JOSIENNE CLARKE & BEN WALKER – Seedlings All (Rough Trade RTRADCD898)

Seedlings AllIt’s long been the case that you don’t come to Clarke and Walker for background music or cheeriness. Their music is sparse but intricate and you have to work at it. It is also almost inevitably suffused with melancholia, delivered at a pace and tempo to suit the mood. But they always deliver and the effort always pays off.

That said, the opening track here is, in their terms, positively thrash, the electric guitar riding a rolling melody and even breaking out into a reflective solo on a lyric littered with images of failure and struggle, but then, having talked about looking foolish and how “no one came to see me play” (a reference to an actual gig while touring in America), there’s an unexpected last verse refusal to give in as Clarke sings “you wouldn’t trade it for all they’d offer you. You sing and play and make things for that is all that you can do”.

The album’s highly autobiographical in addressing the highs and lows of following music as a career, the costs it exacts and the precariousness off it all, and the sentiment of that final line is echoed in the last line of the next song, ‘Bells Ring’, an otherwordly ambience of tinkling bells, piano (courtesy Kit Downes) and jazzy muted brass in a song that uses the alternate rings of two bells as a metaphor for a relationship, the pull and the longing, the sweet and sad, but ultimately “all we have.”

The jazzy tones here permeate the album, particularly evident in Walker’s meditative guitar work on the hope and potential-themed title track, the smoky late night vibe of ‘Tender Heart’ built around Downes’ piano and Ruth Goller’s double bass, the weary relationship breaking apart sway Ghost Light and the classic jazz trio feel of the mortality imbued ‘Sad Day’, Clarke’s vocals taking on a breathy torch-like quality like a young, more innocent Billie Holiday.

Not that the folk colours are any thinner. The simple slow piano waltz ‘Maybe I Won’t’, a song addressing the possibility or not of motherhood, conjures the plaintive ache of Sandy Denny circa Like An Old Fashioned Waltz while the existential crisis of ‘All Is Myth’ is simple voice and guitar, gently caressed by violin in the final seconds.

But, the point is that this finds them painting using an altogether bigger canvas, flexing rather than forsaking their palette. Inspired by Richard and Linda Thompson’s ‘The Calvary Cross’, ‘Things Of No Use’, one of only two co-written numbers, takes on a more expansive production with powerful drums making their presence felt behind the sax, guitars and backing vocals, while, with its wearied waltz notes, ‘Bathed In Light’ has a minimalist, retro, almost early 50s feel to it, as she returns to the musician’s nightmare that “I’ll write everyday but no one cares what I say. That I’ll stand and I’ll sing but no one will be moved to join in.” The final crushing realisation “that I’ve lost all I’ve got”, deliberately counterpoints the closing words of the opening number.

Nonetheless, it ends on a final more resolved refusnik note with the folkier strains of ‘Only Me Only’, strings, bass and piano the waves on which Clarke’s carried on an introspective songwriter’s confessional lyric about being “ever to burrow but never to hide”, of “the left of the living in suffering song” and “the scratching thorn in my side” , and how, when the dawn is done and the birds have taken wing “it’s only me singing the only one.”

Clarke says that, after the disappointing and disillusioning commercial success of the last album and the experience of playing to an empty room in Chicago, she and Walker approached this as if it might prove their last album, taking soul searching chances both musically and lyrically. Far from the end, this feels just like it’s just the beginning.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website:

‘Chicago’ – official video:

Richard Thompson to release Acoustic Classics II

Richard Thompson

Celebrated guitarist and songwriter Richard Thompson will release Acoustic Classics Vol. II on his own Beeswing record label, distributed via Proper, on August 11. Richard will play Cropredy Festival in August, celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Fairport Convention and tour the UK in October.

On the heels of the success of Acoustic Classics in 2014, Acoustic Classics Vol. II will feature acoustic renderings of classic songs from the Richard Thompson catalogue, some previously recorded by other singers, some previously available only in a band format. A second album Acoustic Rarities will be released later in the year featuring new recordings of some of the more obscure songs in the Thompson catalogue, some previously existing only as cover versions.

Track Listing

  1. She Twists The Knife Again – 2:49
  2. The Ghost Of You Walks – 4:41
  3. Genesis Hall – 3:30
  4. Jet Plane In A Rocking Chair – 2:29
  5. A Heart Needs A Home – 3:27
  6. Pharaoh – 4:26
  7. Gethsemane – 5:13
  8. Devonside – 3:06
  9. Meet On The Ledge – 3:06
  10. Keep Your Distance – 3:35
  11. Bathsheba Smiles – 3:33
  12. Crazy Man Michael – 4:24
  13. Guns Are The Tongues – 6:06
  14. Why Must I Plead? – 4:09

Special three-disc vinyl LP and double CD versions of both albums together will be released exclusively via Pledge Music:

‘Gethsemane’ – live on TV:

BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2015 Lifetime Achievement and Good Tradition Awards Announced

Folk Awards 2015BBC Radio 2 has announced the recipients of this year’s Radio 2 Folk Awards Lifetime Achievement Awards.

The two prestigious lifetime achievement accolades will be presented to legendary musicians Yusuf / Cat Stevens and Loudon Wainwright III at the ceremony which is being held at the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff on 22 April. The Good Tradition Award, for an outstanding contribution to the upkeep of a musical tradition, is being presented posthumously to the late Meredydd Evans.

800px-Yusuf-2009Renowned singer Yusuf / Cat Stevens, who will also be performing at the awards, gained worldwide acclaim for works including ‘Wild World’, ‘Father And Son’ and ‘Morning Has Broken’, which remain staples of the folk genre. Following a conversion to the Islamic faith in 1977, Stevens retired from the music business to work with and support causes in education and humanitarian relief. Yusuf / Cat Stevens was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March 2014, subsequently releasing the album, Tell ‘Em I’m Gone. Last year also saw Yusuf / Cat Stevens embark upon his acclaimed Peace Train – Late Again international tour, including his first US dates in 38 years.

Al Booth, Editor of Specialist Music, Radio 2 said:

‘To have a musical legend of the calibre of Yusuf performing at the Radio 2 Folk Awards is a testament to the high esteem in which the event is held. I know that everyone in the folk world is looking forward to what promises to be a very special night.’

Grammy Award winning Loudon Wainwright III will also be celebrating his Lifetime Achievement Award with a live performance at the event. He said:

“I’ll be happy and gratified, not to mention a bit smug, to receive my award in Cardiff next month. Yes it certainly has seemed like an entire lifetime has whizzed by since the mighty John Peel saturated the UK airwaves in 1969 with my first songs, spinning “School Days” and “The Movies Are a Mother to Me” late at night on BBC Radio.”

LW3Loudon Wainwright III had studied acting at Carnegie-Mellon University, but dropped out to partake in the ‘Summer of Love’ in San Francisco, and wrote his first song Edgar in 1968. He was soon signed to Atlantic Records and was lured by Clive Davis to Columbia Records, which released his first big hit ‘Dead Skunk’. His songs have since been recorded by Bonnie Raitt, Johnny Cash, Kate & Anna McGarrigle, and his son Rufus Wainwright and daughter Martha Wainwright. An accomplished actor, he has appeared in films directed by Martin Scorsese and Tim Burton, on TV in M.A.S.H. and Undeclared, and on Broadway in Pump Boys And Dinettes.

The 2015 Radio 2 Folk Awards will also pay tribute to the late Dr Meredydd Evans, who passed away in February 2015 at the age of 95, with a Good Tradition Award. The Good Tradition Award is given to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to UK folk music. Meredydd’s wide-ranging contributions as a singer, historian, broadcaster and Welsh language campaigner made him a significant, respected and popular figure across Welsh culture. He recorded for the Sain label in Wales and made a classic album of Welsh songs for the American label Smithsonian Folkways during the 1950s. He was Head of Light Entertainment at BBC Wales, working both behind and in front of the camera and an important collector of Welsh traditional song. He will be posthumously honoured and there will be a special tribute performance to him by the 10 Mewn Bws, (10 in a Bus) a project that saw ten young Welsh musicians travel around Wales in an attempt to reinterpret and demystify traditional Welsh music.

The Folk Awards are hosted by Radio 2 Folk Show presenter Mark Radcliffe alongside Scottish Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis. Folk Singer Of The Year-nominated Julie will also perform on the night. Other performers are modern folk rock band The Rails who are nominated in the Best Album and Horizon Award category for the best emerging act and London based duo Josienne Clark and Ben Walker, singing from their nominated Best Album Nothing Can Bring Back The Hour. The pair has also been nominated in the Best Duo category. Welsh folk band 9Bach, who will sing in Welsh, and English folk singer Kate Rusby complete the live line up for the night.

Star guests who will be handing out some of the gongs on the night include 6 Music’s Cerys Matthews, Gavin and Stacey and Stella actress Ruth Jones and singer songwriter Billy Bragg.

The evening will also see singer, songwriter, record producer, playwright, actor and political activist Ewan MacColl inducted into the Radio 2 Folk Award Hall of Fame. MacColl played a vital role in instigating the folk song revival in Britain and is perhaps best known for his much covered songs ‘Dirty Old Town’ and ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’. Throughout his career MacColl produced around 300 songs and scores of albums and 2015 marks the centenary of his birth.

The Radio 2 Folk show has a weekly audience of 812,000 listeners and BBC Radio 2 has weekly reach of 15.3 million. The BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards will be broadcast live from 7.30pm-10pm on Radio 2 and will also be simulcast on BBC Radio Wales. From 10pm to 11pm, BBC Radio Wales will be broadcasting the official after show programme presented by Frank Hennessy.

Listeners will be able to watch highlights of the awards on BBC iPlayer for 30 days after the event and also at a later date on Red Button. For more details head to