RACHAEL McSHANE & THE CARTOGRAPHERS – When All Is Still (Topic TSCD596)

When All Is StillIt’s been nine years since Rachael McShane realised her solo debut, the time since then keeping her busy as cellist, fiddler, viola player and singer with the now defunct Bellowhead, of which she was a founding member back in 2004, and, more recently, her role in the reworking of Peter Bellamy’s folk opera The Transports.

However, she’s now found a window to record a follow-up, again predominantly a collection of traditional material, working with two fellow North East musicians, guitarist Matthew Ord fron Newcastle bluegrass outfit Assembly Lane and Kathryn Tickell’s melodeonist Julian Sutton. She’s also joined on assorted tracks by former Bellowhead colleagues Paul Sartin on oboe and Andy Mellon, Justin Thurgur and Ed Neuhauser on trumpet, trombone and tuba, respectively. The album’s produced by Ian Stephenson who also handles double bass and piano duties.

With a couple of exceptions, her choice of material leans to lesser known of less commonly performed numbers from the folk canon, case in point being the opener, ‘The Molecatcher’, a waltzing ditty about infidelity as the titular cuckold catches his wife in flagrante although McShane’s sanitised the original lyrics so that now, he catches the lad by his coat (rhyming with sport) rather than his bollocks (rhymed with frolics) who declares the fine of ten pounds works about tuppence a time rather than a grind. Revisionist delicacy notwithstanding, it’s a fine and cheekily sung number, the tune of Sutton’s ‘Simpson Street Waltz’ written in honour of the studio where they recorded.

More usually known as ‘The Outlandish Knight’, a number she often played with Bellowhead, spotlighting melodeon, ‘Lady Isabel’ tells of a serial killer of young maids getting his comeuppance when his intended seventh victim tumbles him into the sea. The ballad exists in a wide variety of versions and lyrics, and, in keeping with the album’s mischievous tone, this retains the final verse where the girl bribes her parrot to keep quiet about where she’s been.

Originating from Huddersfield, the melodeon wheezing ‘Cropper Lads’ has been part of her repertoire for a while, a song celebrating the titular weaving industry craftsmen that makes reference to Great Enoch, a hammer used to smash up the jobs-threatening machinery during the Luddite uprising. It’s set to a new tune by McShane titled ‘Full Belly’, apparently inspired, not by anything weaving or industrial, but from playing an online game called Sushi Cat.

Lads from a different, ahem, field make an appearance in ‘Ploughman Lads’, a rousingly straightforward chorus friendly love song featuring percussion from Martin Douglas, followed, in turn, by the first of the two instrumental sets, McShane’s stately fiddle-led ‘Waltzing At Giggleswick’, written for a charity of which she’s patron and providing a platform for Ode’s guitar work, twinned with Sutton’s melodeon romp ‘The Ginger Cat Monster’.

By far the best-known number is ‘Two Sisters’ (you know, the one where one sister downs the other over a romantic rivalry and the body is found and turned into as self-playing fiddle and reveals her murder), except McShane reveals a cynical streak with a grizzly ending that shows justice a clean pair of heels.

Learned from the Peter Bellamy version, the mid-tempo swayalong ‘Barley and Rye’ is another song about bored wives who get up to mischief in the bedroom because they’re neglected by husbands more concerned with their work, here a farmer and his crops.

Sutton contributes the second of the instrumentals, the finely crafted and shape-shifting ‘Road To Tarset/Lake Of Swans’ both nodding to favourite haunts in Northumberland. On a darker note, this is followed by another staple, a suitably sombre and brooding take on euphemistically-titled incest ballad ‘Sheath & Knife’ which, variously recorded by Ewan MacColl, Eliza Carthy, June Tabor, Maddy Prior and Maggie Boyle, from whom McShane learned the song, tells how the king’s daughter becomes pregnant by her brother and goes with him to the greenwood to give birth where she asks him to put an arrow through her and bury her with their baby.

Lighter notes are struck on another well-known number, ‘Sylvie’ being a version of ‘The Female Highwayman’ or ‘Sovay’. One of the first songs the trio put together, it opens with a plucked viola before the instrumentation swells as the tale unfolds of a woman disguising herself to test her lover’s loyalty and bravery by demanding the ring she gave him. Given that, in the final verse, she declares that had he parted with it she’d have shot him dead, it’s perhaps not a match for the long haul.

Set to a new galumphing, melodeon-driven cider-swigging tune by McShane with brass arrangement by Stephenson, it all ends joyously with ‘Green Broom’, a traditional tale of a broom cutter who, fed up of his son lying in bed to noon, sends him off to the woods to cut a bundle , the lad catching the attention of a fine lady on his way home and ending up marrying her. There seems to be a Norman Tebbit-like moral for our social benefits times in there somewhere.

Fresh, sparkling and lively in its arrangements and performance, it’s an album that should consign phrases like ‘former-Bellowhead’ member to footnotes rather than a delineation.

Mike Davies

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Artist’s website: www.rachaelmcshane.co.uk

‘Ploughman Lads’ – official video:

Bellowhead reveal video for new single ‘Roll The Woodpile Down’

Bellowhead Broadside Fresh from their victory as winners of the BBC Radio 2 Folk Award for Best Album, 11-piece folk super-group Bellowhead reveal their new video for their already incredibly successful single, Roll The Woodpile Down. It’s no secret that Bellowhead are one of the best live bands around (as their 5 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards for Best Live Band will attest) and this brand new video showcases the band in their element – live at a sell-out show in Glasgow.

Roll The Woodpile Down is the second single to be taken from the band’s new, Top 20, album Broadside. Vocalist, and arranger, Jon Boden explains a little more about the track:

This is a song I’ve known for ages – I think I first heard it sung in the pub in Durham where I used to hang out. I came up with the basic idea backstage in Birkenhead on the tour before last – I was a bit bored so started doing a bit of fiddle singing in the dressing room. It’s often just a little thing that’s gives you a door into an arrangement – with Woodpile it was adding an extra beat to the ‘Georgia Line’ so that you can get more vocal impact out of it. From there it was just a case of finding a second melody line to set against the song tune (this ended up being a simple oboe riff) and then putting it all together with the band. It’s been working really well live, particular since all the airplay on Radio 2 – people really know the chorus now!


Paul Johnson interviewed Jon Boden at the Broadside Album Launch back in October. If you missed it, you can click on the player below and have a listen…

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Paul Johnson interviews Jon Boden from Bellowhead at the Broadside Album Launch…

On the 17th of October, Paul Johnson caught up with Jon Boden (from Bellowhead) at the Broadside album launch party in the aptly named “Water Rats” hostelry in old London town. The interview took place just outside the toilet… We can a-shore you that its all “above board” if you get our drift.  Unfortunately however, like the transcript of the interview, our old sea-dog, Paul “Johno” Johnson appears to be sinking at the very end leaving poor old Jon Bowden desperate to bail and the folkmaster with a long weight for the interview hence the posting delay (due to a lame excuse on Johno’s part). Anyway, brace yourself ship-mates and be prepared to have your bumpkin and boomkin hosted by our very own folking frigate’s petard  One last point, Johno suggests purchasing the CD or downloading it from every vendor under the sun but fails to mention that you can simply get from the folking store via the amazon link below…

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BELLOWHEAD – The Orchard Theatre, Dartford 28.01.12

Dartford is an unforgiving one-way nightmare – let my mate Les Elvin tell you about it sometime. Arriving at The Orchard Theatre just as Bellowhead were starting neither of us were in the best of moods but our frayed tempers were immediately put at ease by the brash delights of the band striking up. This personable eleven-piece don’t just effervesce, they EXPLODE like a grenade tossed on an unsuspecting trench piled with extras from Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse”! Make no mistake…if you’re looking for a night of quaint English ‘folk’ music you’ve come to the wrong place. Hard and fast are the rules of engagement and the audience are more than up for the challenge. Not unlike an old style village band…think Lark Rise on steroids…the band infuse instrumental excellence with theatrics not dissimilar to those provided by a ‘flash mob’ experience – only twice as much fun. Taking a shine to shanties (ideal for the odd spot of reggae) the band’s raw treatment of the likes of “Whiskey-O, Johnny-O” and “New York Girls” proved popular favourites alongside a fresh re-working of “Ten Thousand Miles Away” and an unashamed plug for their new, soon to be released album. With grand cinematic-like gestures from Jon Boden (a bit like the crucifixion scene from Life Of Brian or Peter Finch in Network…only more animated) and released from the constraints of his accompanying fiddle his vocals are ripped from his tonsils with a passion that could inspire a nation to fight it’s way out of our current financial crisis. It’s rare to see such a response from a sold-out audience of predominantly ‘folk’ music enthusiasts but the standing ovation was proof that our ‘so called’ minority music can indeed be played with BALLS. Our friends at Brandywine Music (Keith Stockman & Kevin Tudor) are to be complimented on their choice of upcoming bookings including The Acoustic Strawbs, Jacqui McShee’s Pentangle and Heidi Talbot, John McCusker & Boo Hewerdine and if this concert was anything to go by they should be millionaires by the end of the month…we in the ‘folk’ world salute you both. As a challenge for a one-off special and from a personal point of view how about Bellowhead sharing the bill with Madness and their recent project “The Ballad Of Norton Forgate”? Over to you chaps.

PETE FYFE

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Bellowhead – Hedonism Live

Released in October 2010, the ‘Hedonism‘ album has quickly become one of the best selling folk releases of modern times. After a packed summer of 23 UK festival appearances that concluded with a performance at BBC Radio 2’s Hyde Park concert, Bellowhead then embarked on their second sell-out UK tour in support of the album in November and have a European tour scheduled in early 2012. A new in concert DVD entitled ‘Hedonism Live‘ was released at the conclusion of the November tour and really gives a great insight into why the band are at the top of their game .

Recorded in Bournemouth at the O2 Academy in May 2011, the two hour set contains 23 songs drawn from all three albums released by Bellowhead to date.

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BELLOWHEAD – Hedonism (Navigator Records Navigator042)

With a sleeve cover (superbly photographed by David Angel) that looks as if it had just leapt off the canvas of a Hogarth painting Bellowhead return with more of the band’s theatrically treated ‘folk’ excursions. Tried and tested favourites such as “New York Girls”, “Hand Weaver And The Factory Maid” and the energetic “A-Begging I Will Go” with its riff injected melody you could hardly say the band were hiding their light under a bushel. No, let’s get one thing straight. This is a group that, were they around some years earlier would have been labelled ‘wandering minstrels’. Does anyone remember the 17th Century London restaurant Tiddydols? The music is rambunctious, in your face and pulls no punches in its presentation. I won’t be churlish in picking favourites but let’s be honest; this is the band that should have spear-headed the latest touring production of ‘Lark Rise To Candleford’. Unlike that production this album is quality stuff…nuff said!

PETE FYFE

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