THE MEADOWS – Force Of The Tide (own label)

Force Of The TideA new addition to the folk family ranks, the Welsh Celtic-Classical crossover quartet line up, in age descending order, as Melody, Fantasia, Harvey and lead singer Titania, variously on violin, flute, piano, guitar and percussion, their debut album, Force Of The Tide, drawing on the stories and history of the British and Irish coastline.

Appropriately, then, Titania on crystal pure vocals, it opens with Fantasia haunting piano and Harvey’s violin notes of ‘Lovely On The Water’, a song collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams that, moving from summer idyll to the roar of cannons, comes from the fine tradition of a lass parted from her sailor lover by the call of war. Backdropped by rumbling bodhran and violin, a similar scenario provides the setting for ‘Maid In Bedlam’, the tragedy here being that, out of her mind at their parting, the unfortunate girl is locked up in the infamous mental asylum, intoning “I love my love because I know my love loves me.” Unusually, it all turns out well when her sailor returns and sets her free.

Featuring Melody on Irish whistle, Fantasia on piano and Harvey bodhran and mournful violin ‘Henry Martin’ is the Scottish ballad about three brothers, one of whom takes to the sea and eventually turns pirate to support his siblings, leading on to the Irish ballad ‘Maid Of Culmore’, again arranged around violin and piano with Melody on flute, Titania conjuring thoughts of Anne Briggs as she sings of a young lad, heartbroken that the Londonderry girl he’s fallen has gone off to America and vowing to follow and never return until he finds her.

Backed by violin and bodhran, everyone joins in for lusty take on the traditional shanty ‘High Barbary’, again a tale of sailors and pirates, only here it’s the former who have the upper hand, the musical mood shifting for a lovely piano ballad reading of ‘Lowlands Away’, Titania delivering the lyrics in a softly caressing lullaby style, complemented by dreamy violin and flute.

Things stay mellow as the girls’ joined voices croon the Welsh lullaby ‘Si Hei Lwli Babi’, remaining in the traditions of their native land for the first of three instrumental, the two-minute ‘Bedd Y Morw’r/Hen Ferchetan’, opening with Fantasia’s carousing solo violin before giving way to thumping bodhran, piano and recorder as it gathers to a climax. The second follows with ‘Heron on the Water’, perhaps better known as ‘The Swallow’s Tail’, a lively reel driven along on Fantasia’s violin and Harvey’s bodhran with a shake of tambourine from Titania.

Opening on and punctuated by dramatic guitar and piano notes before the fiddle carries things away, the album ends, Melody on in whistle, with the third instrumental, the traditional Irish jig ‘Dribbles Of Brandy’ with its shifting time signatures and tempo. Prior to that comes the album’s longest track, a five and a half minute ‘Spanish Ladies’, a slow and sombre shanty precursor dating from the late 18th century and relating British sailors sailing north from Spain to return home up the English Channel and having to determine their location by sounding the water’s depth, drowning their melancholy in in plenty of booze.

A mix of familiar and lesser known songs from the traditional repertoire, it’s a hugely confident and impressive debut that see them comfortably ride the tide to wider recognition.

Mike Davies

‘High Barbary’ – live:

SINGLES BAR 30 – a round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 30Following on from 2016’s Trick Star, accompanied by Steve Mayone on mandolin and nylon string guitar, pedal steel player Chris Tarrow, Jason Mercer on upright bass and Alex Hargreaves providing fiddle, ANNIE KEATING’s latest is a five-track collection of road songs originated from last year’s European tour. It opens with the title track, ‘Ghost Of The Untraveled Road’, a Dylanish mid-tempo waltzer about listening to a song on an Italian radio station, understanding the sense if not the word, sparking ‘busy bees’ in her a thinking about how things might have turned out differently (“Should I think of you fondly, or not much at all?/Shall I cherish confessions of bury them all?”) had she taken different paths.

Reflectiveness also feeds into the gently jogging country breeze of the fiddle-accompanied ‘Forever Loved’, Hargreaves again adding colour and texture to the wearied ‘Kindness Of Strangers’, essentially a song about how the warmth and hospitality of those you meet along the way can keep you going. There’s more musing introspection about the past on ‘Sting of Hindsight’, another fiddle-led waltzer with pedal steel streaks as she ponders “Maybe I’m built for a life on the road” and concludes that all you can do is “Be here, let go of regret”. It ends all too soon with such regret riding the mournful pedal steel and fiddle tide on “Forget My Name”, the chorus shading the song’s Nanci Griffiths colours with hints of Tom Petty.

There’s a sense that the EP is about refocusing herself and reminding why she’s committed herself to making music and spending on the road, and of the grace notes that balance the times when it all seems like a weight. As such, she’s clearly emerged at the right end of the tunnel and hopefully a new full length will be on the not too distant horizon.

Through The FayreWe featured THE MEADOWS in these pages back in 2015. They are a young family quartet from Wales who recently sent us their debut EP, Through The Fayre, five songs about or set in fairs, although for some reason they play ‘Carrickfergus’ as an instrumental. Actually, it’s very good with Fantasia Meadows’ piano and Melody Meadows’ flute dominating a delightfully pastoral sound. They open with ‘Brigg Fair’, effectively a vocal solo by Titania Meadows, followed by ‘Scarborough Fair’. ‘She Moved Through The Fayre’ features vocal harmonies by the three sisters over Harvey Meadows’ electric guitar for a very different sound and we hear more of Harvey as he takes the lead vocal on the final ‘Star Of The Country Down’ at a cracking pace.

UnpluggedTHE GRAVITY DRIVE are a married couple, Elijah and Ava Wolf, from the south-west. While working on their second album, they also chose to record a back-to-basics EP, Unplugged, to showcase acoustic versions of four songs. They begin with ‘No One’s Gonna Tell You’ – a fairly basic guitar strum with minimal but perfectly judged decoration and their two voices alternating and harmonising some clever lyrics. Potential for a real ear-worm here. There is also some nice amplified acoustic lead on ‘Candle In The Dark’ and more clever lyrics (“only love can be your candle in the dark”) over a rolling country melody. ‘What Is Love’ has a very Dylanish guitar – if Elijah had gone into ‘All Along The Watchtower’ I wouldn’t have been surprised – until Ava takes over with a 1930’s feel about her share of the vocals. Finally, ‘Breakheart Hill’ has the feeling of traditional Americana – in a full arrangement it would cry out for pedal steel or mouth harp.

Kete BowersLiverpool singer-songwriter KETE BOWERS has a new two self-released track single well worth seeking out. ‘Northern Town’ is a confessionally sung, spare, moody five minute strum about drinking to numb heartache, which only takes you deeper into depression, the lyrics extending to parallel this with a sketch of a town that’s sunk into the same state with “Boards on the windows and nailed shut doors/Broken benches where men sat and talked/No dreams to dream here anymore.” The same idea extends to ‘A Town With No Cheer’, which, evocative of Springsteen’s bare-bone acoustic work, spins a haunting image of broken hopes and dreams (“the ghost of banjo Harry picking out some lonesome tune/When we were young we’d shoot for the moon/Now nothing here is sacred and there’s little or no regard”) in a former ship-building town brought to its knees and the emotional numbness that has swallowed up both it and those that live there, stripped of faith and drowning in drink and despair.

The Wind Blows ByAmerican singer/songwriter JOEY COSTELLO releases what would seem to be his debut EP, The Wind Blows By, although he has a fair number of singles to his name. What is immediately apparent is the sincerity of his approach to his music but it isn’t matched by the production. There is an unacceptable amount of guitar squeal, particularly on the lead track and a shrillness that leads to reaching for the volume control. His vocal style has been likened to those of Damien Rice and Ray LaMontagne so if you like them you’ll probably like Joey too. There are some decent songs here but too much getting in the way of them.

Black FeathersCurrently working on their new album, BLACK FEATHERS offer a taster of things to come with ‘The Ghosts Have Eaten Well’ (own label) Sian Bradley and Ray Hughes duetting on a catchy acoustic uptempo rootsy Americana number, the evocative title a metaphor for the dangers of being consumed a constant reflection on regret and guilt that cannot be changed but which prevent you from moving on.

Last SwallowVeteran singer-songwriter, guitarist and sound engineer ROSS PALMER has a new four-track EP, Last Swallow. The lead track is a wistful, acoustic reflection on lost love but ‘Make It Last’ picks up the pace a bit with a bigger arrangement including electric guitar and drums. There’s no indication as to who is playing what but Ross is probably doing most of it although Melanie Crew is prime suspect for the female voice. Ross doesn’t really do rock’n’roll so ‘Separated By Water’ and ‘Ghosts & Echoes’ are very much in the same style. An album is expected later this year.

HengistburyUK country duo HENGISTBURY have released their debut single, ‘What Folks Don’t Know’ available as a download with a limited number of CDs. There’s sprightly banjo under Jessie Mary’s vocals while the ‘B-side’, ‘My Body Ain’t A Temple’ boasts a bigger arrangement with piano. It’s all very nice but quoting “shining like a National guitar” is a bit naughty.

Introducing The Meadows

Introducing The Meadows

The Meadows are a young and vibrant Celtic-Classical Crossover band who draw their inspiration from a wide range of musical genres including Celtic, classical, folk traditions from around the world, Tudor and contemporary. They perform regularly, having played concert tours and numerous sets including Cardiff’s Wales Millennium Centre (simulcast live), various festivals, Aberglasney – including a concert opening the newly restored Great Hall alongside stars of Welsh music and the Hollywood actor, Damien Lewis. They also present very popular interactive music workshops in schools. The enthusiastic response following their 2013-14 tour for the Velindre Cancer Centre spurred them on to play a wider-reaching tour for Wales Air Ambulance who they continue to support, and their charity work has recently added Rays Of Sunshine which helps very sick children. They regularly feature on radio, and airplay has included local, international and BBC Radio Wales, along with articles in the press including Celtic Guide and Celtic Life International.

MelodyMelody is the eldest of the siblings. Although she has played the piano since she could balance on the stool, followed by violin, she began to learn the flute later. Taking to this instrument like a duck to water, she devoured everything her teacher threw at her and achieved distinction at Grade 8 in little over two years and soon moved on to diploma. She continued to progress her art through regular violin masterclasses with Prof. Barry Haskey (retired associate leader of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and Professor of Music at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama), Christopher Williams (pianist with BBC Chorus and BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Cardiff University and R.W.C.M.D.), Matthew Featherstone (Principle Flute of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and R.W.C.M.D.), Eva Stewart (Principle Piccolo of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and R.W.C.M.D.), and has studied cutting-edge extended techniques with the world-renowned flute composer Prof. Ian Clarke (Guildhall). He has encouraged her to explore creativity through composition along with her sister Fantasia on piano. As well as piano, violin and flute, Melody plays guitar, recorder and Irish whistle. Alongside her work with The Meadows, she has played solo Classical sets at Ammanford’s Miner’s Theatre, the Llandeilo Fawr Festival of Music and at the Wales Millennium Centre accompanied by Christopher Williams. She teaches piano and flute students, further enabling her to share her love of music with others.

FantasiaFantasia is a Celt at heart, loving the Traditional music of Celtic culture. She has masterclasses with Prof. Barry Haskey and Christopher Williams. In keeping with her love of Celtic music, she also enjoys playing Irish whistles. Having accompanied Melody on piano during her masterclasses with Ian Clarke, through his encouragement she discovered a love of writing music and in 2013 she debuted her composition ‘An Evening Stroll Through Aberglasney’. She teaches violin and piano, and enjoys writing novels for children, making rag dolls, dress-making and watercolour painting.

HarveyHarvey is the quiet ‘creator’ of the family. He has been taught piano by his eldest sister and was honoured to appear in an A.B.R.S.M. High Achiever’s Concert in Swansea. He takes violin masterclasses with Prof. Haskey, also enjoying playing guitar, bodhrán and composing. Harvey’s other passion is painting in oils and his work is being exhibited in fine art galleries in Cardiff and Carmarthenshire.

TitaniaTitania is the youngest member of the family. Growing up in a musical household made it almost inevitable that she too would become a musician. She takes piano and violin lessons under Fantasia and Melody’s tutelage and writes pieces of her own including ‘May Mountains Howl’ which debuted on BBC radio and was performed during the Wales Air Ambulance tour. When Titania was only a few months old, she astounded her family when, out of the blue, she joined in singing with her siblings before she could even talk and has not stopped since, pointing forward to her present role in the quartet! She loves performing and outside of her music she enjoys writing stories.

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