SAM LEE – Old Wow (Cooking Vinyl COOKCD743)

Old WowIt’s hard to credit that Old Wow is only Sam Lee’s third album. It seems that he’s been around forever, done so much and already had such an impact on the British folk scene. The album is inspired by Sam’s other consuming passion, the natural world, and there are plenty of bucolic songs about the mythical rural idyll. These are not necessarily those songs but I do detect a pattern. The ten tracks are divided into three sections, heart, hearth and earth and it seems that the first song in each group fits the rural theme – after that you’re on your own.

The opening track, the first of the heart set is ‘The Garden Of England’ which used to be ‘The Seeds Of Love’ until Sam started work on it. It provides the album’s title, which is Sam’s reaction to nature, particularly after a close encounter with a buzzard. So far, so straightforward. Next is ‘Lay This Body Down’, followed by ‘The Moon Shines Bright’. Well, death is natural. Completing the section is ‘Soul Cake’ and Sam confuses us by beginning the song with ‘Green Grow The Rushes O’. Soul cakes were traditionally baked for Halloween and now the traditional children’s song takes on a more sinister aspect.

I’m sure that you’re familiar with Sam’s arranging style and he doesn’t stray much from it on Old Wow. At the heart of the record are piano, bass and percussion with cello on two tracks plus Hardanger fiddle and, for the first time, electric guitar played by producer Bernard Butler.

Hearth begins with ‘Spencer The Rover’ but returns to tragedy with a song I hadn’t heard before, ‘Jasper Sea’, a tale of a father and son drowning. ‘Sweet Sixteen’ doesn’t get any jollier. The opening of the earth section with ‘Turtle Dove’ is symbolic of Sam’s preoccupations. He has spoken about the decline of these birds before and the words of betrayal that he adds to the song are not for the girl being left behind. ‘Worthy Wood’ and ‘Balnafanen’ are both laments and Sam incorporates into the latter parts of ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ as he does with ‘Lay This Body Down’.

Old Wow is a complex album – all of Sam’s are. It carries its own darkness and, although it is inspired by nature you will search in vain for shepherdesses and jolly ploughboys. It will grip you, however.

Dai Jeffries

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

‘Lay This Body Down’ – official video:

Sam Lee announces new album, Old Wow

Sam Lee

Sam Lee plays a unique role in the British music scene. He is a multi award-winning singer with a rich and soulful voice, a committed folk song collector and a successful promoter of imaginative live events. With training in visual art and contemporary dance, Sam has presented acclaimed radio documentaries and appeared on stages around the globe. And if all that wasn’t enough, Sam Lee is also a passionate conservationist and highly effective environmental campaigner. This is seen through his work with Extinction Rebellion, Music Declares Emergency and the recent RSPB campaign, Let Nature Sing, where Sam helped get 3 minutes of birdsong into the UK Top 20 charts for the first time.

Sam Lee’s 3rd album, Old Wow, his first for respected indie label, Cooking Vinyl, is due for release on 31st January 2020. The album will be accompanied by his most comprehensive UK tour to date (including his debut show at Celtic Connections 29th January 2020). As with Sam’s previous albums (Mercury Music Prize nominated/Arts Foundation Award-winning, Ground Of Its Own, 2012, followed in 2015 by the equally acclaimed, The Fade in Time), this latest album looks set to surprise, challenge and inspire.

Old Wow was recorded at RAK Studios and Studio 355 in London and is produced by Bernard Butler (Suede, MacAlmont & Butler) who also contributes electric guitar, an instrument Sam has never recorded with before. “It’s played so beautifully and sensitively here that you wouldn’t necessarily know it was an electric guitar at all!”. A remarkable and rare guest vocal is provided by Elizabeth Fraser (Cocteau Twins) with Caoimhin O Raghallaigh of the acclaimed band, The Gloaming, joining on Hardanger violin. Matthew Barley provides cello on two songs. There are also beautiful harmonies provided by Cosmo Sheldrake and spoken-word poet, Dizraeli. A dazzling supporting cast of musicians features: James Keay on piano, Misha Mullov-Abbado on bass and on percussion, Josh Green. Bucolic front cover artwork is provided by Alex Merry (Boss Morris – and designer for Gucci).

Old Wow is an album devoted to the natural world; a commitment that has dominated Sam’s heart and non-musical practice for more years than he has been singing. It’s an album about our complicated relationship with planet earth but also, about the impact that ecological crisis has on our sense of self and the place we call home. The title came to Sam during a journey in the wilds of Scotland, where he had gone to reconnect with nature. While alone on a mountainside, a buzzard suddenly swooped down and screamed right over his head. Sam felt he was ‘receiving a message, telling me to listen properly and pay attention and the name Old Wow surfaced. I use “Old Wow” to describe that sense of wonder and magic that can, if listened to deeply enough, animate nature very powerfully. It also describes those experiences which exist beyond the natural realm which are often described in our folk songs.’

On Old Wow, this highly accomplished and pioneering singer has created a timeless bridge; ‘music that simultaneously looks back into the past and ahead to the future’. It also provides a moving and “urgent cry to help inspire us all to fall back in love with the natural world that we might strengthen our resolve to protect her”.

Artist’s website: http://samleesong.co.uk

‘The Moon Shines Bright’ – in the studio:

Video Wall 12

Welcome to our final Video Wall of the year which also affords us a peek into 2020. With that in mind we begin with SAM LEE and ‘The Garden Of England’ which is from his new album Old Wow, released next month.

Another track from an album on 2020’s releases schedules.  Here’s ‘Botany Bay’ by ANTOINE & OWENA from their album Something Out Of Nothing which is due for release in March.

We won’t apologise if you’ve seen this before because anything by BEANS ON TOAST is worth watching at least three times. This is ‘On And On’.

FERRIS & SYLVESTER wind up their year with a single, ‘I Dare You’. If you’re lucky enough to live in mainland Europe you can catch them on tour in the spring.

Toronto duo The Cassidys recently released their debut album, Tula. This is the second single to be taken from it, ‘Cannonball’.

JOE ASTLEY released this single a couple of weeks ago. It’s called ‘Revolution Postponed’ which is horribly true.

We’ve searched high and low for a video from ROBB JOHNSON‘s brilliant new album, Eurotopia, which we will be reviewing in the new year but he’s playing his cards close to his chest at the moment. In the meantime, here’s a song he’s recently uploaded, ‘The Playing Fields Of Eton’.

‘Could Have Been You’ is a single from the EP Hear My Voice by PIERS FACCINI.

Finally something for Christmas. ‘Cry Back Moon’ has just been released to subscribers only by TALITHA RISE so please don’t tell anyone that we’ve posted it or we’ll all be in terrible trouble.

Topic Records celebrates its first 80 years

Vision & Revision: The First 80 Years of Topic Records

Vision & Revision: The First 80 Years of Topic Records is a deluxe double CD and double vinyl of the cream of contemporary British folk artists interpreting a song of their choice from Topic’s vast back catalogue (the only stipulation being that the song was at some time released on Topic). It includes newly recorded and never-before-released tracks by Martin Simpson, Richard Thompson, Lankum, Peggy Seeger, John Smith, Sam Lee, Martin Carthy, Olivia Chaney, Lisa O’Neill, Oysterband, Nancy Kerr, Chris Wood, Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker, Lisa Knapp, Kitty Macfarlane, Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys, Emily Portman & Rob Harbron, Rachael McShane & The Cartographers, Eliza Carthy & Olivia Chaney and The Oldham Tinkers. These artists have delved deep into Topic’s treasure chest to pull out all manner and variety of ballads and broadsides and breathed new life into them.

With its origins in the Workers’ Music Association, through the mid-20th century folk revival to the present day, Topic Records has established itself as not only the pre-eminent British folk music label, but one widely respected throughout the world. Topic has survived, grown and flourished – proof, if any were needed, that “grass roots” interest in traditional music, the artists and the label itself, has remained constant and strong. Topic has released some of the most influential folk recordings of modern times by a host of revered artists, from Anne Briggs to Peggy Seeger to June Tabor to Ewan MacColl and many, many more.

For 80 years, Topic Records has been a fervent and consistent champion of “the people’s music”. During that time, it has withstood wars, shortages, austerity, economic disaster, the vagaries of fashion, corporate onslaught and various cataclysmic shifts in the fortunes of the recording industry, to retain its proud and distinctively individual role as a beacon of integrity and true values. This fortitude has resulted in its unquestionable claim for being the oldest, surviving truly independent record label in the world.

“Folk music never goes away. You may not hear it, but it is always there, just over your cultural horizon. It lives in families, in communities, in the villages and towns and cities, and in the hearts of the people. Each generation takes what it needs and gives what it can to the tradition, each wave of newcomers turning another furrow, sowing new seeds. For eighty years, Topic Records has played a major role in this process, ensuring the old voices are still audible and creating a space for those that hear them to make new recordings of their own. Formats come and go, but like the music, Topic endures. Long may it do so.” – Billy Bragg

This 20-track double album comes in CD and vinyl gatefold formats, both housed in a special deluxe, debossed, silver foil-blocked sleeve. The vinyl issue is limited to 1000 copies only. A digital version of the album is also available.

Vision & Revision: The First 80 Years of Topic Records will be released on May 31st 2019.

Label website: www.topicrecords.co.uk

You Are Wolf announces her second album

You Are Wolf
Photograph by Dannie Price

You Are Wolf is the alt-folk project of award-winning composer and vocalist Kerry Andrew. Releasing her second album Keld in March, it is the follow-up to her 2014 debut Hawk To The Hunting Gone, a record that explored British birds and folklore. Now working as a trio with multi-instrumentalist Sam Hall and percussionist Peter Ashwell, Keld – an old Northern English word meaning “the deep, still, smooth part of a river” – is an album that explores and develops the theme of freshwater. Wild swimming is a key passion and inspiration of hers, and she can often be found dipping into lochs, lakes, rivers and the sea in all weathers. Though there are countless traditional songs about the sea, there are less about our inland waterways, and Kerry decided to use this as a challenge: to source traditional material and write originals all inspired by freshwater folklore.

It was an aim of Kerry’s to find songs that featured an array of strong female characters, and Keld includes traditional songs about waterfall banshees, killer female water sprites, drowning boys and powerful witches. Original songs are inspired by wild swimming, vengeful rivers, nymphs and naiads, and even an Anglo-Saxon charm. You Are Wolf brings these ancient songs and stories into the present, with bold arrangements inspired by leftfield pop, new classical music and electronica.

The album is produced by MaJiker, best known for his work on French alt-pop queen Camille’s Victoire-winning albums. He has also remixed / worked with Fever Ray, Nitin Sahwney and Gaggle, and brings an experimental pop sensibility to the album. Where Hawk To The Hunting Gone was heavily vocal, with lots of vocal looping – inspired by the likes of Camille, Bobby Mcferrin, Meredith Monk and tUnE-yArDs – Keld is more expansive. With a wider palate of sounds including drums, ‘cello, vibraphone, trumpet, found sounds and field recordings, it’s an album that not only draws from innovative contemporary folk artists including Lisa Knapp (who features here on “The Weeper”), Sam Lee and The Unthanks, but also by music outside the folk sphere: everything from minimalist composer Steve Reich to PJ Harvey, traditional Central African Pygmy music and Julia Holter. The brilliant poet Robin Robertson also appears.

You Are Wolf is a regular on Radio 3’s The Verb and performed her debut short story with music on BBC Radio 4’s Stories From Songwriters series. Elsewhere, as Kerry Andrew, she is a composer of experimental vocal music and choral music, has a PhD in Composition and is the winner of four British Composer Awards. Kerry has written for The Guardian and is an occasional presenter on BBC Radio 3. Her debut novel, Swansong, based on a folk ballad, is published by Jonathan Cape on January 25th 2018. The novel has been praised by Robert Macfarlane as “spiky, strange and contemporary, but always with a dark undertow of myth and folklore tugging at its telling” and by folk legend Shirley Collins as “a subtle, supernatural tale told in a present-day voice.”

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

‘All Things Are Quite Silent’ – live:

VARIOUS – From Here: English Folk Field Recordings (From Here Sitw005)

From HereThey may be newcomers to the scene, but Stick In The Wheel are certainly making their mark, not just with their own recordings and associated artifacts, but in their involvement with the folk world in general, and the traditional in particular.

Band members Ian Carter and Nicola Kearey serve as curators, collaborators and producers for this collection of new live recordings by both the great and good and some of the lesser known luminaries in the genre. The remit for those involved was to record songs that explored either place or their musical identity, culminating in a gathering of field recordings captured in locations as diverse as a stone cottage in Edale, a bank vault and a garden at Robin Hood’s Bay using just two stereo microphones and with no subsequent overdubs.

As you would imagine, the tracks are stark and raw, first up being ‘Bedfordshire May Carol’, chosen by performer Jack Sharp, leader of psych-folk outfit Wolf People, as it supposedly originated just a few miles from where he grew up. Next up, Eliza Carthy leads a flurry of more familiar names with a self-penned number, ‘The Sea’, a new setting of the broadside ballad found in Manchester’s Chetham Library and featuring on her current album, the initial pizzicato fiddle giving way to more robust playing. She’s followed by one of the veterans of English folk, John Kirkpatrick, applying his accordion to a song from his lengthy repertoire and a folk club staple ‘Here’s Adieu To Old England’, while his sometimes musical partner, Martin Carthy, also chose a number he’s recently reintroduced back into his sets, ‘The Bedmaking’, a familiar tale of the abused and cast aside servant girl. fingerpicked here to a halting rhythm.

Sandwiched in-between is one of the rising stars of the few folk firmament, the Peak District’s Bella Hardy, who went to 19th century collection The Ballads and Songs of Derbyshire for ‘The Ballad of Hugh Stenson’, setting it to a more upbeat tune than the hymnal adapted by Jon Tams, while, another member of folk royalty, Jon Boden puts his squeezebox to work on a contemplative take on 19th century drinking song ‘Fathom The Bowl’.

There’s a couple of spokes from the Wheel, both unaccompanied, Kearey delivering glottal version of the much covered ‘Georgie’ and Fran Foote ‘The Irish Girl’. They’re not the only numbers to be sung naked as it were. BritFolk alumnus Lisa Knapp has a lovely treatment of the tumblingly melodious ‘Lavender Song’, while, also from the female side, Fay Hield tips the hat to Annie Briggs with her choice of ‘Bonny Boy’.

On the other side of a capella gender fence, Geordie folkie Stew Simpson mines his Newcastle roots for ‘Eh Aww Ah Cud Hew’ (which the accompanying booklet helpfully translates as “Oh Yes, I Could Pick At The Coals”), Sam Lee turns the evergreen ‘Wild Rover’ on its head to transform it into a slow, sad lament rather than more familiar rollicking rouser of Dubliners and Pogues note, and, from Wales, a deep-voiced Men Diamler closes the album with ‘1848 (Sunset Beauregard)’, a self-penned political protest ballad about Tory policies. The remaining unaccompanied track is actually a duet, Peta Webb and Ken Hall joining voices for an Irish in London in the 50s marriage of Ewan MacColl’s ‘Just A Note’, about the building of the M1, and Bob Davenport’s account of the dangers of ‘Wild Wild Whiskey’.

The three remaining tracks are all instrumentals. Bristol’s acoustic instrumental quartet Spiro are the only band on the collection and provide their self-penned ‘Lost In Fishponds’, apparently about getting lost en route to a gig, joined here by North Wales violinist Madame Česki, while Sam Sweeney brings his fiddle to bear on two tunes. ‘Bagpipers’, one of the first things he played with his band Leveret, and ‘Mount Hills’, an English dance tune from the 17th century. Which leaves Cumbrian concertina maestro Rob Harbron to provide the third with a pairing of ‘Young Collins’, a Costwolds’ tune learned from Alistair Anderson, and, another from the Morris tradition, ‘Getting Up The Stairs’, which, by way of a pleasing synchronicity, he actually learned by way of John Kirkpatrick on the influential Morris On album.

It more than does the job it set out to achieve, and, likely to loom large in end of year awards, fully warrants a place in any traditional folk fan’s collection.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website: www.stickinthewheel.com

Stew Simpson – ‘Eh Aww Ah Cud Hew’: