ANNE LISTER – Astrolabe (own label)

AstrolabeI’ve known Anne Lister for so long that I can’t remember when and where we first met. There was a certain festival and a certain band….no, that’s another story. Anne is best known for he song ‘Icarus’ but, unlike her tragic hero she has stayed mostly under the radar. Recent years have been spent in the groves of academe gaining a Ph.D from Cardiff University with a thesis on the story of an Arthurian knight that’s far too complicated to go into here. Add to that working on a novel and further developing her story-telling career. Astrolabe is themed around place and time and mixes some vintage songs with new compositions.

The opening title track is something of an overture, definitely a bit radio-friendly, but then the gloves come off. ‘Wolf Moon’ with shruti and chimes explains that there really are no reasons from out there for shit happening and ‘Small Ways To Beat The Devil’ points to the real culprits. Do I need to list the dramatis personae? I don’t think so, although Greta Thunberg has a starring role as the heroine. It’s terrific song.

It’s not all fire and brimstone, though. ‘Vindolanda’ is an historical love song inspired by a small golden ring now in a museum but at the same time Anne contemplates her own wedding ring – her husband Steve designed the album cover and sings backing vocals. And while I’m on the subject Anne has pulled in some friends to support her including her partner in Anonyma, Mary McLaughlin, Mike O’Connor and his musical partner Barbara Griggs, Matt Crum and Steafan Hannigan with Dylan Fowler among the roll-call of engineers.

Next, Anne melds the traditional ’10,000 Miles’ with her own song ‘Heroes’. Sung a cappella it is a perfect mix of place and time steeped in nostalgia; a feeling echoed in ‘Llanwenarth’ with its list of soothing herbs and meadow flowers. ‘Summerlands’ is a surprisingly up-tempo meditation on mortality while ‘Grandmother And The Wolf’ dispenses age-old wisdom – or does it? – and Grandma reappears in ‘Photograph’. I do like the way Anne leads us through the themes of the album and, at this point, without losing the thread she changes the mood with ‘Mametz’, a reference to a major incident of the Battle of the Somme.

Anne’s voice and guitar are kept well to the fore, as they should be, but when power is needed fiddle and accordion are on hand. There is so much to enjoy here and it really is good to have Anne back with her music.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: https://www.annelister.com/

‘Vindolanda’ – live:

Anne Lister announces her new album

Anne Lister

Twelve songs, which, like the astrolabe of the title track, measure time and space. One song written in 1970, another written in 2019. A ring found at the Roman archaeological site of Vindolanda, a box of memorabilia belonging to a grandmother, a WWI battle, an olive branch for a former lover, the near-death experience of rats, a farewell to a dear friend, and an angel in the form of a starving polar bear. Amongst others.

Musicians and allies involved were Mike O’Connor, Barbara Griggs, Matt Crum, Steafan Hannigan, Mary McLaughlin, Helen Vincent-Tibke, Steve Purbrick, with studio engineers Liv Elliott in Boscastle, Dylan Fowler in Stiwdio Felin Fach, and Anne’s very talented nephew Rhys Fletcher, who mixed four songs and mastered the whole album.

Anne is best known as the writer of ‘Icarus’, performed and recorded by many, including Nic Jones and  Martin Simpson.  Other songs you may have heard include ‘Moth’, ‘The Quiet People’, and ‘Demeter’s Daughter’.

She performs solo, but has worked in a duo with Mary Mc Laughlin (Anonyma) and Steafan Hannigan, and has toured extensively in the UK and the US.

Artist’s website: www.annelister.com

Release date: 28 December 2019.
Available now to pre-order from Anne’s website,
Bandcamp and CDBaby.
anne@annelister.com

Just for old time’s sake – ‘Icarus’:

GILMORE & ROBERTS – A Problem Of Our Kind (GR! GRR08)

A Problem Of Our KindGilmore & Roberts are Katriona Gilmore (vocals, fiddle, viola, B3 organ and mandolin) and Jamie Roberts (vocals, guitar, percussion). Their album A Problem Of Our Kind, due for release on 12th October 2018, benefits from additional instrumental support from Fred Claridge (drums and percussion), Matt Downer (double bass), Sarah Smout (cello), Ben Savage (Dobro) and Matt Crum (melodeon). And an excellent album it is, too. Of the ten tracks on the album, five were written by Katriona, four by Jamie, and the final track is a traditional tune arranged and played by Jamie.

  1. Katriona’s ‘Gauntlet’ is a kind of murder ballad (or at least a “did he really do it?” ballad): Katriona’s fiddle adds a slightly old-timey feel, but the story concerns an English court case of 1818 whereby Abraham Thornton was acquitted of a charge of murder when the victim’s brother declined the offer of ‘trial by battle’. A fascinating story, and a very effective arrangement arrangement.
  2. Jamie’s ‘The Philanthropist (Take It From Me)’ is based on the life of entrepreneur/philanthropist Laurie Marsh. It’s an attractive song that displays his vocal and fretting talents.
  3. Katriona’s ‘Things You Left Behind’ has a more personal theme about the loss of a family member. It’s a lovely song with slightly country-ish Dobro and fiddle, and it suits her voice very well.
  4. ‘The Smile & The Fury (Jamie Roberts) is based “…on the powerful viral photograph of a young woman calmly smiling in the face of an angry far-right protester…” This is what I’d like to have heard more of in the 70s: rock music giving more than a nod to traditional music and instrumentation but not afraid to use contemporary material to address current issues.
  5. ‘Bone Cupboard’ (Katriona Gilmore) is a sinister song accompanied only by the barest minimum of clapping and percussion. That’s OK, I can appreciate sinister.
  6. ‘On The Line’ (Jamie Roberts) considers the not-always-sympathetic reaction of the traveller delayed by “a body on the line“. An awkward subject sensitively handled, with an ending that hints at a wider social issue.
  7. In contrast, for me, ‘Average Joe’ (Jamie Roberts) is lyrically a bit too reminiscent of the ‘plastic people/protest’ songs of the 1960s: I guess it’s not that easy to write sympathetically about the plight of the commuting classes and avoid a superior tone. Still, musically it’s an assured performance, very much in the folk-rock vein.
  8. ‘All The Way To Rome’ (Katriona Gilmore) is, according to the booklet, inspired by “two characters in the second series of the TV show American Horror Story.” Which means nothing to me, but it’s still an appealing song.
  9. ‘Just A Piece Of Wood’ (Katriona Gilmore) is a bit country/pop-ish, with prominent fiddle, as befits the subject – the relationship between a musician and her instrument. Nice.
  10. ‘From Night Til Morn’ is a traditional tune, beautifully arranged for guitar by Jamie Roberts. It may seem perverse to say so, given all the fine original material on this album, but this is currently my favourite track.

While there’s a definite tinge of folk-rock to this collection, it certainly doesn’t mean that there’s anything dated about it. By any standards, these are fine contemporary songs, very capably performed and produced. Recommended.

David Harley

Artists’ website: www.gilmoreroberts.co.uk/

‘Gauntlet’ – official video:

STEAMCHICKEN – Look Both Ways (Chicken Records STEAM16/3)

Look Both WaysSteamchicken began life as a ceilidh band but have expanded their horizons considerably with a brass section and a powerful vocalist in Amy Kakoura. Look Both Ways is something like their fifth album and is possibly the definitive statement of jazz-folk.

The album kicks off with the powerful spiritual, ‘Jericho’ and follows that with the stunning ‘Brigg Fair’ with the brass and Becky Eden-Green’s clarinet (or is it Matt Crum’s soprano sax?) leading the way. This track is worth the entrance money by itself – if you want to know what can be done with folk music just listen to this. ‘When I Get Low I Get High’ was first recorded in 1936 and later covered by Ella Fitzgerald. Steamchicken mix the sound of a 1930s plinky piano with a middle-eastern feel and it’s another knockout track. The same feel informs ‘Gypsy’, another traditional song that has never sounded like this before.

‘Oh Mary’ takes us back to spiritual territory – with a reggae beat. The cover isn’t terribly helpful so I have to guess that ‘Western Approaches’, ‘Big Tin Horn’ and ‘Foot Falling’ are all Steamchicken originals but they weave so many influences into their music that it’s hard to be sure. Certainly ‘Mary And The Soldier’ is traditional with the best-known version being by Paul Brady.

Look Both Ways is an excellent album, mixing so many styles and ideas in a bewildering stew of exciting music.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: http://www.steamchicken.co.uk/

Not a great video but a great song. ‘When I Get Low I Get High’:

The Demon Barbers – new album and tour

Disco At The tavern

‘Maverick English Folk’, The Demon Barbers, who celebrate their 15th anniversary this year, have teamed up with Grammy & Emmy Award winning producers for their upcoming new album ‘Disco At The Tavern’

Donal Hodgson and Kipper who are best known for their work with Sting, were introduced to the band by The Wilson Family following their recent involvement in Sting’s latest project, The Last Ship

Both Donal & Kipper have impressive CVs: As Sting’s current recording engineer, Donal is at the top of his game (his Emmy was awarded in 2011 for Outstanding Achievement in Sound Mixing for his work on A&E’s Private Sessions, Sting at Red Rocks) he has also engineered and mixed recordings for many high profile bands such as Primal Scream, The Police and Tina Turner.

Kipper’s musical career took off in the 90s with his own band, One Nation,  and he soon became in demand both as a musician and producer; teaming up with Gary Newman in 1992 and being awarded a Grammy as producer of Sting’s hit album Brand New Day in 1999. He has recently been invited to take on the role of Artistic Director for Leadbelly Fest at The Albert Hall later this year featuring, among others, Van Morrison and Jools Holland.

Since winning ‘Best Live Act’ at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in 2009 The Demon Barbers have focussed on their Folk & Hip Hop Dance Extravaganza The Lock In. Following a number of successful UK tours, including high profile shows at Glastonbury Festival and 5 star reviews at Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2013, they headed back to the rehearsal studios to begin work on the new album.

‘The album is titled Disco At The Tavern and we’ve tried to capture all the energy and excitement of our live shows’ said Damien. ‘Dance is a huge part of our lives and our identity, both Folk & Hip Hop, and it’s important for us to get this across on the album. We’re really excited to be working with such experienced producers. It’s been 5 years since our last album and we’re keen to show the world how much our music has evolved!’

Disco At The Tavern will be released on 17th April at Leeds Carriageworks Theatre as part of a UK tour of venues and festivals of their new show ‘The Demon Barbers XL’ featuring dancers from The Lock In along with special guests Matt Crum on Keys/Saxophone and Ali Mac on percussion.

Promo video for the  Disco At The Tavern album and the XL show featuring ‘Ranzo’ and ‘May Song’:

THE CARRIVICK SISTERS – FROM THE FIELDS

The Carrivick Sisters are twins Laura and Charlotte Carrivick from South Devon. Both are skilled multi-instrumentalists and between them they play a variety of bluegrass-associated instruments – guitar, mandolin, banjo, dobro and fiddle. Though just 21 years old, Laura and Charlotte are already accomplished songwriters, fine individual singers, and they harmonise hauntingly, as often only siblings can, their beguiling voices blending together irresistibly. Although their principle influence is bluegrass, their music also has a strong folk influence, with many of their original songs inspired by their local landscape and stories.

The Carrivick Sisters are experienced performers, having played all over the UK, in Europe, and in Canada. They have released three previous CDs – My Own Two Feet (2006), Better Than 6 Cakes (2007) and Jupiter’s Corner (2009) and have just completed their fourth album, From The Fields.

Produced and recorded by Joe Rusby (brother of Kate) at Pure Records Studio, From the Fields comprises eleven originals; ten songs and one instrumental, and one traditional song ‘Early, Early In The Spring’ and features contributions from guest musicians: John Breese (Banjo), BJ Cole (Pedal Steel), Eleanor Cross (Double Bass), Matt Crum (Melodeon) and David Kosky (Guitar),

The Carrivick Sisters first started performing as a duo in 2006, originally as buskers before starting to play more and more proper gigs, turning professional when they left school in 2007. As well as performing as ‘The Carrivick Sisters’, Laura and Charlotte have also played with a number of other bands – Blue South, Miles Apart, Banjo Accelerator; Kick Up the Grass and currently ‘Andsome and Some.

In 2007 they won the South West Busker’s and Street Entertainer’s Competition, gaining themselves their first spot at Glastonbury Festival. In 2008 Laura achieved 2nd place at the RockyGrass Fiddle Contest in America. More recently, The Carrivick Sisters were finalists in the prestigious BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Awards 2010.

I am very impressed by The Carrivick Sisters, one of the best young duos I’ve heard. The girls sing and play as one and their work is characterised by great musicality. They are not only very talented instrumentalists and singers but they write really good songs as well.” Ralph McTell

Artist Web link: http://thecarrivicksisters.wordpress.com/