Albion Christmas Band announce their annual tour

Folk music fans can start their Christmas celebrations early with the help of the Albion Christmas Band when the band hits the road for its annual tour on Saturday 9 December.

The band’s annual foray into the musical joys of the winter festival has been described by many as the perfect start to Christmas. This popular show will start in Birmingham then visit fourteen venues around the country before finishing at Bury St Edmunds just a few days before Christmas itself.  The show features a mixture of seasonal carols, spoken word, humorous readings and dance, enhanced by great musicianship and a wicked sense of humour. The band adds a modern twist to its arrangements of traditional tunes and showcases some newly written songs. The show reminds audiences of the simpler pleasures and values of a traditional Christmas and offers them a chance to escape the hustle and bustle of festive preparations.

This year the four band members will share their personal favourites from their extensive back catalogue that to each of them best signify the meaning of Christmas, as well as songs from their latest album Magic Touch. “We’ve spent many years spreading our take on Christmas around the country and have made so many friends on our travels” Simon Nicol explains. “Every night on the tour feels like a family celebration so we get to enjoy Christmas for the whole of December not just one or two days”.

The Albion Christmas Band has been kicking off the Christmas season for nearly twenty years, but it was the last incarnation of the Albion Band that originally created special seasonal shows. From an initial idea by melodeon player Simon Care, a previous Albion band member himself, the Albion Band founder Ashley ‘The Guv’nor’ Hutchings brought together two other previous Albion Band members to create an autonomous band to present a guided tour through the Christmas customs of Britain. Joining Care and Hutchings are Simon Nicol (founder member of Fairport Convention) on acoustic guitar and vocals, and Kellie While (Albion Band), acoustic guitar, vocals and percussion.

Full tour details can be found online at

‘Mad World’ live at Under The Apple Tree:

TRADarrr – Cautionary Tales (Hedge Of Sound HOS02)

CautionaryTalesI have to say this, just to get it out of the way – TRADarrr is not a great name. Particularly when it’s attached to a great band. There, I’ve done it – you may now heap opprobrium on my head.

TRADarrr are (or arre) Gregg Cave, Marion Fleetwood (of Jigantics and ColvinQuarmby) and Guy Fletcher, Mark Stevens, and PJ Wright (of just about anybody you can think of). The music isn’t all trad. arr. but it’s close enough for folk – when you can list Ralph Vaughan Williams, Oliver Goldsmith and Shirley Collins in your credits nobody is going to be picky.

The album starts with a brilliant idea: ‘English Folk Song Suite Pt 1’ (we can hope that part 2 will emerge later) – folk songs turned into an orchestral piece by RVW and then returned to folk or rather reworked as folk-rock.. Perhaps I should also have said that Cautionary Tales is folk-rock at its very best. Next up is ‘My Lagan Love’, which owes something to Fairport’s arrangement of ‘The Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood’ with Marion taking the lead vocal. Actually Tradarrr boast five vocalists although they also recruit Chris Leslie and Pete Scrowther to take some lead lines with Gregg handling the rest. Other guests include Jerry Donahue, Dave Pegg, Ric Sanders, Marcus Parkinson, Simon Care, Gareth Turner and Kristnaps Fisher with the melodeon trio featuring on ‘Princess Royal’ and ‘Upton Stick Dance’. I’m not sure that they need all these guests, except to have more fun in the studio, and I’m a bit iffy about importing lead vocalists.

The sound that gladdens my heart on this record is that of Mark Stevens’ cornet. It doesn’t have the power of Brass Monkey in their pomp but it brings a contrasting texture to what is essentially a string driven album – brass is such an evocative sound in folk music – and it’s the perfect finishing touch.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website:

Tradarrr’s official promo video:

THE ALBION CHRISTMAS BAND – One For The Road: Live in Concert (Rooksmere RRCD114)

14TheRoadAnd the Christmas collections keep coming, this one courtesy of Santa Ashley Hutchings and his festive troupe’s first live album, neatly coinciding with their annual jollity jaunt. Recorded last December at Kings Place in London as part of their 15th anniversary tour, it features a mix of songs, tunes and reading designed to recall the pleasures of more traditional English Christmases.

With Hutchings joined by Simon Nicol and Kellie While on guitar and vocals and Simon Care on melodeon, the mood’s set with the squeeze-box led ‘Sans Day Carol’, perhaps better known as ‘The Holly and the Ivy’, which, in turn, gives way to another traditional number with While taking lead vocals for ‘The King’ before Hutchings also weighs in midway. While also takes lead on the programme’s three relatively contemporary songs, first up being Dave Goulder’s ‘The January Man’ with the others being a melancholic reading of Alan Hull’s ‘Winter Song’ and, rather oddly, the Gary Jules arrangement of ‘Mad World’. Though given that it comes after the amusing reading about ‘How The Internet Started’ (about Abraham com and his wife, Dot), perhaps it’s quite appropriate.

Perhaps surprisingly, there’s only one whole instrumental in the whole show, Care’s arrangements of ‘Calling On’ and ‘Hogmanay’, brought together in a melodeon cocktail of the sedate and the thigh-slappingly raucous. There’s also only one band original, as following his explanation of Border Morris teams who tend to dance in the midwinter, comes ‘Mr Trill’s/Gloucester Hornpipe’, the first part penned by Hutchings and Bob Pegg with the words taken verbatim from Trill’s account of the Morris tradition to Cecil Sharp on his visit to Broomfield.

Otherwise, the tunes and songs are either Trad.arr or by those two well known practitioners of seasonal fayre, Sidney Carter and Christina Rosetti, the former represented by two obscure carols, the regional ‘Julian of Norwich’ (complete with historical background introduction) and, tambourine rattling, a robust, lusty ‘Come Love Carolling’, and the latter with a reading from her poem ‘Advent’ followed by a lovely version of ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’ which set her words to music by Gustav Holst.

George Woodward’s rousing ‘Past Three O’Clock’ takes things up to the interval (the recording’s so complete it has Hutchings announcing the break and that they have a shop the audience can visit) with the second half getting under way with a reading rather than rendition of ‘Herod The Cock’ leading, fittingly enough, into ‘Chanticleer’, a variation of ‘The Chanticleer’s Carol’ by William Austin from the C17th rather than more recent carols of the same name.

After ‘Mad World’, the show winds up with a batch of familiar carols, a ten minute medley of ‘Sweet Chiming Bells’ (named from the tune and chorus interpolated with ‘While Shepherds Watched’), ‘Hark The Herald Angels Sing’ and ‘The First Nowell’, taking the farewell bow with a galumphing ‘Seven Joys Of Mary’ designed to send you carousing off into the winter’s evening in search of mince pies and mulled wine. If you can’t make one of the shows, this is pretty much the next best thing.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website:

‘The Seven Joys Of Mary’:

Two Simons Singing: The Albion Christmas Band Celebrates 15 Years with 15+ Answers

The Albion Christmas Band

‘Tis the season that The Albion Christmas Band is out making merry music throughout England. This year band mates Ashley Hutchings, Simon Nicol, Simon Care and Kellie While are also celebrating 15 years together as a band.

Simon Nicol and Simon Care gamely agreed to answer (or at least consider answering!) 15 questions about the band, the music, and their own holiday traditions. Take a look at the answers and then be sure you have your tickets for an Albion Christmas Band show.

1. What’s your first memory of playing with the Albion Christmas Band?

Simon Care: “First memory is thinking how privileged I was to be sitting next to the legend Simon Nicol.”

2. What’s the best compliment a fan ever gave you as part of Albion Christmas Band?

Simon Care: “Lots of audience members say that the show makes their Christmas and wouldn’t be the same with out it.”

Simon Nicol:  “A lady came up to get a couple of CDs signed once, and she had a couple of teenagers with her as well as her white-haired mother and aunt. She said it was the first and only time the three generations had been out to anything as a group, and that they had just the best time together: that the show had that cross-generational appeal. It made her year to have her family complete in that way.”

3. What is your first ‘Spinal Tap’ moment with The Albion Christmas Band?

Simon Care: “The ‘Spinal Tap’ moment has to be doing the Christmas show in May at Folk On the Pier Festival. It was totally surreal, the whole audience got into the Christmas spirit!”

4. How does The Albion Christmas Band differ from some of the other holiday folks groups out there?

Simon Care: “I think it’s different because we don’t concentrate solely on traditional material. We look at all aspects of Christmas and winter customs using traditional and contemporary material.”

Simon Nicol: “By keeping it simple and un-showy. Apart from the odd occasion when Simon Care demonstrates his mastery of the arts of Terpsichore, I think it’s like watching a radio programme.”

5. How does your family celebrate Christmas?

Simon Care: “Usually at home on Christmas day then out with my Morris side on Boxing Day.”

Simon Nicol: “Every Christmas Eve we go to our local theatre’s Pantomime show and boo the villains and cheer the happy couple who overcome all in the name of love. Then it’s all back to the house for beer wine and snacking…”

6. Do you do holiday shopping when you tour (obviously with The Albion Christmas Band)?

Simon Care: “Yes me, Kellie and Ashley usually try to visit one of the big shopping centres during the tour, Bluewater, Trafford Centre or one of those.”

Simon Nicol: “Well, the first thing is to get Kellie something for her birthday, as it falls on the 17th of December, so I probably pick up something for the kids while I’m browsing…It can fill in the odd hour on days when the drives aren’t too huge. Getting parked up near the shops in those weeks is never easy though.”

7. What is your favourite part of touring with The Albion Christmas Band?

Simon Care: “Favourite part is spending time with Simon, Kellie and Ashley. Great friends as well as work colleagues.”

Simon Nicol: “Possibly having the day to myself just driving on my own, stopping when and where I want. I love my car and all the rest of the year I’m part of a travelling pack of musos so it’s a complete change of pace.”

8. What’s one thing your fans might not know about The Albion Christmas Band?

Simon Care: “We are the longest surviving Albion line-up in the Albion families 40 year history.”

9. Is there one song you’re especially looking forward to playing this year?

Simon Care: “‘The January Man’ by Dave Goulder, sung beautifully by Kellie.”

Simon Nicol: “‘The Frozen Man’ is back – the James Taylor song. Love it!”

10.What’s your favorite traditional Christmas song (whether the group plays it or not).

Simon Care: “‘On Christmas Night all Christians Sing.'”

Simon Nicol: “‘In The Bleak Midwinter,’ which we do include some years…”

11. If you could have one special musical guest perform with the band, who would it be and why?

Simon Care: “I think it would have to be Richard Thompson, just  because he is such a lovely chap and would be a delight to work with.”

Simon Nicol: “Kellie’s mum, Chris. Because their voices are blend made in heaven. But she’s always out on the road with her own outfit, St Agnes Fountain…”

12. What’s the one thing you always take with you on tour?

Simon Care: “My melodeon, toothbrush and wallet. I can buy anything else.”

Simon Nicol: “My MacBook. And my American Express card! Hang on, that’s two things.”

13. Set the record straight. Is there anything people believe about you or the band that isn’t quite true? Or –– start a rumour!

Simon Care: “I think people think that I have earned lots of money from music and live in a big posh house. Untrue.”

14. Do you have any pre-show rituals?

Simon Care: “We do like to have a nice meal and usually have a few glasses of wine to settle the nerves.”

Simon Nicol: “Taking Mr. Care for a beer or two while Kellie titivates and Ashley counts and sells the merchandise!”

15. Share a funny or heartwarming fan story.

Simon Care: “A few years ago two friends of mine came to see us in Huddersfield with their young grandson (5 years old). They contacted me to tell me that now aged ten I inspired him so much he is playing the melodeon and wants to be a professional Morris dancer.”

— By Nancy Dunham

Phil Beer Box Set Revisited

I wanted to remind you all of the fantastic body of work Phil released in 2010, which was known commonly as “Box Set 1”.

The work would suit both Beer aficionados, Show of Hands fans and anyone that has seen Phil play live. The work, as a whole, is a great reminder of the breath of Phil’s musical partnerships, as well as his diversity of material and multi-instrumental talents. As well as a few Show of Hands rarities, you are also treated to the other Phil Beer collaborations with the Arizona Smoke Revue, Arizonas, Ridgeriders and the Albion Band. The CD box set features music partnerships with a wide range of artists including: Mike Oldfield, Paul Downes, Julie Matthews, Deb Sandland, Miranda Sykes, Ashley Hutchings, Jon Moore, Simon Care, Jackie Oates, Jim Causley, Jenna and Tom Palmer.

The Box Set is made up of three CD’s and a forth disc containing 6 video clips. Here is a full breakdown:

Disc: 1 – Archive
1. The First World War – Phil Beer And School Chums
2. Jan Tregale – Oddfolk
3. Berepper Beach – Oddfolk
4. The Hunting Of Arscott Of Tetcott – Downes And Beer
5. Spanish Ladies – Downes And Beer
6. Morning Sky – Arizona Smoke Revue
7. Factory – Arizonas
8. Take Back Your Pictures – Arizonas
9. Down In Yon Forest – Phil Beer
10. Thomas’s Morris – Phil Beer
11. Set Their Mouths To Twisting – Phil Beer
12. Nameless Kind Of Hell – Phil Beer/Albions
13. Last Picture Show – Show Of Hands
14. White Tribes – Show Of Hands
15. Weathercock – Phil Beer/ Nick Henness
16. Lifeline – Phil Beer/Albions/Swan Arcade
Disc: 2 – Acoustic Live
1. Old Riley – Phil Beer
2. Robbers’ Roost – Ridgeriders
3. Blind Fiddler – Phil And Julie Matthews
4. Long Black Veil – Phil And Deb Sandland
5. Simon Smith And The Amazing Dancing Bear – Phil Beer
6. Devils Right Hand – Phil Beer
7. Willin’ – Phil Beer And Miranda Sykes
8. Youngstown – Phil Beer
9. Bus Stop – Phil Beer
10. Cocaine – Phil Beer
11. Icicles – Miranda Sykes And Phil Beer
12. Exile – Phil Beer And Miranda Sykes
13. Flowers Of The Forest/The Holy Brook/When This Bloody War Is Over – Phil Beer And Miranda Sykes
14. Varso Vianna – Phil Beer
15. Warlike Lads Of Russia – Phil Beer
Disc: 3 – Acostic Studio
1. The Life Of A Fool – Phil Beer With Ashley Hutchings, Jon Moore And Simon Care
2. Lo! What A Glorious Sight Appears – Albion Band
3. Red River Valley – Phil Beer
4. Santiago – Alianza
5. The Three Knights – Phil Beer
6. Sit You Down – Phil Beer With Mike Oldfield
7. Border Song – Phil Beer
8. Blow The Man Down – Phil Beer With Jackie Oates And Jim Causley
9. Bus Stop – Phil Beer
10. Undertow – Show Of Hands With Jenna
11. The Downeaster Alexa – Phil Beer
12. Static On The Line – Tom Palmer With Phil Beer
13. Dakka Dan – Tom Palmer With Phil Beer
14. Crockery Ware – Jackie Oates With Phil Beer
15. I Wish/Ichbod – Jackie Oates With Phil Beer
Disc: 4 – Film Clips
1. The launching of the Pegasus at Bristol
2. A trip around the River Exe
3. A performance at the Minnack Theatre
4. Acadian Driftward Performance
5. Answering questions for a Longdogs web chat
6. A short film of the Band

Also available via Phil’s Website:

ALBION CHRISTMAS BAND – A Sound In The Frosty Air (Rooksmere Records RRCD104)

I’ve just had to slag off a certain ‘folk’(???) band for daring to ruin our traditional songs by taking liberties with the arrangements and smothering the vocals. What a delight then to put on this recording and immediately be seduced by the honeyed tones of Kellie While on an acapella rendition of “Christ Was Born In Bethlehem”. Of course, the addition of Simon Nicol (Guitars/Vocals), Ashley Hutchings (Bass Guitar/Vocals), Simon Care (Melodeon/Percussion) and special guest Will Pound on harmonica helps to drive the rest of the tracks without any need of indulgence with the possible exception of Roland Orzabal’s “Mad World”. This beautifully understated performance with While providing the vocals and Nicol’s subtle guitar picking should see it grace the top of the charts…if we had a real one to speak of…and in my humble opinion is every bit as good as Garry Jules take on the same song in 2003. An Albion Christmas wouldn’t be complete without some ‘readings’ and, coupled with the fact the band have included the jaunty “Obvious Jig” by the sadly missed Nigel Chippendale this is a recording that I will keep returning to long after Christmas is over. Now…somebody please pass me my brandy and mince pie(s).