BRIDGET ST JOHN – DANDELION ALBUMS AND BBC COLLECTION (CHERRY RED RECORDS CRCDMBOX 17)

BStJOften described as obscure yet she worked with John Martyn, Mike Oldfield, Kevin Ayers, and Mike Chapman, championed by John Peel (as the leading female singer-songwriter) and even Terry Wogan, during four well-received albums. And that was just in the 1970s. It’s interesting—and crucial regarding career—that Bridget St John was Dandelion Records first-ever signing and release, when folk’s second wave was rolling via Island in England and (Dandelion’s distributor) Elektra in USA. If Dandelion evolved around their first signing, hindsight and eclecticism suggest differently. The DJ said that “the main reason why we started the label was nobody else was going to record her stuff” – not Elektra, Island, or even the fledgling Apple?

Dandelion was a co-operative where artists had creative control, but when it folded in 1973 (“like a family break-up” St John recalled) the ethos was rare and tastes mutating. There was no Plan B. After John Peel’s death this has been accentuated by the sale of their publishing to a conglomerate, against Dandelion’s principles and a nightmare for those of its roster still active. (It would be even worse if Cherry Red Records didn’t exist.) These origins have put a particular spin on their careers, perhaps contributing to major labels’ lack of keenness and thus the obscurity tag.

Her first demo was made at Al Stewart’s home, thanks to her guitar mentor John Martyn. A boyfriend gave it to Peel at a gig, and within three weeks debuted on Night Ride in August ’68. That distant session is on this box-set at an almost-equally amazing budget price. The three LPs are on replica-label discs, plus singles, Montreux 1972, and a CD of (mostly wiped) BBC sessions 1968-1972. The latter was on a double some years ago, as was Montreux (on Thank You For…also from Cherry Red), but are here in context. It was this radio material, based on solid albums and gigging—like the Dandelion Euro tour sponsored by Polydor with Medicine Head, Beau and Kevin Coyne—that attracted a loyal following.

In a cover reminiscent of legendary folk labels—minimalist but evocative with her picture when a baby – Ask Me No Questions (1969) was produced by Peel in one ten-hour session at CBS Studios with Simon Stable on bongos, John Martyn and Richard Sanders on guitars. The seven-minute title track in doubled vocals of “Ask me no questions, tells me no lies”, with Peel ransacking the library for bird song and bells, is pure Dandelion and ’69. Still played live connecting her to the Dandelion people she says, it was one of the first tunings learned from Martyn. It opens with her recent debut single, the bass-string driven ‘To B Without A Hitch’ about France while enjoying “buttercup sandwiches”.  ‘Autumn Lullaby’ lilts through childhood memories of Richmond Park, ‘Curl Your Toes’ tells a by-the-fireside tale, ‘Barefoot And Hot Pavements’ about city wandering, and among the twin guitars one of her most beautiful songs, ‘Hello Again (Of Course)’. There’s even psych without the electricity, a plucking delight (‘The Curious Crystals Of Unusual Purity’). Appended from 45s are Cohen’s ‘Suzanne’ and ‘The Road Was Lonely’, a hypnotic ballad with rare backing harmony.

Peel called her voice and songs “full of woods and hedgerows, startled deer and hedgehogs”, and the rustic imagery and free-wheeling acoustic dexterity is a timeless debut. Songs For The Gentle Man (1971) came from November-December sessions costing £2,000 at Sound Techniques, also used by Fairport Convention and Drake. Produced by Ron Geesin, fresh from Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother, he contributed organ (for Martyn’s ‘Back To Stay’), Sanders returning on guitar, with a chamber ensemble including brass giving a lusher effect. Looking more like an Edwardian muse than a hippy in Kensington Gardens with the photographer’s hound on the gatefold, scenes are woven tapestry-like from another mansion room: ‘A Day A Way’ with jangly guitar/flute/oboe about a seaside day trip, subtle echo-reverb (‘Early Morning Song’), while Donovan’s ‘The Pebble And The Man’ sounds like her own. Absences of people and places, time shared or alone, but it’s not melancholy (the closer’s 40 seconds is about growing into the loved person). Politics are outside her remit but it’s her most confessional LP. Some were ready for her debut as they’re on her January 1969 radio session.

