MARTYN JOSEPH – Here Come The Young (Pipe Records PRCD028)

Here Come The YoungMartyn Joseph released Here Come The Young on January 25th. I imagine most people reading Folking.com will know Martyn Joseph, but in case he’s new to you, Joseph is a multi-award winning singer and songwriter. His lyrics spring from an internationalist and humanitarian belief in people and their ability to make the world a better place; his music has that rare ability to draw you in on first hearing – and years later you’re still playing it because you’re not yet sated by the songs; his live performances are compelling.

That’s rather a lot for a new album to live up to – but it does. Here Come The Young was produced by Gerry Diver, who apparently took Joseph outside his comfort zone and the resulting album, while still being very recognisably the same artist, has an even greater energy and depth of sound than previous albums: Martyn Joseph plus, perhaps? Bob Harris has described Here Come The Young as “Strong, powerful and brave, it takes Martyn’s songs to a new, exciting and challenging place”.

The video below is to the title track and would give an excellent introduction both to Joseph the artist and to this particular album. The song, which looks outward onto our world, is a simple statement of challenge and hope that the young who are tired of so much of our unequal socio-enviro-political world “might just save the day”. The powerful graphics on the video enhance the track even further.

By contrast, ‘Oh My Soul’ turns inwards, asking at us to believe in our “heart’s poetry” and has an exhortation in the chorus as part of the quatrain “Oh my soul/Let me get out of your way/Oh my soul/Wake up and seize the day”.

We are a chorus of many” is central to ‘Love’s Majority’, a classic Martyn Joseph song with a quietly expressive vocal and the ability to merge poetry into song in a verse like “We’re not just straining for the echoes/Of all the vision we hold dear/We’re looking for the common threads of love/That bind us truly human here”.

I don’t know if it’s the best song, but among many powerful tracks on the album ‘Driving Her Back To London’ is the one that tears most at my heart (in a good way). It’s a song about inter-generational swapping of tunes on iPhones “She plays Kings Of Leon I play her rolling Stones……I play you Bruce you play me Muse” and builds to a wider reflection of uncritical love – it’s something I’ve done, and this track captures the moment perfectly.

‘Take Back The Sky’ is written in memory of a young Palestinian medic, shot in Gaza; ‘Summer Has A Way of Finding You’ has the simplest arrangement (vocal, piano and cello), a complement to the more up-tempo band sound of ‘Get Back To You’ and the almost bluesy ‘This Glass’ – the latter a song which asks us to take our half-filled glass and fill it up with things of beauty for the human spirit. ‘Nothing Is Lost in Love’ is not only a tribute to the power of love but I’d imagine will become as much of a song for an audience to quietly sing along with several thousand full marquees have done previously with ‘On My Way’.

I’ll finish with ‘Communion’ in the middle of the album, which has the distinctive musical depth I mentioned earlier. I know of no other artist who could both write lines like “When I make the bed, it’s like breaking bread/I stand in our room and I fall in communion with you” and make them sound as pure as poetry when they are sung. Similarly the chorus:

So when we’re all cried out from singing
We’re gonna rise up and sing it again
And when the light goes down we’re gonna stoke the fire
And bring it back to life, bring it back to life again”.

These are images which can be seen as purely descriptive, but which are surely metaphors for hope. And, as ever with Martyn Joseph, these aren’t treatises, these are songs – when you hear them, you want to sing along.

Here Come The Young is a great addition to Joseph’s already impressive series of albums. He is on tour in Germany from February 15th and then in the USA before returning to the UK from mid-May

Mike Wistow

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Artist’s website: http://www.martynjoseph.net

‘Here Come The Young’ – official video:

THE BROTHERS GILLESPIE – The Fell (own label TBGCD002)

The FellThe Tradition is alive. It passes in a straight line to the distance, capturing mediaeval songs of the common people, handed down through the oral tradition because of the illiteracy of the majority. Scholars trying to capture its history can only see the songs disappearing in the swirls of time, perhaps to the origins of Celtic instruments in the Middle East – but no-one really knows where the instruments of the common people were first created, no-one is really sure where the rhythms of traditional English and Celtic music started.

Over the past 200 years the picture is clearer, the mists of the oral tradition pinned, first on paper and then on recordings. Along the way, the swirls of the tradition have captured the songs of sailors, farm workers, murderers, victims, lovers wronged, lovers united, defenders, of the rights of the common man against the state or the powerful individual, mystics, fairy land and the world on the edge of our senses. These have been captured in a distinct musical style best played acoustically so the songs can be transmitted to future generations, the music made from instruments with strings or reed which would be recognisable to the earliest traditional players.

And some time over the past few years, the Tradition has swirled to the North-East of England, to the village of Wall near Hexham and the border with Scotland. The Brothers Gillespie have tapped into the Tradition and brought it right into the world of social media, at the same time both fresh and old. Have a look at their Facebook page and you can see the two brothers talking about The Fell, their new album. They see it as being a creation of the musical calling they want to pursue ever more deeply. The songs, nine of them, all come back to the Fell above the village of Wall where they grew up – a hill that is a benevolent presence for them, a place where spirits live and they can tap into the old language.

The album itself? I thought I was listening to well played traditional songs until I looked at the text on the CD cover. There is one traditional song on the album (‘The Road To Dundee’), one by Michelle Shocked (‘Blackberry Blossom’), and one song (“Northumberland’) with lyrics by the Northumbrian Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, one of the Georgian poets who also called on the English tradition rather than the path towards Imagism, taken by Pound and Eliot et al.

The remainder of the songs have been written by the Brothers Gillespie – and I‘ve actually been listening to well-played new songs tapping into an older, deeper sound. Listen to ‘Golden One’ in the video below and you will hear how the Tradition flows through their work, musically, lyrically and in spirit – but in a way so thoroughly modern that the fourth track on the album, ‘Tina’s Song’, concerns the court case of Tina Rothery and her refusal to pay the £55,000 legal fees of Cuadrilla in the recent anti-fracking court case.

The Fell taps into themes and tunes that I feel I have known all my life (but haven’t because they’ve only just been written) and, like all updates to the tradition, are simultaneously part of the music of past centuries and also entirely new and relevant. Details of upcoming gigs may be found on the band’s website.

Mike Wistow

Artist’s website: https://thebrothersgillespie.com

‘Golden One’:

THE UNTHANKS – Lines (RRM021S / RRM021SLP)

LinesLines is a trilogy of song cycles inspired by poetry, focusing on three female perspectives across time: Hull fishing worker Lillian Bilocca; World War One poets; and writer Emily Brontë. Lines is available on general release from February 22nd .

After discovering Brian Lavery’s book, The Headscarf Revolutionaries, the actor and writer Maxine Peake created the play The Last Testament of Lillian Bilocca as part of Hull’s hugely successful City of Culture events. Bilocca was the woman who changed policy and regulations following the loss of three trawlers in close succession in early 1968. She led women from the Hessle Road area of Hull (where many of the trawlermen came from) in protest against the lack of safety in the trawling industry. The protests led to a meeting with the government in London and then to eighty-eight safety measures being enacted.

The play had an original live score by The Unthanks and this album has five tracks. The music is predominantly written by Adrian McNally. A couple of the songs have lyrics by Peake – but the album also includes Bolling and Fishman’s ‘Lonesome Cowboy’ (which is a surprise until you relate the lyrics to the long journeys of the trawlermen). I didn’t get back to Hull to see the play, but based on this album, I regret it even more than I did at the time – the music is magnificently atmospheric, with rich but hushed tone set by McNally’s piano and supported by equally soft vocal and playing from the rest of the band.

It isn’t possible to understand Hull, particularly West Hull, without understanding its trawling history. Peake’s play with its focus on the events of 1968 has helped unite this fishing tradition into the modern city of culture. To give an idea of the significance of the women’s protests, Brian Lavery quotes one of Bilocca’s colleagues on her return to Hull from London as saying that the women of Hessle Road “did more in six days than Trade Unions and politicians had done in a century”. The definitions of folk music are many and varied but one of them is “the people’s music”. The Unthanks album will help preserve the story of Lillian Bilocca and the Headscarf Revolutionaries. It will also widen the audience that knows the story.

Mike Wistow

The second part of Lines comprises six songs concerning the Great War and, of course, there is a back story. The songs were originally written for a project marking the beginning of the war and have now been recorded to mark its end. Such projects tend to be collaborative affairs and so the first voice we hear isn’t an Unthank but Sam Lee who sings the first part the long opener ‘Roland And Vera’. Roland was Roland Leighton who was shot and killed two days before Christmas 1915 and Vera was his fiancée Vera Brittain. The song is based on her memoir and there’s lots about her to look up.

‘Everyone Sang’ is the first set of words by a contemporary poet, in this case Siegfried Sassoon with music by Tim Dalling who also sings on this recording. Sassoon was also responsible for the harrowing ‘Suicide In The Trenches’. Adrian McNally takes over as composer from this point beginning with ‘War Film’ by Teresa Hooley, although the poem was probably written in the 1920s. We don’t often think of women as war poets but Jessie Pope, who wrote the final piece ‘Socks’ is one such. Wilfred Owen dedicated Dulce Et Decorum Est to her which shows the regard in which she was held at the time.

The short poem ‘Breakfast’ was written by Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, the leading Georgian poet. It’s typical of the way wrote about the minutiae of life and The Unthanks expand it including lines from ‘Hanging On The Old Barbed Wire’ which are perfectly in keeping. The music is, perhaps inevitably, dominated by McNally’s piano with extra strings brought in to bolster Niopha Keegan’s fiddle and Chris Price’s bass and guitar

Dai Jeffries

As the concluding part of The Unthanks’ Lines trilogy, part three is based on the poetic works of Emily Brontë. Commissioned by the Brontë Society to commemorate the bicentenary of Wuthering Heights, this set of scored poems also forms an audio trail around the Haworth Parsonage (until 31 March 2019; free, but equipment booking required).

Unlike the epic adventurousness of some of their more recent work, this album has a direct simplicity, featuring only Rachel and Becky Unthank’s voices accompanied by Adrian McNally’s piano. McNally composed and performed on the parsonage’s 5-octave cabinet piano, which no doubt informed the hypnotic minimalism of the resulting music. Ambient sounds derive from on-site recording sessions, which took place after museum hours.

As we enter ‘The Parsonage’ the crows take raucous flight from the churchyard next door. Opening the door, only footsteps and the chiming and ticking of clocks disturb the stifling stillness. Nature, time, death. A triumvirate of forces scouring across Emily Brontë’s life and work.

Brontë’s nature is not manicured or cultivated, but an untamed, raw beauty. As the little piano riffles of ‘High Waving Heather’ sketch in the endless moor-top breeze (just as likely to be a bitterly whipping wind!), Becky and Rachel sing alternate lines, before they run together in a harmonic stream.

Connecting with nature is therapeutic. ‘Shall Earth No More Inspire Thee’ makes a plaintive and heartfelt cry for its subject to re-embrace nature to gain relief from inner torment. Yet ‘Lines’ conveys the sadness of finding that nature cannot soothe those who do not allow it in.

‘Remembrance’ has been set to an arrangement of a traditional tune, which pairs very well with this heavily Romantic lament. But it’s the deceptively simple and placatory dissembling of ‘She Dried Her Tears And They Did Smile’, set to a slow waltz, that really gets under the skin.

Some of the songs comprise several poems in well-considered conjunctions, such as ‘Deep Deep Down In The Silent Grave’ partnered with the equally solemn ‘Oh Hinder Me By No Delay’. But it’s ‘The Night Is Darkening Around Me’ where the dread and defiance of “I will not, cannot go” is perfectly counterpointed by the tender ‘I’ll Come When Thou Art Saddest’. Bridging back to the first poem via a short poem fragment, ‘I Would Have Touched The Heavenly Key’, this is a delightfully constructed track.

The refrain of crows, clocks and footsteps opening ‘O Evening Why’ suggests this as a logical end to the album, but perhaps it’s just too downbeat, as Becky sings the first poem in a dirgey minor before Rachel joins with the equally tonally bleak ‘It’s Over Now; I’ve Known It All’. Instead, the brighter ‘I’m Happiest When Most Away’ escorts the listener back to the moors and leaves them contemplating the shifting night skies at the top of the world.

Su O’Brien

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Artist website: www.the-unthanks.com

Recording the Brontë song cycle:

GRÁINNE HOLLAND – Corcra (Gráinne Holland GH003)

CorcraGráinne Holland released Corcra on February 1st. This is her third album, but Corcra is the first album of her own original material. Holland was born and raised in Belfast, bi-lingual in both English and Gaelic, and with a love of Irish music from her early years.

When I got the chance to review the album, I did what I always do – listened briefly to Holland’s music on YouTube – thought it was rather nice….but also pointed out that I don’t speak Gaelic and maybe someone else should get the chance first? The succinct reply I got was “I don’t speak Gaelic either but I love the sound of it” – the album was immediately in the post. A third person, a singer, walking past the door when I was playing the album, loved the sound of it. So, from a random sample of three, we have 100% agreement that Corcra is a delight – whether you understand its full subtleties (just over half the album is Gaelic songs) or just feel the beauty of the music and the singing.

The video below is of ‘Lon Dubh an Gheimhridh’ where you can hear Holland breathily giving voice to a beautiful, slow song about Black Winter “I often experience a sadness in winter when the days grow shorter, the trees lose their leaves and everything seems to sleep. I wrote this song about that feeling” is her description of the song. I sent the YouTube link to an Irish friend who gave me some translations and included in her reply was the comment “Atmospheric, but not cheerful”. Holland’s songwrititng clearly hits the spot she was wanting to capture (and by now I have four out of four positive reviews to elements of this album).

There are optimistic songs on here as well. The album opens with ‘Mise agus Tusa’ (Me And You) which is “a love song I wrote about my husband” and ‘Coinsias, Corp agus Croi’ “a song I wrote about beginning to feel alive again after a very dark time in my life”, the first track skipping along and the second more thoughtful but with a rising chorus. ‘Ni Chluinim, Ni Fheicim’ bounds along, appropriately for a song about “focusing on the positive and beautiful things in life rather than the negative”.

‘Goodbye Love’ is what it says, a song about saying goodbye but both musically and lyrically is a grown-up farewell – slow-ish tune, but not mournful, with a lyric that includes emotionally mature lines such as “My heart will always hold a piece of you/Goodbye love”; ‘Harry’s’ is a song about Holland’s late father; ‘Beal Feirste’ a tribute to hometown Belfast as Holland leaves the city for the countryside; ‘An Ri Rua’ is “ a song about two little birds who died together after flying into my window at home” – I have no idea about the lyrics, but I love the musicality of the song.

There is a consistently quality to Corcra, Holland’s vocals holding you throughout the album, supported by a range of musicians and a rather nice production by Brian Finnegan. My favourite track, if it’s possible to choose given this level of consistent quality, is the closing track ‘Miracle’ a song written after the birth of Holland’s first child. It’s quite simple both lyrically and musically (piano and vocal mostly) “miracle of mine/a creation so divine…..when I take your hand in mine I see forever/what’s gone before, what’s now and what’s to come”. But, though simple, it avoids sentimentality and captures that sheer joy of new birth and the way it changes our perception of ourselves and our surrounding world.

Holland’s earlier albums were traditional songs in contemporary arrangements, Corcra shows that she can also compose her own powerfully atmospheric songs – great to listen to even though I don’t understand all the lyrics. There are no gigs planned at the moment but I’d think this is an album worth a tour/festival sometime soon.

Mike Wistow

Artist’s website: https://www.grainneholland.com/grainne/

‘Lon Dubh an Gheimhridh’:

ALL THE LUCK IN THE WORLD – A Blind Arcade (own label)

A Blind ArcadeAll The Luck In The World is an Irish band who are embedded in Germany, having moved there to add the Berlin ambience to their Irish musical upbringing in Wicklow and Kildare. Their album A Blind Arcade was released in February 2018 but has only just made its way to Folking Towers for review.

The band point out that they settled on the title A Blind Arcade because it is “an architectural term for a row of adorning arches that are superimposed onto a solid wall. To us it represents the entire process of creating these songs and the sounds within them”.

