JOHN SMITH – Hummingbird (Commoner COMM01CD)

HummingbirdJohn Smith is a name I’ve been circling around for some time without actually hearing him so I was delighted when his new album, Hummingbird, his sixth, fell into my lap. I now have some serious catching up to do. If you haven’t encountered him yet you should know that John is a fine fingerpicking guitarist and songwriter with a very individual take on traditional songs.

John names his influences as John Renbourn and Richard Thompson. The former is obvious from his guitar style and the latter becomes so with the opening song in this set. ‘Hummingbird’ is a beautiful song of love yearned for, gained and lost and also a middle class homage to ‘Beeswing’. If you’re not immediately grabbed by it you should be listening to some other music. The second original song here is the fiery ‘Boudica’, the story of Iceni queen bolstered by strings and the third is the long modern murder ballad, ‘Axe Mountain (Revisited)’, which comes straight after the traditional ‘Willy Moore’. Whether this is actually a murder ballad is hard to say, although the set-up of the first three verses suggests it, but it feels more like a story of thwarted love and suicide.

It’s John’s approach to traditional songs that really engaged me, though. He approaches them as though they were modern with a changed note here and there and a contemporary inflection in his voice. ‘Hares On The Mountain’ has more recorded versions than you can shake a stick at but he makes you listen to it afresh as he does with ‘Lord Franklin’, a favourite of mine, I must admit.

The odd man out is Anne Briggs’ ‘The Time Has Come’ performed in the style of a sixties guitar player which is entirely appropriate given that John learned it via Renbourn. His band is used sparingly; there is lovely bass from Ben Nicholls and fiddle and whistle from John McCusker with Cara Dillon adding vocals to the closing ‘Unquiet Grave’. Sam Lakeman’s production is perfectly restrained and perfectly judged even when a song like ‘Axe Mountain’ is a temptation to pile on the drama.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.johnsmithjohnsmith.com

‘Hummingbird’:

John Smith unveils debut single from new album

John Smith

John Smith had just announced the release of his new album Hummingbird.  It features appearances from Cara Dillon, John McCusker and Ben Nicholls, and will be released on October 5th on his own Commoner Records (via Thirty Tigers worldwide).  He had also announced a huge UK headline tour (29 dates throughout October & November), and made the track ‘Willy Moore’, taken from Hummingbird, available to stream now.

An independent musician who has toured the world for almost fifteen years with his guitar and suitcase, he has independently released five albums, supported the likes of Ben Howard and Damien Rice, won critical acclaim in the UK and abroad, and performed a session guitarist and singer for the likes of Joan Baez, Lisa Hannigan and Martin Simpson.

Following his performance last weekend at the Cambridge Folk Festival, and having been played for the first time last night by Mark Radcliffe on the BBC Radio 2 Folk Show, John Smith can today reveal ‘Willy Moore’, the first song from his soon to be announced new album.

Recorded at Sam Lakeman’s Somerset studio in March, John explains how the track came into his life.

“Collected in Harry Smith’s Anthology Of American Folk Music, no-one knows who wrote it, but it’s probably from the early 20th century.  I first heard this performed by the gentleman genius Wizz Jones. It’s a heart-breaking account of two young lovers’ tragedy.”

Listen to ‘Willy Moore’ here:

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

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

Live Dates

04 October Aberdeen The Lemon Tree
05 October Ullapool Guitar Festival
10 October Cork  IE Coughlan’s
11 October Cork IE Coughlan’s
12 October Limerick IE Dolan’s
13 October Dublin IE Unitarian Church
14 October Bangor NI Studio Theatre
17 October Chipping Norton The Theatre
20 October Whitby Musicport Festival
21 October Liverpool St George’s Hall
22 October Gateshead Sage Gateshead
24 October Leeds The Wardrobe
25 October Sheffield Picture House Social
26 October Thames Ditton The Ram Club
30 October Newbury Arlington Arts Centre

01 November Bury The Met Arts Centre
02 November Scunthorpe Cafe Indiependent
03 November Halifax Square Chapel
04 November York The Crescent
07 November Middlesbrough Town Hall
09 November Bristol Rough Trade
10 November Plymouth Barbican Theatre
11 November Dartmouth The Flavel
12 November Exeter Phoenix
14 November Southampton The Brook
15 November London St Pancras NEW Church (Bloomsbury)
16 November Brighton Unitarian Church
17 November Guildford St Mary’s Church

SERIOUS CHILD – Empty Nest (TCR Music TCRM75099)

Empty NestThe core of Serious Child – or as the CD sleeve has it, SERIOUS CHiLD – consists of Alan Young on guitar and vocals, Carla March on vocals, and Steve Welch on bass. However, a fine selection of well-performed songs by Alan Young is further lifted on the CD Empty Nest by the support of an impressive number of highly-rated musicians. Among the names you may well recognize are Boo Hewerdine (who produced the album, and indeed persuaded Alan to record it in the first place) and Neill MacColl of The Bible, John McCusker, Gustaf Ljunggren, and three members of The Changing Room. The overall feel of the album is nearer to soft rock than folk, but none the worse for that: this is a quality performance.

  1. ‘Blue Is Only A Colour’ is an affecting ballad, particularly well sung. While Alan Young has a style all of his own, I could almost imagine the Walker Brothers singing this rather well.
  2. ‘Paul The Bag’ is a rock-flavoured and somewhat alarming song about an ageing gangster with something to prove: based on a real-life encounter.
  3. ‘Time Keeps Rolling’ is a reminiscent song about comfort through personal ritual and the passing of time, loosely tied to Paul Robeson’s recording of ‘Ol’ Man River’.
  4. ‘Kind Man’s Bluff’ features The Changing Room’s Tanya Brittain on vocals and accordion, on a moving song about a mother’s feelings as her child leaves home. “But no one dies of heartbreak, so let me help you pack…“. This one could be a keeper.
  5. Most of the way through, ‘I Don’t Remember Venice’ sounds like a pleasant piece of poppy nostalgia but features a sharp twist to the lyric towards the end. Clever.
  6. ‘Cinnabar’ seems to reflect a changed relationship filtered through Alan’s childhood obsession with crimson moths. Interesting.
  7. ‘The Last Chance’ is a little more conventional, but catchy, particularly in the chorus.
  8. While most of the tracks here are not particularly folky, ‘Three Hail Marys’ has an instrumental line-up that would fit in with many an Irish folk group, with prominent whistle, bodhran and banjo, and a lyric that wouldn’t disgrace the Pogues at their best.
  9. I guess we’ve all kept checking our phone for a message that someone somehow hasn’t left. ‘No Missed Calls’ seems to recall that hollow ambivalence, and has a nice guitar-dominated arrangement.
  10. ‘Open Skies’ has a slightly country-rock feel.
  11. ‘Speeding’ for some reason reminds me of John Miles. In a good way.
  12. ‘You Wear The Smile’ is a slow ballad that finishes the album in fine style.

Alan Young has long been known as a talented and versatile vocalist, but it turns out that he’s also rather a good, late-flowering songwriter – apparently he’d never written a song until he was 50. Hopefully, now that he’s discovered this extra string to his bow – um, guitar… – we’ll hear more of his songs in the future. Empty Nest is scheduled for release on the 22nd of June.

David Harley

Artist’s website: www.seriouschild.com

‘Time Keeps Rolling’ – live:

Serious Child announce debut album

Serious Child

Empty Nest is the affecting and impressive debut album from Serious Child, a talented trio fronted by singer/songwriter and guitarist Alan Young with Carla March on vocals and Steve Welch on bass. On Empty Nest they are joined by a range of folk and rock musicians, including Boo Hewerdine (the album’s producer) and Bible bandmate Neill MacColl, John McCusker and three members of The Changing Room (Tanya Brittain, Jamie Francis and Evan Carson).

The acclaimed, Ivor Novello Award nominated, English singer-songwriter and producer, Boo Hewerdine played a crucial role in bringing about the creation of Empty Nest. A talented vocalist, Alan Young had never written a song prior to his fiftieth birthday, when his wife bought him a place on a five day workshop in the Scottish Highlands. Following a second workshop, Boo, who recognised his significant skills as a songwriter, persuaded an initially reluctant Alan to record an album that he would produce.

The result is Empty Nest, an album whose theme is formed around a quote from Samuel Beckett’s one act play, Krapp’s Last Tape. The words were printed below a photo of a magnificently craggy Beckett in his 70s, in a shabby office where Alan was a research student. The photo and the quote stayed with him over the years and are to be found in the songs, the album cover and the forthcoming videos.

Most of the songs are stories about transitions between different stages of life and the fire that keeps burning as we move through them. ‘Kind Man’s Bluff’ is about a mother facing up to her child leaving home and ‘Paul The Bag’ is about an ageing gangster who is compelled to prove to strangers that he’s not too old.

Serious Child will be holding a launch event for Empty Nest at Cecil Sharp House in London on Wednesday 20 June. The formal release date for the album will be Friday 22 June. The band will be performing at various festivals over the summer and will be on tour in the autumn in the UK (dates to be announced).

Empty Nest is released by TCR Music, an independent folk label based in Cornwall, which has launched the careers of Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys, The Changing Room and Kitty Macfarlane.

Artists’ website: http://seriouschild.com/

‘Time Keeps Rolling’ – live:

The Ballads Of Child Migration on tour

Child Migration

With award-winning folk artists:

John McCusker, Michael McGoldrick,

Boo Hewerdine, O’Hooley & Tidow,

Chris While, Julie Matthews,

John Doyle, Jez Lowe,

Andy Seward and Andy Cutting

Narrated by Barbara Dickson

In November 2018, a collective of brilliant and respected musicians and singers are taking to the road to tell the moving story of Britain’s forced child migrants.

The concert, presented as a series of songs, narration, slides, audio and film clips, premiered at last year’s Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow, where it was described as “without doubt the most memorable concert of the festival.”

The songs in this concert were recently heard as part of a major BBC Radio 2 dramatisation of Michael Morpurgo’s book Alone On A Wide Wide Sea, which deals with the same subject. The radio drama, including the music, starred Toby Jones and Jason Donovan and reached an estimated audience of 6 million listeners.

“One of the pre-eminent song collections of recent times, poignantly re-telling one of the most important stories to have emerged from these islands” – Mark Radcliffe, BBC Radio 2

Forced child migration is a little known and dark part of the history of Britain. More than 100,000 children from Britain were sent overseas (to places including Australia and Canada) with the promise of finding a better life. Some did find the happy lives they longed for; many others found only hardship, abuse and loneliness.

The Ballads Of Child Migration is a tribute to those children, some of whom were sent abroad as recently as 1970.

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

After each concert there will be a short Q&A session where members of the audience can ask questions of the performers and other experts about child migration.

* * *

This tour is supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and is produced by 7digital – the digital music and radio services company that also produced the BBC Radio version of Alone On A Wide Wide Sea.

Tour Dates – November 2018

Monday 12th – Folk In The Barn, Gulbenkian, Canterbury

Tuesday 13th – Saint James Church, Clerkenwell, London

Wednesday 14th – Corn Exchange, Cambridge

Thursday 15th – The Albert Hall, Nottingham

Friday 16th – Floral Hall, Southport

Tickets available from www.ticketline.co.uk / 0844 888 9991

For Gulbenkian – www.thegulbenkian.co.uk / 01227 831 493

McGOLDRICK, McCUSKER & DOYLE– City Roots Festival, The Junction, Cambridge (27 February 2018)

McGoldrick, McCusker & Doyle
Photograph by Su O’Brien

Even on this icy night, the venue is full, the crowd enthusiastic – a significant portion seemingly also having attended the recent Transatlantic Sessions. It’s the second visit to Cambridge in very short order for this trio of musicians and they are most warmly welcomed back. (As a side note, it looks like a simple accident of timing prevented Transatlantic Sessions from inclusion in this year’s City Roots festival).

Arriving slightly late (delayed by a missing bike lock key), the band is already underway, so it’s John Doyle’s Child song ‘What Put The Blood’ that makes the first impression. John McCusker follows with a trio of songs from his Hello Goodbye album incorporating a tender tune for his daughter, called ‘It’s A Girl’ with a strathspey link into ‘Billy’s’, a reel for Billy Connolly.

Doyle then takes up an elegant, restrained electric guitar for ‘Liberty’s Sweet Shore’, about the mass death of thousands fleeing the famine en route to Canada. Doyle’s plainly touched by a recent meeting with an elderly woman in Scotland who’d somehow survived this horrific ordeal.

Mike McGoldrick’s seemingly bottomless lungs and dancing fingers are in fine form as he takes the reins on ‘Leaving South Uist / Lochaber Badger’, two tunes learned and loved from earlier Transatlantic Sessions. To round off the first session, the crowd joins in with the deceptively jolly sea shanty ‘Billy O’Shea’, a cautionary tale of pressganging and death. Doyle momentarily loses his thread and, casting heavenwards for inspiration, he fills on guitar, greeted by an encouraging roar of support from the audience as he finds his place once more. It’s reassuring to know that even the most gifted among us is only human, after all!

A quintet of tunes including ‘Keane O’Hara’, ‘Rip The Calico’ and ‘Coming Of Age’ opens the second session, all taken from the new album, The Wishing Tree, and followed up by ‘Across The Western Ocean’ a downbeat sea shanty learned from Doyle’s father. The band happily jumbles over the various tune titles, finally settling on a relaxed, “they’re all on the CD” – which pretty much sums up their easy-going unforced rapport, the kind that only years of friendship can bring.

When they play, it’s a different matter altogether. There is a precision and clarity that unites them. Totally focused, totally in sync, every note is played cleanly: no smudging, blurring or elision. From bow strokes, to finger placing to chords, the line of the music is always sharply defined and crisp, no matter how fast the tempo gets.

They’re superb quick-change artistes too, swapping out instruments mid-tuneset in the blink of an eye, not missing a beat. Starting on whistles, McGoldrick switches to flute and McCusker to fiddle, whilst Doyle changes guitar. As the tune gathers pace, the sheer physical effort is etched on their faces and in their body movements, with Doyle arched over his instrument, practically driving it into the floor. Afterwards, McCusker only says drily, “Well, that went slightly faster than we’d hoped”.

Doyle presents his murder ballad ‘Burke And Hare’, with its chorus based on a children’s rhyme, and ‘The Apprentice Boy’ (aka ‘Charming Anne’) which he introduces as “an optimistic song – my only one”. McCusker’s tender ‘Leaving Friday Harbour’ provides a tender, wistful interlude.

The audience remains utterly engaged and absorbed, rocking out with the faster numbers, quietly attentive on the slower ones. At the end of the show, there’s uproarious applause and foot-stomping until the band returns with an encore of ‘The Banks Of The Bann’.

Never having seen this trio play before (I know), their superb musicianship delivered so much more than expected and, mostly, with apparently effortless ease. What an absolute pleasure to share in their warmth, intimacy and richly talented company for the past couple of hours.

Su O’Brien

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Believe it or not, these guys don’t have a dedicated web-site.

Live at Warwick Folk Festival: