Hosted by Dunton Folk, the church of St Mary Magdalene welcomed a gathering of friends old and new for the official launch of Daria Kulesh’s third solo album, Earthly Delights. Daria’s gigs are like that – there’s always someone good to talk to. This was the big band – the first time I’d seen the line-up – with regular collaborators Kate Rouse, Marina Osman, Jonny Dyer and Vicki Swan on nyckelharpa and bagpipes. With them were Katrina Davies on fiddle, Heather Sirrel, whose 5-string bass is almost as tall as she is and Edwin Beasant on drums and percussion.
We weren’t expecting too many surprises. Daria sang the album in order but embellished the stories behind the songs and sometimes got quite impassioned about the iniquities of rulers, raising an ironic laugh when she talked about coming to democratic Britain after living in Russia and carrying with her the history of the Ingush people. She confessed in her introduction to ‘Earthly Delights’ that one of her delights was turnips – that got a real laugh – but someone reminded me that she is Russian, after all!
Players came and went but everyone was back on stage for the first half closer, ‘Vasilisa’. The mix and the arrangements were tight but this was Daria’s event and the job of the musicians was to project her which, of course, they did admirably. This wasn’t a night for extravagant soloing but even so I do wish that Jonny had been a bit higher in the mix – it may just have been where I was sitting, of course.
In the second half, before ‘Cap & Bells’, Daria introduced the composer, Joseph Sobol. He was sitting just behind us so, of course, my wife had already engaged him in conversation during the interval – I said that there was always someone good to talk to. I should say that, at the time, I was chatting to someone I hadn’t spoken to in nearly twenty years – that’s the sort of evening it was! ‘Greedy King’ is perfect for a big finish with everyone back on stage.
For the first encore, Daria soloed a song called ‘The Highlanders’ and let us into a secret. This is a hidden track on Earthly Delights – more of an Easter egg actually because it’s track zero. Daria assures me it’s there but I haven’t managed to access it yet. Finally the band came back for ‘Heart’s Delight’ from Long Lost Home – a perfect ending for a evening of songs that are, on the one hand, about human weaknesses but also about human happiness. Of course there were still people to talk to before we wended our way into the night.
Daria Kulesh is a very highly-rated performer in the hallowed virtual halls of Folking.com, so I count myself as rather lucky to have got a review copy of her forthcoming CD Earthly Delights, due for release on May 31st 2019. Once again, she is supported by an impressive selection of musicians. As well as many names already familiar from her previous CDs and/or live performances (all reputable musos in their own right, of course), three tracks also feature characteristically fine fiddle from the Phil Beer (tracks 4 and 9) and Tom Kitching (track 1). Most of the production is expertly handled by Jason Emberton, who also contributes much of the accompaniment.
As you’d expect, there are several songs here that derive from Daria’s Russian and Ingush heritage and her knowledge of Slavic folklore, but this time she’s cast her nets a little wider, without compromising her ability to tell a story in song.
Here’s the track listing.
Daria’s lyrics to ‘Golden Apples’, with music by Igor Devlikamov, are based on a Russian folk tale concerning the Firebird, though not the story that forms the basis of Stravinsky’s ballet. An exhilarating start to the album.
‘Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood’ is Richard Farina’s lyric to the tune better known as ‘My Lagan Love’, a glorious melody collected by Herbert Hughes in Donegal in the early 20th A sensitive reading with restrained instrumental and vocal accompaniment, rather than the full-on harmonies of Sandy Denny’s version. Closer, perhaps, to the gentle orchestration of the version recorded by Mimi Farina after Richard’s death, though Daria’s vocals are more animated and accurate in pitch. (I still love Mimi’s version, though.)
‘Shame Or Glory’ is by Daria, and makes the very valid point that a McGonagall or Florence Foster Jenkins has the same drive to create and succeed that characterize more “successful” creators, and we should respect that. The arrangement has a sort of Kurt Weill/cabaret feel that I find very appealing. I like the interplay between Jonny Dyer’s guitar and Marina Osman’s piano, too.
‘Earthly Delights’ is another of Daria’s own songs. One of the ‘delights’ of Daria’s songs for me is the way that a line will sometimes spark an unexpected association, like the echo of ‘The Two Magicians’ in ‘The Panther’, from her last CD. In this case, it’s the line “Strange fruit in the garden of earthly delights“. The subject matter is far removed from Meeropol’s protest against lynchings, being more about the message that “If seeking pleasure and following your heart doesn’t hurt, subjugate or break others…then perhaps it’s a natural way to be…?” Yet there’s something very apposite about the last verse here: “Oppressed and oppressor…One person’s wrongs are another one’s rights.” An accomplished performance of a delightful folky tune with stunning fiddle from Phil Beer.
There are many Slavic folk tales about rusalki (water spirits), often translated into literature and music – Dvořák’s opera is a particular favourite of mine. Daria’s ‘Rusalka’, however, is based on a short poem of 1819 by Pushkin, as translated by John Farndon and adapted and shortened by Daria, who has set it to music. Its presentation in this slightly condensed form does it no harm at all.
Daria’s ‘Vasilisa’, previously released as a single, draws its theme from a Russian fairy tale in which the heroine encounters the supernatural Baba Yaga. While the story to some extent resembles the Cinderella story, Vasilisa seems morally more ambiguous. Oddly enough, the modality of the melody makes it a highly suitable companion piece to ‘Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood’, though the instrumentation has a decidedly Asian feel.
‘Morozko’ is another of Daria’s retellings in music of a Russian folk tale, with accompaniment that stresses its Eastern European origins.
‘Cap And Bells’ is an effective setting by Joseph Sobol of a poem of W.B. Yeats, from Sobol’s theatrical cycle In The Deep Heart’s Core: A Mystic Cabaret, with most of the accompaniment carried by Marina Osman’s piano.
An unexpected inclusion is Percy French’s ‘Pride Of Petravore’. I have to admit that Daria makes the best of its tortuous Irishisms, though.
Daria’s ‘Made Of Light’ is, in more than one sense, a lighter song, almost a ballad, augmented by Jonny Dyer’s expressive trumpet. Lovely.
‘Greedy King’ sets Daria’s lyric to a tune by the multi-talented Jonny Dyer, and melds a Soviet joke and the story of the Wise Men of Gotham into a telling commentary on the sad state of today’s world (not to mention yesterday’s!). The lyric may sound like a counsel of despair, but musically it offers a suitably upbeat finale.
Where Long Lost Home can be seen as a very personal journey into Daria’s own family history and heritage, Earthly Delights draws on a wider range of source material that still comes over as essentially Daria: some beautiful melodies, fascinating lyrics, all exquisitely sung and adventurously arranged. If you’re not familiar with her work, this is a good place to start.
The CD will be launched at Dunton Folk on 1st June 2019.
Hector Gilchrist, as you will quickly discover, comes from Ayrshire but is much travelled. To misuse a common phrase, however: you can take the man out of Scotland but you can’t take Scotland out of the man. There is someone like Hector in just about every folk club: always welcome, able to produce a set at a moment’s notice. They may not be stars but some can elevate themselves above their apparently humble status. Gleanings is a collection of traditional and contemporary songs that might seem typical except for Hector’s skill in finding a previously unconsidered piece.
He begins with the lovely ‘Baltic Street’. It’s a tale of love and self-sacrifice with words by Violet Jacob and a melody by Carole Prior and I guess it’s unique to Hector. It slips easily into ‘How Many Rivers’, Robert Burns’ ‘A Rosebud By My Early Walk’ and Steve Knightly’s ‘Exile’. By now, the album is feeling rather downbeat and I’m hoping for something rather more lively. Although a guitarist himself, Hector only plays on one track, ‘Sir Patrick Spens’, and leaves most of the work to Bob Wood. Also supporting him are Carol Anderson on fiddle and the myriad talents of Vicki Swan and Jonny Dyer. Moira Craig takes the second vocal lines – I’m not going to belittle her contribution by referring to “backing vocals”. You’ll note that all of them are regular visitors to WildGoose studios.
The liveliness begins with ‘A Waukrife Minnie’ – a night visiting song of the sexual encounter not the supernatural sort – with Carol throwing in a fiddle tune at the end. ‘My Ain Countrie’ is a wistful song of exile and then comes the first of those unconsidered pieces. ‘The Stag’ was written by Angelo Brandaurdie, an Italian composer, songwriter and Renaissance music specialist. It’s an oddly philosophical piece in which the titular beast urges the writer, a hunter, to use every part of his body instead of just taking a trophy. Whether the hunter actually kills the animal is not recorded. After ‘Sir Patrick Spens’ things cheer up again with ‘The Gallowa’ Hills’ and then comes the second unexpected gem. Janis Ian’s ‘When Angel Cry’ is a real downer, written at the height of the AIDS crisis. Vicki and Jonny provide the accompaniment with all the delicacy you’d expect.
Gleanings is an album reminiscent of a time when singers didn’t overthink things. It’s a collection of songs that Hector likes and enjoys performing which is where we all came in. That’s not a veiled criticism; I’d not heard ten of these sixteen songs before proving that there is always something new to discover.
A musician once commented on social media that the word he hated seeing in a review was “interesting”. I was as guilty as anyone and resolved to stop using it but have to say that An Invitation To Dance is a very interesting concept. Purcell’s Polyphonic Party combines the instrumental talents of Vicki Swan, John Dipper and Jonny Dyer and the album comprises twelve tracks mostly drawn from John Playford’s collections. The thing is that the tempos are strict and the repeats are listed for the dancers among us. The tracks run to between four and six minutes although ‘St Margaret’s Hill’ and ‘Softly Good Tummas’ may tax the stamina a bit.
Fans of John Dipper’s other band, Methera, will love this and as a non-dancer I also approached the album as a listener. Dipper restricts himself to the viola d’amore making it the principal melody instrument and as well as her nyckelharpa, Vicki demonstrates her skill on double bass and various aerophones, including bagpipes. Jonny plays harpsichord and piano as well as guitar, bouzouki and citole.
Inevitably strings dominate but the tracks to which Vicki adds flute, pipes or recorder provide sufficient variety for the listener. My favourite tracks are ‘Terpsichore’, taken from Michael Praetorious – I’ve always preferred early music to modern classical – ‘Mount Hills’ with lots of bagpipes and Jonny’s hand in the composition and ‘Kesterne Gardens’ with a remarkably modern sounding introduction on guitar and bass. There are a couple of maggots, which I discovered a couple of weeks ago is what they called earworms in the 18th century because the tunes go round and round.
I will confess that it’s taken me a couple of plays to get into An Invitation To Dance but now I’m there I can safely say that I’m very happy.
The Troubadour is one of the iconic venues in the country. Founded in 1954, it still occupies the coffee shop in Old Brompton Road near Earl’s Court where it started. It has played host to most of the greats on the folk scene, many before anyone else had heard of them. I say that because this was my first visit – it being in That Lunnon and me a country boy – and also Daria and Jonny’s debut performance there. And, as Daria pointed out in her introduction to ‘Distant Love’, the first time that a song in the Ingush language had been sung on that stage.
They followed ‘Distant Love’ with Daria’s greatest hit, The Moon And The Pilot’, with Daria, resplendent in black and gold, at her expressive best. Then came something new. Daria and Jonny were premiering some new songs – not a follow-up to Long Lost Home – but covers of some of the singers and songwriters who have graced this stage. What better place to air them first?
The first of them was ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’, a song that is so well known that no-one sings it any more. Daria gives a new innocence over some absolutely delicious rolling guitar figures from Jonny. After ‘Amanat’ came ‘Masters Of War’ with Daria playing pulsing shruti and a mini-tambourine strapped to her foot. It is a song that is rapidly becoming relevant once more and one that is very important to Daria; there was a palpable anger in her performance. After ‘Panther’ (modesty forbids me from quoting her introduction) came ‘Northern Sky’. Most singers covering Nick Drake try to find the inner fragility of this notoriously reticent man. The original version of the song is drenched with arrangements that Nick himself disliked but which give it a power but Jonny reduced the arrangement to just a keyboard part and Daria turned it into a torch song. It might be considered revolutionary but it is quite magnificent.
Three more songs from Long Lost Home: ‘Untangle My Bones’, ‘Tamara’ and ‘Only Begun’ followed before they tackled the big one: ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes?’. Here’s another song that has been sung thousands of times over the years but, over Jonny’s guitar, Daria managed to instil something of herself into it, which is no mean achievement. They encored with another song associated with Sandy Denny, ‘Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood’, with attention drawn to the line “love is lord of all”. It brought the set to a reflective end – another old song that is still important and relevant.
February 23rd is a date that should be known in history. On this day in 1944 the entire population of the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, those who weren’t away at war fighting for the Soviet Union, were told they were being deported for alleged collaboration with the enemy. Many were children and resistance was met with death.
Move forward to 2017 and February 23rd was the date chosen by Daria Kulesh to launch her second album Long Lost Home at Cecil Sharp House in London. The location was appropriate because, as Daria said, CSH collects and stores folk memories so that they are available for future generations and Long Lost Home is more than just an album of songs as Daria through her Grandmother, Fatima Akhrieva, is Ingushetian. The evening was a celebration of her journey to find that link to her past.
February 23rd 2017 will also be remembered for Storm Doris, which provided a suitably tumultuous backdrop to the event but unfortunately disrupted travel and meant some audience members were unable to attend. They missed an evening of powerful, moving emotion that was also uplifting with its message of hope for the future.
The evening began with two well received pieces from Timur Dzeytov, People’s Artist of Ingushetia, including a song about the deportations followed by a traditional tune. He played the dakhchan pandar, a form of the balalaika, and it was obvious even to me that this was not “Russian” music. There were resonances of the near- and middle-east in the sound. It was a suitably exotic opening.
Daria then took to the stage wearing a most beautiful dress that had been hand made and decorated in traditional style. She opened, as does the album, with ‘Tamara’ a dark song about sorcery and death. The simple accompaniment from Timur and Evan Carson (percussion) emphasised the words well. Evan came in as an emergency replacement but it certainly didn’t look that way, the sign of a very talented musician.
I’ve been fortunate to have seen some of these songs before, at least one on its debut, often with just Daria accompanying herself on guitar or shruti. For the album launch we were treated to a full backing band which allowed the music to be fully expressed. At various points during the evening we were also introduced to Jonny Dyer (piano and guitar), Kate Rouse (hammered dulcimer and piano), Vicki Swan (double bass, nyckelharpa and small pipes) and Phil Underwood (various accordions and guitar).
The evening followed the album so we were quckly enraptured with the ‘The Moon and The Pilot’, the story of Daria’s great-grandparents, Diba Posheva and Rashid Akhriev. Diba was one of the deportees in 1944, two years after Rashid died a Hero of the Soviet Union in the battle for Leningrad. It could not save his wife and their two young children, one of whom was Daria’s grandmother. It was impossible not to be moved by Diba’s story of resilience and love for her children.
My personal favourite on the album came not long afterwards. ‘Amanat’ is the story of a relative even further back in time, Chakh Akhriev, who was born in 1850 and essentially fostered to Russian parents as a hostage. It’s a story of a different time and place, yet of a man who never quite fitted in. The song appeals to me, maybe for that reason, and it is also a fine example of Daria’s incredible vocal ability. There’s so much power, range and control in her singing she entrances a room in the way very few other singers can.
This is not a review of the album so I will only mention one more song, ‘Heart’s Delight’. This is Daria’s translation of the Ingush ‘Song of Mochkha’. She also wrote the gloriously uplifting tune. The first time I heard it I thought it was the Ingush National Anthem, and it possibly should be.
“What is yours by right, May you always hold/May your heart’s delight become your fate.”
To show how music can cross boundaries this was the tune where Vicki Swan played her small pipes, a suggestion which originally came from Timur Dzeytov. It worked so very well; the drone of the pipes adding a frisson to the words that raised the hairs on the back of my neck.
For an encore we were treated to ‘Fata Morgana’, the opening track from debut album ‘Eternal Child’ and the start of Daria’s journey to her Long Lost Home in the Caucasus Mountains. To complete the journey Timur Dzeytov returned to the stage to play a lezginka, a traditional dance from the Caucasus. In the dance the man (on this occasion Anzor Aushev, who was one of Daria’s hosts in Ingushetia on her research trip for the album) is an eagle and the woman, whose name I don’t know, is a swan. It was a beautiful insight to a different culture, the dance involved no contact between the partners but the courtship aspect was more than clear. This is the dance which is also referred to in ‘Like A God’, the story of Daria’s great-great-uncle, and Diba’s brother, Aludin Poshev. It was said he could dance like a god.
We also had a speech from Khairudin, the leader of the Vainakh (Ingush & Chechen) community in London and I was left with the impression that Long Lost Home is a folk memory of Ingushetia that will become important to a country and people who are trying to reestablish their identity after many years of turbulence and suppression.