FLOOK – Ancora (Flatfish 006)

Ancora“Ancora impara” said Michaelangelo, aged 82, and I probably don’t need to tell you that means “I am always learning”.  [I suspect you might – Ed.] That’s something that Flook have taken on board with their first album since Haven in 2005. Flook didn’t go away in those 14 years, playing festivals, live shows and tours so why the lack of studio material? As Brian Finnegan says, “We…took a break in 2008, followed our hearts and instincts and went our separate ways; had kids, got hitched, loved, lost, explored the musical world…” Now they’re back with a Ancora, an album that shows that even iconic bands don’t rest on their laurels but continue to look for the new. This album will delight their many fans, attract new ones and be listened to by anyone who loves tradition as played by four experts.

Flook formed over 20 years ago, winning Best Band at the BBC Folk Awards in 2006 and at their heart still retain original flute and pipers Sarah Allen and Brian Finnegan, now joined by Ed Boyd (guitar, piano) and John Joe Kelly (bodhran). As well as the band the album includes a who’s who of guest musicians including Phil Cunningham, Philip Henry, Patsy Reid and Niall Murphy. There’s even Mark Tucker playing the theramin. The quality shines through and every track, none traditional, on the album is spot on. Hang on, didn’t I say the traditionalists will love it? Yes, I did because tradition doesn’t just mean it has to have been around for years. The 12 tracks on the album are formed from twenty tunes of which the majority are written by Allen and Finnegan but they also use works of contemporaries such as Jarleth Henderson, Sam Lakeman and John McSherry. It’s a living, breathing tradition.

The overall impression of the album is quality musicianship. The playing is precise and tight, they make it sound all very easy and natural, with the music flowing seamlessly. As an album of purely instrumental work it gives you, as the listener, a choice of dipping in and out or listening straight through. I’ve found it ideal to put into the car stereo for the trip to work, it has a running time of just under 50 minutes, and arriving in a much better frame of mind than I would normally do. Opening the album are two tunes by Finnegan; ‘Reel For Rubik’ and ‘Toward The Sun’. As expected the flutes dominate but the piece moves up through tempo and intensity and introducing the other instrumentalists.

This change in pace and style is common throughout the album, but never becomes rollicking. Probably my favourite piece, although a difficult choice to make, is Allen’s ‘Companion Star’ which is absolutely beautiful. It flows so well, at a gentle pace, and it’s very easy to imagine oneself on a boat just drifting along following that star. The segue into ‘Coral Castle’, co-written by Finnegan and Ashley Broder lifts the pace and introduces further instruments but again the title fits the piece, and anyone who has dived a coral reef will recognise the rhythm of life within it. .
I could easily have chosen ‘Turquoise Girl’ as another favourite track. This is a set of four tunes by four different composers, again flowing smoothly, with a faster pace that certainly gets the toes tapping. I can imagine it going down very well during a live performance.

This is certainly an album you should buy, a milestone from an iconic band, and get it now so that you can say you had it before the inevitable awards come along, because it will gain many Instrumental Album of the Year plaudits if there’s any justice in the world.

The album will be released on April 12th but is available to pre-order now through the website. Alternatively I’m certain it will be available at live shows and Flook will be taking it on tour throughout 2019, covering most of the country from Findhorn to Sidmouth.

Tony Birch

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‘Reel For Rubik/Unto The Sun’ – live:

CARA DILLON – Wanderer (Charcoal CHARCD009)

WandererFollowing last year’s release of her first Christmas album, Upon A Winter’s Night, Dillon returns to secular form with a predominantly traditional collection, again produced by and featuring husband Sam Lakeman.

Pivoting around an underlying theme of transition and departure, whether that be through emigration or the search for love, it keeps the instrumentation spare and intimate, predominantly built around Lakeman’s piano and/or acoustic guitar, but also with occasional contributions from Ben Nicholls on double bass, Niall Murphy on fiddle and both John Smith and Justin Adams on acoustic and electric guitar, respectively.

There are two original numbers, the first up being the piano-accompanied ‘The Leaving Song’, inspired by “living wakes” held for those about to emigrate in pre-war Co.Derry with its lyric about a mother bidding farewell to a son seeking his fortunes in some other land, with a reminder that he can always find his way home. The other, the penultimate track, the simply styled metaphorical ‘Lakeside Swans’ touches a similar note, here concerning migrants and refugees and the decision to leave their homes.

There’s also a cover, the album’s final track being their dreamily lovely piano-led arrangement of ‘Dubhdara’, the slow-swaying sailing out Celtic anthem written by Shaun Davey for his 1985 album Granuaile.

The remaining seven numbers are all traditional, some familiar, others less so, case in point being the opening Ulster thoughts of home folk song ‘The Tern And The Swallow’ with its references to Lough Neagh, the largest freshwater lake in Northern Ireland, and Slieve Gallion, the mountain in Co. Londonderry. Also with their roots in Derry and nostalgia for home, ‘The Banks Of The Foyle’ concerns a girl forced to leave her true love by cruel misfortune but then learning he’s remained constant in her absence, while, featuring just Dillon and Lakeman’s guitar, ‘The Faughan Side’ conjures memories of an emigrant to America of happy days spent by the bridge of Drumahoe over the titular river.

A fine, yearningly crestfallen reading of the much recorded ‘Blackwater Side’ leads the charge for the better known songs, with its tale of a young lad lying his way into a maiden’s bed with false promises. This is complemented by ‘Both Sides Of The Tweed’, a traditional number given a makeover by Dick Gaughan, here presented in simple style with Dillon’s pure vocals and Lakeman’s piano. She’s joined by Kris Drever who duets and plays guitar for ‘Sailor Boy’, the album’s obligatory death song (you know the plot, maiden dies from grief when her sailor lover drowns) with Murphy on wheezing fiddle. Which just leaves a haunted interpretation of ‘The Banks Of The Bann’, which, combining emigration and thwarted love and arranged for piano and fiddle, is fittingly set to the tune of ‘Lord Of All Hopefulness’.

Her most reflective and most musically introspective album to date, the spare arrangements putting the spotlight on her warm, crystal clear vocals, it is arguably also the best of her career.

Mike Davies

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Artist’s website: www.caradillon.co.uk

Promo video:

WINTER MOUNTAIN – I Swear I Flew (Astral Fox WMISIF001CD)

I swear I flewOriginally twin peaks, the departure of Martin Smyth has seen a change in the topography, meaning I Swear I Flew, the follow up to the eponymous debut is now a solo project for Cornwall’s Joe Francis. Not that he’s entirely alone, with a clutch of musicians providing drums, pedal steel, banjo, slide, fiddle and cello. He’s even recruited Seth Lakeman on various tracks. Nonetheless, it’s the Francis (who’s husky vocal recalls Brian Fallon tinted with Tom Petty) doing the heavy lifting on an album that moves away from the 70s Laurel Canyon sounds of the debut and, for the most, trades in swaggering, upbeat Americana-influenced folk rock tunes of anthemic inclination that, at times, suggest a Cornish Amy Macdonald.

Beginning so quietly you might think you’ve turned your volume down, ‘Platinum And Gold’, opens proceedings in a Proclaimers-like marching beat style and immediately hooks itself into your head, feet tapping involuntarily as it strides along on lyrics calling on someone to get their act and self together (“you’ve got to put a stop to your self-addiction”). Lakeman makes his first appearance, contributing fiddle, tenor guitar and vocals to the equally driving valedictory relationship number ‘Sunlight, Good Roads’, a track Francis describes as his take on a Celtic benediction

If that’s the end of a relationship, dropping the tempo slightly ‘The Lucky Ones’, with its chiming guitar, cascading chords and tumbling chorus, seems to be at the start of one with “nowhere but the stars to go”, reinforcing the sense that this is one of those rare break up albums charged with goodwill rather than resentment.

Drawing on winter spent in the French Alps, ‘The Morning Bell’ (from whence comes the album title) is the first of the softer ballads, a simple acoustic track that nods to Francis’ Paul Simon influences, something equally evident on the cello-accompanied fingerpicked stillness of ‘Dragonfly’. Sandwiched in-between is ‘Things That I’ve Done Wrong’ which, with its tribal beat, slide guitar and bluesy feel is the album’s gutsiest musical offering.

Featuring pedal steel, harmonica, banjo and fiddle, ‘Before The Flood’ with its lyric about the redemptive power of love settles into mid-tempo alt-country rock territory before the album hits the homestretch with ‘Open Heart’, a leaving number (“I cannot make my fortune if I do not deal the cards”) with a Springsteenesque drive and a swelling chorus punch that melds Meatloaf and Chris De Burgh.

The band were originally formed in Ireland while Francis was visiting with Smyth in Donegal and it was here that they were spotted by Cara Dillon who subsequently signed them to her and husband Sam Lakeman’s Charcoal label for the debut album. This goes a long way to explaining the Celtic colours that permeate the songs here, and, in particular, the near six-minute acoustic strummed ‘Banba’s Crown’ which, evocative of Van Morrison and featuring mandolin, fiddle (courtesy of Niall Murphy), pedal steel and banjo, is named for a (it must be said, rather ugly and squat) Napoleonic lookout tower (itself named for the patron goddess of Ireland) overlooking the most northernly tip of the mainland. A reminiscence of a brief but glorious romance, its line about never experiencing the ancient sun setting low over the headland serving as emblematic of regret for things lost or never fulfilled.

Its back seat romance image resurfaces as the album ends with the wistful tour de force that is the heartbreakingly sad and lovely ‘Fireworks Night (Promises We Make)’,a hymn to holding on to the dreams of youth, where Francis, drawing on the intro, essentially reconceives Springsteen’s ‘Thunder Road’ as a harmonica haunted elegiac piano ballad. An album of power and passion, it takes a direct flight to the heart. Join the expedition and scale its heights, the view is magnificent.

Mike Davies

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Artist’s website: www.wintermountain.co.uk

‘Sunshine, Good Roads’ live at Straw Bale Studio:

CARA DILLON – Upon A Winter’s Night (Charcoal CHARCCD008)

upon a winter's nightIn the absence this year of a new Kate Rusby festive collection for folk fans to warm their chilly cockles, Cara Dillon, aided and abetted by husband, musical partner and producer Sam Lakeman, steps up to the seasonal plate for her first Christmas offering, Upon A Winter’s Night, an 11-string stockingsworth of traditional nuggets, hymns and originals.

It’s one of the latter, the title track, written by Sam and Noah Lakeman, that kicks things off, a jaunty Nativity scene setter that also features Uilleann pipes, Luke Daniels on accordion and Kathryn Roberts on backing vocals. There’s three other originals, Cara and Sam providing the piano backed ‘Standing By My Christmas Tree’ with its interpolation of ‘Silent Night’ and bells-pealing keyboard notes as well as the simply arranged lullaby closer ‘Mother Mary’, he on acoustic guitar and she joined on vocals in the final refrains by a family affair of Colm, Noah and Elizabeth Lakeman. The third is Sam’s own instrumental contribution, a lively woodland romp with ‘The Huntsman’, again featuring Jarlath Henderson on Uilleann pipes and Daniels on accordion alongside fiddle from Niall Murphy and James Fagan’s bouzouki with Ben Nicholls providing stalwart bass.

The other numbers are the couple’s arrangements of, by and large, very familiar seasonal tunes, first up, introduced by Murphy’s fiddle sounding like a hunting horn, being a traditional folk-sounding reading of ‘The Wexford Carol’ that gathers to fulsome fiddle finale. Rather less known, based on a traditional Polish carol, ‘Infant Holy, Infant Lowly’ is another lowing lullaby and introduces John Smith on guitar. Considerably better known is the evergreen ‘The Holly and the Ivy’, here taken at a swayalong tempo on the back of fiddle, pipes and accordion and featuring guest viocals from both Roberts and Sam’s father, Geoff.

By contrast, while often given a rousing chorus flourish, here ‘O Come O Come Emmanuel’ is an altogether more contemplative affair etched out by just her voice and Sam’s piano, a fine companion piece to the wholly a capella ‘O Holy Night’, Adolphe Adams’ 19th century setting and translation of a French poem (Midnight Christians) on which she duets with older sister Mary, their version joining a list that includes Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Bing Crosby and, more recently, Ellie Goulding.

This is, in turn, followed by another breath of fresh winter air with ‘Mary Bore A Son To God’, one of the earliest known Irish language carols and sung here in the original Gaelic (‘Rug Muire Mac Do Dhia’),a slightly softer reading than that previously done by Horslips with Henderson’s Wilson taking the fiddle parts.

Finally, once whisperingly recorded by Bono, there’s another traditional Irish carol, ‘The Darkest Midnight’, which taken from the Kilmore Carols collection of South Wexford (albeit a trimmed down version) is again arranged for just her voice and Sam’s acoustic guitar and piano, another lovely grace note to a collection that very much has its mind set on celebrating the real meaning of Christmas. A touch more contemplative than Rusby’s South Yorkshire offerings perhaps, but likely to prove an equally enduring bauble on folk’s festive fir.

Mike Davies

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Artist’s website: www.caradillon.co.uk

Paul Johnsons folking interview with Ioscaid from Cropredy 2012

Ioscaid is group of young lads from counties Down, Armagh, and Derry who came together in late 2009 as a band to enter the Siansa Gael Linn competition.

Brothers Dermot and Fintan Mulholland entered Siansa the previous year in a group with Niall McCrickard and Declan Magee called Coimriú who came third that year. The following year, the 4 lads joined with Niall Murphy & Ciaran Hanna and entered Siansa under the name of ‘Ioscaid’. After the various rounds of the competition, the group were selected as one of the 8 finalists to compete in the National Concert Hall in the Grand Final of the competition. In April 2010 they made history by winning the competition and bring the trophy to Ulster!

In October 2011 they hit the UK scene after entering and winning the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Awards which earned them a slot at Fairport’s Cropredy Convention 2012 which is where our folking “Ow R U” stalwart interviewer,  Paul Johnson caught up with em backstage for a chat…

AS WINTER SETS IN BIG TIME – WE TAKE A WARM LOOK BACK TO WHEN IOSCAID  – THE BBC YOUNG FOLK AWARD WINNERS SET, MESMORIZED THE CROPREDY 2012 CROWED BACK IN THAT WONDERFUL AUGUST SUMMER SUNSHINE THAT NOW SEEMS SO LONG AGO!

But they needed a lesson on the Matty Groves story first…

As well as having the best Cropredy weather for years, in 2012 and winning countless medals at the Olympics – as we basked in the glorious sunshine smiling with a pint Wadworth’s Horizon beer in a sunny Cropredy contented way –  I had the pleasure of catching up with BBC young folk award winners Ioscaid  (pronounced ‘Iss – Kidge’) for a chat about their success so far, but not before noticing several posters around the Cropredy site displaying Fairports Olympics results as follows

Lord Darnold  – Fencing – Gold

Servant – Swimming – Gold

Maty Groves – Fencing – Did not finish!

Hiring Fair Maid – Breast Stroke Gold

So seeing that the three members of Ioscaid I was about to interview reading these posters looking totally puzzled they asked me what these were all about!!!

The interview could not start until I had recited all lyrics of Matty Groves with full explanations to these lovely young lads bless em !!!! Now they know, and I can take credit for a tiny piece of these lads musical education!! Paul Johnson

Click on the player below to listen to the interview….

Artist’s website: https://www.facebook.com/Ioscaid
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