TOBIAH – Are We Angels (Star Music)

Are We AngelsAre We Angels is the first album to be released by Tobiah since Step Up in 2011.  Words like ethereal come to mind and many of the songs would not be out of place in musicals, as they do have a theatrical feel to them with lush orchestration backing Tobiah’s clear and beautiful vocals.

The title track is a song that sums up the album, being both about relationships and how music can be used to heal or express the world.  From the sleeve notes accompanying the album we discover that Tobiah lost her husband whilst still in her twenties, after just a few years of marriage, and it was the random acts of kindness from often complete strangers that helped her through those difficult times.  We can all be angels on occasions, is the message, and it’s the small things that count.  As she says “My songs are very visual, about experiences in my life or a story that has caught my imagination.  Lyrics are important – I could never write a song that didn’t move me”.

The opening track ‘Kiss Kiss’ could easily be one of the songs from a show I mentioned earlier.  It’s a love song about all those special moments in a relationship with the most special moment being the kiss because “nothing is better than that, nothing is more special than that”.  It’s a very moving piece that gives the warm, fuzzy feeling of a true love song.

Selecting tracks to mention in this review, from the nine on offer, has proven difficult because the standard is very high throughout but I will mention ‘Ancient Church’, inspired by an old stone church near Tobiah’s home.  Sitting in it she began to think about those who’d come before and had perhaps found comfort and inner peace in it’s age and stability through bad times and good.

I also have to mention ‘Apples – The Long Goodbye’ which originally started  as a song about the changes of the season but became a song about Tobiah’s mother who is in the final stages of dementia.  Despite the subject this isn’t a depressing song at all.  Time passes and fortune or fate can give both the bounty of an apple harvest or the slow passing of a loved one.  It’s all part of the world we live in and music such as this can reach out to people to help them make sense of that.

I was attracted to this album the first time I heard it and many plays later I still find it both beautiful and moving.  It’s an album for those times when you want to just pull back and spend some time in quiet and contemplation.  When the world starts to get get a little too much this is the one to play and  recharge the batteries, as so many of the feelings within it are ones we’ve encountered but can have problems expressing.  It’s a reminder we’re not alone and life goes on.

I’ve mentioned Tobiah’s strong vocal ability but adding immensely to the album are the musicians she has chosen to work with, who interpret her music with great style and sensitivity; Caroline Lavelle (cello), Colette O’Leary (piano accordion), Rowan Piggott (fiddle), Simon Callow (keyboards/percussion) and Kenneth Hope (piano).

The album will be launched on 10th May and will be available on both iTunes and Spotify.  There are also physical CDs but no details as yet of how to order.  All profits from the album will go to the charity Animals Asia, which Tobiah has been supporting for several year, having previous released a single ‘Moon Bear’ on their behalf.

Tony Birch

 Artist’s website: https://www.tobiah.co.uk/

‘Moon Bear’:

Rowan Piggott talks about the Songhive project

Rowan Piggott

Songhive is a folksong project concerned with raising awareness of the current plight of the bees, but now it’s time to raise some money as well! We are soon to release a compilation album of Beelore and Folksong in the British Isles, all the proceeds of which will go to The Bee Cause. The following questions were answered by Rowan Piggott, the project founder.

Tell us a little about the project? Why bees?

Bees are responsible for 80% of pollination in the UK, are essential to biodiversity, and ultimately the future of humanity. Despite all this, we continue to obliterate the pollenrich plants they depend on, and our governments insist on legalising pesticides that do them harm.

Folk music has long been fraught with political dissent and attended by social change; perhaps this collection will serve to highlight how the decline of bees has entered the public consciousness. Here isn’t the place to wax lyrical, but hopefully this small project can raise some money for our friends; “the little musicians of the world”… (The King & The Hermit, 10th c. Irish Verse).

How did it start?

The project began as I noticed more and more folk artists including songs and tunes in their sets which referenced the bees… it seemed to me that almost every album I bought in the last year has had some mention of them. Who’s to say whether this was a result of the stories that reached mainstream media or the fact that folkies are generally more interested in conservation, but either way, a pattern emerged! For all the ages of man, bees have been revered & respected: honey was the nectar of the gods, bees were thought to carry human souls, every culture had important bee gods and traditions… to reach a time when we care about them so little that we’re not worried about them becoming extinct is dreadful.

You were awarded a creative bursary by EFDSS for your writing on the project?

It was great to have the backing of EFDSS and really helped give us the resources to write new material! You can hear a couple of my original songs on the compilation album (Queen & Country and Soul Wake Dirge) and I actually collaborated on nine of the eleven tracks, whether writing lyrics, playing fiddle or singing harmonies. It’s been a very exciting project to be part of and I’m looking forward to debuting some of the songs live at a gig at Cecil Sharp House on 6th June.

The Songhive Album

With tracks from Nancy Kerr, The Rheingans Sisters, Rosie Hodgson, Nick Burbridge, The Georgia Lewis Trio, Ray Chandler, Duo Keryda, The Hivemind Choir (a scratch choir put together through social media for a mournful choral contribution) and of course, project founder Rowan Piggott, it looks to be a varied and musically exciting selection from all corners of the folk scene.

Project Website: www.songhive.co.uk

English Folk Dance and Song Society awards funding for new music

Creative Bursary

Seven projects will create new music rooted in the English folk tradition following the latest round of funding awards by England’s national development agency for the folk arts.

The English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) has made four awards under its 2017 Creative Bursary scheme and three through its Creative Seed Funding programme.

Both initiatives are funded through the PRS for Music Foundation Talent Development Partner scheme. They come under the umbrella of EFDSS’ Artists’ Development Programme, which provides professional development support, both creative and business, to artists at all levels of their career.

Katy Spicer, EFDSS Chief Executive and Artistic Director, said: “All the successful applications are rooted in the folk arts but will bring a fresh take on their subject matter.

“By its very nature, folk music has always evolved and reflected the issues of its generation and these awards will help to develop some very innovative and relevant proposals. We look forward to supporting and working with the artists as their ideas take shape.

“Our bursary and funding schemes are designed to kickstart projects, giving the recipients time to bring their ideas to life. A great example is Sam Sweeney’s Made in the Great War music and storytelling project which began thanks to an EFDSS Creative Bursary.”

The Creative Bursary scheme invited applications from more established artists for an award of up to £2,000 to support creative research and development, together with use of rehearsal space at Cecil Sharp House and access to the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. They have been made to:

·       Alex Vann (Spiro) to create an instrumental concert trio using traditional English tunes as the basis for improvisation where each performance is one piece of improvised music using traditional tunes as the cornerstones

·       Tom Moore and Archie Churchill-Moss (Moore Moss Rutter) to develop and produce an album of new art-music based compositions and devised improvisations with their roots in local English folk tune traditions

·       Alma (John Dipper, Emily Askew & Adrian Lever) and Nick Hennessey to devise a new multi media experience including lighting, data projectors and other technology to enhance the performance and build bridges between inherited traditions and modern media experiences

·       Fiddler Rowan Piggott to explore traditional and contemporary folk songs highlighting the decline and environmental threats to our native honeybee and bumblebees.

The Creative Seed Funding Programme was open to emerging artists and involves a £750 bursary to research and develop new work linked to the English folk arts. The awards have been made to:

·       Emily Mae Winters to research, record and tour new songs dealing with modern socio-political issues including the movement of people, feminism, fake news, global warming, war and social media

·       Heg Brignall (Heg & The Wolf Chorus) to research new material based on modern day myths or myths and legends that have found their way back into our culture, leading to a single/EP release and finished studio album in 2018

·       India Electric Company to research, write, record and release the second in a series of releases for 2017 with the theme of country and the city on a six track EP/album.

More information: https://www.efdss.org

ROSIE HODGSON – Rise Aurora (own label)

rise auroraI’ll get straight to the point.  Rosie Hodgson’s Rise Aurora is an absolute gem of an album and I will probably not be the first reviewer to say you will want to listen to it over and over again.  It’s full of beautiful music with seven of the twelve tracks being written by Rosie herself and the rest being either traditional folk songs or works by Burns and Kipling.

Rosie Hodgson released an EP Somewhere North in 2012 and was a finalist in the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award in 2013 but is probably best know as the lead singer with Crossharbour who are a London based Irish band, even though she comes from West Sussex and is a Morris dancer. On this album she teams up with Rowan Piggott, an Irish fiddle player who is also classically trained and a chorister.  From that you can assume that quality is going to be core to the music and you would not be mistaken.

Rosie’s songs revolve around ordinary individuals, which is what folk music is about, and two of them relate to her own family.  The title track ‘Aurora Rising’ is based around her Grandfather’s home town of Cromer in Norfolk.  Fishing was the main industry with all the hardships and dangers that brings, not least for the families left ashore hoping the men will come back again.

On an album this good it’s difficult to pick the stand out tracks but ‘Hetty’s Waltz’ deserves mention.  This is a song for Rosie’s Grandma and Grandfather who fell in love on a bus and enjoyed dancing all their lives.  It’s beautiful and showcases both Rosie’s crystal clear voice and Rowan’s delicate accompaniment.  Both artists have good voices and are more than capable of singing a capella, as they show on a excellent arrangement  of Robbie Burn’s ‘Westlin Winds’.

The album is well produced and Rosie’s precise enunciation means there is no need for the lyrics to be written down.  Instead the background to each song is given, again following that folk tradition of explaining why a song exists.

Final mention must go to the last song, ‘Liverpool Lullaby’, written by Rosie when she was just fourteen.  What’s remarkable about that, apart from it being another beautiful song, is that is now ten years old.  Rosie is only twenty-four!  There is a very long and bright future dawning.

The album was released on December 1st and is available through the artist’s website as either a CD or download.

Tony Birch

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 Artist’s website: http://www.rosiehodgson.com/

‘Rise Aurora’ – live: