NAOMI BEDFORD & PAUL SIMMONDS – Singing It All Back Home (Dusty Willow Records DWR005)

Singing It All Back HomeIt has been my experience that any record with Naomi Bedford’s name on it is worth listening to and adding Paul Simmonds to the mix practically makes it mandatory. With Singing It All Back Home they turn their back on their customary songwriting and present a set of Appalachian songs with roots in English and Scottish traditional songs. Despite their southern English backgrounds, Naomi and Paul sound authentically American particularly when they hit their harmonies.

Alone, they are just two voices and acoustic guitar but here they’ve assembled a cast of musicians who work together seamlessly well. Dan Stewart and Ben Walker, who co-produced the album, play banjo because you can’t have an Appalachian album without banjo and Ben also plays guitar and mandolin. Ben Paley plays fiddle, Rory McLeod adds harmonica and Lisa Knapp supplies hammered dulcimer. All of this comes over the engine room of Rhys Lovell’s bass and Billy Abbot’s drums and percussion.

The first few titles are the less familiar ones – Naomi and Paul have delved deep into the archives – but from the first notes you know what these songs are and where they are from. The first, ‘I Must And I Will Be Married’, begins in a Celtic style but when Walker’s slide guitar comes in you know that you’ve crossed the Atlantic. The melody of ‘The Fateful Blow’ sounds vaguely like ‘Johnny Todd’ but not quite and ‘A Rich Irish Lady’ surfaced later as the better-known ‘Pretty Saro’.

The first well-known track is a raucous ‘Hangman’ (‘Prickle-Eye Bush’ or ‘Gallows Pole’ if you prefer) and ‘Matty Groves’ needs no introduction but here there are rarely sung verses and variations I haven’t heard before. ‘The Sheffield Apprentice’ isn’t a song I expected to find here but I should have known that Hedy West recorded back in the 60s. Finally we have ‘The Foggy Dew’, a song well-known on both sides of the water.

If I must be critical, I would have liked notes about the origins of these versions. Not only is Singing It All Back Home a very enjoyable album, and it can be listened to on that basis, but also an important collection, particularly for someone like me – by no means a scholar but with a more than passing interest in the history of the songs.

Dai Jeffries

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Artists’ website: www.naomibedfordandpaulsimmonds.bandcamp.com/

‘Who’s That Knocking’:

Naomi Bedford and Paul Simmonds announce new album of Appalachian songs

Naomi Bedford and Paul Smmonds

The Appalachian ballad form has been liberally sprinkled throughout Naomi Bedford and Paul Simmonds’ albums to date. For the next project, they have recorded a full set of songs with English and Scottish roots entitled Singing It All Back Home.

This is no museum piece. In keeping with the folk tradition, the songs have been revised and re invigorated whilst staying true to the heart of the stories.

The project began with a very simple premise; to rediscover, explore and celebrate the ballads that had been such a strong influence throughout Bedford’s childhood. It’s only the most vital works that can survive nearly three centuries as living, still valid pieces and the Appalachian ballads are certainly that.

Greatly aided by the marvellous Shirley Collins, who generously donated her time, encouragement and research materials, and by Folk Award winner Ben Walker on production and multi instrumental duties, the material was chosen, rehearsed and recorded live in the summer and autumn of 2018 in Brighton. With a cast that also included Justin Currie, Rory McLeod and Lisa Knapp, the album moulds influences from England, Scotland and South East USA to stir the great melting pot of folk and roots styles.

Launching officially at home of folk music Cecil Sharp House in London on June 6th, the project will then tour throughout the UK in 2019. With new arrangements and the power of Bedford’s evocative voice, these legendary songs continue their transatlantic voyage.

‘A partnership that is complementary in every respect’ Songlines Magazine

‘Easy to get besotted with’ Froots Magazine

‘Thrills, soothes and haunts in equal measure’ Uncut Magazine

Artists’ website: www.naomibedford.com

‘I Must And I Will Be Married’ live:

ROBB JOHNSON – Ordinary Giants (Irregular IRR223)

Ordinary GiantsAt first glance Ordinary Giants seems like a sequel to Robb Johnson’s wonderful Gentle Men but it isn’t. It’s more of a companion piece; there is no formal spoken narrative – Robb won’t spoon-feed us, although he helps us along here and there – and the album encompasses the last hundred years of British history interleaved with the story of his family and in particular his father, Ron Johnson. It’s rather like an audio advent calendar with each track displaying a snapshot of a moment in time. This is a triple-CD set with a book so it isn’t something you can rush through nor, I suspect, will anyone listen to it in a single sitting.

Although the songs are arranged with a light touch there is a big supporting cast; among them Roy Bailey, Matthew Crampton, Rory McLeod, Phil Odgers, Tom Robinson, Miranda Sykes as the main female voice, Boff Whalley, four community choirs, Frances O’Grady and Dennis Skinner. Robb wrote nearly all the songs – there’s a traditional tune, a couple of borrowed melodies and the assistance of Robinson on ‘Holding Hands With Hitler’. He succeeds in capturing the style of each period, particularly in the first part, covering the years 1918 to 1939 and puts the most appalling words in the mouth of Adam Clayson as the Mosley-supporting Major Utterswine. The problem is that the same words reappear in the third part covering the period from 1970 to the present day.

Inevitably, Ordinary Giants, is a very political record; you’d expect nothing less from Robb, but the politics are embedded in the words of ordinary people and often creep up on you when you’re not expecting them. The first ‘Lou’, one of Frances O’Grady’s three spoken word pieces is a perfect example, starting innocently enough but ending in verbal conflict. There are causes close the Robb’s heart such as ‘Craven Vale Hall’, dated 1958 and celebrating the building of the first post-war care homes.

The final tracks of the second disc and all of the third can be quite painful because Robb’s view is that things haven’t changed that much and it’s hard to argue with him. The songs are peppered with political slogans and he makes his points with humour and sharp insights in songs like ‘Goalkeepers’ and ‘Who Buggered Bognor?’ but beneath that is the realisation that we’re still fighting the same battles in whatever guises they appear.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: http://www.robbjohnson.co.uk/

There are no videos from this album yet so we’ll have to make do with this:

Folking.com’s favourite Radio 2 moment…

The Radio 2 Folk Awards are chosen and voted for by a panel of professionals (broadcasters, promoters, festival organisers and record companies) who all work in the world of folk, acoustic and roots music. These people (now in their hundreds) are asked to nominate and vote for the people that they consider to have produced and performed the most outstanding work during the past 12 months.

For folking.com the 2002 Folk Awards was a haven for such music. It not only celebrated the pioneers of the genre but also gave birth to something very special, a new energised passion for the music and a new set of ambassadors for the tradition.

Many of the artists that pioneered the folk-culture movement in the early “noughties” were in the room on the night of 11 February 2002. There were performances from Eliza Carthy and Cerys Matthews. “The Barnsley Nightingale,” Kate Rusby, performed “Who Will Sing Me Lullabies” which she had written for the late, great singer-songwriter Davy Steel. Martin Simpson’sThe Bramble Briar”, (in my opinion one of the greatest folk albums of all time), was awarded “Best Album”. Arguably the greatest ambassador of the tradition, Martin Carthy, was awarded “Folk Singer of the Year” and the icing on the cake was having him accompany Martin Simpson on his live version of the much-missed Cyril Tawney’s classic “Sammy’s Bar”. The award for Best Group was such a close run thing that year, that either Show of Hands, Old Blind Dogs or Tarras could have pipped Cherish the Ladies to the number-one spot post. The “Guv’nor,” Ashley Hutchings, presented Nettlebed Folk Club with the “Good Tradition Award and Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull presented the “fabulous, fruity, funky, fecund, Fairport 5Fairport Convention, with a “Lifetime Achievement Award”. Best Live Act went to the rambling, constantly-touring inspiration that is Rory McLeod.

Willy Russell presented Ralph McTell, (in my view, one of the finest singer-song writer of all time), with the second of the night’s “Lifetime Achievement Award”. Jim Moir, the man that cared enough to put the money and passion behind the Folk Awards idea in the first place and the man that presided over the format and programming of Radio 2 at the turn of the century to make it the most listened to Radio Show in the country, awarded The ChieftainsIrelands Musical Ambassadors” with, the third of the night’s  “Lifetime Achievement Award”. I clearly remember the first words Jim said when he came out on stage “What an evening”. It certainly was Jim!

Out of all of the live acts mentioned above, any of them could have been chosen as a classic performance. However, I have chosen Cara Dillon’s “Black is the Colour” as my favourite of the night.

For folking.com, this performance represented the beginning of this exciting new change in folk music, as it was the first time in years that a folk artist and a traditional folk song were taking pride of place on the Radio 2 playlist. Johnny Walker, who presented Cara with the award for “Best Traditional Track”, summed it up perfectly by saying that “Cara had the courage to resist corporate pressure to commercialise her music and change it to try and get it to a wider audience and instead the audience has come to her”. This was an important point which could be cited as one of the fundamental reasons why the music is so strong today. A certain pre-Mercury Music prize nominee, Seth Lakemen (now truly an ambassador in his own right), accompanied Cara on backing vocals. The whole piece was woven together beautifully by the piano arrangements written and performed by Seth’s brother, Sam Lakeman. Darren Beech – June 2011

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VARIOUS ARTISTS – All Along The Wall (Fellside Recordings FECD236)

VARIOUS ARTISTS – All Along The Wall (Fellside Recordings FECD236)Hadrian’s Wall for many conjures images of the Romans in Britain and to celebrate this iconic image, the Brampton Live festival commissioned this recording utilising a selection of some of the UK’s leading ‘folk’ singer-songwriters, poets and performers.

A quick check of the artists reveals a who’s who and will bring, I’m certain, a smile to anyone who considers themselves a fan of current ‘UK folk’ culture. Therefore we have the collective talents of Jez Lowe, Boo Hewerdine, Kate Fox, Elvis McGonagall, Ruth Notman, Rory McLeod, Julie Matthews and Kate Bramley. With a cohesive mix of stories, ballads and social commentaries the recording moves along at a fair pace and the sense of enjoyment that comes from a ‘live’ performance is conveyed to the listener by the artists enthusiasm in bringing this project successfully together.

Out of so many good tracks to choose from I’d say worthy of your attention are the haunting Lowe penned “Haltwhistle Women”, Notman’s “Lizzie Batey” and Hewerdine’s “The Wrong Side Of The Wall”. The recording, crisply engineered by Paul Adams aided and abetted by his son Richard must have proved a logistical nightmare but ultimately a rewarding experience. With twenty-three tracks to choose from this recording is a must purchase album and will stand proudly in the ‘various artists’ collection of any self-respecting ‘folk’ enthusiast. PETE FYFE

Please support us and order via our UK or US Storefront 


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Artist’s website: www.fellside.com