensuring each element has enough room to breathe and be heard clearly.

There’s a deliberate absence of technical whizz-bangs and gizmos, just an attempt to set down the tracks with honesty, care and respect. Accompaniments by Jane Diehl, Grace Smith, George Unthank, Peter Wood and Ian Stephenson add meaningful, subtle embellishments, including clogging, to the songs and tune sets.

And yet, there is something distinctly redolent of yesteryear here – and it’s not just the cover art’s very pleasing shade of 1970s mustard. There’s a certain quality to the band’s delivery of songs like ‘Old Miner’, ‘Happy Sam’ and the woozy fairground waltz of ‘Ashton Mashers’, that unleash something very Proustian, to these ears at least, taking me back to various dialect songs that fringed my Lancashire childhood.

The informative, extensive liner notes explain much more about the song choices, so I’m not going to regurgitate them here, only to say that they are very well worth the read.

This fine collection of music from Scotland, the North East and North West sounds as if it’s always been there, perhaps in a corner of our collective memories, just waiting for us to return and listen again. That it’s all a brand-new work somehow makes it even more remarkable. Still Gannin’ Canny has a timeless quality that fully deserves “instant classic” status.

Su O’Brien

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Artists’ website: http://www.cannyfettle.com

Canny Fettle release their first album in thirty years

Canny Fettle

This year sees the release of Still Gannin’ Canny, the first album in over 30 years from veteran folk band Canny Fettle. Their debut album Varry Canny, released in 1975 on the Tradition Records label was highly regarded at the time and has been out of print for decades, their second album Trip To Harrogate followed in 1977, a collection of repertoire from the then newly-discovered Joshua Jackson Manuscript, after which the group effectively disbanded to pursue their individual careers in industrial chemistry and the aeronautics industry, only to reform in 2016 with the idea of a new recording.

The new album is a tribute to those classic albums of the 1970s, recorded in a vintage style – all musicians together in one room, captured honestly with a natural blend. Producer Ian Stephenson remarks on the process:

“It was a total pleasure to work with Canny Fettle on this new recording – With no disrespect to the lads, it was a bit like going back in time, like finding an old album nobody knew existed! My part in the production involved capturing the brilliant performances in a totally honest, real-time way, offering general encouragement, as well as trying to use a style of production in keeping with their previous albums. Everything from the cover design through microphone choice and musical decisions was decided with this in mind. One surprising thing for me was how much unique repertoire they brought to the recording sessions – the early mixes and pre-release copies of the album have been doing the rounds on Tyneside and many seasoned folk performer has remarked on how these recordings sound like classics, but ones which have never been heard before.”

The material featured shows their usual North-East bias, along with some melodies from further afield. There are old melodies from William Vicker’s Manuscript (1770) and Joshua Jackson’s (1798) all mixed up with both traditional songs and music hall songs from Tyneside and Lancashire. One advantage of releasing on CD or digital over vinyl, is the inclusion of extensive, well-researched liner notes giving historical context to the music, placing the music in a visceral context and giving it the gravitas it deserves.

Canny Fettle had its origins in the Manchester area in the late 60s when fellow students Bob Diehl, Gerry Murphy, and Anthony Robb joined with Royton singer John Williamson to form a group. They were influenced at this time locally by Harry Boardman and from further afield by Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick and of course the High Level Ranters.

The line-up featured on Still Gannin’ Canny is Bob Diehl – fiddle, Gerry Murphy – English concertina, Northumbrian pipes, Bob Morton – guitar, voice, with special guests: Jane Diehl (accordion), Grace Smith (vocals, clog), Ian Stephenson (piano), George Unthank and Pete Wood (chorus singing).

News of the band’s resurgence has been spreading and has also resulted in Fellside Records re-releasing digital versions of both Varry Canny (1975) and Trip To Harrogate (1977), whilst Still Gannin’ Canny (2017) is available from the band’s own website where both digital and CD versions include full liner notes.

The intention behind the album can be best presented as in the notes:

“To record a selection of new and old songs as a tribute to the many people who influenced them throughout the years and endowed them with the joy of music. This is above all what they collectively hope to pass on “

Artist’s website: www.cannyfettle.com