First off, I owe Marion a sincere apology. She sent me a link for her album ages ago when I was away from home and there it languished, lost and forgotten on a hard drive until I heard her singing with TradArrr barely a week ago. Ashamed or what?
So, belatedly, here is Marion’s debut solo album, overcrowdfunded in less than a month and recorded entirely solo. She opens with ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’ which might be considered a brave move but, without messing it about, she adds just enough subtle variations to refresh the song. She follows that with one of her own songs, ‘Linden Tree’, which is apparently about sex and is the simplest arrangement on the album, just voice and two guitars. In complete contrast is the instrumental ‘Lament For The Funeral Of George V’ which is made up of overlayered string parts – “about sixteen” she tells us in her sleeve notes.
The album mixes more original compositions and traditional titles. ’The Rose And The Lily’ is a classic ballad as are Marion’s version of ‘Silver Dagger’ and the gospel classic ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’. ‘Try To Imagine’ and ‘The Curve Of My Back’ are both by Marion while ‘Broken Things’ is what she calls a “classic cover”.
Holding Space enables Marion to show off her talents to their best advantage. She’s a fine multi-instrumentalist and a vocalist capable of great passion. As a take-home message I’d like to quote a few lines from her sleeve notes: “Folk is a great place to be a woman. We have fabulous role models, we aren’t judged on our age, size or clothing. It doesn’t matter if we don’t sing and dance at the same time. We don’t behave like divas. Our riders tend to involve sandwiches, beer and cake. Our colleagues and musical partners treat us with professionalism, care and respect. We are allowed to be.” That says it all really.
The idea of holding a folk festival in Skegness in December probably raised a few eyebrows when it was first mooted. The suggestion that it should be held at Butlin’s may have caused a pursing of lips but it makes perfect economic sense. The artists have a major venue and a captive audience to add to a winter tour and the camp and its staff gets extra use and revenue. There are two main venues, both are very large and both were packed on Friday evening.
Entering the Pleasure Dome, sorry, Skyline Pavilion trying to figure out where everything was it was nice to be greeted by the harmonies of Said The Maiden on the Introducing Stage – the third open venue in the middle of the pavilion. It was nearly the end of their set, unfortunately, but we stayed to hear Kings Of The South Seas before insinuating ourselves into the Centre Stage for False Lights. Live, they are less reliant on Jim Moray’s synth wizardry and proved themselves to be an exceptionally good folk-rock band in the classic style. They may prefer to think of themselves as mould breakers but they are actually doing what some bands seem to have forgotten how. Their attempt to perform ‘How Can I Keep From Singing’ without PA was not a success, however; the natural acoustics of the room are not as good as they believed.
At an event like this you can’t hear everything so I was now faced with a decision – Eliza Carthy And The Wayward Band or Billy Bragg? The fact that we now had decent seats settled it and we stayed put for the first half of Eliza’s set. Her twelve piece band are set to be the next Bellowhead (whatever anybody says) and are more than up to the task. As well as old favourites, including a “duelling fiddles” interlude with Sam Sweeney in ‘My Boy Billy’, there was a new song, ‘Devil In The Woman’, slated for their first studio album. Bragg called, however, and we arrived for what seemed like the mellow end of his set with ‘Levi Stubbs’ Tears’ and ‘Greetings To The New Brunette’. No! Amongst the polemic he sang ‘Between The Wars’, still powerful and relevant, and ‘There Is Power In A Union’. I reflected that the latter needs some revision with the unions battered down. We may discover that there is power in unity. ‘A New England’ wrapped up his set perfectly.
CC Smugglers followed with the sort of set that only a band as youthful as them could have the energy to play but shouldn’t have the chops to pull off. They have played so many gigs since I first saw them, even ones they weren’t invited to, and have become so tight and slick. Richie Prynne prowled his stage like a circus ringmaster, never still and rarely silent, cajoling and haranguing the audience, the songs and even his band-mates like a true showman. If the idea of the last set of the night was to wind the audience down then CC Smugglers were not the right choice.
The first and last time I heard Moulettes was at very uncomfortable gig and I was looking forward to hearing them in a nice chair. Actually, the best seating for the band is a bean bag with a lava lamp, joss-sticks and a guy dishing out small squares of blotting paper. Sadly the only mind-altering substance available was a pint of Hobgoblin. This was the final gig of the Constellations tour and Moulettes were also previewing their new album, Preternatural, with songs which, for want of more specific titles, we’ll call ‘Octopus’, ‘Nematode’ and ‘Behemoth’. I love the sound of the band, I love their instrumentation and their style but I really don’t know what they are about a lot of the time. “Surreal dreamscapes” were mentioned and I guess that’s about right.
I chatted to Ruth Skipper after the set to ask her impressions of the festival. It turned out that they had only just arrived and gone straight on stage, which accounted for some of the sound man’s problems. At their simplest Moulettes can be two guitars, bass and fiddle but at various times will be added electric cello, bassoon, autoharp, some meaty drums and keyboards and a balance that’s right for the beginning of a song may be wrong by the end. I did discover that the band were looking forward to the water-slide and hearing more music later which proves that I have no future as an investigative reporter.
Next up were Magna Carta. Chris Simpson on-stage is pretty much the same as Chris Simpson off-stage – he’s a raconteur, discursive and philosophical and Doug Morter is his perfect right hand man. Chris has surrounded himself with some very fine musicians but the set felt loose and the decision to give Morter a solo of one of his own songs seems questionable. Back on the firmer ground of The Fields Of Eden things were much more sure-footed and ‘Airport Song’ was a nice encore.
The queue for Tom Robinson curled twice round the pavilion and things were clearly running late so what might have been another difficult decision was made easier and we settled in to hear Sam Carter. He opened his set with ‘Yellow Sign’, the song he began with when I first heard him, and I was shocked to realise that that was six years ago. He has grown as an artist so much. Just when we were settling into the style of his own songs he switched to ‘The Wife Of Ushers Well’, which he sings with False Lights, and ‘Rocking The Cradle’. He played a superb set which showed the power of one man and his guitar. Sam was probably the highlight of the weekend for me.
We got back just in time to catch the end of Tom Robinson’s set so I did get to sing ‘2-4-6-8 Motorway’ again before The Unthanks appeared on the Centre Stage. With the full ten-piece band on stage it’s easy to overlook the contribution of Niopha Keegan to the group but her trumpet playing was the fondant icing on several songs. The technical problems rolled on so The Demon Barbers XL were thirty-five minutes late on stage, almost taking the gloss off their excellent set which began with traditional songs and ended as a dance display featuring hip-hop, interpretative dance and a fearsomely fast rapper. It’s quite disconcerting to see a stage bare of wires, mic stands and other clutter but they needed all the space they could get. I got to bed by 2.00 am, more or less – it was a long day.
By midday the pace was beginning to tell and the queues for the afternoon sessions were noticeably lighter and some people I spoke to were planning a power nap in preference to more music. No such luxury for your man on the spot.
TradArrr were excellent. They can really rock and with Marion Fleetwood on lead they can turn in a bittersweet ballad like ‘My Laggan Love’ or ‘Silver Dagger’. Between them they boast five lead vocalists, a full string quartet, a keyboard player who frequently added unexpected flourishes and two drummers, one of whom plays cornet. There were hints of high camp as PJ Wright planted a foot on the foldback and Guy Fletcher prowled the stage hunched over his mandolin but they restrained themselves well. It was then a choice between waiting for Jacqui McShee’s Pentangle or scurrying off to catch The Band From County Hell – sorry Jacqui.
The Band From County Hell are a Scots/Irish group from Lincolnshire and are huge fun – ‘The Day My Granny Died’ is a song everybody should hear at least once. They have been around for a quite a while, with six albums to their credit and it seems odd that they aren’t better known – although they don’t lack for support. The first notes played by Blazin’ Fiddles were on keyboard and guitar which is, I’m sure, their little joke. It’s not logical to find them restful but they are so tight and their music is so hypnotic. I promise that I didn’t nod off but I was definitely on a different plane of existence for a lot of their excellent set.
I returned to the Introduction Stage to hear Chris Cleverley whose debut album, Apparitions, I really like. His set, mixing traditional songs and his own compositions didn’t disappoint and he’s already working in new songs including ‘All I Want’ which will send me back to Joni Mitchell’s Blue as soon as time allows. I stayed for Polly And The Billets Doux, who won the day’s vote for a main stage slot next year, and The Black Feathers, who really needed a more sympathetic environment.
The Ric Sanders’ Trio have finally come out as a fun band with their new album and set of old blues, string band and swing numbers. It might be called the Vo Fletcher Trio since it is his guitar that forms the foundation and his voice that sings the songs but when the singing stops it is Ric’s flights of instrumental fancy that take their music to another place. The album is a lot of fun and their set reflected that. Then it was decision time again. I’d been told that Fotheringay would be playing the same set that they had toured all year “only better”. That was true but I missed the excitement of the earlier gigs when the band were still finding their way into, or back into, the music. Nevertheless, theirs was the set everyone wanted to hear.
Since they lost Messrs. Knight and Zorn I really wanted to hear what Steeleye Span would do. With two new musicians to induct the answer was to go back to first principles so ‘All Things Were Quite Silent’ was followed by ‘Blackleg Miner’ and ‘Weary Cutters’ was teamed with ‘New York Girls’ featuring Maddy Prior on ukulele. And they rocked. Julian Littman added a rap to ‘Boys Of Bedlam’ and Spud Sinclair played the sort of electric guitar that we haven’t heard in the band since Bob Johnson’s time. As a final touch they closed with an a capella version of Rick Kemp’s ‘Somewhere Along The Road’.
There is no getting away from the fact that playing the final set of a festival after Steeleye Span have gone off to rapturous applause is a daunting task but Folklaw threw themselves into it with energy and aplomb. Fiddler and songwriter Nick Gibbs was joined by Gaz Hunt on a minimalist drum kit, Martin Vogwell on bass and mandolin and Bryn Williams on guitar and bodhran – not to mention crossing the venue floor on the backs of chairs! They sent the crowd off exhausted but happy.
So does a December festival work once you get over the culture shock of rocking up at 5.00 pm on a Friday in the dark? This is still Skegness and with Storm Desmond blowing around us “bracing” just didn’t begin to describe it but when the wind dropped on Sunday it was mild and pleasant. The accommodation and facilities were excellent and the unsung stars of the weekend were the Butlin’s staff who were friendly and helpful and worked long hours. However, this was folk music adapting to Butlin’s not the other way round. The artists existed in a bubble of stage/backstage/ accommodation or arrived, performed and left and there were quite a few I would have liked to have spoken to so I apologise to them. A bulletin board for messages or to arrange meetings wouldn’t take much to set up and would be a big help, too. But, yes, it works and if you have considered going but not done so I can recommend it.
I have to say this, just to get it out of the way – TRADarrr is not a great name. Particularly when it’s attached to a great band. There, I’ve done it – you may now heap opprobrium on my head.
TRADarrr are (or arre) Gregg Cave, Marion Fleetwood (of Jigantics and ColvinQuarmby) and Guy Fletcher, Mark Stevens, and PJ Wright (of just about anybody you can think of). The music isn’t all trad. arr. but it’s close enough for folk – when you can list Ralph Vaughan Williams, Oliver Goldsmith and Shirley Collins in your credits nobody is going to be picky.
The album starts with a brilliant idea: ‘English Folk Song Suite Pt 1’ (we can hope that part 2 will emerge later) – folk songs turned into an orchestral piece by RVW and then returned to folk or rather reworked as folk-rock.. Perhaps I should also have said that Cautionary Tales is folk-rock at its very best. Next up is ‘My Lagan Love’, which owes something to Fairport’s arrangement of ‘The Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood’ with Marion taking the lead vocal. Actually Tradarrr boast five vocalists although they also recruit Chris Leslie and Pete Scrowther to take some lead lines with Gregg handling the rest. Other guests include Jerry Donahue, Dave Pegg, Ric Sanders, Marcus Parkinson, Simon Care, Gareth Turner and Kristnaps Fisher with the melodeon trio featuring on ‘Princess Royal’ and ‘Upton Stick Dance’. I’m not sure that they need all these guests, except to have more fun in the studio, and I’m a bit iffy about importing lead vocalists.
The sound that gladdens my heart on this record is that of Mark Stevens’ cornet. It doesn’t have the power of Brass Monkey in their pomp but it brings a contrasting texture to what is essentially a string driven album – brass is such an evocative sound in folk music – and it’s the perfect finishing touch.
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DAISY ROOTS, the debut album from the Jigantics has the feel good factor and this is often referred to about the Jigantics live show. It reflects the bands belief that having a good time on stage and enjoying the music you make translates to your audience. But that’s not the whole story. Their show and this album are far from one dimensional. If yin and yang represent two differing musical principles then they are greater as a whole. So just when you think you know what’s coming next the band change tack to tweak a different set of emotions, with songs such as The Valley a beautiful, thoughtful piece, written by KD Lang’s long term collaborator Jane Siberry. Daisy Roots was recorded over an eighteen month period in three different studios.
The process began at Blue Moon Studios in Banbury, Oxfordshire, where the band inevitably met up with various members of Fairport on their home turf (including the local curry house) and borrowed one of Chris Leslie’s precious mandolins for one particular track. The move to the Match Factory Studios in Gloucester produced some gritty live tracks, like Hole in My Head and Bad Liver and a Broken Heart with great slide guitar from Rick Edwards and some mean Squeezebox and Harp playing from Mark Cole. As frequent visitors to Clarksdale, Mississippi, Rick and Mark are big fans of the Blues and recorded in Clarksdale with some of the genre’s all time greats, such as Pinetop Perkins, Muddy Waters piano player, as well as sharing a stage with fellow Blues fans and music luminaries Robert Plant and Keith Richards. Plump Hill Studios in the Forest of Dean contributed the final tracks to the album. It was at this point Marion Fleetwood recorded the string parts (viola, violins and cello) for The Valley and Black Mountain Lullaby – a true story of three year-old Jeremy Davidson who was killed in his own bed in Appalachia, VA when a half-ton boulder crashed through the exterior wall of his trailer home – and with a young son of her own Marion delivered a powerful vocal performance on this track to accompany her string arrangement.
Bass player Lyndon Webb was recruited during this time and showed his great versatility by contributing mandolin, lead guitar, and somewhat to the others annoyance, first time pitch perfect backing vocals, as well as some great bass lines. The majority of songs on this album are covers, although there is no shortage of writers in the band. Drummer Martin Fitzgibbon who mixed and produced the album explains the bands thinking.
“It would have been simple to follow the current trend of exclusively recording our own material. That’s a very crowded musical area and we made a choice at an early stage to judge each song on its merit, regardless of its origin. Consequently, there are a variety of writers on this album. Some you may not have heard of, others are well known and consistently produce work of a high quality. Originality is fine but it’s far from being a guaranteed badge of excellence in my experience. We also make the same judgement with our live material. Anyone can bring a song along to a rehearsal and if we like it and it fits into our set then we’ll consider doing it. If it’s written by a band member fine, if not why should it matter? What’s important is that we feel it’s a good song. It’s going to be played in our fashion, which is unlikely to be the same as the original given the instrumentation we use, so it will be our interpretation of someone else’s song. I don’t expect everyone will agree with me, but I spend quite a bit of time at festivals, either waiting to sound check, listening to others sound check, or hanging around waiting to go on stage, and all that time I’m hearing other artists. My preference is always to hear good songs. It doesn’t matter to me as an audience member if it’s an original or not, just play me some good music and I’m happy. That’s the philosophy we have adopted in this band and luckily everyone buys into it. We’re really fortunate that there are no big ego’s to be placated or childish behaviour to be endured. We all get on brilliantly and that makes life and work so much easier”.
The idea for the Jigantics came after some festivals Martin played in Spain.
“We were in Cordoba, a non tourist town, in their massive square. They held a festival which was attended by what seemed to be the whole of Cordoba, young and old, kids running around in a safe environment, babes in arms. There must have been around 30,000 or so drinking dancing and having a great time. They spoke little English but didn’t need to; they were simply enjoying the universal language of music. On the plane back home I thought about putting something together which might replicate that great feeling. The festivals in the UK (mostly folk) I was playing were packed full of singer songwriters, some trios, a few duos. As a drummer, I like to hear a rhythm section and the kind of dynamic that provides”
This band is still evolving, they’ve come a long way as Daisy Roots goes to prove, they know what they have to do and how to get there. This is just the beginning…
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The new ColvinQuarmby album has now descended from CQ towers, and is heralding in, by a fab twelve page booklet containing of all Gerry Colvin lyrics which are wrapped, in bright shiny, cherub packaging (beam me up Scotty).
In our opinion, we believe that CQV can sit proudly alongside the body of work that ColvinQuarmby have produced to date. This recording is enhanced by Allen Maslen and Marion Fleetwood involvement, both of which have made a noticeable contribution to the new line-up, joining the Nick Quarmby, Gerry Colvin and Martin Fitzgibbon fold (baa…)
CQV is their first album in 8 years and although the word play is as razor-sharp as ever, they have still have a little way to go to recreate, the CQ live experience on record but in truth, perhaps they never will as, seeing CQ in the flesh, with all the banter, is seeing the true measure of the band.
As you would expect from CQ, the tracks on CQV are a right old of mix of material, focusing on the political, social and relationship story songs that are Colvin’s trade mark. My personal favourites were: Broken man, The Gods Don’t Work, Dirt, South London Gang and the live favourite, Dylan Thomas’ Pen.
So in short, Gerry Colvin has, once again written some brilliant new songs, which the band recorded at Blue Moon Studios in Banbury Oxfordshire where just about anybody who used to be, and in some cases still is, somebody, in the world of folk music have recorded. These include Fairport Convention, Kieran Halpin, Maddy Prior, Ade Edmonson and The Bad Shepards, Julie Felix to name a few. We understand that, CQV has taken a total of 220 studio hours and over two years from the start of recording to complete. Darren Beech
Here’s what Blue Moons owner/engineer Mark Lee had to say about his involvement with CQV
“Cq are without doubt one of my favourite bands to record. With such great songs and arrangements, fantastic singing and great playing it was always a real pleasure for me to press the record “GO” button. I truly wish the band every deserved success with what I consider to be a great album. An absolutely brilliant band. A world-class act in my opinion”