If you watch the video below for ‘Landmarks’, you can see why they say this – if it weren’t a contradiction in terms, you could describe it as pre-Raphaelite abstract (the leaves rise rather than fall etc.). Similarly, the image above for the album cover is both a stag and a piece of magical abstract painting. If it’s possible to transpose music into the visual arts, these are close representations for the music – there is a solid base to the playing with some nice touches of adornment: the harmonics, the tempo changes, the instrumentation moving in and out of the various tracks. The whole, then, comes together to create a sound which sits somewhere in a line going back to Simon and Garfunkel of the late 60s via the indie bands of the nineties.

As with all of us, our strengths are the obverse of our weaknesses and although I’ve listened to the album a dozen times, I have a warm feeling at the end of it but don’t have a track or a tune that continues to go through my head when it finishes. It’s a mellow, gentle, well-played album – but very definitely an album rather than a collection of individual tracks, 46 minutes of cohesive sound where the tracks blend from the opening ‘Landmarks’ to the closing ‘Abhainn’.

The band have no concerts planned at the moment, but since they’re are also quite hard to track down, this is the link to the events page on their Facebook site https://www.facebook.com/pg/alltheluckintheworld/events/?ref=page_internal

Mike Wistow

We have set up a new UK & U.S Storefront for brand new CD/Vinyl/Download releases recently featured together with a search facility for older stuff. The link for the folking store is: https://folking.com/folking-store/

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Artists’ website: http://atlitw.com

‘Landmarks’ – official video:

CHURCHFITTERS – Old Friends (own label CH110917)

Old FriendsHere is Churchfitters new double album, Old Friends. There is no UK release date, but it will be available from their website shortly. The album will, however, be released in France from March 1st (don’t underestimate the internationalism of Folking.com)

The album is a celebration of forty years of Churchfitters, founded in the UK in 1978 before the members moved to a Brittany base from 1993 (hence the album’s release in France). The current line-up consists of Rosie Short, her brother Chris and Boris Lebret who joined in 2004 and brought with him “an array of home made scrap metal instruments” as their website puts it. This trio is the core of the group; for percussion and on tours Margaux Scherer is a more recent addition. I last saw Churchfitters about three years ago in a village hall with an audience of primarily non-folkies/non-gig attending people from the village – they loved it, Lebret’s unusual instruments gave the band an immediate interaction with the audience.

The title, Old Friends, has a double meaning: that the songs are old friends and also that there are a number of old friends who are guests on the album (Frankie Banham, Pete Jack, Thomas Lotout, Dave Pegg, Eric Richard and Ronan Robert).

The 21 songs are a mix of those composed by the band and traditional songs. There is a bouncy version of ‘Johnny Was A Shoemaker’, a moving version of ‘The House Carpenter’, a haunting ‘Black is the Crow’, a driving ‘Open the Door’ and a rather splendid ‘The Parting Glass’ to finish the album. My favourite of the traditional songs, though, is a beautifully ethereal version of ‘She Moved Through the Fair’.

Of the tracks composed by the band, I particularly like the opening track ‘He Cut Her Throat’, written by Rosie Short, which has all that you need from a murder ballad: love, marriage, leaving, jealousy, throat slitting and a lively tune. Slower and more haunting is ‘Bleeding Heart Yard’ this time a contrast between the lily white purity of the heroine and the devil who is taking her heart. Of the others, perhaps the two most powerful tracks are ‘The Turning of the Tide’ and ‘Sing (For Our Time on Earth)’ – I instantly recognised them from the concert three years ago. These are two more of Short’s songs, the former jaunty and the latter a melodic piano piece.

If you want to get a feel for the band, the video below presents four songs performed at Cropredy by the Churchfitters four-piece where you can hear their style – and see some of the home made instruments. You’ll also see that it matters not whether it’s a village hall or 20,000 people standing in a field.

As for Old Friends the album, it gets better every time I play it – a double album of folk songs and instrumentals, both self-penned and from the tradition. For me it’s also been a great reminder of just how good Churchfitters are in concert. Dates (in both countries) are on their web pages.

Mike Wistow

Artists’ website: http://www.churchfitters.com/ehome.php

Churchfitters live at Cropredy: