Winter Union Bring December Tour Tidings of Comfort & Joy

Winter Union

Well they say Christmas is a special time of year for a Winter Union, when magical things happen, and this year’s Great British Folk Festival is no exception.

There was Darren and I merrily covering this year’s Skegness outing and we happened across Winter Union, a wonderful, hugely talented ‘folk super group’ and all round lovely bunch of chums from the folk scene, who treated us to a fantastic opening afternoon festive set on ‘REDS stage’ yesterday.

Winter Union comprises of Ben Savage, Katriona Gilmore, Jade Rhiannon, Hannah Saunders and Jamie Roberts, who are now in their 4th year as a festive get together.

This was the first date of their 2018 December tour. They played a stunning festive set, mixing traditional Christmas songs with an added blue grass lilt. Darren and I could not let this amazing sleigh ride pass us by without hopping on for an after gig chat in the bar. We also explored Ben Savage’s (or babe as I called him in a text typo) tale of ‘Christmas Ball Balls’.

Paul Johnson

This is what they had to say…..

Tour Dates:

12/12 St Barnabus Church, Cambridge www.junction.co.uk

14/12 Holywell Music Rooms, Oxford www.Holywellmusicandfolk.co.uk

15/12 St Mary Magdalene Church, Dunton, Beds www.duntonfolk.co.uk

16/12 The Greystones, Sheffield www.mygreystones.co.uk

17/12 Barnoldswick Music & Art, Nr Clitheroe, Lancs www.barnoldswickmusicandartscentre.co.uk

18/12 All Saint Hall, Poppleton, York www.poppletonlive.co.uk

20/12 Finchingfield Church, Braintree, Essex www.wegottickets.com/event/449662

21/12 Otford Memorial Hall, Sevenoaks, Kent www.stedithfolk.co.uk

Artist Website: https://www.facebook.com/winterunion/

THE WILLOWS – Through The Wild (Elk Elk014)

Through The WildA sort of folk supergroup that sees singer Jade Rhiannon Ward and multi-instrumentalist husband Cliff joined by Ben Savage on Dobro, percussionist Evan Carson from Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys and, new to the line-up, Katriona Gilmore on fiddle and mandolin and double bass player John Parker, this belated follow-up to 2014’s Amidst Fiery Skies finds the Cambridge-based sextet ranging across genres that span English folk, Americana and bluegrass with a sound that, at times conjures an English Clanaad. That is not the case, however, with full-blooded folk rock album opener ‘Coda’, which, like all but one number, is penned by the band. A number that deals with mortality and loss, it’s echoed in the softer, more reflective and melancholic breathily-sung ‘Better Days’ where, mottled by banjo, grief gives way to hope.

The sole non-original comes with an clopping percussion arrangement of the traditional ‘True Lover’s Ferry’, a song of love on London’s waterways learned from the singing of Peter Bellamy. Gilmore and Carson provide the backbone with Ward’s banjo also prominent for ‘Perfect Crime/Ernest Durham’s’, another musically muscular number, which draws on the true story of Percy Cox, a soldier from the Fens in the First World War who, to get a higher age, stole the identity of Ernest Durham, an Australian soldier who lends his name to the second half instrumental.

A song about the healing power of love, the evocative fiddle and banjo coloured ‘Honest Man’ musically heads out to the Appalachians before they turn to Canada for ‘Pearl Hart, Savage taking on electric guitar and Carson laying down the skittering percussive bedrock on a song that recounts the true story of the 19th century Canadian who gave up robbing stagecoaches to join Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

War rears its head again with ‘Out Of Our Hands’, a rueful acoustic guitar accompanying Ward on a song which, briefly swelling towards the end, was inspired by her reading of A Memory of Solferino, Henry Dunant’s 1862 book about the battle of Solferino in 1859 between Napoleon’s forces and the Austrian army, the suffering of the soldiers and the lack of aid, and which led to the founding of the Red Cross and the Geneva Conventions.

The English landscape serves as inspiration for two numbers, the first being ‘False Light’, pizzicato mandolin and fiddle gradually building to a big production number about the lights people imaged they saw over the fenland marshes, luring them to their deaths. It’s followed by ‘Gog Magog’, a jazzy, airy, puttering percussive rhythm number that, inspired by the eponymous chalk hills of Cambridgeshire and the mythical pagan giants (also to be found in the Bible and Cornish legend) who walked them, again treats on loss through conflict.

It ends on a personal note with the spare six-minute traditional flavoured, fiddle-coloured slow waltz ballad ‘Dear Lilly’ being dedicated to Jade’s great aunt, her courtship, marriage, miscarriage and subsequent nursing of her dying husband , going on to live for over a century, a fitting uplifting conclusion to an album that welcomes the band back in magnificent style.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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Artists’ website: www.thewillowsband.co.uk

‘False Light’ – official video:

GILMORE & ROBERTS – A Problem Of Our Kind (GR! GRR08)

A Problem Of Our KindGilmore & Roberts are Katriona Gilmore (vocals, fiddle, viola, B3 organ and mandolin) and Jamie Roberts (vocals, guitar, percussion). Their album A Problem Of Our Kind, due for release on 12th October 2018, benefits from additional instrumental support from Fred Claridge (drums and percussion), Matt Downer (double bass), Sarah Smout (cello), Ben Savage (Dobro) and Matt Crum (melodeon). And an excellent album it is, too. Of the ten tracks on the album, five were written by Katriona, four by Jamie, and the final track is a traditional tune arranged and played by Jamie.

  1. Katriona’s ‘Gauntlet’ is a kind of murder ballad (or at least a “did he really do it?” ballad): Katriona’s fiddle adds a slightly old-timey feel, but the story concerns an English court case of 1818 whereby Abraham Thornton was acquitted of a charge of murder when the victim’s brother declined the offer of ‘trial by battle’. A fascinating story, and a very effective arrangement arrangement.
  2. Jamie’s ‘The Philanthropist (Take It From Me)’ is based on the life of entrepreneur/philanthropist Laurie Marsh. It’s an attractive song that displays his vocal and fretting talents.
  3. Katriona’s ‘Things You Left Behind’ has a more personal theme about the loss of a family member. It’s a lovely song with slightly country-ish Dobro and fiddle, and it suits her voice very well.
  4. ‘The Smile & The Fury (Jamie Roberts) is based “…on the powerful viral photograph of a young woman calmly smiling in the face of an angry far-right protester…” This is what I’d like to have heard more of in the 70s: rock music giving more than a nod to traditional music and instrumentation but not afraid to use contemporary material to address current issues.
  5. ‘Bone Cupboard’ (Katriona Gilmore) is a sinister song accompanied only by the barest minimum of clapping and percussion. That’s OK, I can appreciate sinister.
  6. ‘On The Line’ (Jamie Roberts) considers the not-always-sympathetic reaction of the traveller delayed by “a body on the line“. An awkward subject sensitively handled, with an ending that hints at a wider social issue.
  7. In contrast, for me, ‘Average Joe’ (Jamie Roberts) is lyrically a bit too reminiscent of the ‘plastic people/protest’ songs of the 1960s: I guess it’s not that easy to write sympathetically about the plight of the commuting classes and avoid a superior tone. Still, musically it’s an assured performance, very much in the folk-rock vein.
  8. ‘All The Way To Rome’ (Katriona Gilmore) is, according to the booklet, inspired by “two characters in the second series of the TV show American Horror Story.” Which means nothing to me, but it’s still an appealing song.
  9. ‘Just A Piece Of Wood’ (Katriona Gilmore) is a bit country/pop-ish, with prominent fiddle, as befits the subject – the relationship between a musician and her instrument. Nice.
  10. ‘From Night Til Morn’ is a traditional tune, beautifully arranged for guitar by Jamie Roberts. It may seem perverse to say so, given all the fine original material on this album, but this is currently my favourite track.

While there’s a definite tinge of folk-rock to this collection, it certainly doesn’t mean that there’s anything dated about it. By any standards, these are fine contemporary songs, very capably performed and produced. Recommended.

