Gold Has Worn Away by Benji Kirkpatrick and The Excess is a real grower of an album. Benji Kirkpatrick, Pete Flood and Pete Thomas deliver fifty-seven minutes of dynamic and rhythmic roots music which I’ve had on repeat in the car and absolutely love it.
I expect this will come as a surprise to most people, but I asked for this album to review as I wondered what Pete Thomas had been up to not having seen him since a gig with Megan Henwood in late 2018. I’m ashamed to say I hadn’t come across either Benji Kirkpatrick’s or Pete Flood’s work even though they are associated with such bands as Bellowhead and Faustus. What have I missed out on?
This debut album from the trio was recorded at Henwood Studios by Pete Brown and Adventures in Audio by Matt Williams and the guest musicians are Rowan Godel and Janie Mitchell. The production is fantastic and every song crisp and fresh.
The subject matter covered is, as with many musicians these days, a comment on today’s social and political environment with a touch of personal perspective. That said the songs are in the main vibrant and upbeat and get the head nodding and fingers drumming the steering wheel.
I’m not sure who Benji would say who his influences were for this album, but as I grew up listening to mainstream rather than folk music I hear Yes, early Genesis, Robert Palmer and Joe Jackson, not many folk names in that list I know, but this is an album hard to categorise in any one genre.
The tracks I particularly enjoyed were “In Your Cave” (reminded me of ‘Owner Of A Lonely Heart’) and who can’t smile at a track called “Stuck In The Loop”, which is one of the three instrumentals included in this gem of thirteen track album. This is a 5* album as golden as the CD sleeve, so go and have a listen.
I think they would be a fun band to see live and I’m regretting missing out on their UK tour in the summer, especially as they’d got as close to me as Winchester. Hopefully it won’t be too long before they tour again.
I don’t usually get to review this kind of record, mostly because I’m not sure what kind of record this is. Ma Polaine’s Great Decline are a duo, Beth Packer and Clinton Hough, and The Outsider is their second album. Apart from Pete Flood’s drums on four tracks, Beth and Clinton play all the instruments, mostly sparsely arranged. There are influences from inter-war jazz and blues but if you told me that these songs were all Tom Waits’ originals that he hadn’t got round to recording yet, I’d believe you. I’m not the first to draw such a comparison.
If you’ve ever felt that the whole world is cross-threaded, The Outsider is your kind of record. Its protagonists have jumped a groove or two in one way or another, from the ‘Little Lady’ who society fails to notice to the protagonists of what is described as a murder ballad, one of whom is a mermaid. The opener, ‘Carousel’, is relatively conventional love song is waltz time but for the most part Beth’s lyrics are deliberately opaque. You can search for clues so the line “run me right out of town” suggests a meaning that the title ‘Monster Swan Blues’ does not and the song’s meaning becomes clear – actually, it’s not so difficult.
The key sound is Clinton’s electric guitar, often very sparse but building in intensity in the right places like the sinister ‘Can’t Have You’. Beth plays double bass, piano, accordion, harmonica and percussion building textures beneath her vocals. Clinton switches to acoustic guitar for the simple and rather disturbing ‘The Poison Sits’ and adds an electric solo before the last verse and adds it to that accordion for that final stanza.
Twice through and I’m really liking The Outsider. It’s a record enhanced by a certain mood, a certain ambience – sitting in a cheap hotel room with a bottle of whisky in your hand and the neon from the strip joint across the street flashing through the cracked window – but it will play well anywhere you happen to be.
Oysterband was born in the summer of 1977 when the sound of punk rock rang loud from the radio, disaffection became the order of the day and riots filled the streets which would ring through the later years of Thatcherite Britain. There were many on the UK folkscene who felt the same urge for similar challenges and change in their own music and lives, and Oysterband’s hard-edged music and performances amply filled those needs. They brought passion, and not a little poetry to folk and roots music, but also a welcome power and energy.
Paul Johnson and Darren Beech from folking.com recently caught up with Alan Prosser at this years Cropredy Festival. Click on the play button below to have a listen.
Through the intervening four decades, they have remained at the cutting edge of the folk scene, exploring their songs and tunes in various line-ups that run the gamut from hard rock ambience to a more trad-angled acoustic trio. What they have retained throughout, however, is their own distinctive sound and approach to folk and roots music.
The multi-award-winning outfit is now entering its 40th year, as vital and creative as ever, with some of the finest songs in the modern folk canon to their name: ‘Put Out The Lights’; ‘When I’m Up (I Can’t Get Down)’; ‘Blood Wedding’; ‘Everywhere I Go’; ‘The Oxford Girl’; ‘Granite Years’; ‘Native Son’… plus many others from their vast back catalogue that will be featured in performance during a year of touring and festivals from summer 2017 into 2018. A unique and fiercely independent career celebrated.
On this tour, the band will play two sets each night, one featuring their highly-influential album Holy Bandits in its entirety, the second a selection of older gems from their vast back catalogue of songs such as ‘Hal-an-Tow’, ‘Love Vigilantes’, ‘20th Of April’, ‘Bells Of Rhymney’, ‘Bright Morning Star’ as well as some of the finest new songs in the modern folk repertoire.
Oysterband still play with a spirit of the punk ceilidh band of 1977, the one that roared through people’s lives all those years ago, but the growing depth and sensitivity of their songwriting, coupled with the strength of John Jones’ voice and their remarkable musicianship, have lifted the music into a richer, more acoustic era.
Their occasional collaboration with folk diva June Tabor has produced two cult-classic award-winning albums, Freedom & Rain and Ragged Kingdom. The latter and their hugely influential album Holy Bandits were voted nos. 4 and 5 among the Ten Best Albums of the last 30 years by the public in a poll by fRoots Magazine in 2016. The band is no stranger to TV – they have appeared on Later… With Jools Holland and the BBC Folk Awards shows – but there is no better way to sample the magic of what the band does best, than by catching them live on stage at one of their 2017 tour dates.
John Jones – voice, melodeon
Alan Prosser – guitars, voice
Ian Telfer – violin, voice
Al Scott – bass, mandolin, voice
Adrian Oxaal – cello, voice
and the newest member, formerly of Bellowhead, Pete Flood – drums, voice
A unamplified classic of ‘Put Out The Lights’ form the Southdowns Folk Festival 2016
Their third album in as many years, after the two-handed format of The Hum and the limited hand-signed micro-release Summat’s Brewin’, the duo’s fifth studio outing, Shadows, sees them return to the fuller sound of their first two albums with a post-Bellowhead Pete Flood on drums, Andy Seward on double bass, frequent collaborator Jude Abbott providing brass and Rowan Rheingans on fiddle and viola. There’s also a, perhaps surprise, appearance from Michele Stodart of The Magic Numbers contributing electric bass guitars and Ebow.
With songs about home, the environment, nature, inspirational women and social issues, it’s familiar territory, comprising a couple of covers alongside the self-penned material, the latter including two instrumentals. But familiarity doesn’t breed complacency, and the writing and performances here as every much as impassioned as any fledgling act looking to make an impressive debut.
It opens with a love letter to their home, ‘Colne Valley Hearts’, and the strength and fortitude it instils, the songs itself beginning with birth (“smacked me head coming out, made me rugged, shoulders broad. Ready to carry, ready to work”) as Belinda provides jittery piano accompaniment to Heidi’s vocals, the chorus refrain “cold hands, warm hearts lighting up the cut tonight” as much a defiant anthem of Northern pride as “the fog on the Tyne is all mine”.
From Huddersfield, the album expands to take in the bigger picture with the first of the socio-political numbers, the trumpet-streaked ‘Made In England’. Written in response to the worrying rise of UKIP a few years back, it draws as much on music hall as it does traditional folk it’s a ‘Ballad of Britain’ for “you everyone that inhabit dear old Albion”, a rejection of the UKIP view (and that of “Mosely’s henchmen” before them) that “foreigners are thieves and perves” who just “pile ‘em high and sell ‘em cheap”, and a celebration of multiculturalism “with me ruby murray, kebab in a hurry, fags and Becks from the corner shop, head to toe in Pradamark.”
Equally pointed, based on an old Sunday School hymn titled ‘Little Reapers’ and sung with starkly interwoven voices, sombre piano ballad ‘Reapers’ is in the voice of a child and initially appears to about innocents, leading lost souls to God, but, in the second verse takes on a darker hue that explains why it is dedicated to all children abused at the hands of the Church.
The abuse of children, in this case their forced migration to Commonwealth countries between 1869 and 1970, is at the heart of ‘The Dark Rolling Sea’. It’s actually a short piano instrumental that grew out of Tidow’s obsession with an instrumental passage in ‘Why Did I Leave Thee?’, a setting of a poem by child migrant Frederick Henderson, the duo set to music for last year’s Ballads Of Child Migration album. The other instrumental, a solo O’Hooley composition, is the simple but no less resonant title track, which, played on the Machynlleth Tabernacle Trust’s Steinway, she says reflects how playing piano helps express emotions she finds hard to verbalise.
It’s not all gloom. ‘Blankets’ may concern baby elephants orphaned by poachers or human-wildlife conflict (it’s inspired by the David Sheldrick Widlife Trust in Kenya), but its tremulously crooned, brass and piano slow waltz focuses on the brightly coloured blankets that give them comfort, safety and warmth. Likewise, turning to inspiring women, the uptempo ‘Beryl’ is a tribute to Beryl Burton, a Leeds cyclist who, despite chronic health problems, became a champion racing cyclist, the track taking an appropriately jaunty approach with the sort of breezy chorus Gracie Fields who have loved. This is followed by its companion piece, the piano tinkling ‘The Pixie’, another tribute (commissioned for the WWI commemoration event at 2014 Glastonbury), this time to Oxenham’s Daisy “Pixie” Daking, a dance teacher and member of the Cecil Sharp’s EFDS, who, in 1917, went to France as part of the YMCA to boost the war-weary troops’ morale by teaching them morris, sword, and country dancing, something she continued until 1919.
Of the album’s two covers, one is the strings-adorned ‘River’, Joni Mitchell’s Christmas-set bluesy regretful rumination on a lost relationship, a song they featured in last year’s winter shows in Marsden, while the other, the dreamy and rather lovely piano ballad ‘Small, Big Love’ was actually penned for them by Kathryn Williams and Graham Hardy to celebrate their wedding.
Which leaves ‘The Needle and the Hand’, a key track yet also the only number that doesn’t have an annotation in the lyric booklet. However, gradually swelling on drums and swirling strings, rhyming pewter and fuchsia and with lyrics that concern changing seasons, regeneration, tattooing – or rather beautilation – (it actually features the sound of a tattoo needle) and memory, it draws on Tidow’s own troubled childhood as seen through now adult eyes and concerns guilt, love, self-worth, self-discovery and embracing the fullness of life. These are shadows you really do want to lose and find yourself in.
Even before the final farewell tour begins Pandemonium –The Essential Bellowhead hits the streets just in time for Christmas lists everywhere. The tracks were reportedly selected by the band themselves and cover the band’s career from E.P.Onymous to Revival.
Bellowhead didn’t launch themselves in a big way back in 2008. There was one gig, then another and rumours of more. I heard them in the early days in a venue that just couldn’t cope with their power – the brass mics were off but, even so, if you were on their side of the auditorium that’s what you heard. Jon Boden was brilliant – a quivering tower of energy, spitting out his lyrics, but no-one could honestly have predicted how big they would become.
Pandemonium is a real party album. It kicks off, quite literally, with ‘New York Girls’ (scheduled to be the next single), ’10,000 Miles Away’ and ‘Roll Alabama’ before throttling back a little with ‘Fakenham Fair’. It’s still a big song but the arrangement allows space for fiddle, melodeon and Pete Flood’s unique percussion to stand out with Paul Sartin’s oboe leading the playout. ‘Gosport Nancy’ picks up the pace again. ‘Betsy Baker’ is nearest they come to a gentle love song and ‘Let Her Run’, ‘Roll The Woodpile Down’ and ‘Yarmouth Town’ return to the nautical themes they so enjoy.
‘Prickle-Eye Bush’ comes from their first EP and is, to be honest, a song that I think is much overdone but Bellowhead do it well, as you’d expect, with funky melodeon from John Spiers. ‘Whiskey Is The Life Of Man’ is another relatively minor song while ‘Cold Blows The Wind’ eschews the usual mournful tone for a more anarchic style before ‘London Town’ wraps up the proceedings. And that’s it – until the lost recordings and the box set appear!
Fresh from their victory as winners of the BBC Radio 2 Folk Award for Best Album, 11-piece folk super-group Bellowhead reveal their new video for their already incredibly successful single, Roll The Woodpile Down. It’s no secret that Bellowhead are one of the best live bands around (as their 5 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards for Best Live Band will attest) and this brand new video showcases the band in their element – live at a sell-out show in Glasgow.
Roll The Woodpile Down is the second single to be taken from the band’s new, Top 20, album Broadside. Vocalist, and arranger, Jon Boden explains a little more about the track:
This is a song I’ve known for ages – I think I first heard it sung in the pub in Durham where I used to hang out. I came up with the basic idea backstage in Birkenhead on the tour before last – I was a bit bored so started doing a bit of fiddle singing in the dressing room. It’s often just a little thing that’s gives you a door into an arrangement – with Woodpile it was adding an extra beat to the ‘Georgia Line’ so that you can get more vocal impact out of it. From there it was just a case of finding a second melody line to set against the song tune (this ended up being a simple oboe riff) and then putting it all together with the band. It’s been working really well live, particular since all the airplay on Radio 2 – people really know the chorus now!
Paul Johnson interviewed Jon Boden at the Broadside Album Launch back in October. If you missed it, you can click on the player below and have a listen…