MISHRA – The Loft Tapes (Hudson MSR004)

The Loft TapesFronted by guitarist Ford Collier and vocalist-banjo player Kate Griffin, winners of the inaugural Christian Raphael prize at last year’s Cambridge Folk Festival, and augmented by jazz-folk double bassist Joss Mann-Hazell, Mishra are a new Sheffield-based ‘global folk collective’, the instrumentation on their debut album, The Loft Tapes,  encompassing clawhammer banjo, African calabash, Irish whistle and bouzouki with John Ball, their mentor at Sheffield university, guesting on tabla.

Each track a single live take recorded on analogue tape, predominantly self-penned, as you might surmise it straddles several musical styles and cultures, opening with a 50 second drone, whistle and banjo intro improvisation on ‘Raag Jog’, a Hindustani classical raga (the trio are named for a Hindu Brahmin surname), before tabla picks up the thread into ‘Road Dust and Honey’ merging eastern and Gaelic flavours and suggesting such influences as Davy Graham and Jack Rose.

Banjo and whistle make the running on ‘Chase The Sparrowhawk’, another instrumental, that sounds traditional but was written by Collier. Indeed, the album has a balance between tunes and songs, the former also encompassing ‘Jog For Joy’, tabla and banjo playing off each other in a hybrid of raga and jig, and the six-minute jam closer ‘Morphology’ that, in addition to banjo, whistle and table, also features Collier reciting in Tabla Bol, the spoken form of tabla drums.

Returning to the songs, among the their own work particularly noteworthy are the plaintively waltzing Appalachian-shaded ‘Beautfully Blind’ which, for some reason, reminds me of ‘Lord of All Hopefulness’, the jazz-inflected, whistle-driven ‘Taru Taru’ (which may or may not have anything to do with race of magic users in Final Fantasy) and, the most folksy of them all, ‘Keep Your Kindness’, the only number on which Collier and Griffin share the vocal parts.

There’s also two non-originals, the first being an arrangement of ‘Angeline The Baker’, a song written by Stephen Foster for the Christy Minstrels in 1850, in which the narrator (male but sung here by Griffin) laments that he should have married the titular Angeline, a slave who has now been sent away by her owner.

The other, and one which further nods to their Americana sensibilities, is a faithful reading of Gillian Welch’s unsettling Southern Gothic number ‘Scarlet Town’ from The Harrow & The Harvest. Together, they make for an impressive and multi-textured debut and it’ll be interesting to see how they expand their global folk fusions in albums to come.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website: www.mishramusic.co.uk

‘Scarlet Town’ – live:

Mishra announce their debut album

Award winning new band Mishra release their debut album The Loft Tapes on December 7th

Mishra

Mishra are an exciting new band based in Sheffield and led by Ford Collier and Kate Griffin. Ford and Kate won the inaugural Christian Raphael prize at the 2018 Cambridge Folk Festival and used the award money to record their first album as Mishra which they are now touring the country with.

Mishra describe themselves as a global folk “collective”. With strong roots in U.K folk, they weave a tight web of intricate, Indian-influenced original music that defies genre labels. Led by Kate Griffin’s voice and inimitable clawhammer banjo and driven by Ford Collier’s continent-hopping instrumental skills (Indian tabla, African calabash, Irish whistle and guitar). Ford and Kate were both separately shortlisted for the 2018 BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Awards in different projects. Both are already accomplished folk musicians (The Drystones and The Unsung Roots) 2018 saw them play Sidmouth Folk Week, Cambridge Folk Festival, Priddy Folk Festival and many more.

Until 2019, Mishra performed as a duo under the name Kate Griffin and Ford Collier; their sound has now been further underpinned by the addition of versatile jazz-folk double-bassist and bouzouki player and fellow Sheffield University alumni Joss Mann-Hazell.

For the debut Mishra album it was important to Kate and Ford that they capture the spirit of their live performances. So each track is made from a single take recorded live on analogue tape. They did this in the seclusion of a farmhouse loft in a secret Gloucestershire location. The result captures the energy of performance and the atmosphere of the setting. It’s interesting to note that on the final track ‘Morphology’, Ford recites inTabla Bol (the spoken form of the tabla drums).

As Ford says “We didn’t want the recording process to interfere with our music. We wanted to capture the fun we have in performing”. For these loft tapes they were joined by their Sheffield university mentor John Ball who is an accomplished table player and has been a mentor to the Mishra performers. His contribution allowed Mishra to produce a full band sound on live-in-room analogue tapes.

Kate says “It was such a pleasure to work with John and it helped us achieve our musical vision. He got all of us passionate about this music, so it was great to have him with us as we finished this project”

The Loft Tapes is officially released on 7th December at a concert in Kate’s hometown of Kempsford and Mishra will be touring the album across the UK in November ahead of the launch. You can find out more about their “uniquely accessible Indo-folk” on their website www.mishramusic.co.uk .

‘Taru Taru’ – live:

SWEET LIBERTIES – Sweet Liberties (Quercus QRCD002)

Sweet LibertiesSweet Liberties, originally a commission by the EFDSS and Folk at the Oak, in partnership with the House of Commons, to mark the 2015: Anniversaries: Parliament in the Making, this has now expanded to become a 14-track album featuring a varied line up of folk musicians in celebration of 800 years in the pursuit of democracy.

Some of the names will be familiar, others less so, but all contribute thoughtful and relevant songs touching on various aspects of the overall topic. I am assuming that everyone listed in the credits (which includes Nancy Kerr and Patsy Reid on violin, Nick Cooke on melodeon) played on all (or most) of the songs, the writers themselves handling the vocals, perhaps the best known being Martyn Joseph who contributes three of his own numbers, the first, featuring fingerpicked guitar and violin, a revisiting of ‘Dic Penderyn’ from his Evolved album, the story of the 1831 Merthyr Riots and the man hung for a crime he could not have committed. The second, a duet with Sam Carter, is also one from the back catalogue, ‘Twelve Years Old’, from Songs For The Coming Home, inspired by the 1833 Factory Act and framed as a conversation between two children a hundred years apart. His third, ‘Nye’, is a new song written for the project, a fingerpicked, violin-accompanied tribute to those who work in the NHS and to its founder, fellow Welshman, Aneurin Bevan.

The album opens with ‘Kingdom’, the first of four songs by 2015’s BBC Folk Singer of the Year, Nancy Kerr, a traditional styled solo acoustic number that takes Magna Carta as a springboard to address the ownership and management of land for profit and the subsequent loss of habitat. Coloured by violin, ‘Seven Notes’ is another traditional framed track, one which uses the image of the migrating cuckoo as a poetic metaphor for colonialist history, setting it in an experiment in musical patterns to represent multicultural Britain.

Rather more jaunty, the waltzing, melodeon-led Music Hall-like ‘Lila’ (the only song not to also feature on her new Instar album) connects the suffragette movement with the abolition of slavery through its twin subjects, Adelaide-born Muriel Lila Matters, who took to a hot air balloon to scatter Votes for Women leaflets over Parliament, and Mary Prince, an eighteenth century Bermudian whose autobiography offered a narrative of slavery. Her fourth contribution, the spare, melodeon, violin and guitar accompanied ‘Written On My Skin’, again draws on metaphor and nature imagery (here a hunted fox) on a song in memory of women forced to resort to the Human Rights Act to have their sexual assault cases justly tried.

A relatively new voice on the British contemporary folk scene, Maz O’Connor also has four credits, all new recordings, kicking off with the violin-backed ‘Rich Man’s Hill’ which, inspired by the 1601 Poor Law and concerning the widening gap between the haves and have nots,, tells of a homeless man in London who believes that, if he works hard enough, he too can get himself a mansion. The one track to address democracy directly, ‘This Old House’ (a nod the Palace of Westminster) is a playful take on democracy and compromise framed in the context of a couple redecorating and patching up their shared house, pizzicato violin driving along the chorus.

Featuring nimble fingerpicked guitar and violin, ‘Broad Waters’, as the title suggests, concerns the 1985 killing of PC Keith Blakelock on the Broadwater Farm estate and the subsequent police fitting up of three innocent men for his murder, and is set as a dialogue between a police officer pressuring a young boy into testifying against Winston Silcott. Her last track, backed by just acoustic guitar, the plaintive ‘Broken Things’, also concerns social justice, here, borrowing the opening of Wilfred Owen’s Anthem For Doomed Youth, a lament for the decline of the trade union movement, focusing on the Miners’ Strikes of 1984 and, in particular, the death of David Jones during violence on a picket line.

Which leaves Sam Carter who, like Joseph, provides three numbers. Echoing Kerr, ‘Am I Not A Man?’ also addresses slavery a waltzing number inspired by freed slaves organisation Sons of Africa whose campaigning contributed to the Abolition of Slavery Act, drawing for its details on the slave autobiography Interesting Narrative Of The Life Of Olaudah Equiano.

His two other songs come at the back end of the album, the first being the lurching cabaret-styled ‘Dark Days’, a straightforward state of the nation comment with gyspy violin accompaniment, proceedings closing with the folksy salvationist hymn ‘One More River’, a return to the theme of slavery that sounds a personal note in that his great great aunt married the son of a fugitive Virginian slave, sun in his voice as he contemplates fleeing to England, ending in an unaccompanied chorus by Carter and, presumably, his three female associates.

Featuring none of the bombast or flagwaving that would likely characterise an American equivalent, this is both a damn fine album and a salient reminder of the liberties we so often fail to hold dear.

Mike Davies

‘John Ball’ live at the launch event: