LUKE DANIELS – Old Friends & Exhausted Enemies (Wren Wren019)

Old Friends & Exhausted EnemiesLet me own up and say I blow somewhat hot and cold regarding Daniels’ music. I wasn’t a fan of Revolve & Rotate, for which he composed new music on a 19th century polyphon, and I found Singing Ways To Be More Junior a bit of a hit and miss affair. However, subtitled Seven Centuries of Poetry from Chaucer to Auden, Old Friends & Exhausted Enemies gets the thumbs up. Not a setting of poems by an anthology of English poets as such, rather he speaks of them as ‘collaborators’, borrowing snippets and lines, or even a single word, here and there to create his own songs, deepening his appreciation of his inspirations along the way.

Working with double bassist Jenny Hill and percussionist Signy Jacobsdottir as his core backing alongside contributions from the likes of Zi Lan Lao on Chinese harp, Rihab Azar on Syrian oud, Swedish cittern player Ale Carr and the Arco String Quartet,his first port of call takes in Thomas Campion, William Barnes, Robert Herrick , James Joyce, John Masefield and Alfred Lord Tennyson for ‘Girl With The Nut-Browne Hair’, a traditional folk styled love song which also evinces the fingerpicking influence of Nic Jones.

The warmly sung reconciliation and parting title track is slightly less wide-ranging in its cherrypicking, taking in Ben Jonson, John Dryden and even Isaac Watts’ hymn ‘Our Help In Ages Past’, followed by the equally measured pacing of ‘Officer Of My Career’ which, coloured by Abel Selacoe’s cello, calls upon John Donne, Robert Bridges, Sir Walter Raleigh, Robert Herrick and the rather more obscure Korby Lenker for a song about seeking direction which, with its line about “door splits and the CDs sold by hand” clearly directs thoughts to the struggles of the itinerant musician.

The waltztime fingerpicked ‘Who’s Going To Stop?’, a call for help and support in troubled times when you feel lost and alone is all his own work, then it’s back to the bards with Sir Walter Scott, Robert Browning, Wordsworth and Marlowe among those lending their words to the strings and piano-accompanied ‘Father’s Cradle Song’, a tender lullaby from a parent to their child as they grow and take their leave, the track transforming into jazzier keyboard shapes.

Another solo flight, ‘I See The Good In You’ has a bluesy ragtime swing (not to mention the line about being a “a grumpy bastard”) before, given a husky vocal reading and an American folk blues feel, ‘The Weed The Wood And The Wagg’ is, with just a couple of minor tweaks, a setting of Sir Walter Raleigh’s poem of encouragement to his son.

An Irish traditional, built around piano and strings with a drone-like vocal delivery, ‘The May Morning Dew’ concerns the passing of time and the memory of those that have gone before, the mood and tempo shifting to more upbeat, notions of mortality also percolating through the even deeper vocals of ‘Where We All Must Go’ with its dark Appalachian gospel resonances, the forlorn cello stains giving way to slightly brighter bluegrass notes. These are picked up and given their head on ‘Jim Beam & Brown Sugar’, another musicians inspired number, that calls to mind Martin Simpson’s work in the genre.

He returns to his literary sources from the last two numbers, first up being the sparse hymnal piano melancholia of ‘Soldiers And Sailors’, a cocktail of Browning, Masefield, Burns and Ciaran Carson that again reflects on changing seasons, unknown futures and the need to have both anchors and the freedom to set sail. Finally, the father of English literature himself, Geoffrey Chaucer provides a fitting sign off with ‘Prologue To The Canterbury Tales’ as, the language slightly tweaked, Daniels sets the entire opening stanza to music, primarily arranged for piano with other instruments feathering the path.

It’s an outstanding collection of work that not only advances Daniels’ growing reputation but which will hopefully send listeners back, like him, to discover the richness of the country’s literary heritage.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website:

‘Prologue To The Canterbury Tales’:

Luke Daniels announces new album and single

Luke Daniels

Following on from his critically acclaimed debut album What’s Here What’s Gone in 2014, Revolve & Rotate in 2016 (**** The Guardian) for which he restored and composed new music on a 19th century polyphon machine and Singing Ways To Feel More Junior, 2017 (**** Songlines) which used children’s folk rhymes as inspiration for some very grown up songs about the dangers of global capitalism and artificial intelligence, Luke Daniels has returned with a fourth solo album that promises to be his most interesting to date.

The title of this album refers to the many poets with whom Luke has “collaborated” to produce some of his new songs and his own personal journey from difficult first encounters at school to a much deeper appreciation of their work in later life. Slices of the English poetry from the past seven hundred years appear in these songs as reworked lines, phrases and imagery from Chaucer, Jonson, Burns, Dryden, Browning and Auden to list but a few, all woven into new work which as a result, references some of our most beautiful English verse.

Luke has worked his way through this large anthology to collect and pool anything that sparked his own imagination before allowing it to shape and hone his latest work, in some instances just a single word or as with Geoffrey Chaucer’s Prologue To The Canterbury Tales, setting whole passages to music.

“The project has been a study of my own making and time well spent at an important stage in my development as a songwriter. Amidst such creative company these Old Friends and Exhausted Enemies have made me a very grateful student.”

Luke is a skilled composer and songwriter who comes from a background of folk and traditional music. He has worked for two decades as an instrumental musician on melodeon, piano and guitar, straddling many genres with solo performances at London Jazz Festival, with The London Philharmonic Orchestra and as a member of the Riverdance Band.

A diverse range of musicians feature on his latest record including Zi Lan Lao (Chinese Gu Zheng) Rihab Azar (Syrian Oud) and the South African cellist Abel Selacoe (with whom Luke has been performing as the Kaleidoscope Quartet). Other members of his Glasgow based team include Signy Jacobsdottir from Scottish Ballet on percussion, Jenny Hill on double bass from Songs of Separation, Lyle Watt (Blue Rose Code Band) on guitar and the acclaimed Swedish cittern player Ale Carr. An additional Irish contingent includes fiddler Aidan O’Donnell, The Arco String Quartet from Belfast and The Donegal Abbey Singers. The album was produced by Daniels and Paul Savage (Mogwai, King Creosote and Karine Polwart).

Artist’s website:

‘Old Friends & Exhausted Enemies’ – promo video:

Ewan Macintyre Band announce new album

Ewan Mcintyre Band

In promotion of Ewan’s forthcoming album Road Junkie, Ewan and the band will be doing a series of tours throughout November in Scotland, England, Wales, Denmark, Ontario and Quebec in Canada.

Based between Quebec and Scotland, Ewan Macintyre has been described as a “Standout Scottish Vocalist” (Neon Filler), “Like Robert Johnson returned from the crossroads…A welcome moment in the future of traditional Scottish music” (Mumble Music), and “A scat pitched perfectly between James Brown and Tom Waits” (The Skinny).

Taking inspiration from two years of intensive touring, this boundary-breaking, genre-shifting album reflects a rare ability to pen classic songs in a range of styles. Road Junkie draws influence from Ewan’s work with award-winning bluegrass band Southern Tenant Folk Union (Late Late Show, Loose Ends, UK Americana Artist of the Year 2011), in theatre (In Her Shadows, directed by Cora Bisset), Scottish and Irish traditional music (including Gaelic song), pop, rock and soul (Ruby & the Emeralds). Continuing on from his 2015 release You Probably Look Better Naked Anyway, Ewan’s debut LP, Road Junkie is an 11 track roots music monster. Complete with dynamic string arrangements and wide, glossy guitar sounds underpinning Ewan’s warm, dulcet vocals and poignant lyrical content.

Road Junkie deals with questions of identity and purpose, with a pinch of a Hunter S. Thompson – esque spirit of adventure. Written and developed over three cross-Canada tours and gigs across Europe between 2016 and 2018, the album was remotely recorded between two continents in two languages and mixed and mastered in Montreal by Patrick Steele. Recording artists include: Ewan Macintyre: vocals, guitar, slide, harmonica, bass, percussion, mandolin, Karine Bouchard: violoncelle, Tim S Savard: violon, Robin Beech: concertina, Tyler Lieb: lead guitar (Sparkly Eyes & Red Ribbon), Dom Hardy: drums (Scotland), Max Savage: drums (Quebec) and Pat Steel: slide.

Live the band features Moray fiddle player Peter Menzies, Quebec cellist Karine Bouchard (Trifantasy, Rachel Beck) and upright bassist Jenny Hill (Songs of Separation BBC 2 folk awards winner 2017) with Ewan on vocals, guitar and mandolin.

Artist’s website:

‘Wine & Whisky’ – live:

VARIOUS ARTISTS – Songs of Separation (Navigator NAVIGATOR094P)

Songs of SeparationAn ambitious project, this is the brainchild of double-bassist Jenny Hill who, in the period running up to the Scottish independence referendum in 2014, found herself frequently on the road away from her Scottish home. As such, and being English, she was struck by the different messages being directed at and from the two nations and decided to address the notion of separation through a musical project. Recruiting Eliza Carthy, Hannah James, Hannah Read, Hazel Askew, Jenn Butterworth, Karine Polwart, Kate Young, Mary Macmaster and Rowan Rheingans, a posse of female folkies from both Scotland and England, they holed up on Isle of Eigg last June to write, rehearse and record (in just six days) what would eventually become this album, its theme of separation embracing the personal, political, social and cultural as well as touching on matters of family, gender, communication, supernatural, home, work, identity and the land.

Polwart taking the lead vocal, it opens with a reading of the traditional number, ‘Echo Mocks The Corncrake’, an appropriate choice given that Eigg is one of this migratory bird’s remaining habitats, its distinctive call introducing the track and echoed in the percussive beats, the lyrics about the separation of two lovers serving as a metaphor for the rural depopulation of the Highlands during the 18th and 19th centuries. It’s a robust treatment involving harp, scraping strings bass, double bass and a rousing wordless vocal refrain.

The album continues in traditional mode with Read’s bluegrass-tinged arrangement of Burns’ ‘It Was A’ For Our Rightfu’ King’, a gently yearning melody picked out her acoustic guitar and completed by harp and banjo, followed by the equality and love themed ‘The Poor Man’s Lamentation’ with its urgent rhythm, swirling violins and a capella ending. Further birdsong and the sound of a storm heralds the wholly massed a capella lament ‘Sad The Climbing’ (or, since it’s sung in Gaelic, ‘Trom An Direadh’), recorded live, like the album’s other a capella number, ‘Unst Boat Song’, in Eigg’s acoustically striking Cathedral Cave, itself not far from the site of a 1577 massacre of the MacDonald population by the MacLeods of Harris upon which the lyrics treat.

Driven by choppy percussive arrangement and gathering to a chanted climax, things remain in Scottish Gaelic for the near six-minute ‘Muladach Mi ‘s Mi Air M’aineoil’ (‘Sad Am I And In A Strange Place’), a call-and-response waulking song about a woman and her two daughters being separated from their people and their home.

In contrast to the bulk of the album, ‘Cleaning The Stones’ is an original number (a fish’s love song) penned by Eliza Carthy. Opening with a chamber folk arrangement, it waltzes dreamily on wings of plucked strings and harp arpeggios like something from the music halls. A little more birdsong, and it’s a journey way back in time and to the far reaches of the Shetlands for ‘Unst Boat Song’, a prayer for the safe return of fisherman sung on the original Norn with Polwart taking lead.

Sung by Hazel Askew with the others providing harmonies, the lullabying music hall tune of ‘London Lights’ may be more familiar as ‘Just Before The Battle Mother’, an American Civil War song written by George Root, the lyrics here about the destitution fate of abandoned single mothers. Heading into the final stretch, the harp shimmering ballad ‘Sea King’ is a handclap backed intricate setting by Kate Young of a poem by 19th century Danish poet Adam Oehlenschläger, a variation on the selkie myth about a woman who, years after being transformed into a mermaid, returns to shore, human again, only to find she has now has no home on either land and the sea.

Lady Maisery’s Rowan Rheingans steps up for another original, the strings-swathed ‘Soil And Soul’, a song inspired by both the hills known as The Old Woman of the Moors on the Isle of Lewis and the translation of the Gaelic for Eigg, The Island of the Big Women (a reference to the 7th century female Pict warriors sent to rid the island of Christianity-peddling monks), while the title (and the theme) stems from a book by Scottish environmental campaigner Alastair McIntosh.

Concerned with separation and loss as a result of conflict, personal or otherwise, ‘Over The Border’ weaves together a number of traditional tunes and a collective original, among them ‘The Flowers of Knaresborough Forest’, ‘Blue Bonnets Over the Border’ and pipe lament ‘The Floo’ers of The Forest’, plucked harp and Indian harmonium drone giving way to shared vocals by Polwart and Carthy before the ensemble joins in and violins, guitars and percussion lift the tempo for a rousing dance reel and the optimistic refrain of ‘the gates and the borders will all fade away’.

Finally, Robert Frost’s classic poem ‘The Road Not Taken’ provides the inspiration for’ Rheingans’ ‘Road Less Travelled’, her vocals joined by Polwart and Young (who also lent a lyric hand) on an suitably banjo-dappled accompaniment behind which, recorded in the open air, birds trill and the wind blows as they exhort “lay your cares and troubles down” and “sing your own way home”.

There’s no better way to end this than by quoting Hill’s words in the booklet:

Songs of Separation is an ‘SoS’, reminding us that this connection between people, and between people and place, is the key to overcoming the challenges we face, both in our communities and in this fragile world of which we are temporary custodians.” Come together, right now.

Mike Davies


Cathedral Cove:

Songs Of Separation – single and new album

Songs Of Separation - single, album and tour dates

Songs Of Separation is a highly significant collaborative recording project which reflects, through song, the issue of “separation” in its many forms. Featuring ten of England and Scotland’s most celebrated female contemporary folk artists, together they explore the similarities and differences in our musical, linguistic and cultural heritage. The ten participants are Eliza Carthy, Karine Polwart, Rowan Rheingans, Mary Macmaster, Hannah Read, Kate Young, Jenn Butterworth, Hazel Askew, Hannah James and Jenny Hill (who conceived the project).

Ahead of the release of the Songs Of Separation album and tour, Navigator Records are pleased to announce the release of a double A-side single release from the forthcoming album; ‘Echo Mocks the Corncrake’, featuring. Karine Polwart, and ‘A’ For Our Rightfu’ King’, featuring Hannah Read.

‘Echo Mocks The Corncrake’ – a sort of video:

The Songs Of Separation ensemble will embark on a short tour early in 2016, culminating at Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow on 24th January. Songs Of Separation aims to capture a sense of our times, exploring topical social and political issues through powerful music.

Artists’ website:


THE JELLYMAN’S DAUGHTER – The Jellyman’s Daughter (own label)

JellymanThe Jellyman’s Daughter is a duo comprised of Emily Kelly on guitar and vocals and Graham Coe on cello and vocals. Jenny Hill (double bass), Gerry Kelly (banjo) and Natalie Brown (fiddle) occasionally provide additional accompaniment on the tracks presented on this album.

Coe’s versatile cello playing provides the percussive elements of the songs; as well as the driving rhythms. Both Kelly and Coe have voices that combine excellently together. Kelly’s voice, in particular is suited to this style of music. The opener ‘Blue Lullaby’ is a strong opener with a catchy chorus. This is followed by a train-chugging rhythm for ‘The One You’re Leaving’. The addition of banjo gives a bluegrass feel to the song. The steam train beat, albeit with greater urgency, is employed again in ‘Carolina’, my favourite track on the album.

The songs vary from upbeat to mournful and all moods in between. There is even a unique take on The Beatles song, ‘Can’t Buy Me Love.’ A staccato rendition, offset with the soft singing of Emily Kelly.

The album is smooth and the track selection and order is well thought out. All in all, a very enjoyable listen. If I have any reservation, it is the lack of real percussion. Graham Coe does an admirable job filling in the sound with the cello, but there are one or two tracks where I believe the addition of drums would have raised them to the next level.

That personal gripe aside, I heartily recommend you give this talented duo a try.

Ron D Bowes

Artist’s website:

The Jellyman’s Daughter – ‘Honey’: