CHRIS CLEVERLEY – We Sat Back And Watched It Unfold (Opiate Records OPI001)

We Sat Back And Watched It UnfoldI loved Chris Cleverley’s first album, Apparitions, which appeared in 2015. That was four years ago so he hasn’t rushed into recording his follow-up. In that time he’s written and performed, formed a trio with Kim Lowings and Kathy Pilkinton and made lots more friends, several of whom appear here. Although a skilled interpreter of traditional material and other people’s songs, Chris has gone down the songwriter route. The twelve songs here are all original; there’s one co-write with Sam Kelly who also co-produced the album. For the avoidance of any doubt let me say now that We Sat Back And Watched It Unfold is a stunning piece of work.

These are deep, serious songs although Chris leavens them with humour. The opener, ‘The Arrows And The Armour’, is a witty love song decorated by Jamie Francis’ banjo and Katie Stevens’ flute and I guarantee that by the end the song you’ll be hooked. ‘Scarlet Letter’ is a reworking of the first part of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel and the thing is that Chris doesn’t make Hester Prynne sound terribly sorry for her action.

‘I Can’t Take It’ is an odd meditation on the effect that events have on shaping our personalities and then comes the title track. It feels vaguely Orwellian and it might help if you’ve watched Mr Robot, which I haven’t. Like ‘I Can’t Take It’, it uses health care as a metaphor and Chris is right: we have sat back and watched it unfold and look at the mess we’re in. ‘A Voice For Those Who Don’t Have One’ considers mental health in a way that is very simple to relate to and by the end it has crept up on you. I confess that it brought a tear to my eye. It leads smoothly into ‘Happy And Proud’, a song about gender identity and ‘The Ones Like Ourselves’ which is…well…a song for people who don’t really fit in. I can relate to that.

Chris takes a side-step into history with ‘Madame Moonshine’. I’m still trying to decide if it’s about what he says it’s about or something other. Victorian perversity lives in the song – even reading the words leads you into a Dickensian world – and the strangeness of the music can bring on a shudder. The co-write, ‘The Low Light Low’ is based melodically on ‘The Golden Vanity’ but only just and lyrically it’s completely different.  At this point I’d pretty much decided that Chris Cleverley was living up to his name and playing mind games with his listeners by writing a song about something and then feeding us a line.

Musically, We Sat Back And Watched It Unfold is a weighty album. I should mention Evan Carson and Lukas Drinkwater on percussion and bass, Graham Coe on cello and Marion Fleetwood and Hannah Martin on violins and viola who worked to produce this wall of sound. Some of songs I’ll need to puzzle out a bit more but the music makes them very easy to listen to. Unless several truly astonishing things turn up before December this will be one of my albums of the year.

Dai Jeffries

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

‘In A Dreamlike State’:

PJ Wright Interview from the New Forest Folk Festival 2019

Paul Johnson and Darren Beech catch up with PJ Wright in the artists garden at the New Forest Folk Festival. PJ was performing later that day as part of The Sandy Denny Project, which also features IOTA’s Sally Barker, Anna Ryder, Marion Fleetwood and the engine room of Little Johnny England, bassist Mat Davies and drummer Mark Stevens.

PJ has been to the festival every year since it’s conception and gives a fascinating insight into how the festival started eight years ago. It includes a great story about the hiccup with the stage that was originally ordered and how one was built out of a cowshed at the very last minute, just in time for the first festival.

We also talk about Fotheringay 2 and how the idea for the Sandy Denny Project came together and we get technical with Pedal Boards, Stratocaster’s and Telecaster’s.

We close the interview with PJ being tight lipped about whether he will be playing Cropredy in some form or other and TRADarrr’s appearance at the brilliant Wickham Festival, the week before Cropredy, which is run by our old mate Peter Chegwyn.

The interview should start playing automatically, if not click on the play button below to listen.

Artist’s website: https://facebook.com/thesandydennyproject/

Here is a great moment from the set, a brilliant cover of Sandy’s classic anti-war song ‘John the Gun’.

WINTER WILSON – Far Off On The Horizon (own label, WWCD009)

Far Off On The HorizonWinter Wilson’s eighth album, Far Off On The Horizon, does not do showy or flashy. It just calmly and confidently insinuates its way into the “it’s a keeper!” section of the CD collection, song by well-crafted song.

And each song is most artfully put together with thoughtful lyrics and fully-formed melodies, gently reinforced by sympathetic vocal and instrumental arrangements. It’s a real credit to Winter Wilson, especially songwriter Dave Wilson, that there’s an established, familiar, even lived-in feel to the tracks, a feeling that some of them could be centuries old already.

Yet, with tracks also dealing with topics such as Australian weather, migration and homelessness, the subject matter is often bang up to date. Avoiding straying into preachiness, the result is an album of very naturalistic yet utterly contemporary folk laid over a solid spine of social conscience.

Rather cannily, the album was written, recorded, produced and released to coincide with the duo’s tour with the legendary Fairport Convention (on now, don’t forget your tickets). Given such tight time pressure, it’s all the more remarkable that the result is a genuinely solid album without flab or filler.

Opening – and title – track ‘Far Off On The Horizon’ sets a melancholy mood, with some gorgeous harmonies underscored by Marion Fleetwood’s delicate strings. On ‘The Ship It Rocked’, Fleetwood lends a far more angular counterpoint to a fretful sailor’s tale.

Migration comes in different guises, from a sorrowful family parting in banjo-led ‘Grateful For The Rain (Billy Boy)’, to the poignant and highly topical ‘I Cannot Remain’. Despite its traditional feel, it’s as currently relevant as can be (reducing this listener to furious tears). ‘Ghost’, a moving observation on homelessness and the ease of slipping between society’s cracks, is another openly political/socially aware track.

But what really stands out throughout all these songs is the deep vein of empathy. From ‘The Old Man Was A Sea Dog’, Wilson’s touching tribute to a difficult relationship with his father, to the tragic loneliness of ‘St Peter’s Gate’, the anti-materialism of ‘What Can I Do To Make You Happy?’ and the lingering, regretful ‘When I First Met Amanda’, even the tartest observations are made with a kindly eye.

Kip Winter’s strong and characterful voice slips easily into blues and country-tinged tracks like ‘The Freo Doctor’ and ‘Tried And Tested’ and final track, the striving, uptempo ‘Hard Walkin’’. Having worked hard at turning a mid-life redundancy into an opportunity, it’s perhaps it’s not surprising that Winter Wilson choose to sign off with such a philosophy of optimism after leading us over some tough emotional ground,

Far Off On The Horizon is Winter Wilson’s third album as full-time musicians and can surely only cement their rightful position as songwriters and performers at the forefront of contemporary traditional music.

Su O’Brien

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Artist website: winterwilson.com

‘Far Off On The Horizon’ – live in the studio:

TRADARRR – Further Tales Of Love! Death! And Treachery! (Hedge Of Sound HOS25)

Further TalesBetween their first and second albums Mark Jolley left has Tradarrr to be replaced by Tim Harries (more serious folk-rock credentials) and Phil Bond has moved on with his place taken by singer, fiddler and pianist Gemma Shirley. Thus Further Tales Of Love! Death! And Treachery! sees a seven-piece band plundering the English folk tradition even further.

This is straight down-the-line folk-rock – no Ralph Vaughn Williams or Oliver Goldsmith this time and individual members of the band have taken songs and done their own thing with them rather like Steeleye Span in their pomp. Some of the songs are perhaps not very well-known. Greg Cave reworks ‘The Bonny Lass Of Anglesey’ as Martin Carthy did forty years ago. ‘Dream Not Of Love’ was collected by John Clare and adapted by Cave and Guy Stevens as was ‘The Crafty Lover’. Similarly, Cave amalgamates several variants of ‘The Bailiff’s Daughter Of Islington’ and throws in a Stones’ riff for good measure.

The material that is more familiar can come as bit of a surprise. ‘Rap Her To Bank’ is now almost pretty – just don’t let the Wilson Family hear it – and if I didn’t know better I’d say that Pete Scrowther and PJ Wright didn’t really understand what the song was about but the final verse is a protest at the closure of the mines so I know that’s wrong. Instead of a song of anger at a tragedy it is here presented as something like a lament but with Mark Stevens’ cornet and Wright’s electric guitar giving it an edge. It took me a couple of plays to get into it but I think I understand what they’re doing now. Marion Fleetwood’s interpretation of ‘The Cuckoo’s Nest’ is quite sensuous – we all know that it’s about sex but it’s not always presented quite so blatantly.

‘Lowlands Of Holland’ and ‘Spencer The Rover’ are pretty faithful adaptations but the instrumental set ‘Madame Bonaparte/The Golden Eagle’ gives the rock part of the band free rein. PJ describes Further Tales Of Love! Death! And Treachery! as “still with the silly name but a serious bid, musically” – he knows that I really don’t like the band’s name – and I can’t argue with any of that.

Dai Jeffries

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Artists’ website: https://www.facebook.com/tradarrr/

‘The Bonny Lass Of Anglesey’ – live rehearsal:

FLEETWOOD CAVE – People Like Us (Rhythm Records FCPLU2016))

People Like UsMarion Fleetwood and Gregg Cave met with the formation of TRADarrr and things went from there. Unlike their parent band, Fleetwood Cave’s debut album, People Like Us, consists of original material plus one cover version. Supporting Marion and Gregg are Tali Trow and Paul Johnston on double bass and drums with guest appearances from Simon Nicol, Chris Leslie, Anna Ryder, Gerry Colvin, Edwina Hayes, Debs Earl and Chris Cleverley.

Like TRADarr Fleetwood Cave enjoy big arrangements with lots of fiddle but the opener, ‘18th Day Of May’ is a relatively simple and very catchy slice of folk-rock beginning with gorgeous acapella harmonies and a nod to ‘Bonny Black Hare’ in its refrain. ‘Dancing Girls’ follows: initially a gentle song with Marion’s voice and Gregg’s acoustic guitar and some delicate electrics (Gerry Colvin?). It ups the power after a couple of minutes but maintains the mood even through its big finish mainly because Marion avoids the histrionics that pop music would demand.

There are delightful twists all the way through the album so ‘Guinea Golden’ slips into a Morris tune in the middle; ‘Gypsy Queen’ sounds biographical but is probably a rural myth written sometime last year and ‘Passage Of Time’ turns into a growling, driving rock song. There is one instrumental, the wild flying ‘Lazarus’ which gives everybody chance to go to town and the cover is Fairport Convention’s ‘Wizard Of The Worldly Game’ taken rather more slowly than the original. It’s an overlooked part of the Fairport canon but this version will undoubtedly revive its popularity.

There is a huge amount of festival potential here with anthemic songs and great hooks. I can imagine sitting in the sun singing “The bigger the tree, the deeper the roots”. This is a really good debut.

Dai Jeffries

’18th Day Of May’ – live:

New duo Fleetwood Cave announce debut album and spring tour

Fleetwood Cave

Fleetwood Cave, the new folk duo featuring Marion Fleetwood and Gregg Cave, will be launching their new album, ‘People Like Us’ with a tour of England and Wales starting in late January 2017.

Marion and Gregg met through new folk supergroup TRADarrr, who will be visiting Canterbury later in the year. Both are familiar faces on the folk circuit, having played many folk clubs and festivals between them, including Fairport Convention’s Cropredy Festival.
 
Marion has a voice which has been described as ‘mesmerising’ and ‘siren-esque’, and plays all things bowed. Ashley Hutchings MBE has said she ‘deserves to be ranked amongst the finest singers in this country’. She has been a well known figure on the Stratford music scene for many years, and is multi-instrumentalist and singer with new folk supergroup TRADarrr. She was a member of Meet On The Ledge, The Jigantics and the award winning ColvinQuarmby – now known as The Gerry Colvin Band, which she still performs with.  

Since forming folk-rock band CAVE when he was 18 years old, Gregg Cave, has been performing in concerts and at festivals in the UK and mainland Europe. In recent years Gregg has collaborated with musicians and storytellers and has been commissioned by the Arts Council and National Trust to produce two separate pieces of performance. He sings lead vocals with TRADarrr.

Their debut album as a duo, People Like Us, was Crowdfunded in eight weeks and recorded over five days in a village hall in Northampton, with the added musical input of Tali Trow (double bass) and Stratford based musician and producer Paul Johnston (drums and percussion). It includes new material from both Marion and Gregg, along with one cover – Fairport Convention track ‘Wizard Of Fhe Worldly Game’ (with the definitive lyrics to the final verse sent to them by Simon Nicol himself after an exhaustive on-line search showed much confusion!). Friends of the pair joined them to complete the recording and include Simon Nicol and Chris Leslie of Fairport Convention, Anna Ryder, Gerry Colvin, Edwina Hayes, Debs Earl and Chris Cleverley.

Their 25 date tour includes gigs across England and Wales, from Hull to Redruth and Canterbury to Wigan. They are also taking their music to Holland later in the year.

The People Like Us tour starts in Kingston, Canterbury with a gig for Folk In The Barn on 22nd January and ends at Cecil Sharp House on April 30th.