ELIZA CARTHY & THE WAYWARD BAND – Big Machine (Topic TSCD592P)

Big MachineFrom her debut solo album back in 1996, Carthy has never been predictable in her constant determination to both celebrate and reinvent the folk tradition and, while that may not have always endeared her to purists, it has produced a remarkable – and sometimes challenging – back catalogue. Her latest is no exception, here working with the big-band set up on her festival appearances, a 12-piece line –up that includes, among others, Beth Porter on cello, melodeonist Saul Rose, Mawkin’s David Delarre on guitar, bassist Barnaby Stradling from Blowzabella and former Bellowhead fiddler Sam Sweeney.

Aptly titled to reflect the sound, Carthy appearing on the front cover like some kind of folk Boudica leading her tooled-up army into battle, the material follows a similar pattern of self-penned originals, traditional reworks and covers, kicking off with a strident metronomic rhythm arrangement of one of ‘Fade & Fall (Love Not)’ complete with plucked cello and soaring brassy flourishes. It’s one of three Manchester Ballads, the others being equally strident shanty ‘The Sea’ with its martial beat and sweeping fiddle and, introduced with a cosmic keyboards whoosh, stumbling domestic violence number ‘Devil in the Woman’ with its repeated refrain chant ‘charming little woman”.

Staying in the traditional arena, the album’s longest and arguably most striking number sees her joined by Damien Dempsey for the eight-minute ‘I Wish That The Wars Were All Over’ (performed live onstage in the studio), a Roud ballad sung from the perspective of a soldier’s love, stemming from the American Revolution and referencing the Seven Years War, collected by the Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould, from Dartmoor miner Sam Fone. Featuring a tinkling repeated piano pattern, melodeon, fiddle it has Carthy in tender vocal form, counterpointed by Dempsey’s keening longing. Interestingly, it has also been recorded by American folk artist Tim Eriksen with whom she made 2015’s Bottle album.

Ewan MacColl’s cabaret-like lurching shanty ‘The Fitter’s Song’ provides the title source, the melody a variation on ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home’, with the third cover seeing her joined by the scion of another folk family dynasty, Teddy Thompson lending his voice to a rousing gospel-blues shaded treatment of Rory McLeod’s ‘Hug You Like A Mountain’ providing a showcase fiddle spotlight.

The remaining numbers are all Carthy originals, indeed the whale-themed shanty ‘Great Grey Back’ is a new treatment of a song that originally featured on Wayward Daughter, here with massed vocal backing rather than just one voice. One is an instrumental, the rousing part vocalised but wordless ‘Jack Warrell’s (Exerpt) – Love Lane’, while, another big sound, ‘Mrs. Dyer the Baby Farmer’, with its fiddle lament intro, is essentially a murder ballad concerning Victorian serial killer Amelia Elizabeth Dyer who took in babies that were unwanted or could not be cared for, ostensibly to be adopted, and despatched them to Jesus. ‘Epitaph’ closes the album on another murder ballad, here a cabaret-like tale of death by custard poisoning, Willy Molleson providing the thundering drums. The remaining track again underlines Carthy’s willingness and thirst to experiment and push the folk envelope, ‘You Know Me’ a commentary on hospitality and the refugee crisis (“the door is always open and the fires are blazing, no one ever turned away, the fruit in our garden is always good”) that, with a scratch intro and set against a dub-styled rhythm, features a rap by MC Dizraeli. Arguably her best work since 2008’s Dreams of Breathing Underwater, it further confirms her as one of the fiercest and most striking voices in contemporary folk music.

The album also comes as a deluxe edition that includes ‘Aleppo in the Sun As It Was’ from last year’s English Electric EP as well as the demo of ‘The Fitter’s Song’ and five extra tracks, including both a fiddle and vocal version of ‘Three Day Millionaire’.

Mike Davies

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Artist website: www.eliza-carthy.com

‘Fade And Fall (Love Not)’ – official video:

 

SAM CARTER – How The City Sings (Captain Records CAP005)

How The City SingsMaking good on his Best Newcomer gong in the 2010 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards , Carter went on to release his critically acclaimed No Testatment as well as collaborate with Jim Moray as False Lights on the Salvor album. The moment shows no sign of slacking with this, his third solo outing, produced by Dom Monks and Neil Cowley and recorded live to tap with musicians that, in addition to Cowley on piano, included his trio’s drummer Evan Jenkins, regular bassist Matt Ridley and award winning fiddler and viola player Sam Sweeney.

Opening with ‘From the South Bank to Soho’, an acoustic farewell love letter to both a romantic partner and London, Carter says the album is often unconsciously permeated by the city’s influences, the songs drawing on images and impressions, as on the piano-backed title track, but also more explicitly detailed as with ‘Haringey Lullaby’, a lament written in the wake of the Baby P case.

If those are all gentle melodies, then contrast can be found on the lurching Arabia meets carnival snake-charmer lope of ‘Dark Days’ with its marxophone and electric guitar, the gathering musical stridency of ‘Drop The Bomb’, its rock out guitar solo mirrored in the equally aggressive and dynamic sounds of ‘Taunting The Dog’, a number that underscores those Richard Thompson comparisons. Less angry in tone, the playful, organ-backed train rhythm scurry ‘One Last Clue’ is also a more uptempo affair, one which might even prompt loose thoughts of Chas ‘n’ Dave, or maybe Chris T-T.

It’s often the case that one style overshadows the other, but Carter has achieved a solid balance here on material that complements rather than contrasts, moving between the distorted ringing guitar and anthemic choral sound of ‘The Grieved Soul’ (a touch of Blake, perhaps), the bittersweet hushed ‘King For A Day’, the jazzy keyboards and acoustic guitars of ‘We Never Made It To The Lakes’ and the undiluted folksiness in which ‘Our Kind of Harmony’ swims without ever jarring.

This is the sound of a man supremely confident in his ability to craft and shape both words and music, never afraid to explore unknown territories, but equally happy to relax in familiar settings knowing it’s through choice not complacency. A sure thing for a Folk Awards album of the year nomination next time around, it’ll take some really stiff competition to challenge this.

Mike Davies

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

The making of How The City Sings:

Sam Carter – new album

Sam Carter
Photograph by Dai Jeffries

Since being named Best Newcomer at the 2010 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards Sam Carter has been stirring audiences from Camden to Canada, via an attention grabbing appearance on Laterwith Jools Holland and a dreamsreallydocometrue performance in a specially assembled band to back Richard Thompson at Shrewsbury Folk Festival.

Since the release of his last solo album The No Testament Sam has toured the world, equally happy to perform on his own, with a band or to collaborate with other artists – including a trip to Pakistan to work with revered South Asian classical musicians Sajid Hussain and Haroon Samuel; an appearance on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show playing songs cowritten with Zimbabwean musician and former refugee Lucky Moyo; and closer to home as part of the allstar tribute tour The Lady: A Homage To Sandy Denny. In 2014 Sam teamed with Jim Moray to form False Lights, a band with the stated aim of updating the template of folk rock and making a joyful racket. Their 2016 BBC Radio 2 Folk Award nominated album Salvor, released the following year, was praised from all corners proving that people really were ready for traditional English songs played in a style that owed as much to Radiohead as it did to Fairport Convention.

Sam’s third solo album How The City Sings captures this fervently admired singer, songwriter and guitarist at his most passionate and moving. Recorded live to tape in the studio, the album was produced by Dom Monks (who worked with Ethan Johns on records by Laura Marling, Paolo Nutini and The Staves) and keyboardist Neil Cowley (Neil Cowley Trio, best known for his contributions to Adele’s 19 and 21 albums). In addition to Neil, whose emotive piano lines were often improvised, the band includes fiddler Sam Sweeney (Bellowhead, Leveret and BBC Folk Musician of the Year) drummer Evan Jenkins (Neil Cowley Trio) and Sam’s longstanding bassist Matt Ridley.

How The City Sings features twelve songs that are at times affectingly intimate and at others brimming with righteous rage. As the album formed, Sam began to notice these songs were shot through with images and aspects of London. After ten years living in the capital it had become not only the backdrop but a central player in the parts of his life these lyrics detailed. Unconsciously How The City Sings became a way of processing where he was, in every sense.

Opening track ‘From The South Bank To Soho’ , underpinned by Sam Sweeney’s exquisitely measured viola, was written during the end of a significant romantic relationship and depicts a love triangle between two people and the town.

“The stakes are high when you live here,” explains Sam. “It requires you to make big decisions about whether you stay or go.”

In stark contrast ‘Haringey Lullaby’ is a lament on behalf of the borough where Sam resides, written in the wake of the Baby P case; trying to find words for so many unspoken feelings.

But this is an album of dark and light. ‘Our Kind Of Harmony’, with its chiming guitar giving a nod to the great Nic Jones, uses extended musical metaphors to celebrate the relationship of two of Sam’s friends who married and moved “south of the river”. The title track ‘How The City Sings’ was imagined as a vantage point over the entire record. While the rest of the album focuses on specific moments of love and loss, confrontation and crisis, this song comes from the bigger perspective of seeing this place that can seem so hard and cruel as also a gathering of hope and unity.

“What’s important to me about the record is that my experiences and what I sing about have become inseparable. I’m writing about my own life but also trying to give voice to the lives of others.”

How the City Sings is the most personal album of Sam Carter’s career, and when songs are this heartfelt and true they connect with us all.

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

How The City Sings promotional video:

 

Young Musicians sought for National Youth Folk Ensemble

Young Musicians

The English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) has launched a nationwide search for talented young musicians to become the first members of the new National Youth Folk Ensemble.

A series of Sampler Days will be held throughout England during May and June to audition musicians aged 14 to 18 for up to 25 places in the Ensemble, which is supported by Arts Council England.

Led by the Ensemble’s Artistic Director, BBC Radio 2’s Folk Musician of the Year 2015 Sam Sweeney, each Sampler Day will include creative workshops with a team of professional folk artists, individual auditions, and a question and answer session with Ensemble staff.

Selected musicians will be invited to a final audition in London in July. To register for a Sampler Day, musicians have to be aged between 14 and 18 on 1 September 2016, live in England, be able to play confidently on any instrument and have an interest in folk music.

Places on the Sampler Days are free but limited and booking is essential at  www.efdss.org/nationalyouthfolkensemble.

Katy Spicer, EFDSS Chief Executive and Artistic Director, said: “We are looking for excellent instrumentalists who are dedicated to developing as folk musicians and excited about collaborating with others who share their passion.

“This is a unique opportunity for young musicians and the first time a group of this kind has been established on a national basis. It offers a chance to develop in a nurturing environment with experienced and skilled musicians.

“We are hoping the Ensemble will discover, encourage and inspire the folk performers, educators and leaders of the future, and we would encourage as many young musicians as possible to sign up to the Sampler Days.”

National Youth Folk Ensemble Sampler Days 2016

Sunday 8 May – Birmingham Conservatoire, BIRMINGHAM

Saturday 28 May – Sage Gateshead, GATESHEAD

Sunday 29 May – Leeds College of Music, LEEDS

Monday 30 May – Royal Northern College of Music,  MANCHESTER

Tuesday 31 May – Derby LIVE, Guildhall Theatre, DERBY

Thursday 2 June – Exeter Phoenix, EXETER

Friday 3 June – Cecil Sharp House, LONDON

Saturday 11 June – West Road Concert Hall, CAMBRIDGE

Sunday 12 June – Cornerstone, DIDCOT

The National Youth Folk Ensemble will formally launch in October. Members will take part in four weeks of intensive residential courses around the country, receiving high quality tuition and guidance from leading professional folk artists. They will also develop skills in performance, arrangement, leadership and facilitation and give public performances.

Keep up to date with news about the ensemble at  www.efdss.org/nationalyouthfolkensemble and tweet @theEFDSS #youthfolk

FAY HIELD – Old Adam (Soundpost Records SOPO 5003)

FAY HIELD - Old Adam (Soundpost Records SOPO 5003)Fay Hield’s third solo album is all traditional except when it isn’t. That is, except when the tune is by Hield herself and/or Jon Boden or the song is written by Rudyard Kipling and Peter Bellamy or Tom Waits. Although not given full billing on the front cover, The Hurricane Party – Sam Sweeney, Rob Harbron, Roger Wilson, Ben Nicholls and Toby Kearney – are back alongside the aforementioned Mr Boden and Martin Simpson. Fay is scrupulous about crediting her sources and I do worry when those sources are singers I grew up listening to.

The opening track, ‘Green Gravel’, is described as a playground song although there is a misery about it that isn’t very childish but that mood is quickly dispelled by the jolly ‘Raggle Taggle Gypsy’ and ‘Katie Catch’. The title track is a non-Biblical account of the life of the first man, told as though the expulsion from Eden didn’t happen – it is said of Eve that “her neighbours she ne’er scandalised” and she is described as “the jewel of woman found”. Yeah, right.

The best version of ‘Queen Eleanor’s Confession’ I ever heard was by Rosemary Hardman and the version by Tim Hart and Maddy Prior, which Fay uses here, ignored the melodrama and inherent comedy of the song. Rosemary recorded the song nearly fifty years ago and perhaps sensibilities have changed but I always found Tim and Maddy a bit po-faced about the story as is Fay. ‘The Hornet And The Beetle’ makes a serious point and ‘Jack Orion’ is a famous tale of what? – not quite cuckolding although we can suppose that the countess is married so it’s probably adultery. Whatever, it’s a ribald tale but with murder in the final verse. Tom Waits’ ‘The Briar And The Rose’ seems an odd choice at first glance coming, as it does, from one his more difficult albums, The Black Rider, but strip away the preconceptions and you can see the traditional themes woven into the story.

Needless to say the arrangements are beautifully judged often casting a new light on a song and ‘Go From My Window’ is a perfect example. It can be a real dirge but the banjo and up-front percussion give it pace and the key changes in ‘Anchor Song’ seem to enable Fay to get through it in record time. Leaving aside personal preferences this is an excellent album by any standards.

Dai Jeffries

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

‘Raggle Taggle Gypsy’ live at well-known north London venue:

Fay Hield Announces Details of New Album

Fay Hield Announces Details of New Album

Following the considerable success of The Full English album and touring band, which she assembled, singer Fay Hield is due to release her 3rd solo album, Old Adam on Soundpost Records on 12th February 2016 and will tour in February and March too. Meanwhile, a digital single, taken from the album, featuring ‘Willow Glen’ and ‘Green Gravel’ is now available.

Old Adam is a fresh and original exploration of how we use stories and music to understand what it means to be human and combines not only Fay’s gift for unearthing striking material but also her distinctive and naturalistic delivery of it. These qualities have won her critical acclaim for her previous solo albums (Looking Glass in 2010 and Orfeo in 2012, both on Topic Records) including several BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards and a nomination for Folk Singer of the Year.

Old Adam contains 14 tracks, ranging from ‘The Hag In The Beck’ from the 1600s to ‘The Briar and the Rose’, a version of a Tom Waits song. The title track explores the oldest story in the book: the fantasy of a purity of life, before corruption and sin. “Perhaps it was a result of the developing sins that we have these songs to help us make sense of it all”, says Fay.

‘Willow Glen’ is taken from the Lucy Broadwood collection, while ‘Green Gravel’ (from Alice Gomme’ s Traditional Games of England, Scotland and Ireland) is an interpretation of a playground song. ‘Raggle Taggle Gypsy’ moves into the realms of fantasy, with an enticing glimpse of a world we could inhabit, if only we would follow our hearts. Themes of justice (and injustice) are explored in ‘Queen Eleanor’s Confession’ (from a version by Tim Hart and Maddy Prior) and ‘The Hornet and the Beetle’ is from the collection of Ralph Vaughan Williams. Many of the lyrics are adapted by Fay and she has written several tunes as has her partner, Jon Boden. The arrangements on the album are all by Fay Hield and The Hurricane Party.

Fay is accompanied on Old Adam by her stellar band, The Hurricane Party, which consists of some of the finest folk musicians working today; Rob Harbron (English concertina, fiddle, vocals), Sam Sweeney (fiddle, viola, cello, nyckelharpa, vocals), Roger Wilson (fiddle, guitar, mandolin and vocals), expanded to include Ben Nicholls (bass) and Toby Kearney (percussion) and including special guests Jon Boden and guitar maestro, Martin Simpson.

As well as enjoying a blossoming recording and performing career, Yorkshire born and bred Fay is also an academic, lecturing in Music at the University of Sheffield where she specialises in the role folk music plays in the construction of communities. With her unique combination of performance and academic talents, it was perhaps inevitable that she would be invited by the English Folk Dance & Song Society to head their ground-breaking Full English project. For the first time many of the finest early 20th century folksong collections can be found in the most comprehensive searchable database of British folk songs, tunes, dances and customs in the world.

Fay assembled The Full English Band, pulling together half a dozen of the top talents on the English folk music circuit, including Seth Lakeman, Martin Simpson, Nancy Kerr, Sam Sweeney, Rob Harbron and double bassist Ben Nicholls. This “supergroup” toured for two years and released a self-titled album, again on Topic Records, winning Best Group and Best Album at the 2014 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. Fay Hield continues in her passionate and engaging exploration of the repertoire of the English tradition. At times sparse and contemplative, at others, fired-up with a spirit lifting rhythm and plenty of rousing choruses, the music on Old Adam is both captivating and thought-provoking.

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

‘The Poor Old Weaver’s Daughter’ live :