Following on from last years EP, ‘Of Maids And Mariners’, Hertfordshire folk trio Jess Distill, Hannah Elizabeth and Kathy Pilkinton return with their much anticipated second album, Here’s A Health, another fine collection of traditional, self-penned and cover material that again spotlights their immaculate harmonies.
Variously playing violin, piano accordion, mandolin, flute, clarinet, whistles, electric bass and Appalachian mountain dulcimer, they’re also joined on a couple of tracks by Lukas Drinkwater and Chris Cleverley.
Following the brief a capella ‘Preamble’, an invitation to “come lift up your voices”, things get under way proper with the traditional ‘The Bird’s Courting Song’, a three-part seventeenth-century children’s nursery rhyme from the Appalachians that features Jess on flute and comes with a “towdy, owdy, di-do dum” chorus. Hannah provides the violin-driven tune for the waltzing ‘The Maid Of The Mill’, a traditional eighteenth-century ballad, supposedly about Mary Leonard, a Hertfordshire lass who spurned any number of admirers before finally marrying, the words penned by the local curate, one of the unsuccessful suitors, with Drinkwater on double bass.
The traditional seam continues to be mined with their arrangement of ‘Sweet William’s Ghost’, Jess providing the tune for this cut up lyric tale of a woman being visited by her lover’s ghost and being invited to share his grave, the vocals given a simple dulcimer backing.
Another nod to the trio’s playful nature, next up is an unaccompanied cover of Tom Paxton’s quirky children’s song, ‘Jennifer’s Rabbit’, then, again featuring Drinkwater, it’s back to the traditional meadow with another three-part harmony showcase in ‘The Bonnie Earl O’Moray’, a traditional Scottish ballad about the murder of James Stewart, the titular earl, by his arch rival, the Earl of Huntly, in 1592, supposedly because the former was accused of plotting against King James VI. Interestingly, the line about him being laid upon the green gave rise to the term Mondegreen, meaning a misheard song lyric that changes the meaning, on account of the American writer Sylvia Wright hearing it as ‘Lady Mondgreen’ and assuming it to be his lover.
The first of the original material comes with ‘Polly Can You Swim?’, co penned by Distill and Pilkington and featuring Andrew Simmons Elliott as the sailors chorus, a sprightly sea shanty rather at odds with its words about accounts of women being thrown overboard for fear of them placing curses on ships. Of course, testing by sink or swim was also applied to witches and, sure enough, it’s followed by Distill’s particularly grisly ‘Black Annis’ based on the Leicestershire legend of a child-eating witch told by parents to keep their kids in after dark, Jess taking lead against the harmonies and accompanied by a vocal drone.
Keeping things dark, piano accordion introduces the traditional American murder ballad, its drone complemented by dulcimer in an otherwise a capella reading of ‘In The Pines’ inspired by recordings by both Lead Belly and Nirvana before Hannah’s spare mandolin makes its appearance in the final stretch.
Spirits are suitably raised with a return to native soil and an unaccompanied version of the erotic euphemistic Norfolk reel ‘The Bird In The Bush’, otherwise known as ‘Three Maids A-Milking’, ahem, from whence comes the album title. Pilkington’s contribution to proceedings is ‘Take The Night’, a sprightly strummed acoustic and violin-coloured tale based on the legend of a Hertfordshire highwaywoman, Cleverley joining them on banjo, the album then closing with a fine unaccompanied take on Richard Farina’s ‘Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood’, learned at the request of the late Dave Swarbrick when they supported him in 2015.
Maybe it’s just the time of the year, but there’s a crispness and ambience to the album that conjures bracing winter mornings and nights around the fire, but really, this is an album for all seasons.
Once in a while a group of young musicians get together that make you stop, look and listen… Said The Maiden is one such gathering……
The great news for folk fans, live music lovers and aspiring musicians across the country, is that this multi award-winning Hertfordshire based folk trio have embarked on a 22 date UK tour and are about to release their second studio album.
Said The Maiden was awarded Bristol Folk Festival’s prestigious Isambard Folk Award in 2015, and in the same year were voted ‘Best Act’ by the audience at the Great British Folk Festival’s Introducing Stage, securing an appearance on the festival’s main stage in 2016.
2017 has seen further recognition for Said The Maiden including winning the 2017 Folking Awards ‘Rising Star’ prize, and an NMG Award nomination for best Acoustic, Country & Folk act.
Where there is a good story to be told, Said The Maiden will seek it out and tell it through their music. Their eagerly awaited second studio album, Here’s A Health, is a stunning collection of such stories: tales of love and loss, myths and legends of the land and sea, and of the unforgettable characters who feature throughout the captivating and fantastical stories that folklore has to offer.
The album showcases the trio’s ever-developing yet distinctive and unique sound, featuring their trademark soaring acapella harmonies and fresh new arrangements of traditional songs. However this new release also displays a more diverse collection of material from the trio including a few covers of more modern folk songs, as well as original compositions inspired by their love of the folk tradition. Expect intricate three-part harmonies both acapella and interweaved with beautiful simplistic instrumentation.
So here they are: the Folking Award winners of 2017.
First of all, a big thank you to everyone who voted – more than 20,000 votes were cast. Congratulations to the winners and commiserations to the runners-up, although all our nominees are winners to the writers who enjoyed their music, either live or on record, over the last year and placed them on the short list. Here are the public vote winners and now, may I have the first envelope please… no, not that one!
Soloist of the Year – Ralph McTell
Listen to the Darren Beech/ Paul Johnson interview with Ralph at Cropredy 2016 here
Best Duo – Show Of Hands
Read all about Show Of Hands’ Big Gig at the Royal Albert Hall here
Best Band – Harp And A Monkey
This was a very close vote but we’re delighted that Harp And A Monkey triumphed in the Best Band category even though they narrowly beat another of our favourites.
As before, there are no actual trophies to present (but if anyone would like to tender for making some in the future please let us know). However, everyone on the long lists and on the short lists as well as the winners can rejoice that they made an impression on a lot of people during 2016.
Have another great musical year!
The Folking team
If you would like to order a copy of an album (in CD or Vinyl) of any of the artists featured here, download an album or track or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then type what you are looking for in the search bar above to be taken to that relevant page via our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.
Welcome to the 2017 Folking Awards. Last year’s inaugural poll was such a success that we had to do it again. The nominations, in eight categories, come from our ever-expanding team of writers and were wrangled into shape with sweat, tears and not a little blood by the Folkmeister and the Editor.
There are five nominees in each category, all of whom have been featured in the pages of folking.com in 2016.
As with the format last year, all are winners in our eyes. However, its not just down to what we think, so again, there will be a public vote to decide the overall winner of each category.
Soloist Of The Year
Cathryn Craig & Brian Willoughby
Ange Hardy & Lukas Drinkwater
O’Hooley & Tidow
Show Of Hands
Afro Celt Sound System
Harp And A Monkey
Nancy Kerr and The Sweet Visitor Band
Best Live Act
The James Brothers
Robb Johnson and the My Best Regards Band
Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys
Mad Dog Mcrea
Tall Tales & Rumours – Luke Jackson Ballads Of The Broken Few – Seth Lakeman/Wildwood Kin Preternatural – Moulettes Somewhere Between – Steve Pledger Dodgy Bastards – Steeleye Span
Rising Star Act
The Brewer’s Daughter
Said The Maiden
Emily Mae Winters
Best International Act
The public vote closed Midday Saturday 22 April 2017 and the winners have now been announced HERE
If you would like to consider ordering a copy of an album for any of our award winners (in CD or Vinyl), download an album or track or just listen to snippets of selected songs (track previews are usually on the download page) then type what you are looking for in the search bar above.
Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us
His first new material since 2012 album Seven Songs, HENRY SPARKS releases the aptly titled Latest Waxing, an EP of five acoustic tracks sung in his distinctive swallowed vocals style. Incorporating lines from Blake’s poem, the tumbling ‘While We Were Building Jerusalem’, accompanied by Catriona Bryce on cello, sings of striving for a better life while, enveloped by fiddles, ‘If She Falls’ is a hymnal-sounding song of love and devotion. Again accompanied by cello, ‘So Like A Child’ is a slow waltzer lament for things lost, giving way to the unrequited love themes of ‘The Cowboy Song’ which, despite the title and featuring Alan Cook on pedal steel, sound quintessentially English in a Lilac Time sort of way. Accompanied by just sparse acoustic guitar, the last number is the moody, dark and leafy folk of ‘Migrant’, a timely musing on the hopes and fears of refugee in transit. He waxes eloquently. http://henrysparksmusic.co.uk/
The idea of singing Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’ a capella, slowed down with handclaps and percussion is just so far out but that is what SAID THE MAIDEN have done on their debut EP, Of Maids And Mariners. It is just such a great idea and it works. The lead track is an up-tempo version of ‘The Soldier And The Maid’ showing off Hannah Elizabeth’s fiddle playing and after ‘Jolene’ comes the Davenports’ ‘Spring Tide Rising’ featuring Kathy Pilkinton’s whistle and Jess Distill’s shruti. The first two tracks were produced by Stu Hanna and the latter two were recorded live. Said The Maiden will be huge before too long. www.saidthemaiden.co.uk
In celebration of Record Store Day 2016 Topic release a unique double A-side vinyl single. On top is a version of Booker T’s ‘Green Onions’ by MARTIN SIMPSON, ANDY CUTTING and TOM WRIGHT. Cutting takes the lead with Wright drumming and playing guitar lead. There’s a bass in there, too, although there is no indication who might be playing it. Underneath is SIMPSON CUTTING KERR with a specially recorded version of ‘Willie Taylor’ with Simpson on lead vocal and banjo. There is a distinctly transatlantic feel about this variant with a chorus that isn’t heard in English versions. Hedy West claimed it as an Anglo-American ballad but everyone seems to agree with enjoying the fact that the heroine was rewarded rather than punished for her action. www.topicrecords.co.uk
In support of the same event Fledg’ling release the latest of their replica EPs. English Songs Volume 2 features SHIRLEY COLLINS accompanied by Robin Hall. ‘Dance To Your Daddy’ carries none of the baggage that the last fifty-something years have added to it and doesn’t sound anywhere near as naive as you might expect. The version of ‘The Sperm Fishery’ is different from that on False True Lovers – no banjo, which only appears on ‘The Foolish Boy’. That track, together with ‘My Bonny Miner Lad’ seems rather slight by modern standards and the chorus of ‘The Foolish Boy’ is rather silly but all four tracks were recorded with a simple dignity that sometimes seems lost these days. The inner sleeve includes a vintage photograph of Alan Lomax And The Ramblers. www.fledglingrecords.co.uk
The idea of holding a folk festival in Skegness in December probably raised a few eyebrows when it was first mooted. The suggestion that it should be held at Butlin’s may have caused a pursing of lips but it makes perfect economic sense. The artists have a major venue and a captive audience to add to a winter tour and the camp and its staff gets extra use and revenue. There are two main venues, both are very large and both were packed on Friday evening.
Entering the Pleasure Dome, sorry, Skyline Pavilion trying to figure out where everything was it was nice to be greeted by the harmonies of Said The Maiden on the Introducing Stage – the third open venue in the middle of the pavilion. It was nearly the end of their set, unfortunately, but we stayed to hear Kings Of The South Seas before insinuating ourselves into the Centre Stage for False Lights. Live, they are less reliant on Jim Moray’s synth wizardry and proved themselves to be an exceptionally good folk-rock band in the classic style. They may prefer to think of themselves as mould breakers but they are actually doing what some bands seem to have forgotten how. Their attempt to perform ‘How Can I Keep From Singing’ without PA was not a success, however; the natural acoustics of the room are not as good as they believed.
At an event like this you can’t hear everything so I was now faced with a decision – Eliza Carthy And The Wayward Band or Billy Bragg? The fact that we now had decent seats settled it and we stayed put for the first half of Eliza’s set. Her twelve piece band are set to be the next Bellowhead (whatever anybody says) and are more than up to the task. As well as old favourites, including a “duelling fiddles” interlude with Sam Sweeney in ‘My Boy Billy’, there was a new song, ‘Devil In The Woman’, slated for their first studio album. Bragg called, however, and we arrived for what seemed like the mellow end of his set with ‘Levi Stubbs’ Tears’ and ‘Greetings To The New Brunette’. No! Amongst the polemic he sang ‘Between The Wars’, still powerful and relevant, and ‘There Is Power In A Union’. I reflected that the latter needs some revision with the unions battered down. We may discover that there is power in unity. ‘A New England’ wrapped up his set perfectly.
CC Smugglers followed with the sort of set that only a band as youthful as them could have the energy to play but shouldn’t have the chops to pull off. They have played so many gigs since I first saw them, even ones they weren’t invited to, and have become so tight and slick. Richie Prynne prowled his stage like a circus ringmaster, never still and rarely silent, cajoling and haranguing the audience, the songs and even his band-mates like a true showman. If the idea of the last set of the night was to wind the audience down then CC Smugglers were not the right choice.
The first and last time I heard Moulettes was at very uncomfortable gig and I was looking forward to hearing them in a nice chair. Actually, the best seating for the band is a bean bag with a lava lamp, joss-sticks and a guy dishing out small squares of blotting paper. Sadly the only mind-altering substance available was a pint of Hobgoblin. This was the final gig of the Constellations tour and Moulettes were also previewing their new album, Preternatural, with songs which, for want of more specific titles, we’ll call ‘Octopus’, ‘Nematode’ and ‘Behemoth’. I love the sound of the band, I love their instrumentation and their style but I really don’t know what they are about a lot of the time. “Surreal dreamscapes” were mentioned and I guess that’s about right.
I chatted to Ruth Skipper after the set to ask her impressions of the festival. It turned out that they had only just arrived and gone straight on stage, which accounted for some of the sound man’s problems. At their simplest Moulettes can be two guitars, bass and fiddle but at various times will be added electric cello, bassoon, autoharp, some meaty drums and keyboards and a balance that’s right for the beginning of a song may be wrong by the end. I did discover that the band were looking forward to the water-slide and hearing more music later which proves that I have no future as an investigative reporter.
Next up were Magna Carta. Chris Simpson on-stage is pretty much the same as Chris Simpson off-stage – he’s a raconteur, discursive and philosophical and Doug Morter is his perfect right hand man. Chris has surrounded himself with some very fine musicians but the set felt loose and the decision to give Morter a solo of one of his own songs seems questionable. Back on the firmer ground of The Fields Of Eden things were much more sure-footed and ‘Airport Song’ was a nice encore.
The queue for Tom Robinson curled twice round the pavilion and things were clearly running late so what might have been another difficult decision was made easier and we settled in to hear Sam Carter. He opened his set with ‘Yellow Sign’, the song he began with when I first heard him, and I was shocked to realise that that was six years ago. He has grown as an artist so much. Just when we were settling into the style of his own songs he switched to ‘The Wife Of Ushers Well’, which he sings with False Lights, and ‘Rocking The Cradle’. He played a superb set which showed the power of one man and his guitar. Sam was probably the highlight of the weekend for me.
We got back just in time to catch the end of Tom Robinson’s set so I did get to sing ‘2-4-6-8 Motorway’ again before The Unthanks appeared on the Centre Stage. With the full ten-piece band on stage it’s easy to overlook the contribution of Niopha Keegan to the group but her trumpet playing was the fondant icing on several songs. The technical problems rolled on so The Demon Barbers XL were thirty-five minutes late on stage, almost taking the gloss off their excellent set which began with traditional songs and ended as a dance display featuring hip-hop, interpretative dance and a fearsomely fast rapper. It’s quite disconcerting to see a stage bare of wires, mic stands and other clutter but they needed all the space they could get. I got to bed by 2.00 am, more or less – it was a long day.
By midday the pace was beginning to tell and the queues for the afternoon sessions were noticeably lighter and some people I spoke to were planning a power nap in preference to more music. No such luxury for your man on the spot.
TradArrr were excellent. They can really rock and with Marion Fleetwood on lead they can turn in a bittersweet ballad like ‘My Laggan Love’ or ‘Silver Dagger’. Between them they boast five lead vocalists, a full string quartet, a keyboard player who frequently added unexpected flourishes and two drummers, one of whom plays cornet. There were hints of high camp as PJ Wright planted a foot on the foldback and Guy Fletcher prowled the stage hunched over his mandolin but they restrained themselves well. It was then a choice between waiting for Jacqui McShee’s Pentangle or scurrying off to catch The Band From County Hell – sorry Jacqui.
The Band From County Hell are a Scots/Irish group from Lincolnshire and are huge fun – ‘The Day My Granny Died’ is a song everybody should hear at least once. They have been around for a quite a while, with six albums to their credit and it seems odd that they aren’t better known – although they don’t lack for support. The first notes played by Blazin’ Fiddles were on keyboard and guitar which is, I’m sure, their little joke. It’s not logical to find them restful but they are so tight and their music is so hypnotic. I promise that I didn’t nod off but I was definitely on a different plane of existence for a lot of their excellent set.
I returned to the Introduction Stage to hear Chris Cleverley whose debut album, Apparitions, I really like. His set, mixing traditional songs and his own compositions didn’t disappoint and he’s already working in new songs including ‘All I Want’ which will send me back to Joni Mitchell’s Blue as soon as time allows. I stayed for Polly And The Billets Doux, who won the day’s vote for a main stage slot next year, and The Black Feathers, who really needed a more sympathetic environment.
The Ric Sanders’ Trio have finally come out as a fun band with their new album and set of old blues, string band and swing numbers. It might be called the Vo Fletcher Trio since it is his guitar that forms the foundation and his voice that sings the songs but when the singing stops it is Ric’s flights of instrumental fancy that take their music to another place. The album is a lot of fun and their set reflected that. Then it was decision time again. I’d been told that Fotheringay would be playing the same set that they had toured all year “only better”. That was true but I missed the excitement of the earlier gigs when the band were still finding their way into, or back into, the music. Nevertheless, theirs was the set everyone wanted to hear.
Since they lost Messrs. Knight and Zorn I really wanted to hear what Steeleye Span would do. With two new musicians to induct the answer was to go back to first principles so ‘All Things Were Quite Silent’ was followed by ‘Blackleg Miner’ and ‘Weary Cutters’ was teamed with ‘New York Girls’ featuring Maddy Prior on ukulele. And they rocked. Julian Littman added a rap to ‘Boys Of Bedlam’ and Spud Sinclair played the sort of electric guitar that we haven’t heard in the band since Bob Johnson’s time. As a final touch they closed with an a capella version of Rick Kemp’s ‘Somewhere Along The Road’.
There is no getting away from the fact that playing the final set of a festival after Steeleye Span have gone off to rapturous applause is a daunting task but Folklaw threw themselves into it with energy and aplomb. Fiddler and songwriter Nick Gibbs was joined by Gaz Hunt on a minimalist drum kit, Martin Vogwell on bass and mandolin and Bryn Williams on guitar and bodhran – not to mention crossing the venue floor on the backs of chairs! They sent the crowd off exhausted but happy.
So does a December festival work once you get over the culture shock of rocking up at 5.00 pm on a Friday in the dark? This is still Skegness and with Storm Desmond blowing around us “bracing” just didn’t begin to describe it but when the wind dropped on Sunday it was mild and pleasant. The accommodation and facilities were excellent and the unsung stars of the weekend were the Butlin’s staff who were friendly and helpful and worked long hours. However, this was folk music adapting to Butlin’s not the other way round. The artists existed in a bubble of stage/backstage/ accommodation or arrived, performed and left and there were quite a few I would have liked to have spoken to so I apologise to them. A bulletin board for messages or to arrange meetings wouldn’t take much to set up and would be a big help, too. But, yes, it works and if you have considered going but not done so I can recommend it.