STEWART HENDERSON, YVONNE LYON and CAROL HENDERSON – Vesper Sky (own label SL045)

Vesper SkyWell now, this is something different. Scottish singer-songwriter Yvonne Lyon has joined forces with Liverpool poet Stewart Henderson (who, as a songwriter, has provided the lyrics to several Martyn Joseph numbers, including ‘Working Mother’ and ‘Proud Valley Boy’) and his storyteller wife Carol for Vesper Sky, an album of songs and poems, the backing musicians including Wet Wet Wet’s Graeme Duffin and slide guitar maestro Bryn Haworth.

Described as a ‘journal for our time’, it opens with two Henderson and Lyon collaborations, uptempo social protest number ‘After The Fall’ (“For those deprived of everything all is stark and small/The place where Cinderella didn’t make it to the ball”) and the more reflective and intimate fingerpicked title track with its nature imagery as she sings “I choose grace” in the face of “the pantomime and circus of pretend.”

Written by Henderson, Lyon and co-producer Sandy Jones, and spoken by Carol, ‘How Clatter Is The World’ is a poem with piano, sparse percussion and programming backing, the title pretty much summing up its concerns. Two poems follow, ‘Eyes Down’ (a comment on our obsession with apps, tablets and icons) and ‘Considering The Hours Since’ (reflections on a military father’s death), the post-war and loss backdrop continuing over into ‘The Avenue’, the lyrics first spoken by Stewart before, accompanied by piano and cello, being sung in wistful tones by Yvonne.

There are seven other poems, Carol reading the thematically opposed ‘Burrowing’ (the anchor of love) and ‘Breakages’ (the things that break us apart), and joining her husband on ‘The Mind’s Not What It Was’, about the faltering of memory with age. Stewart reads the others, among them ‘Somewhere In The Library’ with its celebration of the power of books to spark children’s imaginations with its references to works by the likes of Walliams, Dahl, Grahame and Rowling and the images of loss and memories of a loved one in ‘Consideration’.

There’s three further poems with music, Perfect Fit’ a waltzing slide guitar backed shuffle about the places where he’s proud to be a misfit (Henley, nouveau bars, stretch limousines) that turns out to be a love song to the one to whom even Moira Stuart (a celebrated Scottish broadcaster for those not within the cultural context) cannot hold a rose.

Lines shared by Stewart and Carol, ‘Everything In Heaven’ is a cosmically atmospheric setting of a things fall apart poem they first published 21 years ago while, accompanied by spare piano notes and spoken by Carol, ‘Living This Long’ segues into ‘Dip Me Deep’, the two linked by a theme of listening to those that have gone before and to the power of nature or whatever divinity you hold to be true.

Returning to the songs, the gently fingerpicked ‘Under A Wolf Moon’ with Seonaid Aitken on fiddle treats on a similar spiritual theme of finding calm and freedom through submission to the design of the heavens. By contrast, featuring a brass section and with a march-like beat, the anthemic inspiring ‘Children Mind Your Language’, written by Stewart and David Lyon, has a Thea Gilmore air, the final song reeling in the tone and mood for the dreamier, piano and cello-backed open night skies feel of the photograph in words that is ‘December Coast of Galloway’ with its hymn to the enduring power and beauty of nature.

It all ends with the piano and fiddle arrangement of the Lyon-penned ‘Enjoy Not Endure’, all three voices coming together in spoken word and song as it closes with a return to the theme of the need to embrace and accept loss, but to also move on in recognition that “you were made for greater things than living with regret.”

Its title a reference to evening prayer, this is an album about life, love, loss and, as Reinhold Neibuhr put it, having the serenity to accept the things you cannot change, the courage to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Amen.

Mike Davies

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Artists’ websites: www.yvonnelyonmusic.com   www.stewart-henderson.com

‘Enjoy Not Endure’ – live:

Yvonne Lyon announces new album with Stewart and Carol Henderson

Yvonne Lyon

Vesper Sky is a stunning and unique collection of songs and poems, written and performed by Stewart Henderson, Yvonne Lyon and Carol Henderson.

Singer/songwriter Yvonne Lyon has been significantly influenced by Stewart Henderson’s poems and songs over many years. This new collaboration has allowed her the opportunity to develop her own craft with material co-written with Stewart and also to respond to various poems with improvised piano accompaniment. Having supported Eddi Reader, performed with Beth Nielsen Chapman and co-written with Boo Hewerdine, Yvonne continues to establish herself as an artist of considerable significance.

Stewart Henderson is a poet, broadcaster and songwriter. Radio critic of The Sunday Times, Gillian Reynolds says that Stewart ‘understands the packed power of words, the importance of their use and measure’, whilst Bob Harris of BBC Radio 2 has praised Stewart’s ‘lyrical intelligence’. Vesper Sky also features poems from his new poetry collection for adults, ‘A Poet’s Notebook…with new poems, obviously’, published by Lion Hudson.

Carol Henderson is a storyteller, broadcaster and practicing iconographer with a varied and distinguished background in publishing, theatre and film. She has performed at such venues as The Royal Albert Hall, London; The University of Toronto; Stanford University, California and The Lincoln Center for Performing Arts, New York. Carol’s extensive radio work includes drama readings on various BBC Radio 4 historical documentaries.

The 20 track playlist with its wide-ranging, contemporary topics and tempos is an engrossing and plaintive ‘journal of our times’. Among the additional guest musicians is legendary slide guitarist and premier session player Bryn Haworth, a long term friend of the Hendersons.

“just stunning music” Bob Harris, BBC Radio 2

“the consistently high quality of songwriting invariably shines through… she’s a gem” Fatea

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Artists’ websites: www.yvonnelyonmusic.com   www.stewart-henderson.com

Martyn Joseph – Songs For The Coming Home – reviewed by Trish Roberts

After 30 plus years of making music you would be forgiven for thinking an artist would plateau at some point, happy to remain within familiar boundaries of the singer/songwriter, the man, voice and guitar. However , that is most assuredly not the case here !. Whatever preconceptions there are of what to expect ignore them, they will be way off the mark; I know mine were.

This is Martyn as people know him, never shy of confronting subjects as only he knows how to. On this creation we have suicide, redemption, grace, soul searching, love, sacrifice, confession and moral ire, all tackled and delivered in such a way that is completely engrossing. This is also Martyn as we have never heard him, dare I say some of this is as personal as any album has been. It is not an album that a 20 year old could have written, this has only been arrived at by a life lived with eyes, heart and soul wide open.

The production by Mason Neely is vast and has well and truly shredded any blueprints, if ever there were any, but with the core of the Martyn Joseph people know still firmly there. It’s vital, exhilarating and subtle, dynamic and serene. If Under Lemonade Skies, the last album, was a look into the box of possibilities of where his music could go, with Songs For The Coming Home that box has been fully delved into. On many tracks he has created amazing sound backdrops with the inclusion of strings, steel guitar, brass, cello and drums while not overwhelming the man and guitar.

Every track is worth its weight right from the opener ‘Crossing the Line’, with the discordant music that weaves the song and matches the confusion and grief behind a suicide and the fall out that results. The song is always on the edge of shuddering into chaos but the slow beautiful guitar and Martyns tender/ tough vocals hold it together, it’s a song that each listen takes you deeper and dares you to ask questions.

The album flows effortlessly along with songs like the uplifting Still a Lot of Love’ ,  with the familiar man, guitar and gorgeous community singing .

My personal highlight is the life affirming  ‘Let Yourself’ an empowering and poignant song, with a cello carrying along Martyns vocals. This carries one of my favourite lines of the album, ‘And you can bring it on world, throw everything, cos in the end love wins big, and there are some of us who will not be lying down“.

Another highlight is the  stark confessional ‘Falling from Grace’ with sublime guitar that harks back to ‘Turn Me Tender’ from the 2004 album Deep Blue. It tells of the pitfalls we all stumble into through life now and again, some fall deeper than others but with the end telling us there is hope  .

The upbeat feel of ‘Feels Like This’ is a Bruce Cockburn like song which screams to be on every radio playlist, don’t be fooled by the bouncy singable rhythm though .

The re-worked Whoever it was … carries a different weight from the version from the 2003 album of the same name and at first glance at the track list I wondered if it had its place on this new album , simple answer is , absolutely. The voice maybe wearier and more measured  and the guitar slower, but the impact is deeper .

The guitar/ drum laden provocative ‘No time For God’  demands to be played loud! , the  rousing chorus will probably have the hackles rising on some followers .This appeals to my anarchic/ punk sensibilities and is a belter, you cannot help yourself sing along , it’s a proper  Saturday night festival rant, and there is  a great Wilco Johnson like harmonica solo screaming in the middle .

The key song that defines the album is the profound ‘Clara’ a classic Joseph storyteller song , you are drawn into this amazing panoramic image that unveils the primal power of music that transcends comprehension …but I will leave that there , it is to be discovered…..’Hope we all have a Clara’

Finally ,the  turbulence returns with the hard hitting, contradictory and courageous  ‘Archive’  Probably one of the finest and piercingly personal songs  he has produced.

I have only scratched the surface , but there are 10 tracks on this album that have to be revealed to each listener without too many preconceptions , it’s a case of headphones on, or a long drive or whatever, and immerse yourself in this track by track.

Buckle up for one heck of a ride.

In short, this is a colossal creation.

Trish Roberts – 5* Review

“There are moments on this record that I will always treasure; small nuances of memory and recall that are both painful and joyous. The highlight for me is the song ‘Archive’. On long car journeys touring across Canada last year with poet, guru and friend Stewart Henderson we talked, and talked and went deeper and deeper. He started writing, and at some point on a prairie plain in Alberta he handed me some words on the back of an envelope. Months later in the early hours of the morning I took them to a microphone with no melodic agenda and just played and sang. The result was the first and only take that ended up on the album. Its me with my soul howling. Its what I like to do.” Martyn Joseph

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Latest tour date details: http://www.martynjoseph.net/category/tourdates/