CAMBRIDGE CITY ROOTS FESTIVAL – Various artists and venues, 3-11 February 2017

City Roots Festival
Photographs by Su O’Brien

The 2017 inaugural City Roots Festival is kind of like an expansion pack for the Cambridge Folk Festival: a winter top-up with lots of bonus features. Aiming to expand the relationship between folk/roots music and the city, the Folk Festival organisers lined up a diverse roster of artists over one week at assorted venues across the city.

Home-grown talent Steven James Adams opened the week with his new band The French Drops, providing witty and lively songs with a conscience. Then there was a choice between Mary Chapin Carpenter (with Edale’s finest, Bella Hardy, in support) with her classic country-infused songs or the edgier sounds of Jim Moray.

A day of workshops on working in the music industry, hosted by Anglia Ruskin University’s music department, was considered, by one attendee at least, to have been very useful. The evening could be rounded off in the evening by some folk club sessions in the Cambridge University Union Bar, or at The Transatlantic Sessions, a melting pot of Celtic and Americana sounds. Or, like me, you might choose to take in an entertaining evening in the company of singer-songwriters Amy Wadge and Luke Jackson.

Replicating the Folk Festival’s “up & coming” stage, The Den, at local venue CB2, was a two-night showcase including Janet Devlin, SJ Mortimer, Honey and the Bear, Mortal Tides, Ben Smith and Jimmy Brewer, and Kerry Devine.

The riotous Mad Dog McCrea returned as headliners, following their support slot for New Model Army just a few months ago. Noble Jacks, their support act, look like being a band worth watching, too. On a completely different tack, skilful guitar playing with a twist was provided by Paolo Angelli & Derek Gripper.

On the final day, the bitter sleet was braved by a staunch group of great musicians who’d rashly agreed to busk around the city, including five-piece band Morganway, Pat Crilly & Greg Camburn, Ben Smith & Jimmy Brewer (whose delicious harmonies almost made it feel like summertime: almost) and guitarist Matt Hammond. And these were just the ones I managed to see, so my apologies to those I missed out. Luckily, there was a warm welcome from the folk clubs inside the Union Bar, a place to retreat and thaw out red-raw fingers to play some fine indoor sets, too.

Sadly, the headliner for the closing night, Salif Keita cancelled due to illness, but Sona Jobarteh stepped up, with Muntu Valdo in support.

There is no question about the quality and diversity of the artists taking part, and Cambridge has the range of venue sizes to manage internationally renowned stars and breakthrough acts. Just a bit of housekeeping needs attention, if – as the organisers hope – this is to become an annual event. Several gigs had no visible City Roots branding at all, leaving a lack of any feeling of cohesion that an umbrella, multi-venue festival like this really needs. In established Cambridge tradition, laminated posters were cable-tied to railings around town and local press published articles, but details of updates to the schedule were often only sketchily available online, like the re-organisation of some of the final day activities. Attention to small details like these would make big improvements to the overall experience, but there’s no doubt that City Roots will be a welcome addition to the festival calendar.

Su O’Brien

Festival website: https://www.cambridgelivetrust.co.uk

LUKE JACKSON – Tall Tales And Rumours (First Take Records FTCD002)

Tall Tales And RumoursI never fail to be impressed by Luke Jackson. He is still only in his early twenties, has a voice that many more experienced singers would kill for and writes songs of such wisdom and perception. Tall Tales And Rumours is his fourth studio album and he’s only just started.

The album opens with the extraordinary ‘The Man That Never Was’ with just Luke’s soulful gospel-tinged voice. The song was inspired by Glen Campbell’s struggle with Alzheimer’s Disease; he was beginning to forget everything except his music. “No man is empty, not all is lost / You may find him in a melody” is the final couplet and you almost want to stop there and think about it. Luke doesn’t want that, however, and he segues straight into ‘Treat Me Mean, Keep Me Keen’, a complete contrast as he tells of a culture clash with his American girlfriend that is finally resolved through music.

About now you start wondering how much of this is real and how much is imagination. ‘Finding Home’ is clearly about life on the road so perhaps the rocker ‘Anything But Fate’ is its imaginative counterpoint. So where did ‘Leather & Chrome’ come from? It’s about a man fulfilling his father’s dream by building a motorbike and riding it to California to rest his head on Venice Beach. I’m pretty sure Luke hasn’t done that. ‘Aunt Sally’ lies somewhere between reality and imagination – she is a real character but Luke speculates on her fate and attacks the system that “sold her down a river on a raft of broken dreams”.

Luke continues to employ Andy Sharps on bass and Connor Downs’ on percussion and the three of them make a mighty sound when they need to. In contrast, Luke can sound fragile and vulnerable as he does on the tragic ‘That’s All Folks’. Amy Wadge appears as guest vocalist on ‘Finding Home’ but she is the only addition to the gang of three that made This Family Tree.

The final track is the part blues, part rock ‘On The Road’ as Luke seems to accept that this will be his life for the foreseeable future and he can live with that. So can we.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.lukepauljackson.com

‘Lucy And Her Camera’ – live:

Luke Jackson – new album

tall-tales-rumours luke jacksonSome young artists arrive on the scene seemingly from nowhere and disappear just as quickly.  Others stay and grow and fine tune their craft. Kent’s Luke Jackson is definitely a keeper. Few would argue that he is one of the most exciting singer songwriters and live performers out there – totally unafraid to stray across genres, always delivering top notch original material and still only 22.

He first started making waves when barely a teenager, hitting the acoustic ground running. Belying his years with his a powerful, distinctive voice and songwriting prowess way beyond his years his debut album More Than Boys was judged outstanding by many critics and triggered a double nomination at the 2013 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards (Young Folk Award and Horizon Award for Best Emerging Act).

Just 18 months later he fulfilled all the promise heaped upon him with his second more blues-based album Fumes And Faith, with the accolades coming thick and fast and last year he introduced his trio of Andy Sharps (bass) and Connor Downs (percussion) in the EP This Family Tree (the first release on his own label, First Take Records) – the only criticism coming from those looking for another full length album.

Now he is back with a real ‘coming of age’ album – his fourth release Tall Tales & Rumours –  12 diverse self-penned tracks moving across myriad styles from folk to blues and rock and feeling like “my most complete album yet”.

That natural confidence is immediately evident in the atmospheric scene setter as Jackson delivers an acapella ‘The Man That Never Wants’ – a haunting song he wrote after watching a documentary about country singer Glen Campbell and his struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. “He was starting to forget most things but somehow remembered his songs and how to play the guitar – I found that completely fascinating” says Luke.

The song runs straight into the second completely juxtaposed track – the driving rhythms of the tongue in cheek ‘Treat Me Mean, Keep Me Keen’ – a lyric from which gives the album its title.

Luke’s trio have really hit their stride on this album, working tightly together as perhaps only old college band friends can and come into their own on the restless ‘Finding Home’. Written while touring with Grammy winner Amy Wadge at the start of the year it tells of a life in perpetual motion, never quite belonging, and features Ed Sheeran collaborator Wadge on harmony vocals.

First unveiled in Belgium ‘Better Man’ is a beautifully contemplative and stripped back love song while ‘Kansas’, a love song of a different kind, was apparently written in just 20 minutes is a US hotel room. Says Luke:

“I started 2016 in America at Folk Alliance – I was having a wonderful time but when I wrote the song looking at the night time city skyline, I had never felt so far away from home”.

The sentiment of the homesick blues song percolates through a softer, measured vocal and plaintive guitar chords.

Luke steps on the gas for the rockier ‘Anything But Fate ‘while one of his long time live show highlight ‘Lucy And Her Camera’ has finally been recorded here – a snapshot song where the boy succeeds in getting the girl!

‘Lucy And Her Camera’:

His increasingly sophisticated, astutely observed narrative songs venture into “father and son” territory once more (‘Father And Son’ was an acclaimed song on his Fumes And Faith album). The poignant and pensive Leather and Chrome tells of a parent’s unfulfilled dream. After vowing to ‘build this bike and ride to California’ the father comes to realise he will never see New York City or Tennessee or “lay my head on Venice Beach” but hopes his son will fulfil the trip in his stead.

It’s a memorable stand out song but perhaps more moving still is his bold, bleak ‘That’s All Folks’ – the saddest of goodbye notes. Chilling and raw and recorded in one take it’s a subject that not all musicians would want to tackle.

Elsewhere he unveils songs of misfits – the menacing and percussive ‘I Remember’ is a dramatic song about a stalker with a big soundscape while ‘Aunt Sally’ is based on a character from his locality.

“Last year my secondary school closed and there were rumours that squatters had taken residence. I had the odd idea that maybe Aunt Sally was squatting in one of my old English rooms, maybe even reading one of my essays! But beyond that there’s a more serious message about people who are struggling and unable to find real help.”

The album ends on a more uplifting note with the hooky and upbeat ‘On the Road’ –  a number gig goers will recognise as a favourite set closer which Luke says is “the story of the last year really.”

My mind, body and soul is on the road” says the song. As the assured Jackson gets ever more in demand that will surely be the case for many years to come.

Artist’s website: www.lukepauljackson.com

VARIOUS ARTISTS – Land Of Hope & Fury (Union Music Store UMS009)

Land Of Hope & FuryLand Of Hope & Fury is a collection of contemporary protest songs – a compilation inspired by the realisation on May 8th 2015 of the enormity of what the British people had done. Not just the greedy and the fascists but also those too pusillanimous to stand up for what they actually believe in. We can thank Stevie and Jamie Freeman for the work that went into putting it together.

The album opens quietly with Luke Jackson’s ‘Forgotten Voices’, the story of an old soldier left on the scrapheap feeling that his voice counts for nothing. It may be better to protest by whispering in someone’s ear than screaming in their face and even Mark Chadwick is quite restrained but I kept having the feeling that what the record needed was one really good rant. Moulettes’ ‘Lullaby’ is a lovely song but it’s somewhat opaque in this context. ‘The Hum’, from O’Hooley & Tidow’s third album takes a positive line, one that’s on the side of working people. OK, it sticks it to the aspirational middle class but that’s almost incidental.

Lucy Ward’s ‘Bigger Than That’ is a real killer track – still quiet but with uncompromising lyrics and ‘Filthy Lucre’ by The Mountain Firework Company does the same to the sound of a hillbilly banjo. There are excellent songs from Phil Jones, Will Varley and Chris T-T and Plumhall’s ‘Never Forget My Name’ serves as a warning to the slavers and taskmasters and Grace Petrie’s ‘If There’s A Fire In Your Heart’ acts as a rallying cry.

So, this is a really good collection of songs for our troubled times but, you know what, it still needs one really good rant.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: facebook

Plumhall – ‘Never Forget My Name’:

Land Of Hope & Fury – what it’s all about

Land Of Hope & Fury

A message from Jamie & Stevie Freeman:

We woke up on May 8th to election results that left tens of millions of people feeling disenfranchised and without a voice. Rather than wait quietly for another five years before we got to have our say, we decided to return to the proud musical tradition of the protest song. Our votes might have counted for nothing, but we could still make our voices heard.

We contacted our many friends in the roots music world and asked them to contribute something to a compilation of contemporary protest songs, and the results were an incredibly diverse range of musical, emotional and political styles. Land Of Hope & Fury was born. Sixteen artists in total donated songs with nine of them written specifically for the album. This coming together of people, all acting out of simple desire to make the world a better place, has been the single most encouraging aspect of this project, It is the proof that Margaret Thatcher’s suggestion that “there’s no such thing as society” is as wrong today as ever it was.

38 Degrees

We didn’t want to profit financially from the album, so we looked for a suitable beneficiary that was aligned with our frustrations, but not bound to one set of policies. Politics had let us down, so a campaigning group from outside of the political system seemed like a good choice. We felt 38 Degrees’ mix of online petitioning and real-world actions was just right for Land Of Hope And Fury, and they were delighted to take part. We couldn’t be happier to have them alongside us.”

Jamie’s brother Martin Freeman (The Hobbit, The Office, Sherlock) made a video supporting the Labour Party, so his family are no stranger to politics.

Track List

Luke Jackson – Forgotten Voices
Mark Chadwick (Levellers)  –  No Change
Emily Barker – Doing The Best I can
Moulettes – Lullaby
Lucy Ward – Bigger Than That
The Jamie Freeman Agreement – Homes for Heroes
The Self Help Group  – Funeral Drum
The Dreaming Spires – Follow The Money
Mountain Firework Company – Filthy Lucre
Phil Jones (Hatful Of Rain) – New Homes
O’Hooley & Tidow – The Hum
Will Varley  – The Sound Of The Markets Crashing
Chris TT – A-Z
Plumhall – Never Forget My Name
Grace Petrie – If There’s a Fire In Your Heart
Danni Nicholls  – A Little Redemption

Buy it from https://unionmusicstore.com

LUKE JACKSON- This Family Tree (First Take Records FTCD001)

ThisFamilyTreeLuke Jackson opened his account with two superb solo albums and he could be forgiven for sitting back and giving us more of the same. He’s still only twenty, after all, and he has time on his side.

And that is exactly what he hasn’t done. This Family Tree continues the development that led to Fumes And Faith with support from Andy Sharps on bass and Connor Downs on drums. It’s more rock’n’roll than folk but the songs retain the insight that Luke has always shown. These are stories of people, all but one told in the third person, as Luke observes their lives.

The opener, ‘Ain’t No Trouble’, shows a small town Saturday night with all its unpleasantness. Luke stands outside at all – “There ain’t no trouble that’s mine”. One of the song’s characters, Joey by name, appears again in ‘These Winter Winds’ on the day “he watched his daughter go”. Luke fills the song with misdirection – is this a wedding day or a funeral? Even at the end we’re not sure. The first person song is ‘Is It Me? And here Luke is looking back all the way to when he was sixteen and asks the un-named girl to “show me that I’m not a has been”. Are you just trying to make us feel old?

The only problem here is that This Family Tree is a mini-album, just seven tracks, and I think I would have preferred to wait a little longer for a full length product. It is also the debut of a new label and there may be economic considerations or it may be that the full album is no longer de rigeur when a single track can be downloaded and be enough to make someone’s name. Whatever, this is a brilliant piece of work.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: http://lukepauljackson.com/

Luke and the chaps celebrate his ‘Misspent History’: