MEGSON – Little Bird (EDJ EDJ024)

Little BirdAs well as their adult material, Stu and Debbie Hanna also regularly play shows for young audiences, introducing them to child friendly traditional folk songs. Now, seven years on from When I Was A Lad, they have come up with a second collection, Little Bird, with an insert guide (illustrated by fellow folkie Jess Morgan) to commonly seen British birds for nascent ornithologists, one side of which the kids can colour in themselves.

Stu on banjo, they get the party started with ‘Red Bird’, an old bluegrass play song number originally collected and recorded in the 1940s by Leadbelly for his own album of children’s songs. The material here is a mix of the very familiar and the more obscure, the former represented by the kiddie shanty ‘Bobby Shaftoe’ set to a shoe shuffling skipalong rhythm with Stu on mandolin and Debbie on lead as is, substituting denin dungarees for red pyjamas, ‘Coming Round The Mountain’, a song that has its origins as ‘When The Chariot Comes’, a 1899 African-American spiritual about the Second Coming that developed into a secular version among the railroad gangs of the late nineteenth century. Then, Stu on vocals, there’s ‘I Saw A Ship A Sailing’, a nursery rhyme about a ship laden with treasure and crewed by mice and a duck.

Another play song with a call and response structure, given a handclap blues stomp treatment ‘All Around The Kitchen’ seems to date from the mid 1940s, published in 1948 by Ruth Crawford Seeger and recorded in the early 50s by her stepson legend Pete. There’s more physical activity required by ‘The Jumping Song’, a nonsense song in the tradition of ‘I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly’,

Stu again taking lead, ‘Ha Ha This A Way’ also featured on the Leadbelly album , though I suspect the fact that the original lyrics concern a young kid abused by his alcoholic dad and ‘frisky’ mother and rescued by school and the church don’t figure in their live introductions.

Built on banjo and drums, the bluegrassy ‘Baby On Board’ is one of two self-penned tunes, bemoaning the trials and tribulations of trying to get a new arrival to go to sleep with a rock that cradle refrain, the other, featuring Stu on fiddle and sung by Debbie, being ‘Marjory Clogs’, the story of a much-travelled lady, her dogs, parrot and monkey, a sort of folk Mary Poppins coming to the aid of children in need of a friend.

The remaining two numbers line up as ‘On The Mountain Medley’, a banjo led hillbilly gathering together of evergreens ‘Old Dan Tucker’, ‘Michael Finnegan’, ‘This Old Man’, ‘London Bridge Is Falling Down’ and ‘Go In And Out the Window’, and, bringing things back to roost, the title track, a traditional American children’s song, more strictly titled ‘Little Bird, Little Bird’, also known as ‘Fly Through My Window’ and which, as recorded by American folk singer Elizabeth Mitchell, once featured in an episode of Futurama.

With guest appearance by the couple’s daughter Lola and two dogs, this may be children’s folk songs, but in terms of both the hugely appealing performances and folk heritage, there’s much here that warrants a perch in grown up nests too.

Mike Davies

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‘Red Bird’ – lyric video:

Elliott Morris announces his second album

Elliott Morris

The Way Is Clear is the new album from singer/songwriter and guitarist Elliott Morris. It showcases Elliott’s expert percussive acoustic guitar playing, swooping and soulful electric solos, heartfelt lyrics and strong, honest vocals.

And he’s put together an all-star ensemble. Playing alongside are Paul Carrack (Ace, Squeeze, Mike + The Mechanics, Eric Clapton) on Hammond organ, Paul’s son Jack Carrack on drums, Innes Watson (Treacherous Orchestra) and Mike Vass (PRS Scots Trad Composer of the Year, SAY Award Nominee) on fiddles/strings, Laura-Beth Salter (The Shee) on mandolin and vocals, Rosie Hood (Dovetail Trio) on vocals, Stu Hanna (Megson) on mandolin and guitar, David Milligan (Larry Carlton, Mark Knopfler, Karine Polwart) on piano, Simon Bates (Jamie Cullam, Elvis Costello) on tenor saxophone, Alan Thomson (The John Martyn Band) on fretless bass and Elliott’s brother Bevan Morris (Dallahan, Pons Aelius) on double and electric bass. The album also features two other members of Pons Aelius, Jordan Aikin on Great Highland bagpipes, whistle and Alasdair Paul on bouzouki.

Music blog WriteWyattUK proclaimed that Elliott Morris “redefines folk…with a little John Martyn influence delivered in Seth Lakeman style” and BBC 6Music’s Tom Robinson described him as “absurdly talented”.

With hundreds of gigs behind him – and a coveted Danny Kyle Award from Celtic Connections – Elliott Morris has a formidable reputation as one of the hardest-working and most sought-after artists on the acoustic scene.

The singer-songwriter, featured in Acoustic magazine as “The Next Big Thing”, has a unique guitar style. Favouring open tunings, his extended techniques include percussive hits, string tapping, and occasionally slide.

Half English, half Scottish and raised in Wales and Lincolnshire, Elliott has continued this journey by honing his craft on the road. He has played all across the British Isles, from Orkney to Plymouth, Boston to Llangrannog, Belfast to Clonakilty. And further afield, he’s headlined shows in Germany, Holland, Ireland, Canada. Other key dates have included Upstairs at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London, as well as major events such as Cambridge Folk Festival, The Great British Folk Festival, Hop Farm, Towersey Festival, The London Acoustic Guitar Show and the Ullapool Guitar Festival.

He scooped a prestigious Danny Kyle Award at Celtic Connections in Glasgow, BBC Alba broadcast a duo performance with Dougie Maclean at Perthshire Amber and in 2019 Elliott is a Drake Yolanda Award grant recipient.

Elliott Morris twice toured the UK opening for Paul Carrack taking in over fifty major venues including a show at The London Palladium.

He has supported a seemingly endless list of other respected acts, among them Frank Turner, Andy McKee, Seth Lakeman, Lau, Big Country, The Levellers, Ed Sheeran, Cara Dillon and Eddi Reader.

But now Elliott moves centre stage, the spotlight focused on him. June 2019 sees him release his second album The Way Is Clear, with a launch show at Cecil Sharp House.

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‘One More Day’ – official video:

ODETTE MICHELL – The Wildest Rose (Own Label)

The Wildest RoseAs previously mentioned on Folking.com, Odette Michell is following up her well-received debut EP from 2018 (By Way Of Night) with a full-length album called The Wildest Rose. The new CD will be launched at TwickFolk, held in the Cabbage Patch in Twickenham, on April 14th 2019, and is due for release on the 26th April. The launch will feature special guests Richard Lee & Phil Beer which gives you some idea of the regard in which she’s held among her fellow musicians. Talking of which, Odette’s vocals, guitar and bouzouki are more than ably supported here by Phil Beer on fiddle and backing vocals (tracks 1, 3 and 10), Stu Hanna on a variety of instruments (especially violin) and backing vocals on most tracks, and Toby Shaer on fiddle and whistle (tracks 2, 7 and 8).

Here’s the track list.

  1. If the sleeve didn’t tell me that ‘The Wildest Rose’ was written by Odette, I’d have assumed it was a traditional song I hadn’t met before: not only because of the cast of the lyrics – it seems to be a trademark of hers to write lyrics that are strongly influenced by traditional forms – but because of the shape of the very strong melody which has more than a hint of Irish. Some fine fiddling (of course) from Phil Beer here.
  2. ‘The Banks Of Annalee’ is also along traditional lines lyrically but a little more contemporary in presentation, with very striking vocal multi-tracking on the chorus, and nice doubling up between the fiddle and whistle.
  3. ‘Rolling Shores Of England’ is a nostalgic song that benefits from vocal harmony from Phil Beer.
  4. The title of ‘Bless The Ground You Grow On’ kind of speaks for itself. The vocal harmonies (which reminded me a little of Alison Krauss) and mandolin are particularly effective here.
  5. It would be a trifle perverse to make a song featuring the ‘Great Old Northern Line’ sound very traditional, I guess, and in fact this one leans a little (not too much!) towards country, but as ever, it has a very strong chorus that I could well imagine being popular in sessions. Very striking lyrics: it’s a pity there’s no lyric sheet with the CD. I almost catch myself being nostalgic for the 25 years I spent commuting on the Tube.
  6. ‘True Lovers Farewell’ is a very classy minor-key version of a song sometimes known as ‘Fare Thee Well’ or ‘Ten Thousand Miles’ or even ‘The Turtle Dove’ (under which title it was arranged by Vaughan Williams, though this is a very different reading). Beautifully sung with very tasteful guitar harmonies.
  7. ‘I Once Loved A Shepherd’ starts with striking double-tracked whistle before moving into a very accomplished story-song, though the tune is a little reminiscent of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Urge For Going’ in the chorus.
  8. There are many broadside ballads about the Gunpowder Plot, but ‘Light Up London Town’ takes a more contemporary approach, and yes, includes a strong chorus.
  9. ‘Dance Me Through The Night’ is perhaps the most ‘modern’ song here, but still fits very well in delivery and instrumentation with the rest of the CD.
  10. ‘The Eastern Seas’ could easily pass as an Irish air, and a good one at that. A lovely finish to the CD.

All in all, this is a fine collection of excellent melodies, beautifully sung and played, most of which give a nod lyrically and or melodically to UK traditional forms without straying too far into pastiche, and are notable for their irresistible choruses.

David Harley

Artist’s website: www.odettemichell.com

‘The Banks Of Annalee’ – live:

Odette Michell announces debut album

Odette Michell
Photograph by David Sell

The Wildest Rose is the enchanting debut album from Hertfordshire based folk singer-songwriter Odette Michell.

The album follows on the heels of Odette’s 2018 debut EP By Way of Night, which itself showcased a bold and emerging talent within the British folk and acoustic music scene. The EP garnered high praise and gained Odette her first national and international radio plays across the early part of 2018.   

 “…’By Way Of Night’ demonstrates a freshness and vitality enduring in English folk … it also presents a talent that English folk should not ignore”  – FolkWords, May 2018

When it came to her first full length studio album, Odette chose wisely by teaming up with acclaimed producer Stu Hanna (also one-half of the award winning folk duo Megson) and soon after released her first single; Bless The Ground You Grow’ – a “taster” for the forthcoming album – and an exciting glimpse of the shape of things to come. The single led to an exclusive premiere on Folk Radio UK and was accompanied by a stunning music video filmed on location at the legendary Chalk Horse in Oxfordshire.

Featuring on the album are exciting musical contributions from Phil Beer (one-half of the multi-award-winning acoustic folk band Show of Hands) who plays fiddle on the hearty opening title track as well as the evocative closing track ‘The Eastern Seas’ – and also lends his trademark vocals in sensitive accompaniment to Odette’s, in the third track ‘The Rolling Shores Of England’.

Fiddle/whistle player and man of the moment Toby Shaer (Cara Dillon, Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys) also lends his genius musical wizadry on three of the tracks – the rousing folk fairytale ‘The Banks of Annalee’, the upbeat ‘Light Up London Town’, (a song exploring the political climate behind the famous gunpowder plot of 1605) – and also the hauntingly beautiful ‘I Once Loved A Shepherd’.

Musically, the album covers a varied landscape – it pays homage to the natural landscape that surrounds us and explores our nation’s colourful history; and it visits the idiosyncrasies of human experience whilst veering playfully into the all but lost art of storytelling.

The Wildest Rose is a compelling, highly impressive debut that both soars and soothes, whilst effortlessly breathing fresh new life into the rich acoustic tradition that the songs themselves emerged from.

Artist’s website: https://www.odettemichell.com/

There will be an exclusive Album Launch for The Wildest Rose on Sun 14th April at 7.45pm at Twickfolk at The Cabbage Patch in Twickenham, London. Odette will be joined by special guests Phil Beer and Richard Lee.

‘Bless The Ground You Grow On’ – official video:

MEGSON – con-tra-dic-shun (EDJ edj023)

con-tra-dic-shunThe eighth studio album by Stu and Debbie Hanna again delves into the personal and the political with an even balance of self-penned material and Tyneside traditional lyrics set to new tunes. Taking the latter first, with Debbie on vocals and accordion and Stu providing banjo and mandolin, taken from the 1812 collection Rhymes Of The Northern Bards, the swayalong ‘Voice Of The Nation’ may have been written by an unknown author (it’s credited to JC) in 1810, but its bitter condemnation of Parliamentary wrangling over representation, council disgraces and courts of corruption cannot be help strike a very timely note.

Featuring fiddle and with John Parker on bass, lead again sung by Debbie, collected in Songs & Ballads Of Northern England, the mournfully paced ‘I Drew My Ship Into The Harbour’ is a traditional song on the well-worked theme of absent sailor lovers, the twist here being that he returns home to his true love only for her to take so long getting up to answer the door he gets fed up of waiting and walks off, leaving her full of pain and sorrow.

Lifted from 1882 collection Northumbrian Minstrelsy and with the pair trading lines, ‘The Keach In The Creel’ is a lively bandola romp peppered with northern dialect (a creel being a large basket and, in a fishing context, a keach apparently a Geordie pronunciation of catch) in which the obligatory fair young maid catches the eye of a young lad who follows her home, only to be told her parents keep her safely locked up. However, he enlists his brother to make a long ladder, a cleek (hook) and creel to lower him down the chimney. Hearing a noise, her father walks in only to be admonished for disturbing her prayers. Not convinced, mom goes to have a look, catches her foot in the hook and is hauled up the chimney, the song revealing her husband had cottoned on and is well glad to be rid of her.

‘Toast: Jackey & Jenny’, is in fact two songs in one, a coming together of a traditional drinking song (“I have drunk one and I will drink two”, etc.) with a lyric penned by James Rewcastle, the first secretary of the Newcastle temperance movement, in which the wife sings the praises of being teetotal and that since the old man gave up going on the fiddle they’ve been canty (cheerful) and crouse (lively) and now have food in the house, decent clothes, household good and can even afford to go out to a show. As you’ll have worked out, the track also embodies the contradiction of the album title in the raising of a glass to the perils of alcoholism.

And talking of the title track, that too is a non-original lyric, a bluesy folk strummed mandolin and bass drum driven duet about the divisions caused by stubbornness (with a clear Brexit relevance) written and originally sung by Joe Wilson, a Victorian Newcastle upon Tyne concert hall performer, and published during his lifetime in Songs and Drolleries.

The album opens with the duo’s own ‘Are You Sitting Comfortably’, the title a reference to vintage BBC radio’s children’s programme Listen With Mother, the pair duetting against a simple acoustic guitar and bass arrangement on a whimsical lyric about the never ending tasks that consume our waking hours, leaving us little time to actually have a life.

The most lyrically potent of their own material, ‘The New Girl’, another starkly arranged number, touches on migration and acceptance, drawing on the experiences of those who came to build the new town Teeside during the industrial revolution and the expansion of the railways, and were welcomed into the wider community, birthing a new language and a people. A reminder that we are all “travellers stumbling through a life” and “before the very first new girl there was no-one here at all”, it strikes a resonant chord with today’s migrant and refugee issues, a call for open arms rather than closed fists.

On a lighter note, but still exploring the album’s themes of division and finding agreement, the amusing ‘Two Sides To Every Story’ is essentially their rework of ‘I Remember It Well’, a song from the 1958 musical Gigi in which Maurice Chevalier’s memories of events are distinctly in contrast to the accurate ones of Hermione Gingold, here Debbie setting Stu right about how they met, where they married and honeymooned, and his recollection of being at the birth of their daughter rather than forty miles way!

Just as one would assume the opposing accounts are invented, so too is the equally playful ‘Barrington Social Club’, a fictional account of a clash between the titular Cambridgeshire village club, “a motley collection of warriors strummed and great and small” meeting weekly to learn self-protection, and the local bridge and rotary team who also used the village hall and who bring pressure on the council to shut the club down. As per the lyrics’ David and Goliath allusions, the underdogs emerge triumphant as they enter a competition and, beating their Comberton rivals, use the “championship haul” to buy the hall off the council and now practice every night they can. Whether, having thrown their man down, they are magnanimous in victory to their nemeses the song never says.

It ends in direct thematic opposition to the way it began with ‘A Week Away In The Caravan’, a banjo-coloured music hall-styled slow waltz that, celebrating the joys rather than the drudgery of life, that draws on memories of the first of their regular holidays on wheels (here on a site near Leicester) with both its pleasures and pitfalls (not least dropping the car keys in the porta-loo) and the company of fellow caravanners, albeit with a warning not to get them started on caravan accessories!

The album may well mine themes of division and opposition, but one thing that can been agreed upon is that it’s yet another triumph of the perfect consistency of brilliance Megson always bring to their work.

Mike Davies

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‘con-tra-dic-shun’ – official video:

LUCY WARD – Pretty Warnings (Betty Beetroot BETTY03)

Pretty WarningsHaving been finally converted to Ward with her last album, I Dreamt I Was A Bird, I was unsure whether that was a one-off or if her follow-up would keep me on the path. Well, feathered friends again in evidence, with the opening, ‘Silver Morning’, Helga Ragnarsdottir on electric piano, a spare sketch of walking in the early dawn that treats a sense of wanderlust, any uncertainties were instantly dispelled.

Stu Hanna co-producing with Stewart MacLachlan, who also, respectively, provide guitars/keys and drums, it’s a mostly mellow and meditative affair, the title succinctly summing up its musical and thematic intent, mixing four traditional numbers bookended with self-penned originals. Breathily sung and etched on a repeated guitar pattern with Claire Bostock on cello, ‘Cold Caller’ moves back a few hours to a moon-lit evening of rain and wind and, bolstered by rumbling waves of drums and gathering psychedelic swirls of electric guitar, a witchily-atmospheric song of love (obsessive and possibly delusional) confessed to the night.

Daylight returns with ‘Sunshine Child’, Anna Esslemont on violin, for another delicate acoustic love in rapture number with lyrics scattering images of butterfly kisses, laughter, a dancing soul and sweet smelling blossoms and she sings “for a lifetime and beyond I’ll be singing our song”, though one suspects the golden haired Samson identified here may be more symbolic than actual.

The four traditional numbers are gathered together, opening with a near seven-minute, initially unaccompanied reading of ‘Bill Norrie’, the tragic tale of a jealous man killing the titular lad he suspects is his wife’s lover only to learn he’s actually her son, Ward Derbyshire-accented vowels subsequently joined by Ragnarsdottir’s suitably sparse and forlorn piano notes.

Sticking with murder ballads, ‘Maria Martin’ is her arrangement of the much-covered ‘Murder In The Red Barn’, Ward inspirationally recasting it as a hypnotically slow lurching blues carried on brushed drums, Sam Pegg’s droningly doomy upright bass and, as the horror is unfolded, cold shivers of keys and violin.

Another cautionary tale follows with the equally familiar ‘Fair & Tender Ladies’, again given a sparse, darkling ambience, dressed in atmospheric nocturnal robes with double tracked vocals, the persistent keyboard drone augmented by meditative acoustic guitar. For the last of the four, ‘Mari Fach’, Ward takes the tune of the lilting Welsh ballad ‘Mari Fach Fy Nghariad’, stripping it back and slowing it down considerably, and adds her own words for the tragic tale of a teenage girl made pregnant by a false lover who gives birth, kills the baby and then is hanged, “all alone”, from a willow tree “down by a Greenwoodsidey-o”.

The album closes with two further Ward originals, the gently waltzing ‘Lazy Day’ restores the sun in distracted, strings-washed thoughts of staying in bed to “dream my days away” rather than getting up and facing a day “bursting with intentions that never find their way.” The final number, backed by harmonium drone and minimal piano notes, has Ward showing her vocal flexibility, delicately swooping and soaring through ‘The Sweetest Flowers’ as she ends on an upbeat lullaby note, dusk drawing in, slumber making eyes heavy, sleep’s reveries and fantasies awaiting, a life “rich with possibility” and a “love that can’t be torn asunder” but “will bloom forever.” Take heed.

Mike Davies

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Artist’s website: www.lucywardsings.com

‘The Trapper And The Furrier’ – live at the Isle Of Wight Festival: