Albion Christmas Band announce their annual tour

Folk music fans can start their Christmas celebrations early with the help of the Albion Christmas Band when the band hits the road for its annual tour on Saturday 9 December.

The band’s annual foray into the musical joys of the winter festival has been described by many as the perfect start to Christmas. This popular show will start in Birmingham then visit fourteen venues around the country before finishing at Bury St Edmunds just a few days before Christmas itself.  The show features a mixture of seasonal carols, spoken word, humorous readings and dance, enhanced by great musicianship and a wicked sense of humour. The band adds a modern twist to its arrangements of traditional tunes and showcases some newly written songs. The show reminds audiences of the simpler pleasures and values of a traditional Christmas and offers them a chance to escape the hustle and bustle of festive preparations.

This year the four band members will share their personal favourites from their extensive back catalogue that to each of them best signify the meaning of Christmas, as well as songs from their latest album Magic Touch. “We’ve spent many years spreading our take on Christmas around the country and have made so many friends on our travels” Simon Nicol explains. “Every night on the tour feels like a family celebration so we get to enjoy Christmas for the whole of December not just one or two days”.

The Albion Christmas Band has been kicking off the Christmas season for nearly twenty years, but it was the last incarnation of the Albion Band that originally created special seasonal shows. From an initial idea by melodeon player Simon Care, a previous Albion band member himself, the Albion Band founder Ashley ‘The Guv’nor’ Hutchings brought together two other previous Albion Band members to create an autonomous band to present a guided tour through the Christmas customs of Britain. Joining Care and Hutchings are Simon Nicol (founder member of Fairport Convention) on acoustic guitar and vocals, and Kellie While (Albion Band), acoustic guitar, vocals and percussion.

Full tour details can be found online at http://www.albionchristmas.co.uk

‘Mad World’ live at Under The Apple Tree:

THE ALBION CHRISTMAS BAND – One For The Road: Live in Concert (Rooksmere RRCD114)

14TheRoadAnd the Christmas collections keep coming, this one courtesy of Santa Ashley Hutchings and his festive troupe’s first live album, neatly coinciding with their annual jollity jaunt. Recorded last December at Kings Place in London as part of their 15th anniversary tour, it features a mix of songs, tunes and reading designed to recall the pleasures of more traditional English Christmases.

With Hutchings joined by Simon Nicol and Kellie While on guitar and vocals and Simon Care on melodeon, the mood’s set with the squeeze-box led ‘Sans Day Carol’, perhaps better known as ‘The Holly and the Ivy’, which, in turn, gives way to another traditional number with While taking lead vocals for ‘The King’ before Hutchings also weighs in midway. While also takes lead on the programme’s three relatively contemporary songs, first up being Dave Goulder’s ‘The January Man’ with the others being a melancholic reading of Alan Hull’s ‘Winter Song’ and, rather oddly, the Gary Jules arrangement of ‘Mad World’. Though given that it comes after the amusing reading about ‘How The Internet Started’ (about Abraham com and his wife, Dot), perhaps it’s quite appropriate.

Perhaps surprisingly, there’s only one whole instrumental in the whole show, Care’s arrangements of ‘Calling On’ and ‘Hogmanay’, brought together in a melodeon cocktail of the sedate and the thigh-slappingly raucous. There’s also only one band original, as following his explanation of Border Morris teams who tend to dance in the midwinter, comes ‘Mr Trill’s/Gloucester Hornpipe’, the first part penned by Hutchings and Bob Pegg with the words taken verbatim from Trill’s account of the Morris tradition to Cecil Sharp on his visit to Broomfield.

Otherwise, the tunes and songs are either Trad.arr or by those two well known practitioners of seasonal fayre, Sidney Carter and Christina Rosetti, the former represented by two obscure carols, the regional ‘Julian of Norwich’ (complete with historical background introduction) and, tambourine rattling, a robust, lusty ‘Come Love Carolling’, and the latter with a reading from her poem ‘Advent’ followed by a lovely version of ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’ which set her words to music by Gustav Holst.

George Woodward’s rousing ‘Past Three O’Clock’ takes things up to the interval (the recording’s so complete it has Hutchings announcing the break and that they have a shop the audience can visit) with the second half getting under way with a reading rather than rendition of ‘Herod The Cock’ leading, fittingly enough, into ‘Chanticleer’, a variation of ‘The Chanticleer’s Carol’ by William Austin from the C17th rather than more recent carols of the same name.

After ‘Mad World’, the show winds up with a batch of familiar carols, a ten minute medley of ‘Sweet Chiming Bells’ (named from the tune and chorus interpolated with ‘While Shepherds Watched’), ‘Hark The Herald Angels Sing’ and ‘The First Nowell’, taking the farewell bow with a galumphing ‘Seven Joys Of Mary’ designed to send you carousing off into the winter’s evening in search of mince pies and mulled wine. If you can’t make one of the shows, this is pretty much the next best thing.

Mike Davies

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Artists’ website: www.albionchristmas.co.uk

‘The Seven Joys Of Mary’:

CHRIS WHILE & JULIE MATTHEWS – Who We Are (Fat Cat FATCD029)

Who We AreAfter 20 years and nine albums, Chris While and Julie Matthews, the undisputed queens of British female folk duos, continue to come up with the goods, delivering songs about human frailty and human endurance that showcase their seemingly inexhaustible creative talents as both writers and performers.

They get the ball rolling in vigorous style with ‘If This Were Your Last Day’, an uptempo, fairly self-explanatory titled don’t put off until tomorrow number from Matthews that blends folk and country with mandolin and accordion, before joint composition ‘Gone Girl Gone’ takes the tempo down slightly for a bittersweet tale of a free spirit always moving on in search of herself. Joined by daughter Kellie, While’s first track is ‘Get Through This Somehow’, a mid-tempo song about having to make a life on your own that conjures a cross between Kathy Mattea and Christine Collister before ‘I Don’t Know’, another shared credit brings in banjo for a bluegrass tinged number that casts them as the UK’s answer to Lady Antebellum and The Indigo Girls in one package.

The album then takes on a more serious mood, beginning with the uplifting ‘Dancing Under The Gallows’, written and sung by Matthews with While on lap steel, that (with a faint musical echo of ‘Born Free’) pays tribute to the fortitude and courage of Alice Hertz Sommer, the oldest survivor of the Holocaust who died this year, aged 111. Then comes While’s history lesson, ‘Heaven Is Changing’, a tender acoustic guitar and piano number which recounts the plague that devastated the Derbyshire village of Eyam in 1665 as a passer-by rescues an unaffected baby, one family’s sole survivor.

Two songs mark both World War I and II. The first is While’s worksong-like ‘Drop Hammer’, sparse percussion backdropping her lead vocals and a female chorus that features daughter Kellie, Kit Bailey, Mel Ledgard and the ubiquitous O’Hooley & Tidow on a song that celebrates the women of Sheffield that kept the steel mills running during both wars. A rather less upbeat narrative informs ‘White Feather’, which, featuring Bryan Hargreaves’ hand percussion and a fierce electric guitar solo from Howard Lees and penned by Matthews for the BBC’s Radio Ballads, recalls the notorious white feather movement of WWI whereby women would cast a white feather in at men in civvy street, accusing them of being cowards for not enlisting.

Changing focus, ‘Mad Men’ is a bluesy and bluegrass co-written environmental protest about global warming featuring While on bowed psaltery before, for the final two numbers, things return to a lighter more optimistic and intimate note for the hymnal-like piano shimmering ‘That’s Not Who We Are’ about putting aside differences and pride “to recover our senses and heal this scar”. Introducing brass, strings, glockenspiel and ukulele, the carousel-swaying, oompah rhythms of ‘Under A Button Moon’ brings things to a lovely, pick me up romantic conclusion, linking back to the opening number’s seize the day theme and, ever so subtly, recalling the theme music to the 80s children’s programme of similar title.

So, first class songs of female fortitude, the iniquities of the world, history, heart and humanity, delivered with to die for harmonies, immaculate musicianship and melodies that lodge themselves in your brain. Pretty much While & Matthews business as usual then.

Mike Davies

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‘Drop Hammer’ from the album Who We Are live in Bristol:

The Armistice Pals

armistice pals header non internetEveryone remembers the charity version of ‘Perfect Day’ with its myriad of voices from the pop and rock world.

Let’s hope everyone will also remember the upcoming answer from the Folk World – ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone?’ – with a plethora of voices from across the acoustic folk and roots spectrum representing the great and the good, young and the old, seasoned and emerging, all on the same single. The group is called The Armistice Pals and is releasing a fitting tribute to Pete Seeger, who sadly passed away this year as well as marking the 100 years anniversary of the breakout of the First World War. All profits will be distributed between four peacekeeping charities.

However, perhaps it’s not a perfect world after all and the late Pete Seeger’s classic anti war song, ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone?’, points a finger at the carnage, supposedly ‘ the war to end all wars’ which tragically mislead us to believe it was worth the sacrifice.  The sacrifice, not only of the lives of those who died, but the resultant desolation and struggle of the loved ones who were left behind. Whole swathes of communities were left bereft of their young men-folk who trustingly signed up into ‘Pals Battalions’, many of whom were never to return, with those who did too often spending lives blighted by the experience.

Armistice Pals is the name of the folk community ‘super band’ who are all performing on this single, which is due out on Remembrance Sunday, 9th November 2014. It was the brain child of Damian Liptrot (manager of folk-rock band Merry Hell), who, as the project expanded, has invited Folkstock’s Helen Meissner on board as co-organiser. The project has attracted over 30 names including Chris and Kellie While, Julie Matthews, Judy Dyble, Christine Collister, Dave Swarbrick, Ray Cooper, Sally Barker, Peter Knight, Boo Hewerdine, Gavin Davenport, Blair Dunlop, Lucy Ward, Ken Nicol, Merry Hell, Luke Jackson and Kelly Oliver. A line up so good that, were it to be a festival, it would undoubtedly be the event of the summer.

The single will be released via the usual digital outlets as well as a physical CD and as a nod to the historical element, a limited edition vinyl 45, on new community label, Folkstock Records.

As this is intended to be a community project, we are inviting Folk Clubs across the country to contribute by organising an ‘Armistice Pals Night’ during the week of the release of the single. This can take any form but should include a collective version of ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone?’ at some point during the evening, followed by a passing round of the hat to support the Armistice Pals charities.

If you would like to know more about the project, all the artists, the charities and the inspiration can be found at http://www.armisticepals.com or contact us direct via armisticepals@hotmail.co.uk

We hope that you will feel able to enlist and offer your support.

Helen and Damian
for The Armistice Pals

THE ARMISTICE PALS: A FULL LIST OF CONTRIBUTORS

Attila The Stockbroker (poet/musician and sheer force of nature, whose father survived the Somme).

Billy Mitchell (one time Jack the Lad, ex-Lindisfarne and much else besides).

Blair Dunlop (One of our brightest, youngest singer-songwriters, currently telling tales from the ‘House Of Jacks’, he also found time for a stint in The Albion Band..).

Bob Pegg (Storyteller, singer-songwriter and member of the legendary Mr Fox).

Boo Hewerdine (one time Bible basher, all time songwriting phenomenon).

Chris While and Julie Matthews (singers, songwriters, multi-instrumentalists, award winners in their own right and members of more prestige bands and projects than you can shake a stick at).

Christine Collister (one time She Devil, ex-Daphne’s Flight, much sought collaborator and loved by Q magazine).

Dave Mather & Peter Robinson (singer/songwriters (one of them has written an opera you know), ex-Houghton Weavers, stand up comedy and currently presenters of Salford City radio’s first folk show).

Dave Swarbrick (simply a living legend. As it says on the flyers, ‘needs no introduction’).

Edwina Hayes (multi-million You Tubed singer-songwriter with the ‘sweetest voice in England’).

Eric Bazilian: (Hooter, hitmaking songwriter worldwide for self and others, now he’s One Of Us!).

Flossie Malavialle (multinational singer et chanteuse aussi, gig travelling traffic reporter).

Gavin Davenport (much vaunted solo singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist, award winning, ex-Albion band member).

Gren Bartley (the spine tinglingly beautiful guitarist, banjo playing poet).

Helen Watson (Singer/Songwriter, multi genre artist, producer and erstwhile member of Daphne’s Flight, Carmel and Sons of Arqa, as well as taking a great photo).

Johnny Coppin (broadcasting singer-songwriter, ex-Decameron and now sufficiently multi-faceted to be considered a true diamond).

Judy Dyble (singer/songwriter, ex-Fairport, nearly King Crimson and Facebook dog blogger).

Kellie While (singer-songwriter considered to have one of the outstanding voices of her generation, ex-member of The Albion Band and so much else, her arrival makes The Pals a family affair as her mother and sometime singing partner Chris is also involved).

Kelly Oliver (singer/songwriter, guitarist and harmonicist who has taken Boots Of Spanish Leather to places most of us can only dream of).

Ken Nicol: (globetrotting, guitar endorsing, ex-Albion Band and Steeleye Span virtuoso).

Kevin Brennan MP (an accomplished musician, fan of folk music and passionate supporter of live music).

Lavinia Blackwall (the vocalist who is both a Trembling Bell and a Crying Lion).

Linda Simpson (singer/songwriter, ex-Prog/Folk/Rock legends Magna Carta and supplier of some ideas that are so good that I’d like to present them as my own).

Lucy Ward (singer/song writer and possibly the current heart of British Folk Music as she gets played on virtually every folk show I listen to regardless of the other tastes of the presenters!).

Luke Jackson (bright young purveyer of Fumes and Faith).

Merry Hell (8 piece folk-rocking explosion of melody and joy).

Ninebarrow (award-winning, Dorsetshire folk duo).

Patsy Matheson (singer/songwriter, spent time Waking The Witch, now The Domino Girl).

Peter Knight (singer/fiddle player, Gigspanner, Feast of Fiddles, Steeleye and holder of the world record for continuously playing the violin whilst travelling up and down the lift in the Empire State Building).

Phil ‘Swill’ Odgers (30 Year veteran of punk-folk luminaries, The Men They Couldn’t Hang).

Ray Cooper (singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist, ex-Oysterband and now a pearl in his own right).

Richard Ryall (singer/songwriter, member of the band Litmuss and he comes from a land Down Under).

Robb Johnson (Irregular singer/songwriter and social conscience).

Said The Maiden (3 rising doyennes with harmonies the envy of angels).

Sally Barker (folk singer and by popular acclaim, the true winner of The Voice).

Sian James (Singer, writer, harpist, composer, conductor and actress from Wales, a big Armistice pals ‘Creoso’ to her).

In addition, there is also The Pals Chorus, made up of friends and members of several folk clubs who will be recorded together to help swell the voices and to represent the fact that this is a true community project.

Two Simons Singing: The Albion Christmas Band Celebrates 15 Years with 15+ Answers

The Albion Christmas Band

‘Tis the season that The Albion Christmas Band is out making merry music throughout England. This year band mates Ashley Hutchings, Simon Nicol, Simon Care and Kellie While are also celebrating 15 years together as a band.

Simon Nicol and Simon Care gamely agreed to answer (or at least consider answering!) 15 questions about the band, the music, and their own holiday traditions. Take a look at the answers and then be sure you have your tickets for an Albion Christmas Band show.

1. What’s your first memory of playing with the Albion Christmas Band?

Simon Care: “First memory is thinking how privileged I was to be sitting next to the legend Simon Nicol.”

2. What’s the best compliment a fan ever gave you as part of Albion Christmas Band?

Simon Care: “Lots of audience members say that the show makes their Christmas and wouldn’t be the same with out it.”

Simon Nicol:  “A lady came up to get a couple of CDs signed once, and she had a couple of teenagers with her as well as her white-haired mother and aunt. She said it was the first and only time the three generations had been out to anything as a group, and that they had just the best time together: that the show had that cross-generational appeal. It made her year to have her family complete in that way.”

3. What is your first ‘Spinal Tap’ moment with The Albion Christmas Band?

Simon Care: “The ‘Spinal Tap’ moment has to be doing the Christmas show in May at Folk On the Pier Festival. It was totally surreal, the whole audience got into the Christmas spirit!”

4. How does The Albion Christmas Band differ from some of the other holiday folks groups out there?

Simon Care: “I think it’s different because we don’t concentrate solely on traditional material. We look at all aspects of Christmas and winter customs using traditional and contemporary material.”

Simon Nicol: “By keeping it simple and un-showy. Apart from the odd occasion when Simon Care demonstrates his mastery of the arts of Terpsichore, I think it’s like watching a radio programme.”

5. How does your family celebrate Christmas?

Simon Care: “Usually at home on Christmas day then out with my Morris side on Boxing Day.”

Simon Nicol: “Every Christmas Eve we go to our local theatre’s Pantomime show and boo the villains and cheer the happy couple who overcome all in the name of love. Then it’s all back to the house for beer wine and snacking…”

6. Do you do holiday shopping when you tour (obviously with The Albion Christmas Band)?

Simon Care: “Yes me, Kellie and Ashley usually try to visit one of the big shopping centres during the tour, Bluewater, Trafford Centre or one of those.”

Simon Nicol: “Well, the first thing is to get Kellie something for her birthday, as it falls on the 17th of December, so I probably pick up something for the kids while I’m browsing…It can fill in the odd hour on days when the drives aren’t too huge. Getting parked up near the shops in those weeks is never easy though.”

7. What is your favourite part of touring with The Albion Christmas Band?

Simon Care: “Favourite part is spending time with Simon, Kellie and Ashley. Great friends as well as work colleagues.”

Simon Nicol: “Possibly having the day to myself just driving on my own, stopping when and where I want. I love my car and all the rest of the year I’m part of a travelling pack of musos so it’s a complete change of pace.”

8. What’s one thing your fans might not know about The Albion Christmas Band?

Simon Care: “We are the longest surviving Albion line-up in the Albion families 40 year history.”

9. Is there one song you’re especially looking forward to playing this year?

Simon Care: “‘The January Man’ by Dave Goulder, sung beautifully by Kellie.”

Simon Nicol: “‘The Frozen Man’ is back – the James Taylor song. Love it!”

10.What’s your favorite traditional Christmas song (whether the group plays it or not).

Simon Care: “‘On Christmas Night all Christians Sing.'”

Simon Nicol: “‘In The Bleak Midwinter,’ which we do include some years…”

11. If you could have one special musical guest perform with the band, who would it be and why?

Simon Care: “I think it would have to be Richard Thompson, just  because he is such a lovely chap and would be a delight to work with.”

Simon Nicol: “Kellie’s mum, Chris. Because their voices are blend made in heaven. But she’s always out on the road with her own outfit, St Agnes Fountain…”

12. What’s the one thing you always take with you on tour?

Simon Care: “My melodeon, toothbrush and wallet. I can buy anything else.”

Simon Nicol: “My MacBook. And my American Express card! Hang on, that’s two things.”

13. Set the record straight. Is there anything people believe about you or the band that isn’t quite true? Or –– start a rumour!

Simon Care: “I think people think that I have earned lots of money from music and live in a big posh house. Untrue.”

14. Do you have any pre-show rituals?

Simon Care: “We do like to have a nice meal and usually have a few glasses of wine to settle the nerves.”

Simon Nicol: “Taking Mr. Care for a beer or two while Kellie titivates and Ashley counts and sells the merchandise!”

15. Share a funny or heartwarming fan story.

Simon Care: “A few years ago two friends of mine came to see us in Huddersfield with their young grandson (5 years old). They contacted me to tell me that now aged ten I inspired him so much he is playing the melodeon and wants to be a professional Morris dancer.”

— By Nancy Dunham

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CHRIS WHILE AND JULIE MATTHEWS – Infinite Sky Fat Cat FATCD027

CHRIS WHILE AND JULIE MATTHEWS Infinite SkyChris While and Julie Matthews have been making music together for twenty years now, first with The Albion Band and currently with St Agnes Fountain as well as solo and as a duo. They make classy records and this, their eighth studio album together, is no exception.

The album opens with the up-tempo, vibrant ‘This Beautiful Life’, a song which could open or close a live set with equal impact. Here it sets the tone of a record which is full of optimism even when the subject might suggest otherwise. Better perhaps to say defiance in the face of catastrophe: Christchurch after the earthquake and 9/11; or stoicism when times are less than perfect. The new Radio Ballads song, ‘Nie Wieder’, about German Jewish athlete Gretel Bergmann, is the epitome of Julie’s song-writing. There is no triumphalism in her belated honours in her homeland but the statement that ‘nothing cleans the memory’ leaves a deep sense of sadness.

The core band of Howard Lees (some nicely understated lead guitar), Neil Fairclough on bass and drummer Bryan Hargreaves are again in residence with brief guest appearances from Kellie While, Nancy Kerr, Martin Simpson and Andy Cutting. With Chris and Julie on acoustic guitars and keyboards the sound is big but never fussy. It can be gentle as on ‘Hope Springs’ or rock like a good ’un as on ‘Broken Crash Barrier’. Infinite Sky is another fine album from Chris and Julie. Dai Jeffries

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