DARIA KULESH & MARINA OSMAN – Firebirds (own label)

FirebirdsFirebirds was recorded by Daria and Marina for sale at gigs – although you can also buy it from their website. The fifteen tracks were recorded in single takes to get as close to their live sound as possible and they left the occasional giggle in.

Most of the tracks are traditional – or nearly traditional – Russian songs and I should explain that Daria and Marina are very popular with London’s Russian community for whom they mostly perform. The record in sequenced as a live set as far as I can judge. The opener, ‘Oy Moroz, Moroz’, is a drinking song about frost and it would be rude to suggest that these are popular Russian concerns. It’s followed by ‘I Watch The Snow’, one of Daria’s own songs, and ‘Shchdryk’, a New Year’s Eve song – think of the Mari Lwyd without the horse but with similar results for the ungenerous. That’s winter neatly dealt with.

Next up is their multi-lingual version of ‘Those Were The Days’, which was traditional once and is performed with all the fire and passion that Daria and Marina are capable of as well as much enjoyment. Is it wrong to suggest that Daria’s singing sounds more natural in Russian? I don’t know but I do feel that the words flow more comfortably. Marina is a classically trained pianist with the whole weight of Russian music behind her. Her biography is a fascinating read and I believe that if she played Tchaikovsky he’d probably lose.

My other favourites among the Russian songs are ‘Korobeiniki’ and ‘Dunya’s Ferry’, both up-tempo pieces well-suited to dramatic performance. There are three songs from Daria’s first solo album, Eternal Child: ‘The Hairdresser’ – it really is a true story – ‘Fake Wonderland’ and the lovely ‘Fata Morgana’ and the album closes with ‘Kalinka’ which seems to have been removed from its origins over the years but Daria and Marina have tried to restore it. The packaging of Firebirds is minimal but you can download notes on the Russian songs from the website and sound as knowledgeable as I pretend to be.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: http://www.daria-kulesh.co.uk/with-marina-osman/

‘Those Were The Day’ – in the studio:

DARIA KULESH – the Earthly Delights launch – June 1st 2019

Daria Kulesh
Photograph by Dai Jeffries

Hosted by Dunton Folk, the church of St Mary Magdalene welcomed a gathering of friends old and new for the official launch of Daria Kulesh’s third solo album, Earthly Delights. Daria’s gigs are like that – there’s always someone good to talk to. This was the big band – the first time I’d seen the line-up – with regular collaborators Kate Rouse, Marina Osman, Jonny Dyer and Vicki Swan on nyckelharpa and bagpipes. With them were Katrina Davies on fiddle, Heather Sirrel, whose 5-string bass is almost as tall as she is and Edwin Beasant on drums and percussion.

We weren’t expecting too many surprises. Daria sang the album in order but embellished the stories behind the songs and sometimes got quite impassioned about the iniquities of rulers, raising an ironic laugh when she talked about coming to democratic Britain after living in Russia and carrying with her the history of the Ingush people. She confessed in her introduction to ‘Earthly Delights’ that one of her delights was turnips – that got a real laugh – but someone reminded me that she is Russian, after all!

Players came and went but everyone was back on stage for the first half closer, ‘Vasilisa’. The mix and the arrangements were tight but this was Daria’s event and the job of the musicians was to project her which, of course, they did admirably. This wasn’t a night for extravagant soloing but even so I do wish that Jonny had been a bit higher in the mix – it may just have been where I was sitting, of course.

In the second half, before ‘Cap & Bells’, Daria introduced the composer, Joseph Sobol. He was sitting just behind us so, of course, my wife had already engaged him in conversation during the interval – I said that there was always someone good to talk to.  I should say that, at the time, I was chatting to someone I hadn’t spoken to in nearly twenty years – that’s the sort of evening it was! ‘Greedy King’ is perfect for a big finish with everyone back on stage.

For the first encore, Daria soloed a song called ‘The Highlanders’ and let us into a secret. This is a hidden track on Earthly Delights – more of an Easter egg actually because it’s track zero. Daria assures me it’s there but I haven’t managed to access it yet. Finally the band came back for ‘Heart’s Delight’ from Long Lost Home – a perfect ending for a evening of songs that are, on the one hand, about human weaknesses but also about human happiness. Of course there were still people to talk to before we wended our way into the night.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.daria-kulesh.co.uk

‘Golden Apples’ – official video:

DARIA KULESH – Earthly Delights (own label)

Earthly DelightsDaria Kulesh is a very highly-rated performer in the hallowed virtual halls of Folking.com, so I count myself as rather lucky to have got a review copy of her forthcoming CD Earthly Delights, due for release on May 31st 2019. Once again, she is supported by an impressive selection of musicians. As well as many names already familiar from her previous CDs and/or live performances (all reputable musos in their own right, of course), three tracks also feature characteristically fine fiddle from the Phil Beer (tracks 4 and 9) and Tom Kitching (track 1). Most of the production is expertly handled by Jason Emberton, who also contributes much of the accompaniment.

As you’d expect, there are several songs here that derive from Daria’s Russian and Ingush heritage and her knowledge of Slavic folklore, but this time she’s cast her nets a little wider, without compromising her ability to tell a story in song.

Here’s the track listing.

  1. Daria’s lyrics to ‘Golden Apples’, with music by Igor Devlikamov, are based on a Russian folk tale concerning the Firebird, though not the story that forms the basis of Stravinsky’s ballet. An exhilarating start to the album.
  2. ‘Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood’ is Richard Farina’s lyric to the tune better known as ‘My Lagan Love’, a glorious melody collected by Herbert Hughes in Donegal in the early 20th A sensitive reading with restrained instrumental and vocal accompaniment, rather than the full-on harmonies of Sandy Denny’s version. Closer, perhaps, to the gentle orchestration of the version recorded by Mimi Farina after Richard’s death, though Daria’s vocals are more animated and accurate in pitch. (I still love Mimi’s version, though.)
  3. ‘Shame Or Glory’ is by Daria, and makes the very valid point that a McGonagall or Florence Foster Jenkins has the same drive to create and succeed that characterize more “successful” creators, and we should respect that. The arrangement has a sort of Kurt Weill/cabaret feel that I find very appealing. I like the interplay between Jonny Dyer’s guitar and Marina Osman’s piano, too.
  4. ‘Earthly Delights’ is another of Daria’s own songs. One of the ‘delights’ of Daria’s songs for me is the way that a line will sometimes spark an unexpected association, like the echo of ‘The Two Magicians’ in ‘The Panther’, from her last CD. In this case, it’s the line “Strange fruit in the garden of earthly delights“. The subject matter is far removed from Meeropol’s protest against lynchings, being more about the message that “If seeking pleasure and following your heart doesn’t hurt, subjugate or break others…then perhaps it’s a natural way to be…?” Yet there’s something very apposite about the last verse here: “Oppressed and oppressor…One person’s wrongs are another one’s rights.” An accomplished performance of a delightful folky tune with stunning fiddle from Phil Beer.
  5. There are many Slavic folk tales about rusalki (water spirits), often translated into literature and music – Dvořák’s opera is a particular favourite of mine. Daria’s ‘Rusalka’, however, is based on a short poem of 1819 by Pushkin, as translated by John Farndon and adapted and shortened by Daria, who has set it to music. Its presentation in this slightly condensed form does it no harm at all.
  6. Daria’s ‘Vasilisa’, previously released as a single, draws its theme from a Russian fairy tale in which the heroine encounters the supernatural Baba Yaga. While the story to some extent resembles the Cinderella story, Vasilisa seems morally more ambiguous. Oddly enough, the modality of the melody makes it a highly suitable companion piece to ‘Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood’, though the instrumentation has a decidedly Asian feel.
  7. ‘Morozko’ is another of Daria’s retellings in music of a Russian folk tale, with accompaniment that stresses its Eastern European origins.
  8. ‘Cap And Bells’ is an effective setting by Joseph Sobol of a poem of W.B. Yeats, from Sobol’s theatrical cycle In The Deep Heart’s Core: A Mystic Cabaret, with most of the accompaniment carried by Marina Osman’s piano.
  9. An unexpected inclusion is Percy French’s ‘Pride Of Petravore’. I have to admit that Daria makes the best of its tortuous Irishisms, though.
  10. Daria’s ‘Made Of Light’ is, in more than one sense, a lighter song, almost a ballad, augmented by Jonny Dyer’s expressive trumpet. Lovely.
  11. ‘Greedy King’ sets Daria’s lyric to a tune by the multi-talented Jonny Dyer, and melds a Soviet joke and the story of the Wise Men of Gotham into a telling commentary on the sad state of today’s world (not to mention yesterday’s!). The lyric may sound like a counsel of despair, but musically it offers a suitably upbeat finale.

Where Long Lost Home can be seen as a very personal journey into Daria’s own family history and heritage, Earthly Delights draws on a wider range of source material that still comes over as essentially Daria: some beautiful melodies, fascinating lyrics, all exquisitely sung and adventurously arranged. If you’re not familiar with her work, this is a good place to start.

The CD will be launched at Dunton Folk on 1st June 2019.

David Harley

Artist’s website: www.daria-kulesh.co.uk

‘Golden Apples’ – official video:

The Folking Awards 2019 – the results

The Folking Awards 2019

Here they are, the results of the 2019 Folking awards. Thanks to all our writers who submitted nominations and to everyone who participated – over 18,000 votes were cast. Every one of the nominees made an impression on our writers either on record or on stage during 2018 and they are all stars to us. Without further ado, here are the top choices with percentage of the votes cast.

Soloist of the year – Reg Meuross (39%)

Reg Meuross

Read Reg’s biography here.

Best Duo – Ninebarrow (36.9%)

Ninebarrow

Read Ninebarrow’s biography here.

Best Band – Merry Hell (27.5%)

Merry Hell

You know all about them but you can read about Merry Hell here.

Best Live Act – The Men They Couldn’t Hang (38.7%)

The Men They Couldn't Hang 

Read a biography of The Men They Couldn’t Hang here

Best Album – Queer As Folk by Grace Petrie (32.3%)

Queer As Folk

Read Dai Jeffries’ review of Queer As Folk here.

Best Musician – Marina Osman (43.9%)

Marina Osman

Read Marina’s biography here.

Rising Star Act – Vision Thing (32%)

Vision Thing

Read Vision Thing’s bio here.

Best International Artiste – Larkin Poe (41.5%)

Larkin Poe
Photograph by Amy Harris

Read Larkin Poe’s bio here

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Marina Osman Biography

Marina Osman
Photograph by Dai Jeffries

Marina Vasilieva Starostenkova was born in 1965 in Polotsk, Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic, into a family of musicians. Her mother was a bayan player, a choirmaster and a singing/vocal teacher and her father was a theoretician, graduate of the Gnessin State Musical College.

After moving to Murmansk, Marina started her music studies in 1980 entering a piano class. In 1984, she graduated with distinction after completing the full academic course in the speciality fortepiano and was given the qualification of teacher of a music school and concertmaster.

During her studies in Murmansk, she became laureate of the Regional Contest of the soloist-pianist in the North-West region of the USSR and the winner of the Contest of Soloist-Pianists held in Murmansk. In the same year, she entered the Belarusian State Academy of Music in Minsk in the speciality fortepiano where she stayed until 1990.

Whilst she studied in Minsk, from 1989, she became a piano teacher and concertmaster in Novopolotsk State Musical College in Novopolotsk where she continued working until 2010.

She was a member of the jury of the third International Chamber ensemble competition “Nova Musica” in Daugavpils and took part in concerts both in Belarus and Russia, and also in jazz festivals in Germany, Poland, Lithuania and Russia in 2009.

Now in England, Marina Osman frequently gives concerts at the Pushkin House in London and has given piano and theory lessons since 2011 at the same time as working with Daria Kulesh in several line-ups.

The 2019 Folking Awards

Welcome to the 2019 Folking Awards and thank you again to everyone who participated this year. The nominations, were in eight categories, and came from our ever-expanding team of writers and were collated into shape by the Folkmeister and the Editor over a pint or two, which also involved, a few arm-wrestles and a spot of beer-mat aerobics, in a convenient local watering hole.

There were five nominees in each category, all of whom have impressed our writers during 2018.

As we said last year, all are winners in our eyes, as are quite a few who didn’t make the short list. However, it’s not just about what we think, so once more, it was down to you, our ever-growing readership, to make the final call.

We will now compile the results and announce the winners of each category at some point next week.

*The Public Vote for each category closed at 9.00pm on Sunday 31st March (GMT+1).


Soloist Of The Year

Keith James
Reg Meuross
Rachel Newton
John Smith
Andy White


Best Duo

Gilmore & Roberts
Daria Kulesh and Jonny Dyer
Ninebarrow
Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar
Winter Wilson


Best Band

The Men They Couldn’t Hang
Merry Hell
Skipinnish
Trials Of Cato
The Young’Uns


Best Live Act

The Men They Couldn’t Hang
Grace Petrie
The Salts
Martin Stephenson & The Daintees
Andy White


Best Album

A Problem Of Our Kind – Gilmore & Roberts
The Well Worn Path – Seth Lakeman
The Joy Of Living – Jackie Oates
Queer As Folk – Grace Petrie
Hide And Hair – Trials Of Cato


Best Musician

Martin Harley
Aidan O’Rourke
Marina Osman
John Smith
Richard Thompson


Rising Star

Burning Salt
Robert Lane
Kitty MacFarlane
Smith & Brewer
Vision Thing


Best International Artist(s)

3hattrio
Tyler Childers
Mary Gauthier
Kíla
Larkin Poe


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