THE WILLOWS – Through The Wild (Elk Elk014)

Through The WildA sort of folk supergroup that sees singer Jade Rhiannon Ward and multi-instrumentalist husband Cliff joined by Ben Savage on Dobro, percussionist Evan Carson from Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys and, new to the line-up, Katriona Gilmore on fiddle and mandolin and double bass player John Parker, this belated follow-up to 2014’s Amidst Fiery Skies finds the Cambridge-based sextet ranging across genres that span English folk, Americana and bluegrass with a sound that, at times conjures an English Clanaad. That is not the case, however, with full-blooded folk rock album opener ‘Coda’, which, like all but one number, is penned by the band. A number that deals with mortality and loss, it’s echoed in the softer, more reflective and melancholic breathily-sung ‘Better Days’ where, mottled by banjo, grief gives way to hope.

The sole non-original comes with an clopping percussion arrangement of the traditional ‘True Lover’s Ferry’, a song of love on London’s waterways learned from the singing of Peter Bellamy. Gilmore and Carson provide the backbone with Ward’s banjo also prominent for ‘Perfect Crime/Ernest Durham’s’, another musically muscular number, which draws on the true story of Percy Cox, a soldier from the Fens in the First World War who, to get a higher age, stole the identity of Ernest Durham, an Australian soldier who lends his name to the second half instrumental.

A song about the healing power of love, the evocative fiddle and banjo coloured ‘Honest Man’ musically heads out to the Appalachians before they turn to Canada for ‘Pearl Hart, Savage taking on electric guitar and Carson laying down the skittering percussive bedrock on a song that recounts the true story of the 19th century Canadian who gave up robbing stagecoaches to join Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

War rears its head again with ‘Out Of Our Hands’, a rueful acoustic guitar accompanying Ward on a song which, briefly swelling towards the end, was inspired by her reading of A Memory of Solferino, Henry Dunant’s 1862 book about the battle of Solferino in 1859 between Napoleon’s forces and the Austrian army, the suffering of the soldiers and the lack of aid, and which led to the founding of the Red Cross and the Geneva Conventions.

The English landscape serves as inspiration for two numbers, the first being ‘False Light’, pizzicato mandolin and fiddle gradually building to a big production number about the lights people imaged they saw over the fenland marshes, luring them to their deaths. It’s followed by ‘Gog Magog’, a jazzy, airy, puttering percussive rhythm number that, inspired by the eponymous chalk hills of Cambridgeshire and the mythical pagan giants (also to be found in the Bible and Cornish legend) who walked them, again treats on loss through conflict.

It ends on a personal note with the spare six-minute traditional flavoured, fiddle-coloured slow waltz ballad ‘Dear Lilly’ being dedicated to Jade’s great aunt, her courtship, marriage, miscarriage and subsequent nursing of her dying husband , going on to live for over a century, a fitting uplifting conclusion to an album that welcomes the band back in magnificent style.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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

Artists’ website: www.thewillowsband.co.uk

‘False Light’ – official video:

The Great British Folk Festival 2018

The Great British Folk Festival 2018

Hi-de-Hi! Hi-De-Ho! to all the team at The Great British Folk Festival 2018 at the Butlin’s Skegness resort.

Yep, its that time of the year again when “That Old Sweet Folk and Roll” comes to Skeggy and the “Blood, Sweat & Tears” of the Bultlin’s Live Music Weekend calendar, clashes with their other Electric Dreams weekend event in Bognor (where you can see Pat Sharp and join the Eighties music themed Pool Party). There is some brilliant banter already on the ‘Live Music Weekends’ facebook page suggesting that one individual would ‘rather watch paint dry’ than make the trip up North. Well, all we can say is your ‘folking loss Me Ol’ Mucker’ as I believe there is workshop on the Saturday morning up in Skeggy for that.

Look at that line-up above! Where else are you going to get that sort of a bill during 30 November to 2 December?

Anyway, you can probably tell that we are excited to the point of delirium so I’ll hand you over to folking.com’a answer to “Smashie” (I’m apparently Nicey), Mr Paul ‘How are Ya’ Johnson who is going to say a few words…

For tickets and more information visit GBFF 2018

Darren Beech

Here is Dai Jeffries excellent review from 2015 to get you in the mood.

THE GREAT BRITISH FOLK FESTIVAL, Skegness, 4th-7th December

Hannah Sanders – debut album

CharmsAgainstSorrow

Charms Against Sorrow is the brand new début album from singer Hannah Sanders. A charismatic and distinctive vocalist, Hannah has already begun attracting critical attention. Reviewing her 2014 EP Fate, FATEA magazine stated “There are shades of Sandy Denny in Hannah’s expert vocal delivery at times… I hear as much akin to early Joni Mitchell, in terms of melodic manipulation and vocal compass (diagnostic features like confident leaps in register), moulding of phrasing and basic style of guitar accompaniment”. Ben Savage (of The Willows) produced the album and it is he who also plays the acutely sympathetic dobro and guitar in support.

What is evident throughout these recordings is Hannah’s deep respect for tradition, something ”that is really important to me”. ”I work from primarily traditional sources”, she says, ”and traditional song was what I first sung with my family, The Dunns, when I was still a teenager”. Subsequently, as an adult, she left music for a time to pursue a career as a cultural anthropologist, becoming a leading expert on contemporary witchcraft and popular culture, and living in Boston, Massachusetts, until returning to the UK in 2013. “When I lived in America”, she continues, ”these songs were invaluable as they kept me anchored to my own history and landscape.”

The instrumentation deployed on the album reflects both the American and British influences on her musical style. These instruments were ”selected because they work in sympathy with the songs, but speak more of the range of my (and Ben’s) influences (both folk and otherwise).” The musicians involved include family (Hannah’s sister Ruth) and friends — Jon Thorne (Lamb, John Smith, Martha Tilston), and three members of The Willows (Ben, Evan and Jade).

From the beautiful ballads of Britain to sweet songs of the American mountains, Hannah brings lightness and depth to her renditions of songs traditional or contemporary. ”My intention” she explains ”is that my delivery and the material itself should convey depth and substance and not just through control or tone (which are esteemed in traditional singing). Instead, for me delivery is about risk – taking risks in arrangement, in vocal elasticity, and in tonal blending. The songs are big enough, and old enough to have anything thrown at them!

”My job is to deliver a real range of mood and feeling, to bring the listener into a place where they can feel more. I sense this about all the songs, but for me it is most notable in ’Go Your Way’, ’I Gave My Love A Cherry’ and Lord Franklin’”.

The recording was made “grass roots”. ”We recorded it, variously, in an old mill in Suffolk (in a massive empty octagonal room with a fire), in my friend (and folk singer/harpist) Nick Hennessey’s little rural Lake District cottage in the heart of winter, and in our (mine and Ben’s) kitchens and living rooms. You can hear various ambient noises: the fire crackling in the background, you can hear birds and the wind – the funny noise before ’A Sailors Life’ is me trudging up the stairs in the mill. We wanted a sense of liveness, of intimacy, to the album.”

The result is a work that bears the intimacy of all these recording spaces yet is the culmination of a musical journey across two continents. ”For me singing is a moment of connection” Hannah says ”to history, to the inner emotion of a song, and, ultimately (if I’m lucky), to the listener”.

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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

Artist’s website: hannahsandersfolk.com

A live take of ‘Geordie’:

 

The Willows’ new album, Amidst Fiery Skies, released October 6, 2014

AFS CoverRising Cambridge five piece’s striking second album sets alight Anglo-American melting pot

Outstanding young Cambridge band The Willows will release a striking follow up to their debut album this autumn, further enhancing their growing reputation as inspired musicians and innovative songwriters.

Amidst Fiery Skies, due out on October 6, rekindles the flame sparked by their acclaimed first album Beneath this Humble Soil and reveals a mellifluous melding of influences -11 tracks infused with Americana, bluegrass, country and English folk, from foot stompers to ballads.

The Willows are adept at juxtaposing fiery and fragile, tough and tender, lush and light, in an emotive rollercoaster mix, perhaps no more so than on this new release. With shades of Alison Krauss and Union Station, The Waifs, Gillian Welch and Be Good Tanyas, theirs is life affirming, affecting, energised and evocative music.

There is alchemy at work in this smart, sassy line-up with familial links. The band is fronted by Jade Rhiannon with her distinctively husky but tender vocal, aided and abetted by talented multi-instrumental husband Cliff Ward on banjo, guitar, violin and vocals and sister-in-law Prue Ward, a superb, sensitive fiddler. Ben Savage, apparently “found” in the Gumtree free ads, is a dynamic dobro and guitar player while “new kid on the block” is versatile Evan Carson on bodhran, drums and percussion.

Skilfully produced by Sean Lakeman who has masterminded albums for brother Seth Lakeman, The Levellers, Carus Thompson and Rev Hammer as well as his own duo with Kathryn Roberts, this release brings together poetic songs of land and sea from both sides of the Atlantic, mixing original, traditional and covers songs in one beguiling and enigmatic collection.

Feted for their “absolutely gorgeous sound” by Bob Harris and championed by the likes of Mike Harding, The Willows formed four years ago, making waves with their 2013 debut album produced by Stu Hanna, which was nominated for Best Debut Album in the Spiral Awards, run by popular music website Spiral Earth. They clinched the Pride of Cambridge prize in the New Music Generator Awards hosted by radio station Cambridge 105 and along the way have supported the likes of Lau, Seth Lakeman, Peatbog Faeries and Rory McLeod.

“Engaging and sensitive newgrass musicianship – The Willows come across like an English take on Union Station” – fRoots Magazine

“A unit that ply their brio and accomplishment – The Willows know what they are about”Songlines Magazine

The vibrant new album, which also features guest double bassist Ben Nicholls (Seth Lakeman Band/The Full English) delivers vivid narrative songs. The compelling banjo-driven ‘Johnny Robson’ tells of a man who throws himself into the fire after seeing an apparition of his dead wife while ‘The Visitor’ is a fine original inspired by the band’s trip to Robin Hood’s Bay, telling the true epic story of one of the most significant lifeboat rescues in British history.

“Absolutely gorgeous sound” – Bob Harris, BBC Radio 2

“They straddle the worlds between Americana and English roots music in a very deft way; for such a young band they don’t take any prisoners. Fabulous music”- Mike Harding

The CD opens with the winsome ‘Red Sands’ interweaving several story threads – from tales of Welsh great grandparents to those forced to move from the land they love and cherished memories of childhood holidays in Norfolk. There’s an infectiously catchy reading of Bill Staines’ sublime ‘Roseville Fair’ – a song Ben was drawn to after hearing Chris Wood and Andy Cutting’s interpretation while Jade brings her warm honeyed vocal to the poignant Irish ballad ‘Maid of Culmore’ and America’s early Irish immigrants working on the Central Pacific Railroad are the focus of ‘Shores’ on which Cliff takes lead vocal.

The self-penned ‘Our Road’ is mellow and mournful with the fluid fiddle of Prue to the fore while ‘Daughter’ is punchy, pacy and free flowing as it looks through the eyes of a young girl and her evolving relationship with her family as she grows from a cautious child into a wise mother.

Utah Phillips’ ‘Goodnight Loving Trail’, learned from the singing of Sara Grey, tells of an old cowboy who became the cook of the 2000 mile cattle trail from Texas to Wyoming while the achingly tender ‘Outward Bound’ is the result of delving into the treasure trove that is The Full English Digital Archive and alighting upon a manuscript collected by Francis Collinson in Kent. Based on ‘The Faithful Sailor Boy’ it tells of a ship’s safe return to land minus the maiden’s lover and is set to a fresh new melody by the band.

The lush full sound of album closer Wave washes over this classy collection, again featuring soaring violin and reversing a common song theme of yearning to return home to civilisation with a desire to stay away and linger a little longer in isolation.

Amidst Fiery Skies is released on the Elk Records label and distributed by Proper Music.

Artist’s website: www.thewillowsband.co.uk