David Harley

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artists’ website: www.gilmoreroberts.co.uk/

‘Gauntlet’ – official video:

Hannah Sanders & Ben Savage announce their new album

Hannah Sanders & Ben Savage

Two years ago, Hannah Sanders & Ben Savage stirred the folk and acoustic world with a stand-out debut album and there’s been little slumbering since. Now they are set to release an arresting second studio album, Awake. The combination of Hannah’s outstandingly pure, clear voice, their perfect fit harmonies and Ben’s exquisite dobro are the rock-solid foundations of this rising duo, first witnessed in the 2016 album, Before The Sun. This quality pairing unarguably has hypnotic effect, painting aural dreamscapes around them in resonant songs that are given room to breathe.

When Hannah’s folk family travels across Europe and sojourn in America ended and she returned to her native East Anglia, a chance meeting at a Cambridge folk club with The Willows band member Ben was the start of something special. Ben went on to produce Hannah’s solo album Charms Against Sorrow before they ventured into duo territory uncorking a beguiling, intricately woven, ethereal sound all their own. Before the Sun saw them named in many Albums of the Year lists including the 2016 fRoots Critics Poll and hinted at a largely untapped song writing talent amongst the expertly executed traditional arrangements and covers. That song writing skill moves more centre stage in Awake – an album that shows them fulfilling all the promise heaped on them.

Once again, they have returned to Toronto, putting Grammy-nominated Canadian producer David Travers-Smith (Madison Violet, The Wailin’ Jennys) at the helm for this album crafted with infinite care. The eleven-track release has six strong originals alongside innovative arrangements of traditional songs and captivating covers from the Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie cannons. The eye-catching album cover by psychedelic artist Alan Forbes depicts the High Priestess and a deer as The Hanged Man from the tarot card deck and tarot icons run through the CD booklet. Says Hannah:

“We used tarot throughout the recording process to help us think and feel more deeply about the music.”

A duo who delve into the mysterious and often like to release music in line with the lunar calendar, their live show sees them huddled around a single microphone, drawing the audience in. And so it is with this magnetic album.

Alongside Hannah’s trademark mountain dulcimer and Ben’s delicious dobro, they both play guitars on the album. Adding their magic are guest musicians from both sides of the Atlantic – from the UK Jon Thorne on double bass, Evan Carson on percussion and Norwich singer songwriter Jess Morgan, Katriona Gilmore and Jamie Roberts on additional vocals and from Canada Chris Coole on banjo, David Travers-Smith on horns and organ, Burke Carroll on pedal steel and on vocals, Vancouver-born American-Canadian alt country singer songwriter Suzanne Ungerleider who performs under the name Oh Susanna.

Entwined in the sturdy roots of English and North American music, Awake stirs with two original Sanders/Savage numbers – the mythical sea woman yearns to return to her spiritual sea home in the banjo-laced ‘Selkie Song’ and there is more heartache in ‘I Met A Man’, a modern retelling of the ancient story of love between a woman and a green man, with Burke Carroll weaving in his wonderful pedal steel.

The original material continues in ‘A Thousand New Moons’ – a luminous, gossamer-spun reflection on endings and beginnings, with Ben on lead vocal. The symbolic number 7 is the title of a song Hannah wrote for those who search for omens in the natural world, prompted by a friend desperate for a life change. The haunting instrumentation adds pedal steel and horns to Hannah and Ben’s guitar duet and the popular ‘One For Sorrow’ magpie nursery rhyme provides the chorus. The beautiful title track was originally written by Ben to tempt a talented friend out of a musical hiatus but has taken on a wider meaning and here it enjoys a lush vocal crescendo with the duo joined by Jess Morgan and Oh Susanna. Reaching is an exquisite, mellow, pin-drop perfect love song written by Hannah which closes the album in this duo’s soft tread style, building to a flourish which unusually features Ben on drums.

Awake is an album that stirs the soul and further endorses the empathetic class act that is Sanders and Savage. Released on May 11 on the Sungrazing Records label it will be distributed by Proper Distribution.