The third disc mirrors Cherry Red’s 2005 release of Thank You For… (July 1972) with a full April ’72 Swiss concert. Here reprised is the MCA 1973 A-side ‘Passing Thru’ (from Leonard Cohen’s own cover on his first live LP), produced by Mike Chapman but uncredited when he rescued its shambolic session. (She guests on his Deal Gone Down the next year.) The Beeb played it a couple of times then decided it was too depressing! With Jerry Boys for co-production, the folk-rock sports the impressive cast of Tim Renwick and Quiver, Andy Roberts (Liverpool Scene, Plainsong, uncredited Beatles sessions), Gordon Huntley (Matthews Southern Comfort), Pip Pyle, Dave Mattacks, Rick Kemp, Sanders, and Martyn. Hand-picked for each song, a spontaneous spark with very few overdubs shines through. ‘Nice’ was on Polydor b/w ‘Goodbaby Goodbye’ about a break-up “at the end of time”; ‘Every Day’ is Buddy Holly with a missing chord! The anti-lynching ‘Lazarus’ (still played with added guitar-thumping) is from early influence Buffy St. Marie’s Many A Mile, and a dreamier version of Dylan’s ‘Love Minus Zero/No Limit’. ‘Fly High’ should’ve charted with its big production, ironically about the music biz (“So please remember all you have and not what you might lose, it isn’t always easy but is better when you do”).

The Montreux concert with Sanders features live premieres of the album, introduced in fluent French, including a hypnotic ‘Fly High’, and a faster ‘Ask Me No Questions’. A visual example is on YouTube from French TV in May 1970. The 19-track BBC disc has an amusing/awful interview with Peel, covers of Martyn, sitar-style guitar Donovan, Joni Mitchell, unreleased songs, and a 1971 In Concert duet with the late Kevin Ayers from their unfinished children’s songs. Her 1970 B-side of his ‘Yep’ is oddly omitted. She contributed to his Shooting At The Moon (1970) with Mike Oldfield (she’s on his Ommadawn and Amarok), and The Unfairground (2007).

After Chrysalis stymied Jumble Queen 1974 (reissued by Beat Goes On), when a ‘Melody Maker’ poll that year rated her fifth best female singer (Maggie Bell was number 1, Shirley Bassey number 9), she emigrated to Greenwich Village where she lives today. From buttercup sandwiches to fast food, it seems a little ironical as she never saw herself in England’s folk scene. A rare recent glimpse is an interview/performance on the excellent TV station of Cherry Red who also released a 19-track sampler (2010, CDMRED440).

“I’m not a narrative songwriter, I don’t sit down to write stories, I just write feelings out,” getting “high off people, ideas and things”. Voice, instrument and lyric allow a place and air for later listening. It doesn’t date, a beguiling delivery of observation and experience tinged with her favourite autumn and nostalgia-driven Englishness swirls like labelmate Beau with a pinch of John Martyn and dash of Donovan. Narrowly missing fame, this is supplanted by cult status more suiting her low profile. This box-set brings dispatches from a more innocent age, when communication meant exactly that and not technology, a time not just to listen but hear. Once heard, never forgotten.

Brian R Banks

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‘Nice’ – The Old Grey Whistle Test.

Topic Records announce The Great Big Digital Archive Project 2013

70-years-of-Topic-150px The Great Big Digital Archive Project – 2013 

“Going Forward With Our Past”

From January 2013, the venerable and redoubtable Topic Records (now 74 years old) will be making available another of its ‘gifts to the nation’, in the form of The Great Big Digital Archive Project. Thereafter, a programme of 6 – 10 additional titles will be released every month throughout the year. With the possible exception of Smithsonian Records in the US, this will probably constitute the largest digital project of its kind undertaken by an independent record company anywhere in the world.

Topic has always had the underlying philosophy of making traditional based music as widely available as possible. The ambition of the label is now to make as much of its vast historical catalogue available using the current format – digital. What makes this project distinctive is that at the moment, digital delivery all too often divorces the audio recording from all artwork, documentation and sleeve-notes. The plan at Topic is to restore and include all of the information that accompanied the original releases of the past.

In January 2013, 84 of these albums will be available to download complete with digital booklets. The digital booklets will be available from the Topic website as well as iTunes. There will also be a short YouTube film explaining the project in detail and the content of specific digital booklets.

The first tranche of 84 digital releases will include albums originally released on vinyl LP in the late 1950s, the 60s, 70s and 80s. Many have been out of print for twenty years or more and include titles which were championed by John Peel and other influential broadcasters.

Much of the repertoire on the field recordings included in the Topic archive has fed into the latest British folk revival, whilst many recordings of Irish traditional music are of cultural and political significance and date from a period when there were few domestic labels in Ireland releasing such music.

Example:

TSDL070

The original recording of Davy Graham’s ‘Angi’ was made in Bill Leader’s Camden Town basement flat in 1962 and released on the seminal Topic 7″ vinyl EP – 3/4 AD. The vinyl release appeared in three different sleeves during the early 60s and with slightly different sleeve notes by Alexis Korner. The digital booklet will incorporate all the sleeve notes and illustrate the variant sleeve designs.

‘Angi’ is widely regarded as one of the cornerstone compositions of the sixties’ acoustic guitar movement, famously recorded by Bert Jansch, Paul Simon, Ralph McTell, etc.

And – looking a little further ahead – leading up to Topic’s 75th birthday in 2014, the label also plans to make available digital booklets for all current Topic releases, artist by artist, as well as new “themed” digital collections.

The first 84 TOPIC archive digital releases for January 2013

TSDL035 DOMINIC BEHAN Down By The Liffeyside (Irish Street Songs)

TSDL051 A L LLOYD Outback Ballads

TSDL070 DAVY GRAHAM 3/4 AD

TSDL084 THE WILLETT FAMILY The Roving Journeyman

TSDL093 RAMBLING JACK ELLIOTT Talking Woody Guthrie

TSDL110 VARIOUS ARTISTS Sea Songs & Shanties

TSDL113 PEGGY SEEGER & TOM PALEY Who’s Going To Shoe You’re Pretty Little Foot?

TSDL117 HEDY WEST Old Times and Hard Times

TSDL118 A L LLOYD First Person

TSDL120 THE CAMPBELL FAMILY The Singing Campbells

TSDL125 VARIOUS ARTISTS New Voices

TSDL130 EWAN MacCOLL Bundook Ballads

TSDL134 JESSE FULLER Move On Down The Line

TSDL137 THE FISHER FAMILY Traditional & New Songs From Scotland

TSDL139 PADDY TUNNEY A Wild Bees’ Nest

TSDL147 EWAN MacCOLL The Manchester Angel

TSDL163 HEDY WEST Ballads

TSDL175 WILLIE CLANCY The Minstrel From Clare

TSDL182 MRS. SARAH MAKEM Ulster Ballad Singer

TSDL183 WILLIE SCOTT The Shepherd’s Song

TSDL185 LIZZIE HIGGINS Princess Of The Thistle

TSDL186 THE HIGH LEVEL RANTERS Northumberland Forever

TSDL190 DAVE & TONI ARTHUR The Lark In The Morning

TSDL193 PHOEBE SMITH Once I Had A True Love

TSDL200 PETER BELLAMY The Fox Jumps Over The Parson’s Gate

TSDL203 A L LLOYD The Great Australian Legend

TSDL206 THE OLDHAM TINKERS Oldham’s Burning Sands

TSDL212 OAK Welcome To Our Fair

TSDL214 THE CHEVIOT RANTERS The Sound Of The Cheviots

TSDL216 FRANKIE ARMSTRONG Lovely On The Water

TSDL222 THE CHEVIOT RANTERS The Cheviot Hills

TSDL229 VARIOUS ARTISTS English Country Music From East Anglia

TSDL230 VARIOUS ARTISTS The Lark In The Clear Air

TSDL237 THE OLDHAM TINKERS Best O’ T’ Bunch

TSDL240 VARIOUS ARTISTS Boscastle Breakdown

TSDL247 JOHN KIRKPATRICK & SUE HARRIS The Rose Of Britain’s Isle

TSDL250 SEAMUS ENNIS The Wandering Minstrel

TSDL251 THE RUSSELL FAMILY Of Doolin, County Clare

TSDL253 VARIOUS ARTISTS Songs Of The Open Road

TSDL256 ROY HARRIS Champions Of Folly

TSDL274 BOB DAVENPORT Down The Long Road

TSDL275 BOB CANN West Country Melodeon

TSDL276 THE OLDHAM TINKERS For Old Time’s Sake

TSDL277 ARCHIE FISHER Will Ye Gang, Love

TSDL286 GEORGE MAYNARD Ye Subjects Of England

TSDL295 JOHN KIRKPATRICK & SUE HARRIS Among The Many Attractions At The Show…

TSDL297 THE HIGH LEVEL RANTERS Ranting Lads

TSDL305 THE O’HALLORAN BROTHERS The Men Of The Island

TSDL306 JIMMY POWER Irish Fiddle Player

TSDL307 BELLE STEWART Queen Among The Heather

TSDL315 DICK GAUGHAN Coppers & Brass

TSDL316 ROSE MURPHY Milltown Lass

TSDL318 BOB DAVENPORT Postcards Home

TSDL319 BOB SMITH’S IDEAL BAND Ideal Music

TSDL323 THE OLDHAM TINKERS Sit Thee Down

TSDL335 TOMMY HEALY & JOHN DUFFY Memories Of Sligo

TSDL337 JACK & CHARLIE COEN The Branch Line

TSDL350 BOB DAVENPORT & THE RAKES 1977

TSDL355 JOHN KIRKPATRICK & SUE HARRIS Shreds & Patches

TSDL361 BOB ROBERTS Songs From The Sailing Barges

TSDL362 MARY-ANN CAROLAN Songs From The Irish Tradition

TSDL366 DAN SULLIVAN’S SHAMROCK BAND

TSDL371 ALISTAIR ANDERSON Corby Crag

TSDL378 VIN GARBUTT Eston California

TSDL380 SHIRLEY & DOLLY COLLINS For As Many As Will

TSDL382 NEW VICTORY BAND One More Dance & Then

TSDL385 VIN GARBUTT Tossin A Wobbler

TSDL388 THE HIGH LEVEL RANTERS Four In A Bar

TSDL392 WALTER PARDON A Country Life

TSDL398 JOHN DOHERTY Bundle And Go

TSDL399 THE OLDHAM TINKERS That Lancashire Band

TSDL403 ALISON McMORLAND & PETA WEBB

TSDL405 CILLA FISHER & ARTIE TREZISE Cilla And Artie

TSDL408 JOHN KIRKPATRICK & SUE HARRIS Facing The Music

TSDL416 UMPS AND DUMPS The Moon’s In A Fit

TSDL430 MARTIN SIMPSON Grinning In Your Face

TSDL435 CURLEW Fiddle Music From Shetland & Beyond

TSDL438 MARTIN SIMPSON Sad Or High Kicking!

TSDL441 BILL CADDICK The Wild West Show

TSDL446 MARTIN & JESSICA SIMPSON True Dare Or Promise

TSDL447 ANDREW CRONSHAW Till The Beast’s Returning

TSDL453 JOHN KIRKPATRICK & SUE HARRIS Stolen Ground

TSDL502 EWAN MacCOLL Chorus From The Gallows

TSDL1050 ANDREW CRONSHAW The Language Of Snakes

Further information: http://www.topicrecords.co.uk/category/archive-digital-catalogue/

folking takes a look at Talking To The Operator by Mad Staring Eyes

Mad Staring Eyes are a 6-piece band from North London. Their line up includes pedal steel and flute and revolves around a core that has played together for 20 years. In 2006 Mad Staring Eyes self-titled debut EP won the John Peel ‘Best New Band’ award and they were chosen by Michael Eavis to play the John Peel Stage at Glastonbury Festival.

The band released their third album, Talking To The Operator, on October 1st. The album, recorded live onto tape using all vintage gear (including The Pogues’ 1962 Ludwig drumkit), displays a rich tapestry of folk and Americana styling drawn from a love of The Band, early Fairport, Van Morrison and Springsteen.  Led by the rogue ‘cockneyish’ charm of lead singer Alex Simler, Mad Staring Eyes offer a distinctly different slant on the conventional roots repertoire coming across like a cockney Carter Family. There are times on the infectious opener, “Waiting For The Doctor,” where you would swear you were in the presence of early Fairport whilst the brilliant ‘Don’t Lead Me On’ echo’s the lyrical genius of Pulp in all their glory.  This is an album that grabs you by the throat from the off and thereby throwing you headfirst into a vibrant, earthy, wonderfully conceived folkster world.  The exceptional musicianship and deft, thoughtful arrangements mark out Mad Satring Eyes as a band with the world at their feet.

The band have toured in the USA, UK, Canada, Russia and Germany (touring with Memphis Industries’ Dutch Uncles), playing international festivals such as South By South West (Austin, Texas), and North By North East (Toronto), playing with acts as diverse as Supergrass, The Subways, The Magic Numbers and Pete Doherty.

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Ady Johnson – TELL THE WORRY DOLLS

Having fronted Colchester’s organ driven rock ‘n’ roll band FuzzFace for some years, Ady Johnson now embarks on a solo acoustic project with the launch of his debut album TELL THE WORRY DOLLS. This self-released album has already been recognised as a possible “first contender for album of the year… deserves to be massive” in a glowing 9/10 review by James Robinson for the Press Association: “This low-key, no-label release by Colchester singer-songwriter Ady Johnson might well be the first contender for album of the year. Johnson’s voice and face are both similar to Harry Nilsson’s, while the sound, an acoustic guitar-led barroom skiffle, is resonant of Badly Drawn Boy’s first record – plus, he has fantastic tunes to match. It’s refreshing to hear music in the folk genre being so dynamic and upbeat. Tell The Worry Dolls deserves to be massive. An excellent start to 2011”

Ady Johnson performs live regularly and has played numerous festivals, including headlining the Castle stage at the 2010 Colchester Free Festival and has supported bands such as Cornershop, The Godfathers, the Telescopes, Tom Hingley, Chris Helm and Ben Howard and even played live in the middle of a pop up maze in London’s Trafalgar Square!  A particular highlight came last year when Ady was busking at 6Fest, the London festival organised to celebrate the successful campaign to save BBC 6 Music from closure. While busking, Ady was asked to open 6Fest after one of the acts had not turned up; an opportunity not to be missed.

This experience was summed up on the day by DJ Shaun Keaveny who said “What a story that is… that’s typical of 6 Music.” The following week the London Metro ran a story ‘Busker bags festival gig after band cancel appearance!’

Tell The Worry Dolls is not your usual bland acoustic, ‘woe is me’, introspective fair. Johnson writes dynamic songs which range from heartfelt whispers to aggressive, soulful hollers! His distinctive vocals, deft guitar work and a sympathetic backing band, make Johnson’s recent recordings sound like Graham Coxon’s Spinning Top colliding with Tom Waits’ Bone Machine. Add some Steve Marriot vocals to the mix and you’re someway to describing Ady Johnson’s sound. This stunning solo debut release was recorded live where possible with a backing band at Long Track Studios through an old Neve mixing console John Peel used at Maida Vale Studios

The album is inspired from Johnson’s personal life experiences and deal with a range of subjects and emotions that we are all confronted by, or can relate to. This is reflected in the song writing and the honesty and conviction of his performances. Johnson’s songs are dynamic and diverse; he can pull on the heart strings but also brings balls to the acoustic cannon. Johnson explains, “Each of the songs express some kind of worry, concern or angst, and in committing these songs to the album, I like to think I’ve finally completed the cathartic process you go though as a singer/songwriter- much like the folklore which surrounds the Guatemalan Worry Dolls; you tell the dolls your worries before you go to sleep and in the morning you find that they’ve taken them away.”

Stand out tracks on the album include the glorious opener 20,000 Miles From Home, reminiscent of the writings of Stephen Duffy in his Lilac Time period, the superb Pink Flamingos and his crooning rendition of Jewelly Box is truly outstanding. If you want a comparison of Johnson’s vocal delivery, Paolo Nutini would be fairly close. All ten tracks are self composed and to be honest there is not a filler track to be found.

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For more information and the latest tour dates please visit www.adyjohnson.co.uk

DREADZONE – BEST OF: THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE DREAD’

Dreadzone

On 9th May 2011 Dreadzone, the fervently followed British institution and original pioneers of UK bass culture present  The Good The Bad And The Dread – a compendium of their excellent musical story so far. Still going strong after seventeen years, Dreadzone have carved a large niche and cult following. Hit records, critical acclaim and a huge, devoted fan base are theirs, due in part to their utterly storming live shows. The all-killer-no-filler 16 tracks collate the many highlights of  the Zone’s’ output to date – a coherent and still fresh-sounding body of work.

Dreadzone deal in accessible yet credible club sounds with pop nous, referencing everyone from Woody Guthrie and Max Romeo to John Holt and classic films. They also like to wander into uncharted territory, melding Celtic, Jamaican and Asian influences to their riddims and samples, thus turning out unique, quirky gems like Captain Dread and Little Britain. The latter track is available here in its more rare vocal incarnation, which wasn’t featured on the album Second Light (the instrumental was). Their dubwise beats and bottom end, often adorned with the unmistakably dulcet tones of Earl Sixteen are a product of the cut-and-paste magpie nature of the ever-morphing world of dance music. Other collaborators who’ve passed through the house of dread include cultural figurehead Don Letts, Melanie Blatt and Alison Goldfrapp.

Dreadzone originators Greg Dread and Leo Williams are respectively the drum and bass in seminal post-punk-electro-pop band Big Audio Dynamite. Tim Bran was also a founding father, and is still involved in shaping the Dread sound. Dreadzone was born from the duo’s shared love for reggae, ska, dub, dancehall, hip hop, breakbeat and the burgeoning electronic music scene of the time. Dubstep, UK funky, 2-step, Jungle and the multitude of fangled sub genres have been born post-Dreadzone, and whilst it maybe a sweeping statement to claim they’ve been a direct influence on all such producers, they can definitely stake claim to a very large branch on the family tree of all things dance, quality and of black origin. Dreadzone have released six artist albums: 360, Second Light, Biological Radio, Sound, Once Upon A Time and last year’s Eye On the Horizon. They delivered a storming set on Later with Jools Holland and performed their top-twenty hit Little Britain on Top Of The Pops. That single has since become ubiquitous, due to countless TV program syncs and generally being a much-loved anthem. John Peel was a big fan of the band too. He included five Dreadzone tracks in his festive fifty and chose their 360 LP as one of his top ten albums of all time. Ironically that release hasn’t been available since the closing of Alan McGee’s iconic label Creation records, to which the they were signed. Dreadzone also DJ under the Dreadzone Soundsystem moniker, tearing up dancefloors worldwide in a fashion that’s unmistakably their own.

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Dreadzone are: Greg Dread (beats and electronics) Leo Williams (bass) MC Spee (MC), Earl 16 (vocals) Chris Compton (guitar) and Chris Oldfield (technology).

The Best Of DreadzoneThe Good, The Bad & The Dread
Tracklisting:

Zion Youth (Dreadzone Mix)
Little Britain (Vocal Version)
Ali Baba
Captain Dread (Single Edit)
Iron Shirt
Digital Mastermind
Biological Radio (Edit)
House Of Dread
Life Love & Unity (‘96 Mix)
Fight The Power (‘95)
Return Of The Dread
Gangster
I Know
The Good The Bad & The Dread
Different Planets
American Dread