HONEY AND THE BEAR – Made In The Aker (own label)

Made In The AkerBased on a ridiculously small sample, I’m beginning to detect a trend for small groups of players making big music overlaid with powerful vocals. If I’m right then Made In The Aker, the debut album by Honey And The Bear, is right on the money. Honey And The Bear are multi-instrumental/vocal/songwriting duo Lucy and Jon Hart. They have waited a while to record this album and their patience shows in the quality of their work.

Lucy and Jon live on the Suffolk coast – aker is Suffolk for turbulent current, if you were wondering – and many of their songs are inspired by their surroundings and local legends. The opener, ‘Dark Heart’, is the story of a girl who cut her heart out in despair for her missing lover and whose ghost is said to haunt Dunwich beach. More prosaically, ‘The Ferry’ is a tribute to the two families who have operated the Southwold to Walberswick ferry for generations. Even when writing in less specific terms they start by drawing on their locality so ‘Sailor’s Daughter’, about breaking free of society’s shackles, starts with an imagined girl, presumably from one of the coastal villages.

It’s back to a local story for ‘Margaret Catchpole’, who was transported to Australia for stealing a horse but ‘Springtime Girl’ was inspired by Lucy’s grandparents, in particular her grandfather who planted his wife’s name in daffodils in their meadow. Other songs were inspired by a Cuban coffee plantation, a tree house and Sir Christopher Cockerell who is rumoured to have tested his hovercraft prototype on Oulton Broad.

Principal among the small group of musicians supporting Lucy and Jon is Toby Shaer, who plays on every track, Evan Carson who provides all the drums and percussion and Graham Coe whose cello underpins eight of the eleven tracks. There are cameos from Archie Churchiill-Moss and Ciaran Algar and, of course, Lucy and Jon play eight instruments. It is their combined vocals, however, that make the album what it is and what it is is a very accomplished debut.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: https://honeyandthebear.co.uk/

‘Dark Heart’ – live:

EVAN CARSON – Ocipinski (Evan Carson Music – ECMCD001)

OcipinskiOcipinski is percussionist Evan Carson’s first solo album inspired by Jerzy Ocipinski and the Polish Resistance Movements of the Second World War. Why this subject matter you ask? It just so happens that Jerzy Ocipinski was Evan’s grandfather.

The album has taken somewhat longer to complete that originally planned, but as we all know Evan is a busy man recording and/or performing with The Willows, Sam Kelly and the Lost Boys, Carousel and more recently The Tweed Project, to name just a few. It was also recorded in places as far afield as the UK, Russia, Iceland and Australia so it was somewhat logistically challenging.

The music was co-written by Evan and Gleb Kolyadin, who also plays piano on the album masterfully. The lyrics are credited to Evan, Georgia Lewis, Jim Grey and Hannah Sanders who also provide their highly impressive vocal talents along with Evan himself and Ben Savage. Other musicians involved are Karl James Pestka (violin & viola), Graham Coe (cello), Toby Shaer (flutes), Chris Heales (electric guitars and bass), Josh Franklin (bass and synths), Chris Cawood (acoustic guitar and bass) and Archie Churchill Moss (melodian). You are probably already getting the feeling this is something you have to listen to.

The way the album flows is like a prog folk version of Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, albeit shorter and without all the psychedelic imagery. Four of the seven tracks are over six minutes long and all are filled with intricate percussion, piano and vocals. The album is obviously percussion driven and those of you who have seen Evan with any of his bands will know he is not one to stick with a standard drum kit and 4/4 beat.

‘Sky’, the opening track is the shortest on the album and it creeps up on you like an instrumental dawn, it builds gently and then leads into ‘Shards’ (for me the best track on the album) with it’s syncopated drum beat and frenetic piano and wonderful lead vocals from Georgia (someone I must find out more about). This leads into ‘Chrysalis’ with more haunting vocal which has an Eastern feel to it.

‘Otriad’ starts with more great piano from Gleb, features Evan/Jim on lead vocal and has the strings from Karl and flutes from Toby which come to the fore in a middle instrumental section. ‘Bloodlines’ starts slower, but then there is more of that driving percussion with Hannah on lead vocals and Ben’s warming backing vocals. This leads into ‘The Fireflies Of Falaise’ which is mainly instrumental with a multi-vocal chant to take it to the end. The final track ‘Anders Prayer’, has an industrial feel to it with Georgia again on lead vocal and it closes out the album in fine fashion.

This is a truly original piece of work brilliantly produced by Joshua Franklin, which I encourage you to take 43 minutes out of your day to sit down and listen to from start to finish. If you’re at the more open-minded end of the folk world, you will thoroughly enjoy the experience.

Duncan Chappell

Artist’s website: www.evancarsondrums.com

‘Shards’ – in rehearsal:

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:

Evan Carson releases the first installment of a long story

Evan Carson

‘Shards’ is part of an ongoing story inspired by George Ocipinski and members of the various Polish Resistance Units across Europe during 1939 – 1945 now being reconstructed in music by Evan Carson.

A collaboration between musicians from the UK, Iceland and Russia blending, folk, progressive and classical elements. This particular track highlights only one small part of Evan’s grandfather’s journey through the Second World War from escaping a labour camp in Eastern Europe, to joining the French Resistance during the Allied Landings in Normandy and beyond. The purpose of this project is to fill in the gaps and bring the whole story of both his grandfather and other Poles to life. Musically, this song focuses on piano, strings and bodhran influenced by eastern European time signatures.

Evan explained a little more. “The initial idea was just for me to put out a series of tracks that used a lot of ideas that I couldn’t get away with in the other bands I work for. This particular release is all about my family and others in Poland during the second world war. It’s an ongoing story that we are still tracking down all the parts to.”

Looking to the future Evan hopes to continue telling stories and combining styles and musicians from very different scenes and genres.

“I’ve had a very close working relationship with the pianist Gleb Kolyadin and the others so I’m looking forward to finishing the rest of the story with them all. Hopefully I’ll put together a live set as soon as I can get them all in one country.”

Written by Evan Carson

Lyrics by Evan Carson and Georgia Lewis
Vocals – Georgia Lewis
Piano – Gleb Kolyadin
Strings – Karl James Pestka
Flutes – Toby Shaer
Percussion, Vocals – Evan Carson
Additional Sound Design, Production and Engineering – Joshua Franklin
Artwork – Todd Robinson
Mastered – Josh Clarke/Get Real Audio
Written and Recorded in the UK and Russia

Evan currently tours with folk acts Sam Kelly and the Lost Boys (BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards Best Group Nominees), The Willows, Georgia Lewis (BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards Horizon Nominee) and has also performed with Seth Lakeman.

In 2016, Evan recorded percussion for Russian duo Iamthemorning’s Lighthouse (PROG AWARDS Album of the Year 2016) and has gone on to tour with them throughout Europe and Russia.

In 2018, Evan also guested on piano virtuoso Gleb Kolyadin’s (Iamthemorning) solo album opposite drummer Gavin Harrison (Porcupine Tree) and Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater).

Artist’s website: www.evancarsondrums.com

There will be an EP soon but here’s a short preview:

SAM KELLY & THE LOST BOYS – Live at Cambridge Junction, City Roots Festival, 5 March 2018

Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys
Photograph by Philip O’Brien

Battling snow and ice on tour for the past week has clearly taken a toll on this group of musicians (amongst many others no doubt), but that won’t stop them putting on a storming show this evening.

Support act, Honey And The Bear (aka Jon Hart & Lucy Sampson) deliver a half-hour set of earwormy, catchy songs, culminating in ‘William’ from their 2016 EP, About Time Too and the galloping, riffling ‘Wristburner’. Their slightly low-key stage presence belies their lively, well-crafted and perfectly performed music. And it turns out that there’s so much more to this versatile duo: manning the merch stall, driving the van and even providing the evening’s sound tech. Headliners, book them now, while you can.

A short while later, the seven-piece line-up of Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys fills the stage as percussionist Evan Carson sets a grinding groove for the first song, ‘Hickathrift’, the tale of a legendary Norfolk giant-killer.

With so many big, sing-along tunes on both the band’s albums to date, from ‘The Golden Vanity’ via the deceptively jolly ‘Angeline The Baker’, the call-and-response of ‘The Keeper’ or the barrelling ‘Jolly Waggoners’, featuring a frenzied banjo part from Jamie Francis, it’s blindingly obvious why this band is such a festival success.

Then there’s the dry, irreverent and often charmingly unfiltered humour that allows them to respect what they do without being in thrall to it. If you’re after reverential folk that won’t poke fun at the often ludicrous and/or plain old sexist scenarios of some songs, this might not be the band for you. If you want a solid, tight set of superb musicians who know how to have a good time, then they’re a must-see.

Still, it’s not all wall-to-wall party. The well-paced set contains many quieter moments, such as the tender rendition of ‘If I Were A Blackbird’, and Cornish ballad ‘Grwello Glaw’ (‘Let It Rain’). Originating from Kelly’s time with The Changing Room, it’s an appropriate choice for a St Piran’s Day gig. (Also, we’re told, it will be the first dance the band plays for Hart and Sampson’s wedding in June. Altogether now: aaahhh!).

A rather different sound comes with ‘The Shiny Ship’, an effect-laden track from the Pretty Peggy album that has been reworked for the live environment. Carson’s shimmering cymbals and hard rapping drum offset Graham Coe’s shoulder-slung, psychedelic, droning cello to create an atmosphere of moody mystery.

For the family members present in the audience, Kelly dedicates a cover of Dire Straits’ ‘Sultans Of Swing’ which starts leisurely before building into a floorshaker. Finishing with Archie Moss’s melodeon leading the mischievous cross-dressing tale, ‘The Close Shave’ and buffered by tunes from Ciaran Algar and Toby Shaer, the set ends on a whirling high.

As the audience erupts in appreciation, the band returns in typically self-deprecating fashion. “The dressing room was locked” deadpans Algar. Meanwhile, there are two clear contenders for an encore among the crowd. Carson holds a vote, defying Algar’s sardonic, “This is not a democracy”. 48% want ‘The Chain’, but 52% are pro ‘Greenland Whale’, so there it is. Luckily, this is one vote that doesn’t cause deep or lasting division, as we all sing happily together before going our separate ways home.

Su O’Brien

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Artists’ website: http://www.samkelly.org/

‘Sultans Of Swing’ – live at the other Cambridge Festival: