The Appalachian ballad form has been liberally sprinkled throughout Naomi Bedford and Paul Simmonds’ albums to date. For the next project, they have recorded a full set of songs with English and Scottish roots entitled Singing It All Back Home.
This is no museum piece. In keeping with the folk tradition, the songs have been revised and re invigorated whilst staying true to the heart of the stories.
The project began with a very simple premise; to rediscover, explore and celebrate the ballads that had been such a strong influence throughout Bedford’s childhood. It’s only the most vital works that can survive nearly three centuries as living, still valid pieces and the Appalachian ballads are certainly that.
Greatly aided by the marvellous Shirley Collins, who generously donated her time, encouragement and research materials, and by Folk Award winner Ben Walker on production and multi instrumental duties, the material was chosen, rehearsed and recorded live in the summer and autumn of 2018 in Brighton. With a cast that also included Justin Currie, Rory McLeod and Lisa Knapp, the album moulds influences from England, Scotland and South East USA to stir the great melting pot of folk and roots styles.
Launching officially at home of folk music Cecil Sharp House in London on June 6th, the project will then tour throughout the UK in 2019. With new arrangements and the power of Bedford’s evocative voice, these legendary songs continue their transatlantic voyage.
‘A partnership that is complementary in every respect’ Songlines Magazine
‘Easy to get besotted with’ Froots Magazine
‘Thrills, soothes and haunts in equal measure’ Uncut Magazine
For those who are unaware, Bedford is the personal and professional partner of Paul Simmonds from The Men they Couldn’t Hang, so it’s not too surprising to find a similar political vein to her work. Plus, of course, she has a history of political activity, having been, for example, the Artists Liaison for Artists Against The Poll Tax. This is her third album and, as the title suggests, isn’t overflowing with stories of lover’s trysts and break-ups, although nor is it a hectoring collection of unfurled protest banners.
The template’s set with the opening track, ‘Davidson/Wilder Blues’, a traditional Tennessean union song about strikebreaking written by miners in the 30s and learned from Hedy West, one of Bedford’s seminal influences. With Dan Stewart on banjo and Bedford singing in an Appalachian twang, you’d not think she was born in Putney. She remains in traditional territory, but closer to home for ‘Gypsy Davy’, although, having said that, her approach is very much on the other side of the Atlantic, drawing on Jean Ritchie and Woody Guthrie, adding a chorus and inviting Justin Currie along for harmonies. Currie also shares vocal duties and plays piano on his own contribution, ‘We Are Not The People’, a stirring, fiddle accompanied ballad about those in power from the perspective of those who will never have it and don’t want it.
Other than the two traditional arrangements, Bedford only contributes one writing credit, a collaboration with Simmonds on ‘The Wild And Charming Energy’, a nervy folk blues number about machismo with handclaps, itchy percussion and a mariachi feel, other than that the bulk of the material is courtesy of Simmonds: ‘The Spider & The Wolf’’s fable about debt with Bedford again channelling West and Jackie Oates on fiddle, ‘Overseas’, a banjo dappled song about religious intolerance that centres on the Crusades; ‘Raise These Sails’, a clopalong duet between him and Bedford spun around the provisions taken aboard the Mayflower; ‘Junktown’, a loose loping blues duet that sounds like a nod to Johnny and June about corporate culture, market forces and the powerbrokers ghettoising the common herd and featuring the defiant line “a hand up is not a hand out”; ‘Fields Of Clover’, about the rise and fall of the baby boomers and on which she sounds like Baez circa ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’. The last of the Simmonds’ tracks, ‘The Old Abandoned Road’, offers a view of the pointlessness of the English Civil War through the eyes of a soldier in the Quaker army, set to acoustic strum, military drum beat and a Gaelic skirl of fiddle and mandolin.
The final cut returns to the traditional archives for ‘The Watches Of the Night’, the words taken from an optimistic poem about the rise of socialism by Tom Maguire, a British Trade Unionist, sourced and set to music by Alasdair Roberts, who sings and plays guitar, with Bedford on harmony, Ellie Wyatt on violin and Helena Ashworth on psaltery. Naomi’s name may not be as well known as others in the folk field, but, justly championed by the likes of Shirley Collins and Peter Buck, she most certainly deserves your listening attention. It would be impertinent not to.
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Justin Currie, the lead singer and songwriter of Scottish pop-rock band Del Amitri, is set to release Lower Reaches on Compass Records on April 15th. The new album is the follow-up to Currie’s 2010 critically acclaimed project The Great War which garnered 4 star reviews and earned Currie the moniker of “a songwriter’s songwriter” from Mojo. On Lower Reaches, Currie’s pop sensibilities and radio ready vocals are ever present, but it’s his songwriting that is perhaps most striking. The new set of self-penned songs show Currie emerging as a writer of great depth and sensitivity, deftly examining life, relationships and the human condition, albeit delivered with the healthy dose of cynicism and wit that his fans have come to count on.
Currie wrote most of the songs on Lower Reaches during a solitary songwriting retreat on the Isle of Skye off the coast of Scotland. Hunkered down in a remote cottage in the shadow of The Cuillins, the mountain range that dominates the Hebridean island, Currie had no internet and no mobile phone, just an acoustic guitar, a piano, and a ghetto-blaster on which to record his ideas. “I suppose it was a bit like my Brill Building”, he smiles. “You’re being your own boss and putting yourself under pressure to write.” Currie wrote fifteen songs in eleven days, something of a personal best in terms of rapid-fire delivery. When it came time to capture the music in the studio Currie traveled to Austin, Texas to work with producer Mike McCarthy (Craig Finn [The Hold Steady], Spoon, Patty Griffin, …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead). The process was, in Currie’s words, “a brilliant experience” and the resulting tracks have been heralded by the UK press as among the songwriter’s recent best.
As singer and main songwriter in Del Amitri, formed in Glasgow in 1983, Currie wrote many of their biggest hits including ‘Roll To Me’, ‘Always The Last To Know’, and ‘Nothing Ever Happens’. During their long and distinguished career, Del Amitri released four Top 10 albums, including ‘Waking Hours’ (1989), which sold over a million copies in the UK alone.
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