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.
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It’s been far too long since we’ve heard from Navaro. Steve Austin has posted lots of pictures from his narrowboat where the majority of So Long Wichita was recorded but there hasn’t been much music. This is their third album and is rather stripped down from its predecessor, Home Is Where Your Heartlands. The songs are, in the main, short and this time Navaro haven’t printed the lyrics but that isn’t really a problem – the vocals are crisp and clear.
The trio have three distinct voices and styles. The opener, Pete White’s ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’, is up-beat and poppy and laden with harmonies and if it was aimed at radio play, it’s a cracker. His second song in the set, ‘If Only’, is in the same vein as is ‘One Day At A Time’ but I can’t help thinking that there isn’t an established place for bands like Navaro. Fifty years ago they would have given Peter, Paul and Mary a run for their money but they don’t have the resources of a big record company behind them.
So Long Wichita is a fine album that whips by in a flash and that may be its weakness although in these days where digital music prevails and you can select a single track to buy it may be a strength. OK, enough philosophy. The second track is Steve’s romantic ‘In Midnight Sky’ decorated by James McNair’s lead guitar. Steve has a smooth voice that suits this style of material but he allows Beth Navaro to take the lead on the more up-tempo ‘Poetry In Motion’. The title track is inspired by a “close encounter” with Jimmy Webb but whether this was walk-by or something more meaningful we aren’t told. In keeping with its inspiration it quotes from Joni Mitchell, which always worries me, but I guess that it’s only us oldies who would still recognise the sources.
Mark Stevens adds drums to seven of the ten tracks and PJ Wright plays a grumbling rocky lead guitar part on ‘One Day At A Time’ but otherwise it’s down to the multi-instrumental talents of White and Austin. It’s great to welcome Navaro back again.
So Long Wichita is a ten song collection. The title track and even the impetus to record again came from an encounter with a legendary songwriter. Jimmy Webb was speaking and performing for BBC Radio 4. One of Navaro was in the audience and was so forcibly reminded of the importance to him of Jimmy Webb and his contemporaries, that he went home and immediately wrote a song in homage. The next day he sent the song to Jimmy Webb via his wife who handles his correspondence. She graciously replied and said she was listening to it on the plane back to NY and how it brought tears to her eyes. She said she’d play it to Jimmy and with that kind response the energy was found to record “Navaro 3”.
The album finds the trio of Beth Navaro, Pete White and Steve Austin back on the Grand Union Canal where much of their debut album, Under Diamond Skies, was recorded. Recording with a view of the woods and the water lends a certain calm and organic feel to the long hours involved and perhaps the end result. Beth, who is now also a professional candle maker, brought regular gifts to the sessions that only enhanced the experience of being together. Once again the differences between the three vocalists and the blend of these differences in harmony is front and centre. There are fewer guest musicians than on the 2012 Heartlands album but Mark Stevens (LJE/TradArrr) drums on much of it and when PJ Wright blasts in on ‘One Day At A Time’ there’s no mistaking who just walked into the room!
Navaro will be performing this spring and summer. Dates begin at the Stables, Stage Two on Saturday 30th March.
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.