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artists’ website: https://www.hannahbenmusic.com/

‘Way Over Yonder In The Minor Key’ – official video:

HANNAH SANDERS & BEN SAVAGE – Before The Sun (Sungrazing Records SGR002)

Before The SunHannah Sanders first solo album, Charms Against Sorrow, was produced by Willows guitarist Ben Savage who also played on the record and shared in the arrangements. With Before The Sun their partnership has been formalised but little else has changed except that the duo went to Toronto to record with David Travers-Smith.

To the mix of traditional songs and covers is now added some originals and the first ‘The Fall (Hang)’ opens the set. I’m still puzzling over this track – it could be a reinterpretation of a murder ballad or a macabre accident like Bob Pegg’s ‘The Hanged Man’. I think I lean towards the former. Next is the first traditional song, ‘Come All Ye Fair & Tender Maids’, a mid-Atlantic version finished with a playground round. ‘What’s It Tonight My Love?’, another original, sees Ben take the first lead vocal. Its description of night in the city puts me in mind of ‘Chimes Of Freedom’ even though there is no resemblance between the two songs, other than the feeling that it leaves you with.

Next come three traditional songs. The first is ‘Lady Margaret’, an English song with variants in the United States. ‘Clayton Boone’ is definitely American and gives Ben another lead vocal and the chance to play Dobro. It is, of course, a variant of ‘Gypsy Davy’. Finally in this section we have the haunting ‘Deep Blue Sea’, a version that doesn’t quite match any set of lyrics that I can find. Hannah and Ben’s version is rather more gentle than the standard text and rather lovely.

Hannah and Ben play guitars, dulcimer and autoharp and are joined by Kevin Breit and Katriona Gilmore on melody instruments with Evan Carson and Jon Thorne on percussion and double bass. For the most part they are used sparingly but they do get to have a blow on Richie Stearns’ ‘Ribbons And Bows’. Joining them on vocals are Jim Causley, Robin Gillan and Jade Rhiannon.

The final track is ‘Boots Of Spanish Leather’ sung as a duet as it is written. They slow it down a bit and the singing is sad and wistful where Dylan managed a blend of bitterness and resignation. He knew the back-story, of course, and it all happened fifty years ago but I’d advise anyone tackling the song to read the relevant section of a biography. It’s beautifully performed, as is the whole of the album, but to an old curmudgeon like me it misses something.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artists’ website: http://www.hannahbenmusic.com/

‘Come All Ye Fair And Tender Maids’ – official video:

GILMORE & ROBERTS – Conflict Tourism (GR! Records GRR006)

GILMORE & ROBERTS Conflict TourismI remember once, in Ireland, hearing that some American tourists’ idea of a fun day out was a taxi ride down the Falls Road. That kind of “thinking” forms the theme of this album, the fourth from Katriona Gilmore and Jamie Roberts.

The opening track, ‘Cecilia’, is a very powerful way to start with double bass from Matt Downer and all manner of additions from producer Mark Tucker, notably the percussive crack presumably imitating gunfire. It’s followed by ‘Jack O Lantern’ which starts out quietly and builds up to a big finish with Phillip Henry on lap steel. It has the Devil ruminating on being tricked not once but twice by the titular Jack. Next come a song from each writer which seem to link: Katriona’s ‘She Doesn’t Like Silence’ and Jamie’s ‘Selfish Man’ and here’s where I need to turn to the lyrics which are available on their duo’s website. Both are about internal conflict: the former is decorated by Phillip Henry’s lap steel and Dobro while the latter once more benefits from mark Tucker’s programming. As a man brought up in Derbyshire I should really like ‘Stumble On The Seam’ more than I do but by now I was beginning to find that the music was overwhelming the songs.

‘Peggy Airey’ is about a 19th century Barnsley character with the narrator regretting his former cruelty to her and ‘Peter Pan’ is dedicated to Jamie’s cousin who died prematurely – another aspect of internal conflict – and the one song in the set that doesn’t try too hard. Katriona and Jamie seem bent on moving towards the mainstream and, while I can’t deny them their ambition, where they’re going may not be where I want to follow.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artists’ website: www.gilmoreroberts.co.uk

‘Cecilia’ – the official video: