Firebirds 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.
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.
Daria 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.
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.
‘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.)
‘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.
‘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.
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.
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.
‘Morozko’ is another of Daria’s retellings in music of a Russian folk tale, with accompaniment that stresses its Eastern European origins.
‘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.
An unexpected inclusion is Percy French’s ‘Pride Of Petravore’. I have to admit that Daria makes the best of its tortuous Irishisms, though.
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.
‘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.
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.
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
Gilmore & Roberts
Daria Kulesh and Jonny Dyer
Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar
The Men They Couldn’t Hang
Trials Of Cato
Best Live Act
The Men They Couldn’t Hang
Martin Stephenson & The Daintees
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
Smith & Brewer
Best International Artist(s)
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For their many fans there is sadness at the news that the latest iteration of Kara has disbanded. With the plan not quite coming together, both Phil Underwood and Pete Morton have had to take their leave to continue with other projects with founding members Daria Kulesh and Kate Rouse enthusiastic to focus on new music. Daria goes back to the beginning of the story.
“I started my musical journey as part of Kara and then, on a whim, decided to release my solo album, Eternal Child, and thought it would just be a little vanity project. Then Long Lost Home was an epic project for me and I really poured all my heart and soul into it and hopefully it’s paid off. The last year has been really incredible on the back of that release and all my adventures and journeys that went with it. Effectively Daria Kulesh has become a thing – I don’t even really know who she is any more – and that has taken over from Kara.
“It was following Kara’s gig at The Troubadour that Pete said it really should be about my leading the band. I was quite excited about working with Pete and sharing the spotlight but what he felt was that I needed to be a mean diva with a mean band backing me.” Pete always had a neat turn of phrase.
The first recruit to the new line-up was pianist Marina Osman. “We’ve known each other for a long time. We were doing some covers…” At this point Daria interrupts to explain that the episode in question was too embarrassing to talk about and then proceeded to explain that they were doing Lady Gaga covers. Marina finally gets a word in again. “It was a great experience but Daria had some much creativeness in her that she could not do just simple covers…and she decided to be a diva.”
Marina starts to explain that they have been working together as a duo on “the Russian project” and Daria leaps in again. “There is just so much serendipity in all of this. Marina and I were, not exactly out of touch, but we hadn’t done anything together for quite a while.” And now it gets complicated – let’s see if I’ve got it. Daria’s song ‘The Moon And The Pilot’ went viral after her appearance on the BBC World Service and her name was out there in Russia and Ingushetia. The presenter also suggested her for an event at Pushkin House, the Russian Cultural Centre, performing music that is virtually unknown in the UK.
“Marina and I learned thirty minutes of material for this event and the director of Pushkin House immediately rebooked us for a full set so we started work on a set of Russian film songs and some Russian folk classics. We kept getting repeat bookings and started mixing it up with some original material and then Marina had a little jam with Kara at The Troubadour. That was when Pete told me she was gold dust and to get her in my band.”
The fourth member of the new band is guitarist Tristan Seume who also works with Jackie Oates and admits to combining classical guitar lessons with busking Levellers’ songs in an underpass. I get the impression that Tristan knows pretty much everybody but how did he end up here?
“I got an email from Kate just over a year ago, asking me if I’d like to try out for a band. I was flattered to get an invitation but at the time I was so committed elsewhere that I left it in my unread folder because I wanted to write a nice, polite, thoughtful response but it just slipped further down my to-do list. Fast forward a year and a change of circumstances and I was going through unread emails and decided to respond to it. Because I was in a silly mood I thought I’d write something just to say ‘for what it’s worth I’ve got some time on my hands’. Within an hour I got a response from Kate.”
Prior to the formal interview, I’d watched the band at work, developing a new arrangement of Daria’s single ‘Vasilisa’ and working on a new song, ‘Pride Of Petravore’, a Percy French piece that had been suggested by Pete. Daria knew the song; Kate knew it in a different key, because Kara had performed it as an instrumental, but neither Tristan nor Marina knew it at all. Within about thirty minutes they had it ready to take into the studio to record a demo. That is the measure of the new band. The interesting thing is that Kate seems to be the one with the ability to sift through all the ideas and pull together the best ones.
“It’s my background”, she says modestly. “I’ve always been arranging my own parts and perhaps hearing things in a slightly different way. I’m the one more familiar with the Kara material but we’ve all learned lessons and become more aware about refining the music in a certain way. Someone needs to say ‘I think it should be this’ and not be shy about it. Plus the dulcimer is a big part of the band and I’m a bit protective about it.
The name of the new line-up was, for a while, a matter for debate. It might have been The Daria Kulesh Band or Daria Kulesh And Friends. I made several suggestions that were, quite rightly, rejected but they have now settled on The Daria Kulesh Quartet. Daria and Marina have recorded some new tracks which may figure on a Vasilisa EP and the new band has spent time in the studio preparing for their first gigs in the new year. It’s all very exciting and I’m looking forward to the finished product.