ALESSIO BONDì – Nivuru (800A Records 800A/020)

NivuruAfter the sunshine splash of Alessio Bondì’s first album, Sfardo, the title of his second outing, Nivuru (Black), gives a hefty clue that things are about to take a darker turn. Although still singing in his native Sicilian, Bondì’s musical palette has greatly diversifed, taking on influences from travels in Africa and South America.

Right from the opening bars, the difference between albums is obvious, with the lustfully sinuous funk of ‘Ghidara’ (‘Guitar’) giving way to the African rhythms that weave through ‘Dammi Una Vasata’ (‘Kiss Me’).

Slowing things down, ‘Si Fussi Fimmina’ (If I Were A Woman’) has a Mick Hucknall-esque vocal that, just as the extended bending notes start to wear thin, is redeemed by Alessandro Presti’s delightfully smoky trumpet. The languidly heart-broken ‘Café’ with its Spanish-sounding guitar, slurred strings and woodwind flourishes suddenly twists – a kind of jazz voodoo shifts the mood into something altogether more menacing.

Where ‘Savutu’ (‘Jump’) has an 80s funk vibe, ‘Un Favuri’ (‘A Favour’) begins like a sudden, breathless awakening from a nightmare. This slow, introspective song slowly builds up momentum, only to falter into a tentative guitar finale. African percussion beats and a falling woodwind motif begin ‘L’amuri Miu Pi Tia’ (‘My Love For You’) before it surrenders to a full-on brass and handclaps fiesta.

‘Puddicinu A Luna’ (‘Little Chick Under The Full Moon’), with its gently plucked guitar is perhaps most like Bondì’s previous work, but even here he can’t resist adding a waltzing coda that leads straight into final song ‘Nivi Nivura’ (‘Black Snow’). This slinky, slightly Latiny song gains an additional intensity in its second half, largely due to the Oscar-worthy dramatically impassioned vocals.

With Nivuru, Bondì’s opted for a much fatter sound, with a more global feel, as if trying to cram in everything he’s assimilated on his travels. His diverse musical influences flicker throughout every song (which are generally longer than before), so that the overall effect becomes rather overwhelming and threatens to swamp the strong Sicilian presence. If Nivuru’s not wholly successful, for this listener at least, it is an intriguing progression and Bondì remains a name to keep an eye on.

There’s a rare opportunity to catch Bondì’s bold Sicilian-based global music live in the UK, at Servant Jazz Quarters in London on 31 March.

Su O’Brien

We have set up a new UK & U.S Storefront for brand new CD/Vinyl/Download releases recently featured together with a search facility for older stuff. The link for the folking store is:

Click to order featured CD/ Vinyl/Download/Book/DVD

Buying through Amazon helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artist website:

‘Ghidara’  – official video:

Knight And Spiers announce spring tour

Knight And Spiers

On a summer’s day in 2016, the organisers of FolkEast Festival masterminded one of the most intriguing and exciting collaborations on today’s folk scene.

Peter Knight, legendary violinist and ex-member of folk-rock band Steeleye Span was paired with leading melodeon player and ex-Bellowhead member, John Spiers, for a special one-off performance which left audiences in awe. With no space to be found in the marquee, people stood five deep in the pouring rain in order to witness the bringing together of two of the most genuinely gifted musicians in their respective fields.

With a standing ovation and roars for more, and much to the delight of folk fans everywhere, Knight and Spiers decided not to leave things there.

The pairing of violin and melodeon is not a new one, but in the hands of Knight and Spiers, Improvisation and invention meet the listener at every turn. Together they have created a musical document that resonates with history, but also something that should inspire future generations of musicians to engage with Britain’s folk dancing heritage, and the beautiful, mysterious tunes that can be found within that heritage.

These uniquely gifted musicians make a sublime pairing, and create a live performance to be remembered for a long time.

“Knight’s playing is a revelation. A world away from folky fiddling, it’s fully informed by the classical style, all long sweeping bow strokes and eloquent legato. Yet he never loses the essential folk heart of the music, tracing a graceful line of his own making”

“Contemplative, accomplished…an evening to relish for some time to come”

“(The melodeon) is a curious kind of versatile, but Spiers knows exactly how to capture and manipulate its range, adding maximum colour and savour to the music”

All quotes from Su O’Brien’s Review of Cambridge Folk Festival’s ‘City Roots’ at

Artists’ website:

Where it all started – FolkEast 2016:

Tour Dates


12 Barnsoldswick Arts Centre

13 St Andrew’s Church, Kendal

14 The Atkinson, Southport

15 Town Hall, Bishop’s Castle

16 Menter Rhosygilwen, Cilgerran, Pembrokeshire

17 Acapela Studio, Pentyrch, Cardiff

19 Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury

20 Private Concert

21st Arlington Arts Centre, Newbury

23 Wychwood Folk Club, Ascott-under-Wychwood



LinesLines is a trilogy of song cycles inspired by poetry, focusing on three female perspectives across time: Hull fishing worker Lillian Bilocca; World War One poets; and writer Emily Brontë. Lines is available on general release from February 22nd .

After discovering Brian Lavery’s book, The Headscarf Revolutionaries, the actor and writer Maxine Peake created the play The Last Testament of Lillian Bilocca as part of Hull’s hugely successful City of Culture events. Bilocca was the woman who changed policy and regulations following the loss of three trawlers in close succession in early 1968. She led women from the Hessle Road area of Hull (where many of the trawlermen came from) in protest against the lack of safety in the trawling industry. The protests led to a meeting with the government in London and then to eighty-eight safety measures being enacted.

The play had an original live score by The Unthanks and this album has five tracks. The music is predominantly written by Adrian McNally. A couple of the songs have lyrics by Peake – but the album also includes Bolling and Fishman’s ‘Lonesome Cowboy’ (which is a surprise until you relate the lyrics to the long journeys of the trawlermen). I didn’t get back to Hull to see the play, but based on this album, I regret it even more than I did at the time – the music is magnificently atmospheric, with rich but hushed tone set by McNally’s piano and supported by equally soft vocal and playing from the rest of the band.

It isn’t possible to understand Hull, particularly West Hull, without understanding its trawling history. Peake’s play with its focus on the events of 1968 has helped unite this fishing tradition into the modern city of culture. To give an idea of the significance of the women’s protests, Brian Lavery quotes one of Bilocca’s colleagues on her return to Hull from London as saying that the women of Hessle Road “did more in six days than Trade Unions and politicians had done in a century”. The definitions of folk music are many and varied but one of them is “the people’s music”. The Unthanks album will help preserve the story of Lillian Bilocca and the Headscarf Revolutionaries. It will also widen the audience that knows the story.

Mike Wistow

The second part of Lines comprises six songs concerning the Great War and, of course, there is a back story. The songs were originally written for a project marking the beginning of the war and have now been recorded to mark its end. Such projects tend to be collaborative affairs and so the first voice we hear isn’t an Unthank but Sam Lee who sings the first part the long opener ‘Roland And Vera’. Roland was Roland Leighton who was shot and killed two days before Christmas 1915 and Vera was his fiancée Vera Brittain. The song is based on her memoir and there’s lots about her to look up.

‘Everyone Sang’ is the first set of words by a contemporary poet, in this case Siegfried Sassoon with music by Tim Dalling who also sings on this recording. Sassoon was also responsible for the harrowing ‘Suicide In The Trenches’. Adrian McNally takes over as composer from this point beginning with ‘War Film’ by Teresa Hooley, although the poem was probably written in the 1920s. We don’t often think of women as war poets but Jessie Pope, who wrote the final piece ‘Socks’ is one such. Wilfred Owen dedicated Dulce Et Decorum Est to her which shows the regard in which she was held at the time.

The short poem ‘Breakfast’ was written by Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, the leading Georgian poet. It’s typical of the way wrote about the minutiae of life and The Unthanks expand it including lines from ‘Hanging On The Old Barbed Wire’ which are perfectly in keeping. The music is, perhaps inevitably, dominated by McNally’s piano with extra strings brought in to bolster Niopha Keegan’s fiddle and Chris Price’s bass and guitar

Dai Jeffries

As the concluding part of The Unthanks’ Lines trilogy, part three is based on the poetic works of Emily Brontë. Commissioned by the Brontë Society to commemorate the bicentenary of Wuthering Heights, this set of scored poems also forms an audio trail around the Haworth Parsonage (until 31 March 2019; free, but equipment booking required).

Unlike the epic adventurousness of some of their more recent work, this album has a direct simplicity, featuring only Rachel and Becky Unthank’s voices accompanied by Adrian McNally’s piano. McNally composed and performed on the parsonage’s 5-octave cabinet piano, which no doubt informed the hypnotic minimalism of the resulting music. Ambient sounds derive from on-site recording sessions, which took place after museum hours.

As we enter ‘The Parsonage’ the crows take raucous flight from the churchyard next door. Opening the door, only footsteps and the chiming and ticking of clocks disturb the stifling stillness. Nature, time, death. A triumvirate of forces scouring across Emily Brontë’s life and work.

Brontë’s nature is not manicured or cultivated, but an untamed, raw beauty. As the little piano riffles of ‘High Waving Heather’ sketch in the endless moor-top breeze (just as likely to be a bitterly whipping wind!), Becky and Rachel sing alternate lines, before they run together in a harmonic stream.

Connecting with nature is therapeutic. ‘Shall Earth No More Inspire Thee’ makes a plaintive and heartfelt cry for its subject to re-embrace nature to gain relief from inner torment. Yet ‘Lines’ conveys the sadness of finding that nature cannot soothe those who do not allow it in.

‘Remembrance’ has been set to an arrangement of a traditional tune, which pairs very well with this heavily Romantic lament. But it’s the deceptively simple and placatory dissembling of ‘She Dried Her Tears And They Did Smile’, set to a slow waltz, that really gets under the skin.

Some of the songs comprise several poems in well-considered conjunctions, such as ‘Deep Deep Down In The Silent Grave’ partnered with the equally solemn ‘Oh Hinder Me By No Delay’. But it’s ‘The Night Is Darkening Around Me’ where the dread and defiance of “I will not, cannot go” is perfectly counterpointed by the tender ‘I’ll Come When Thou Art Saddest’. Bridging back to the first poem via a short poem fragment, ‘I Would Have Touched The Heavenly Key’, this is a delightfully constructed track.

The refrain of crows, clocks and footsteps opening ‘O Evening Why’ suggests this as a logical end to the album, but perhaps it’s just too downbeat, as Becky sings the first poem in a dirgey minor before Rachel joins with the equally tonally bleak ‘It’s Over Now; I’ve Known It All’. Instead, the brighter ‘I’m Happiest When Most Away’ escorts the listener back to the moors and leaves them contemplating the shifting night skies at the top of the world.

Su O’Brien

We have set up a new UK & U.S Storefront for brand new CD/Vinyl/Download releases recently featured together with a search facility for older stuff. The link for the folking store is:

Click to order featured CD/ Vinyl/Download/Book/DVD

Buying through Amazon helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artist website:

Recording the Brontë song cycle:

VRÏ – Tŷ Ein Tadau (Erwydd Records ER002)

Tŷ Ein Tadau Tŷ Ein Tadau (Our Fathers’ House) is the stunning debut album from Welsh chamber-folk trio Vrï. First off, it’s blindingly obvious how great these guys (Aneirin Jones, Jordan Price Williams, Patrick Rimes) are together. They play off each other wonderfully well, with superb control of dynamics and nuance, excelling in subtle mood shifts, in delicate washes of light and shade. But more layers to this musical millefeuille lie in Vrï’s high-minded intent.

Vrï have attempted a respectful untangling of the complex role of Methodism in Welsh society leading to either the suppression of folk traditions and tunes or of their appropriation into the hymnal (per the tendency of any establishment to absorb perceived threats). Vrï seek to tease out and restore some tunes to their traditional roots, without undermining the importance of “chapel” in Wales’s social history. Reads like a PhD proposal: sounds like a dream.

The album opens with the mournful cello of ‘Dewch I’r Frwydr’ and a melody which glances off Dvořák’s New World Symphony. There’s darkness, too, in the exquisitely sad ‘Tôn Fechan Meifod’, with that same bleak bucolicism as Howard Shore’s Lord Of The Rings post-war “Shire” music.

‘Breow Kernow’ marries ‘Mount Hill’ with a lively Cornish ‘five-step’ whilst the the skipping, slurring jig triple set of ‘Cyw Bach’ melds short, firm bow strokes with big rounded percussion. ‘Taflu Rwdins’ weaves an agile polka into an epic vocalised chorus, in contrast with the clean, sedately classical lines of ‘Crug Y Bar’.

Beth Celyn lends her rich, round and soaring vocals to ‘Cob Malltraeth’ over strings which, starting as a gentle, long-bowed flow, acquire a nagging insistence. The other songs feature the voices of the band members and range from the sean-nós of ‘Aros Mae’r Mynyddau Mawr’ to ‘Ffoles Llantrisant’ presented like a hypnotic round. If ‘Clychau Aberdyfi’ strikes more oddly on the ears, it may not be down to the chiming bell rhythm, but rather to the suddenly harsh-sounding and intrusive English.

Final track, ‘Gŵr a’i Farch’ brings all the band’s elements together, kicking off with an unusual time signature hornpipe, working together folk and classical textures with great power and sensitivity.

So there’s something rather cerebral in their approach, yet their music absolutely glows with energy and life. This album reaches the head, the heart and the feet all at once – just take a listen.

Su O’Brien

We have set up a new UK & U.S Storefront for brand new CD/Vinyl/Download releases recently featured together with a search facility for older stuff. The link for the folking store is:

Click to order featured CD/ Vinyl/Download/Book/DVD

Buying through Amazon helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artist website:

Vrï live at Llantrisant folk club:

KATIE DOHERTY & THE NAVIGATORS – And Then (Steeplejack Music, SJCD023)

And ThenA life-changing decade after her debut album, Bridges, was released, Katie Doherty returns – with Navigators Shona Mooney (fiddle) and Dave Gray (melodeon). New album, And Then, feels like an invitation to sit down for some tea and cake and a bit of a catch-up.

An early graduate of Newcastle University’s Folk Music degree, sometime Broom Bezzums member, Royal Shakespeare Company project musical director and collaborator with many other theatrical companies, Doherty’s career path has taken plenty of serendipitous turns. Add in marriage and a small person underfoot, and it’s all too easy to see how time can slip by.

All but one of the songs on And Then, were written by Doherty, a gifted songwriter with a huge melodic sensibility. Her songs may still have a folk core, but they are wrapped within contemporary musical and singing styles. From the warmly nostalgic, contagiously lovely waltz of ‘Heartbeat Ballroom’ via the strong, jagged ‘Angry Daughter’ – a protest song framed in a female context (and featuring Doherty’s splendid cathartic soul diva holler) – through to the strong musical theatre vibe of ‘And Then’, myriad diverse influences inform this engaging music.

A noticeable self-critical streak is also evident, starting with the volley of bending notes that conveys the defiant, chin-out hurt of ‘I’ll Go Out’. A pragmatic view of love is established in ‘Yours’ and only ‘Navigator’ (the source of the band’s name) lightens up a bit to celebrate love and friendship. Still, a lingering core of self-doubt persists in many of the lyrics, like in ‘Tiny Little Shoes’, a delightful, very Bella Hardy-esque song about the fear – and love – of parenting.

For a totally contrasting mood, Doherty’s sansula playing adds ethereality to the already sparse and chilly ‘Rose In Winter’, warmed only by a faint echo of birdsong. Equally gripping are the muscular fiddle and mournful melodeon breaths of ‘Polska’, a traditional tune to which the addition of Doherty’s arabesque melismatic vocalisations could be considered a spot of lily-gilding.

As the belated catch-up draws to a close, a chorus of voices joins with the plucked fiddle and barely-there piano opening to ‘We Burn’, swelling into a triumphant, uplifting finale. On the strength of this smartly constructed set of songs, it’s to be hoped that Ms Doherty and her Navigators don’t leave it quite so long next time.

Su O’Brien

We have set up a new UK & U.S Storefront for brand new CD/Vinyl/Download releases recently featured together with a search facility for older stuff. The link for the folking store is:

Click to order featured CD/ Vinyl/Download/Book/DVD

Buying through Amazon on helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artist website:

‘Heartbeat Ballroom’ – official video:

NIGHT TREE – Dedications (Night Tree Records, NT02)

DedicationsNight Tree is an American/Swedish sextet, all alumni of the New England Conservatory. The group has worked extensively with US-Irish band Solas, with founder Séamus Egan producing both their albums so far. Dedications is Night Tree’s second album, commemorating places and people of significance to them.

The unique set-up of saxophone, accordion and percussion supplementing a classical string trio alerts the listener that this album will be something out of the ordinary. From beginning to end, nothing goes quite where you imagine it will, each track a travelogue of global musical styles drawn from an extensive repertoire. As well as many shades of classical music, from chamber to avant-garde/minimalist, there are rich seams of jazz, traditional and world music. The Celtic influence features strongly throughout, particularly evident in tracks like ‘The Last Day Of Summer’ and ‘Blue-Eyed Sailor/The Piano Room’.

The nine-and-a-half minute superbly-titled ‘Elvish Warfare Suite No.1’ sets the tone for what to expect. Shifting constantly, from moodily enticing accordion to a wave of fast strings over a muted percussive beat, this is a twisty-turny beast. A curving sax line gives way to a husky violin lamenting over a spare piano line before the mood becomes lithe and light once more, over a cidada-like swish of percussion. The return of the sax lends an unsettling shift to a cooler angularity, concluding with heavy-bowed melancholy strings.

‘Oya’ culminates in African-sounding vocalisations, whilst ‘Baby Blue’ kicks off with doo-wop harmonies over plucked violin before taking a woozy turn past some metronomic strings. ‘The Girl In The White Dress’ continues with the Michael Nyman-esque strings, a slippery accordion leading off the main melodic line.

‘North Carolina Cottage’ begins with a cappella voice, instruments joining the off-beat in a flowing, jazz style, accompanied by a bleating sax. ‘Year With The Yeti/Wings From The North’ is a light, skipping melody with a nimble sax part and ‘Point Joe’ culminates in a sax coda of the main tune. Although the sax is used with great invention, it’s hard to shake off some of its 1980s connotations, which linger in the rather bland finale ‘Great Storm’.

Night Tree clearly relish playing with the possibilities of harmonics and composition, skilfully fusing unlikely musical bedfellows and taking their music to the edges of disconcerting atonality. They’re tightly attuned to each other’s playing, apparently even practising in darkness sometimes, so as to concentrate more. There’s a constant, fluid restlessness to the music, yet it remains highly listenable and enjoyable. Someone should probably tell the band’s faces, though: their cover photos look like they just got a nasty tax bill.

Su O’Brien

We have set up a new UK & U.S Storefront for brand new CD/Vinyl/Download releases recently featured together with a search facility for older stuff. The link for the folking store is:

Click to order featured CD/ Vinyl/Download/Book/DVD

Buying through Amazon on helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artist website:

‘Oya’ – live: