JIM MORAY – The Outlander (Managed Decline MD001)

The OutlanderFor The Outlander, his seventh solo album, Moray dispenses with any original material to focus on a set of ten traditional numbers, some familiar, some obscure, and gives them his own personalised interpretation. He’s also adopted a more direct, live performance-based approach making extensive use of his purchase of a 1949 Epiphone Triumph archtop guitar and inviting an array of fellow folkies, among them Jack Rutter, Sam Sweeney, Matt Downer and Josienne Clarke, to join him in the studio.

With Rory Scammell on hurdy gurdy complementing Sweeney and Tom Moore’s urgent violins and Moray’s driving rhythm, the opening ‘Lord Ellenwater’ (sometimes ‘Derwentwater’), compiles the lyrics from an assortment of sources and is set to a tune collected in Cambridgeshire by Vaughan Williams in 1907 from (although some claim it as in 1905 from Emily Agnes Stears in Sussex) and concerns the alleged role of Ellenwater’s in the Jacobite uprising of 1715 and reports that the rivers on his estates ran blood on the night he was executed.

Learned from Roy Harris, ‘Bold Lovell’, a variant on highwayman ballad ‘Whiskey In The Jar’, is launched by handclaps (there’s no drums anywhere on the album) and proceeds at a fair trot, one again propelled by violins, but then, opening with just voice and Nick Hart’s concertina, things slow down for ‘When This Old Hat Was New’, a classic song of old folk nostalgia that traces back to 1630 and bigs up the Romans for looking after the poor folk as the instrumentation gradually builds.

The centrepiece, certainly in terms of running time, is ‘Lord Gregory’ which, extended to a waltzing six and a half minutes with addition of verses from alternate versions, is largely accompanied by just finger picked guitar, presented as a duet with Clarke in an Anglo emulation of the Welch/Rawling harmonies pairing albeit channelling the recordings by Maddy Prior and Kathryn Roberts. It’s followed by the almost as long ‘The Bramble Briar’, learned from the Ewan MacColl version of ‘Bruton Town’, a good old English folk ballad about murder that has its origins in Isabella and the Pot of Basil, a story about a farmer’s daughter, her jealous brothers and a beheaded lover in Boccaccio’s The Decameron. A spare, stark arrangement compounds the gloom of the narrative.

‘John Barleycorn’ is one of two folk club staples given a new lease of life by Moray taken at a suitably flagon-swigging mid-tempo, the other, which closes the album, being a stately, wearied pace and spare arrangement reading of ‘The Leaving Of Liverpool’ that captures all of the song’s inherent resignation.

Betwixt these comes a slow strummed melancholic Appalachian-flavoured interpretation of ‘The Isle Of St Helena’, a song about Bonaparte’s exile collected by Cecil Sharp in Kentucky and learned from Steve Turner’s 1979 album Outstack, albeit without the concertina arrangement. Switching hemispheres, his fiddle-backed reading of transportation ballad ‘Australia’ owes a debt to Bob Hat’s 1973 version which relocated the destination from the original Virginny.

The final choice is ‘Jack Tar’, a handclap percussion, fiddle stomp take on the shanty about an opportunistic sailor overhearing a scheme by a squire to have his lover dangle string from her window so he can pull it for her to let him in, and naturally sneakily taking his place instead. Learned from the version collected by Sharp in 1904 with a slight variation in the lyrics, although, for purists, sadly he doesn’t include the “doomy-amma dingy-amma doomy-ammma day” chorus!

The most direct and simple of Moray’s albums to date, it cuts to the heart of what traditional folk music is about while ensuring a musical relevance for to the modern generation.

Mike Davies

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Artist’s website: www.jimmoray.co.uk

‘Bold Lovell’ – live with Tom Moore:

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

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‘Gauntlet’ – official video:

MAZ O’CONNOR – The Longing Kind (Restless Head RHCD 101)

MAZ O’CONNOR The Longing KindHer third album in four years, this is also the Barrow-in-Furness singer-songwriter’s first to comprise solely of self-penned, non-traditional material. It’s also a concept album of sorts in that, exploring the tensions and conflicts of a young woman living in London, it’s ordered like a three-act play, opening with songs of the uncertainty, confusion and displacement that ensue from being cut loose from the safe havens of education and family, continuing through imagined stories based on particular paintings and the way in which the subjects’ identities have been fixed by the artists, finally returning to reality with a newfound clarity and redefined sense of self.

Produced by Jim Moray, who also contributes an assortment of instruments, and featuring Beth Porter on cello, Matt Downer on double bass and Byrds legend Chris Hillman on pedal steel, the fingerpicked title track follows a brief instrumental intro, clearly nodding to such influences as Jackson C Frank, moving on to the leafy folk of ‘A Winter’s Blues’ which, with its circling guitar pattern, sounds like a sort of upbeat Nick Drake. Hillman is to the fore on ‘Crook of his Arm’, a lovely reminiscence of her father and his inability to keep her safe from the ways of the world in her determination to carve her path, while protective parent/ restless daughter themes also concern the frisky, percussion-driven ‘Mother Make My Bed’ featuring Nick Malcolm on trumpet.

Things slow down on the medieval hints of ‘Greenwood Side’, Millais’ Ophelia providing the impetus for the first of the painting songs, moving on to the piano-backed ‘Emma’ (other than the lyrical mention of being painted in blue, there’s no indication, on either the album or website, as to the source of the inspiration) and the cello accompanied ‘Jane Grey’, sung in the voice of the ill-fated Lady Jane Grey, who reigned as Queen for just nine days, and inspired by the picture of her execution by Paul Delaroche. By contrast to these tragic heroines, the subject of the livelier strummed ‘Billy Waters’ (guessingly based on the painting by David Wilkie), again featuring Malcolm, is a one-legged black busker, who used to play violin to theatre-goers in the streets of London in the nineteenth century and, shortly before he died, was elected King of the Beggars in the parish of St. Giles.

Opening with the simple fingerpicked ‘Coming Back Around’, the third act rounds up proceedings with ‘A Quiet Word’ (a brass burnished restlessness/parting song which borrows its opening line from Macbeth), the traditional-hued ‘A Rose’ which highlights her soaring vocal range and, finally, returning home in the banjo-flecked ‘When The Whisky Runs Dry’, older and wiser with a bruised, but not regretful heart. Being honest, I don’t think this is the album to bring any major breakout success into the folk mainstream, but it will certainly delight her existing following and surely encourage curious newcomers to stay around to see where her journey takes her next.

Mike Davies

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‘A Winter’s Blues’ – official video:

PHILLIP HENRY & HANNAH MARTIN – Watershed (Dragonfly Roots DRCD003)

PHILLIP HENRY & HANNAH MARTIN WatershedHaving walked away with the Best Duo gong at the 2014 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, there must have been a degree of pressure on Henry and Martin when it came to their third album. Which may or may not have had something to do with them taking a very deliberate departure from Mynd. Where that largely addressed historical figures, here they chose to draw on more personal experience as a means of filtering everyman stories as a sort of modern day folk tale about, as per the title’s implications (on which they sing about which side to go), the decisions made and paths taken that shape different destinies

Recorded over 10 days in Devon’s Blackdown Hills with Matt Downer on double bass and James Taylor providing percussion, it’s a less musically textured affair in the sense that Henry has mostly confined himself to guitar and Dobro rather than draw on his wide-ranging virtuoso talents (though he does still wield the trusty harmonica), with Martin tempering everything with her violin.

I should, at this point, declare that I’m not fully persuaded by her vocals, which, while undeniably clear and fine, I find to be, at times, slightly too considered and measured, in need of a little more warmth, looseness and emotional expression. As such, from a personal perspective, it’s taken a while to get inside the album and find a connection, but that’s in no way to deny the craftsmanship of either the playing or the material.

Following on from the titular opener, guitar and mandolin (courtesy Rex Preston) provide the bedrock for ‘Stones’ (as in let him who is without sin, etc) , a musically undulating song inspired by now ex-UKIP councillor David Silvester, who declared the storms of 2014 were God’s response to same sex marriage. Harmonica opens and buzzes around ‘Tonight’, a musically multi-coloured track that takes on a sort of mix of trip hop beats, folk blues shuffle and dreamy croon, Martin’s delivery having a hint of Middle Eastern sway.

‘Yarrow Mill’ strikes a personal note for Henry, who takes his only lead vocal on a song that , backed by Martin’s pizzicato violin, tenderly recalls his grandparents’ courtship in the cotton mill of the title. Family history is there too on the spooked bluegrass mood of the search for a better life tale of ‘Foundling’, which grows from a spare, Dobro-mottled intro into an earthier affair, its traditional colours splashed with double bass and vibes to conjure a jazz-folk sense redolent of early Pentangle. Gently bathed in understated banjo and Dobro. ‘Conkers’ too has a reflective eye, looking back at childhood innocence from an adult’s perspective.

The year turns with the five minute guitar, violin and vibes instrumental ‘December’, ushering in an a capella Martin for ‘January’, a performance that underscores her vocal prowess and has me reconsidering my opinion. On then to the heavy weight of loss that hangs over the minimally arranged ‘Letter (Unsent), a reverie of strings set against the slow march drum beat taking over from the vocals around the three minute mark.

The album moves to its close with melancholic Celtic-misted Dobro for the Irish instrumental ‘Lament’ providing a bridge to ‘London’, a more musically upbeat, driving and almost rocky eight-minute number that could be seen as a vision of the now grown foundlings from earlier in the album further on their journey in search of one of a million futures, “picking them like flowers, making your way home”, as the number erupts in fiery fiddle. After the storm comes the calm, for ‘Taxis’, a banjo rippling ambivalent celebration of the working musician’s life on the road, one of former travelling and hanging around. But, let us not forget, they set off by stepping out on the stage to perform songs such as these, and sending audiences home with a glow in the soul.

Mike Davies

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

‘Stones’ live at Calstock Arts Centre:

Songs For The Voiceless – Album release

SFTV_logo

Some of the UK’s finest folk artists formed a collective to release this autumn album marking the WW1 centenary and unlocking myriad muted voices of that time. Songs For The Voiceless (released October 13), will also be toured as a live show in the run-up to Remembrance Sunday. It brings together some of the brightest British roots talents, BBC award winners and nominees, including Bellowhead frontman Jon Boden and 2014 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards Folk Singer of the Year, Bella Hardy.

The brainchild of Sheffield musician Michael J Tinker, of the Bright Season trio, it also features 2013 Folk Awards Best Duo nominees Katriona Gilmore & Jamie Roberts, elegant songstress Josienne Clarke, Ian Stephenson (KAN, 422, Baltic Crossing), Tom Oakes (Ross Couper and Tom Oakes) and Hartlepool’s popular The Young ‘uns (Sean Cooney, David Eagle, Michael Hughes.)

SFTVartists

Says Michael: “There are so many First World War stories to tell and with the passing of time more and more will be lost. Our aim was to use song to bring some of these stories to a wider public. We wanted to tell the tales of real people, whatever their opinions of the war, with all the passions and emotions they might have felt.”

In the skilled hands of top folk music producer Andy Bell, the end result is nine poignant original narrative songs and a bonus track, from the perspective of both soldiers and civilians, set in locations from English villages to the trenches. Inspired by poems, diaries, memoirs and books, the songs give a voice to the unheard – “everyman” stories from a period of history that impacted the lives of so many and left us mourning a lost generation of husbands, fathers and sons. Some of the tracks were inspired by the artists’ ancestors.

SFTVThe album release will be supported by a five day tour starting at Bury Met on Wednesday, November 5 followed by a London date at Kings Place, shows in two cathedral cities (Winchester and Salisbury) and Chatham’s Brook Theatre in Kent. The tour finale at the Salisbury Arts Centre will be on Remembrance Sunday.

Due to other commitments, the touring band will see BBC award-winning fiddle singer Jackie Oates replace Josienne Clarke while Matt Downer (bassist with Jamie Smith’s Mabon) will step in for Ian Stephenson at some gigs.

With many songs dedicated to individuals and all proceeds going to The Poppy Appeal the album is released on the Haystack Records label and distributed by Proper Music.

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Songs For The Voiceless – Album

SFTV_logo~ Some of the UK’s finest folk artists release CD for WW1 centenary ~

Featuring Jon Boden, Bella Hardy, Josienne Clarke, Gilmore & Roberts, The Young‘Uns, Michael J. Tinker, Ian Stephenson, Tom Oakes

Some of the UK’s finest folk artists have formed a collective to release an autumn album marking the WW1 centenary and unlocking myriad muted voices of that time.

Songs for the Voiceless, to be released in October, will also be toured as a live show in the run-up to Remembrance Sunday. It brings together some of the brightest British roots talents, BBC award winners and nominees, including Bellowhead frontman Jon Boden and newly crowned 2014 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards Folk Singer of the Year, Bella Hardy.

The brainchild of Sheffield musician Michael J. Tinker, of the Bright Season trio, it also features 2013 Folk Awards Best Duo nominees Katriona Gilmore & Jamie Roberts, elegant songstress Josienne Clarke, Ian Stephenson (KAN, 422, Baltic Crossing), Tom Oakes ( Ross Couper and Tom Oakes) and Hartlepool’s popular The Young ‘Uns (Sean Cooney, David Eagle, Michael Hughes.) Says Michael:

“There are so many untold stories of individuals caught up in the First World War – we set out to pool ideas and make a meaningful album of new music that gives just a few of those people a voice. Of course there are lots of opinions about the war – was it glorious, were men killed for nothing, were the generals idiots, was it a disaster? Whatever the outcome of the war and the diverse opinions what matters is what happened to everyday people. “

In the skilled hands of top folk music producer Andy Bell, the end result is nine poignant original narrative songs and a bonus track, from the perspective of both soldiers and civilians, set in locations from English villages to the trenches.

Inspired by poems, diaries, memoirs and books, the songs finally give a voice to the unheard- be it a woman hearing the news every mother dreads to a scared sniper approaching the enemy line to the left-behind lover or the nurse tending the wounded – “everyman” stories from a period of history that impacted the lives of so many.

There’s the song of the Hartlepool-born headmaster who left his Leicestershire village school to head home to enlist with a prayer book from his pupils in his pocket ; the song about a fake tree where British soldiers eavesdropped on German battle plans, one about a Somme victim from the staff of Cornwall’s now famous Gardens of Heligan and another inspired by one of the most famous icons for the British in the Great War – the gilded Madonna statue atop the basilica in the Picardy town of Albert.

The album release will be supported by a five day tour starting at Bury Met on Wednesday, November 5 followed by a London date at Kings Place, shows in two cathedral cities (Winchester and Salisbury) and Chatham’s Brook Theatre in Kent. The tour finale at the Salisbury Arts Centre will be on Remembrance Sunday.

Due to other commitments, the touring band will see BBC award-winning fiddle singer Jackie Oates replace Josienne Clarke while Matt Downer (bassist with Jamie Smith’s Mabon) will step in for Ian Stephenson at some gigs.

Certain to resonate far and wide Songs for the Voiceless tells the WW1 stories of individuals from diverse walks of life but all bonded by shared emotions and empathy, brought to life in imaginative, fascinating and poignant new folk songs. With all proceeds going to The Poppy Appeal the album will be released on the Haystack Records label and distributed by Proper Music.