GREG HANCOCK –The State of My Hair (own label)

The State Of My HairAn intoxicating musical and lyrical cocktail of Al Stewart and Ray Davies, infused with his own unique brilliance as a guitarist and songwriter, for his follow up to 2017’s A303, Devon based Hancock mines memories from childhood to middle age, from hanging out with fellow teens playing at being grown ups drinking ‘Thunderbird Wine’ to seeing the ‘Creases And Marks’ slowly appearing in the mirror.

The telescoping of time that underpins the album is laid out in the opening track, ‘My Mother (And The State Of My Hair)’, beginning with a wash of electronics and sampled sounds out of which gradually emerge the keyboards, drums and guitar for a song that starts in 1928 with the discover of penicillin, the 1930s Wall Street Crash and the birth of his mother, throwing in a reference to Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’ on a blues and jazz tinged number that, embellished by trumpet, muses on the unreliability of memory.

Featuring Kathryn Tremlett’s violin and Jo Hooper’s cello double tracked into a string quartet, ‘Sarky Sally’ has Hancock playing a Puerto Rican cuatro on a song recalling a sharp-tongued schoolfriend who could make people laugh but “couldn’t make them happy”, schooldays also informing ‘Christopher’, a cello-accompanied composite portrait of a misfit coloured with a fair degree of autobiography.

A lively instrumental flavoured with strings, brass, accordion and euphonium, ‘Odyssey FC’ is a tip of the hat to the old Southend-on-Sea folk club that set him on his current career path, while, at nearly six minutes, ‘The Men In A Pub’ calls Pete Atkin to mind as, to simple fingerpicked acoustic, he reminiscences on three old codgers that used to inhabit the local pub’s snug bar on another number about time passing.

Featuring Ben Homer on piano and Devon-based music manager and promoter Katie Whitehouse on backing vocals, the waltztime ‘Four Spanish Words’ moves the album on to 1999 and an unreciprocated love that, in tandem with being broke, led Greg to relocating to Saudi Arabia, romantic disappointment being briefly alleviated when he was 40 by the short but passionate Paris affair commemorated in the all-acoustic fingerpicked ‘One Weekend’.

If you’ve ever met up for a reunion with someone you’ve not seen in years only, like a cornered animal, to remember why, then the rain-washed bluesy moodiness of ‘Coffee And Cake’, guitar complemented by warm sousaphone, cello and euphonium, will strike a chord, though whether you’d have the same courage to unleash the beast and speak your thoughts is another matter.

Featuring just acoustic guitar and subtle electronics, ‘A Cube Of Space’ is a particularly poignant moment, the first verse recalling an unsettling dream about his mother and the second an observation of his father succumbing to the slow ravages of dementia (“for a moment it seems there mighty yet be a trace left of the man she met when she was twenty-three”).

Another six-minute number, Ashley Height’s lap steel imparting country colours to its strum, ‘The Way Of These Things’ returns to his relocation to Saudi Arabia, subsequently followed by a move to Abu Dhabi and, a decade or so later, a return to the UK, giving rise to a song that considers and accepts the often transient nature of even close relationships, whether you’re in a country or a marriage.

It ends, appropriately, with the lazing, dappled melody of ‘Bedtime Now’, looking back on childhood and youth for a reflection on changing attitudes to bedtime, being sent upstairs by his mother or, in his teens, getting up at 5am or rolling in after dawn, the song coming up the years, looking for a beacon in the dark, and ending on an optimistic note, still leaving for work at five, but warmed throughout the day by the image of someone still in the bed he’s had to leave, waiting on his return.

Reflective and wistfully melancholic, but suffused with the warm glow of a life lived, his songs speak of lessons learned, hearts broken, people lost to time and of dreams that refuse to fade with the years. It may be very personal, but the feelings and experiences strike universally recognisable notes. Baldly put, it’s locking good.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.greghancockmusic.com

Promo video:

Velvet & Stone announce new EP, Embers

Velvet & Stone Embers

Devon based band Velvet & Stone release their EP Embers on 13th October 2017! The four-track EP, recorded at Cube Recording in Cornwall, is the second EP released by the band who will be celebrating the release at a launch party at the Bike Shed Theatre Cocktail Bar in Exeter on 13th October followed by a string of dates around the South West.

The EP follows on from their successful single release ‘Raise Your Ghosts’ in August 2017. which received critical acclaim from the music press and airtime on BBC Radio 2. In addition to recording, the band have been focusing on their live appearances, with performances at Cambridge Folk Festival and Celtic Connections under their belt.

Since releasing their first EP, The Storm, in April 2016, the band have had some changes to their line-up, with Lara Snowdon [guitar and vocals] and Kathryn Tremlett [violin and piano] welcoming Roger Styles on guitar and vocals, and Barry Muir on bass and double bass. The new EP also features acclaimed cellist Caroline Lavelle [Radiohead; Massive Attack; Muse; Loreena McKennit; Afro Celt Sound System], and producer/engineer Gareth Young on percussion across all of the tracks.

Lara, vocalist and writer, explains that

“We’ve had a really inspiring time over the past twelve months – working with new musicians, doing a lot of writing, and honing our sound. We draw on modern singer-songwriter influences such as Ben Howard, Bon Iver, Beth Orton, Lisa Hannigan, Sarah Jarosz, Martha Tilston, in addition to folk rock bands like Seth Lakeman, The Levellers, The Cranberries, and the classics – Fleetwood Mac, Crosby, Stills and Nash and Fairport Convention”.

Inspiration for these new tracks is drawn from the sea and natural landscapes, choosing to record at Cube Studios in Cornwall with acclaimed producer Gareth Young has been a natural progression. Velvet & Stone recorded a demo there last winter when Gareth – who has worked with many pop and folk artists – was immediately taken by the band and by Lara’s voice.

“There aren’t many times when we just go – Blimey! Lara’s got one of those voices definitely. There’s just a quality to it that’s just really good, really stunning, and just easy to make sound good.”

And what influence has he brought to the EP?

“There’s more going on with a bit more of a ‘band’ sound than their first record. I think they’ve got a great EP, with some fantastic songs and some great lyrics.”

Radio 2 Folk Award winner Sam Kelly is equally excited having heard the new material:

“Velvet & Stone push the boundaries of genre by combining folk themes with catchy pop hooks and great songs, all lead by Lara’s brilliant vocals. I would recommend this record to anyone”

Artists’ website: www.velvetstonemusic.com

‘Embers’ – official video:

VELVET & STONE – The Storm (VelvetStone LVID001)

The StormA new female alt-folk trio from Devon, Lara Snowden and Holly Jo Gilbert-West sharing vocals and acoustic guitar with Kathryn Tremlett on violin and piano, make their recording bow with a six track EP of original material that most certainly whets the appetite for a full album in the hopefully not too distant future.

It’s perhaps a mark of their assurance that they open proceedings with a ballad titled ‘Fisherman’s Blues’. It certainly takes balls, or whatever the female equivalent may be, to share a title with one of the best known Waterboys’ classics, let alone brazenly have it head up the collection, but, featuring fiddle, spooked electric guitar, upright bass and tinklingly moody descending piano line, its tale of a girl growing up in a fishing town, with all the tragedies that can bring, effortlessly sweeps any quality comparisons aside.

Having made such an assertive entrance, they continue to impress with a further set of songs that draw upon their West Country background, the forces of nature and a female perspective. Second up showcases Tremlett’s sorrowful violin on the heartbreak-themed ‘Sweet Summer Rain’ with its almost ethereal keyboards swirl from producer Jack Henderson and cascading melody line, moving on to ‘Patchwork’, an optimistic love song underpinned by an insistent tapping and tumbling military beat and fleshed out with violin and piano. ‘Same Old Records’ takes a swerve into jazzier areas with gypsy violin and Andrew Tween from Seth Lakeman’s band providing syncopated drums, the finger-clicking rhythm and twin vocals calling to mind a folksier Cleo Laine.

Things are pared back to primarily acoustic guitar for ‘That Road’, a terrific moody, soulful number, the melody and vocal delivery of which can’t help but call to mind Bill Withers’s ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’. Introduced by piano trills and almost Oriental-flavoured violin waterfalls, the album closes with the title track, written on a Cornwall beach and looking to evoke that sense of feeling the most alive in the darkest hours, embracing rather than running from the metaphorical winds and tides.

Potentially the West Country’s answer to First Aid Kit, currently, the trio largely seem to only play around their own backyard. I suspect their horizons are about to expand dramatically.

Mike Davies

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Velvet & Stone announce debut album

Velvet & Stone

The Storm is the debut release from Devon-based alt-folk trio Velvet & Stone. Lyrically drawing on a rich palette of life stories, life events, the natural world and melancholy West Country tales, The Storm is exquisitely delivered in six haunting compositions, topped by distinctive vocals, crisp guitars and soaring violin.

Formed by “fates colliding” at a Devon pub in February 2014, Velvet & Stone comprises Lara Snowdon (lead vocals, acoustic guitar), Holly Jo Gilbert-West (lead vocals, acoustic guitar) and Kathryn Tremlett (violin, piano).

“We all bring different things to the group,” says Lara. “Holly and I have a folk background. Kat adds another dimension with her classical past.”

“We all contribute to the writing and play around with a mix of genres. Our songs focus on stories of us, people we know, or things we’re inspired by. We’re lucky to live in such a beautiful part of the world and that comes through in our music,” Holly explains.

Within months of forming, the talented trio won an opportunity to record at The Convent – a venue and studio in Stroud, Gloucestershire and The Storm is the stunning result.

Joining Velvet & Stone for the recording sessions were renowned musicians Ben Nicholls (Seth Lakeman, Patsy Reid) on bass, and drummer Andrew Tween (Seth Lakeman, Show of Hands), while producer Jack Henderson (Over The Rhine, Cowboy Junkies) also played guitar and keyboards.

The Storm opens with the sublime ‘Fisherman’s Blues’, which focuses on a girl growing up in a fishing town. “It’s a folk song from a female perspective and is about the cycle of life,” says Lara, while ‘Forget About The Rain’ concerns heartbreak, and ‘Patchwork’, an equally poignant take on love, but with references to Devon, closing with the majestic title track.

“I wrote ‘The Storm’ on a beach in Cornwall,” says Lara. “It’s about the sense of feeling alive when there’s a storm coming. Soon after that we went up to Holly’s house and her mum was going storm chasing, so that added to it, although it’s metaphorical, not just about a physical storm.”

A compact, diverse and beguiling debut set, The Storm is sure to boost Velvet & Stone’s growing reputation.

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Artists’ website: https://velvetstonemusic.com/

‘Same Old Record’ and ‘The Storm’ – live at The Convent: