Produced by and featuring Ange Hardy, this is the debut album by an affable chap from her home town of Watchet in Somerset who, in addition to running weekly shanty nights down the pub and being an established stone sculptor also serves as the local football referee and Punch and Judy Man. Not to mention, holding the position of Town Crier, hence the album’s title, Songs From The Bell Man. And, of course, that commanding voice.
Joined by Lukas Drinkwater on double bass, Archie Churchill-Moss on accordion fiddle player Tom Moore, and percussionist Olly Winters-Owen, with shanty vocal contributions from The Old Gaffers, it’s a collection of both traditional and self-penned songs documenting Watchet’s long history. Case in point being album opener ‘The Watchet Sailor’, a tale about hearts-stealing Jack Tars that he first learned when he was about eight, sung unaccompanied.
The first of the original material follows, accordion backdropping ‘The Last Shift In’, a catchy waltzer lament for the closing of the Wansborough Paper Mill, where he once worked, in 2015 after over 260 years, the intro of ‘Wasson Boy’ being a greeting at shift change to see if all as going well. A Celtic melody setting of Tennyson’s poem with Hardy on whistle, ‘Crossing The Bar’ tips the hat to a former Watchet crier, one Yankee Jack, it being one of his favourite songs. A familiar shanty, ‘Greenland Fisheries’ returns to traditional waters, the maritime imagery carried over into the self-penned ‘The Last Long Ship’, another Celtic mist melody carrying the poignant story him joining a recently widowed Watchet lady to bid farewell to her husband by consigning his ashes to a Viking funeral, a flock of geese flying past in perfect formation to the flickering flames.
It’s back to traditional shanty shores with the unaccompanied ‘Won’t You Go My Way’, another song learned from Yankee Jack, the Old Gaffers singing the title refrain and the number flowing into the lengthily titled Morris tune ‘Oh dear mother what a fool I’ve been. Six young fellows came a courting me. Five were blind and the other couldn’t see. Oh dear mother what a fool I’ve been.’
Another melancholic gentle waltzer with music hall influences, ‘Emma Louise’ dates back to Milton’s days working at the mill some thirty years back, a love song not to some young lass but a boat, or at least his fanciful imaging of two sail boats he knew about, the lyric another lament for something that’s come to end of its useful life.
The final Milton song, ‘Old Be’n, nods to another former member of the Court Leet, Ben Norman and the wealth of local history knowledge about Watchet harbour he carried with him. If you’re looking for comparisons, this one points to Stan Rogers.
It ends with two unaccompanied traditional numbers, ‘Row On Row On’ being a setting by Tim Laycock to words from the 1864 journal of a New Bedford whaler concerning fears of an approaching storm and arousing reading of ‘Bye Bye My Roseanna’, a shanty cocktail of Scandinavian and Mississippi versions of the song about a sailor’s ocean-roaming life. A fine album indeed, Oyez, oyez.
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The release of their critically acclaimed second album Night Hours in 2016 cemented Jimmy Aldridge and Sid Goldsmith’s reputation as two of the most exciting musicians and social commentators on the British folk scene. Songs have always taken centre stage with Jimmy and Sid and on Many A Thousand we see the duo flexing not only their vocal and instrumentation skills, but also their talent as composers. Part of what makes this compelling duo tick is a love of traditional folksong and a mutual passion for the history that is carried in the music. On Many A Thousand the past and present sit side by side, with original songs more than comfortably holding their own next to the traditional. Another crucial element to this partnership is a shared world-view – sustainability, traditional crafts and living in tune with the land – all elements that deeply inform their music.
The shared world-view that is so integral to Jimmy and Sid’s ethos was arrived at from two very different starting points. Although the two grew up five miles apart in Norfolk, they didn’t actually meet until eight years ago. Prior to becoming a professional musician Sid worked for many years in traditional forestry and as a grower on an organic farm on the edge of Bristol. Jimmy did a PhD in Politics and Energy and then worked for several years as an environmental policy advisor at a think tank in Westminster. Both were stalwarts of the Bristol session scene and kept bumping into each other. They’d share the odd tune but it was only when they found themselves in the same ceilidh band (performing at big barn dances across the UK), that they started playing songs together, eventually deciding to form as a duo. They may have come from different ends of the spectrum of environmental work, but they were driven by the same purpose, one that converges in their music and which ultimately drives them to select the songs they sing.
Despite moving away, both are still active on the Bristol scene and involved with the huge barndances around the city, and further afield. These are raucous events with 3-400 young people letting loose to traditional music – not something that you hear about every day. Such a young and vibrant scene, however, needs nurturing and to this end, they are heavily involved in tune sessions and singarounds with the aim of gathering people together and cultivating new singers. Another impetus to create these new nights is that many of the long running folk clubs are starting to close down. This is something that Jimmy and Sid feel passionately about – that the history and community that exists within our folk clubs continues.
The eleven tracks that make up Many A Thousand include traditional songs such as ‘Working Chap’, a bothy ballad from Scotland, which timelessly depicts the struggles of poverty and working to make ends meet, with an additional verse written by Martin Carthy who first recorded the song in 1990. There’s ‘Poacher’s Fate’, a song Jimmy and Sid learnt from one of their all-time favourite Norfolk singers, Harry Cox, who was recorded singing it in 1970 (the act of poaching in traditional songs seen by the duo as an illustration of the age-old battle against land and power lying in the hands of the rich). Then there’s ‘The Reedcutter’s Daughter’, a traditional song about a traveller who falls in love with a girl from Hoveton – a village very close to where the two grew up and which features the organ from St Mary’s, the village church. ‘Hawk’s Call’ is Jimmy and Sid’s re-write of the slave spiritual ‘No More Auction Block’ – their version imagining a world without military conflict. Then we have the original songs – ‘Turning Of The Year’, about the power of the elements to blow away our troubles; ‘The Tide’, written for an event celebrating the history of Rotherhithe on the South bank of the Thames, reflecting on the relentless rhythm of the tide of both river and people in and out of London every day; ‘A Monument To The Times’, a song about Shirebrook in Derbyshire, which for years was the home of a unionised colliery and which now houses several giant warehouses employing people on zero-hours contracts and paying less than minimum wage. And then there’s ‘Hope And Glory’, more pertinent than ever, a defiant song in response to the rise of nationalism in England and the use of a whitewashed image of what the country once was in order to stoke fear of change.
Whatever your political views, these are beautiful and eloquently executed songs, combining outstanding vocal work and sensitive instrumentation. With a powerful sense of social conscience, the common thread of political struggle, resistance and justice runs through their music and their live shows. Call it a kind of quiet, calm activism, if you will, but there’s an integrity that shines through their work that is both invigorating and compelling.
Alongside Jimmy on vocals, banjo and guitar, Sid on vocals, guitar, concertina and double bass, the album also features Tom Moore on violin and viola, Twm Dylan on double bass and Fred Harper on drums and pandeiro.
Many A Thousand will be released on 7th September and launched at Kings Place in London on 6th September. This is followed by a full UK tour including dates at All Hallows Church, Leeds (16th Sept) and Bristol Folk House (30th Sept).
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No artist is going to say their latest album isn’t as good as their previous ones, but when Dunlop says he thinks Notes From An Island is his best to date, he’s not just spouting press release clichés. Again produced by Ed Harcourt, who also contributes bass, and featuring long-standing regulars Jacob Stoney on keys and drummer Fred Claridge alongside guest musicians Archie Churchill-Moss on accordion and violinists Tom Moore and Gita Langley, it strikes both personal and socio-political notes, the Island of the title a reference to both himself and post-Brexit Britain (as well as a riff on Bill Bryson’s celebrated travel memoirs). It’s also the first on which he gets to show off the virtuoso new guitar skills inspired by acquiring the new Gretsch on which most of the songs were written.
It opens with the heady, musically and metaphorically layered ‘Spices From The East’, a five-minute number that initially offers an image of two people sharing their love in cooking a meal together, folding in their spirits with the different ingredients, drinking in the aromas and sharing a plate together. However, as the music gathers from muted beginnings, so too do the lyrics take on a wider vision as they speak of the country’s colonial past and the opening up of trade routes and sea networks into Asia, generally through conflict, that continue to provide access to the titular spices. As such, it speaks of colonial guilt but also, in this troubled refugee times, a call for a masala society in which “we are coalesced whenever we dine”. Interestingly, there are several references to the East throughout the album, with mentions of Persia and the rivers of Babylon.
Dunlop’s songs and frequently veined with melancholy, and mingling the sour with the sweet and here they predominantly centre around negative experiences with bruised and broken relationships. Even so, his take can often be wry. Cases in point being the next two tracks. Taken at a measured pace with simply repeated guitar riff throughout, the organ gradually filling out the sound, ‘Feng Shui’ deals with relationship breakup and the four walls that holds the memories and “the scars from when we threw things acrossthe room”, his mom suggesting he try Feng Shui and rearrange the furniture in the hope of doing the same with his emotions, the song extending to concern the need to redecorate your lives when the relationship wallpaper starts to peel.
More playfully, opening with Harcourt’s jangling 60s folk-rock guitar, ‘Sweet On You’, the poppiest and most commercial thing he’s ever recorded, is about, as he explained at a live show I caught, about a misguided short-lived teenage crush (“Knew you for two years and by the end of the first the writing was on the wall”) on a self-absorbed friend (the lyric is actually ambiguous as to the gender, though he notes how they “started giving time to the girl I gave my heart to”) with a nose for trouble and who, more importantly, in its memorable references to Ry Cooder, didn’t share his musical tastes, the song ending with the confession that “If I had the choice between you and your mother, I know which one I’d choose”. I’d suspect a touch of Buddy Holly influences might have been at work here.
The mood shifts to a more late night bluesy ambience for ‘I Do’, plangent piano notes, bass and a sparse drum beat underpinning a song that revisits the break up in ‘Feng Shui’, an angsty confessional of wanting to be rid of “every liar I’ve been seeing in the mirror at the end of our bed” but wracked by the thought that “I’ll never find anyone fit to hold a candle to you”. In many ways it’s very stoically British, the affair deemed “rather regrettable” and with a deliberately overwritten line in ‘If only I’d lent her my ocular system’s true appraisal of that tight fitting dress” or, to put it another way, “yes, your bum does look big in that”.
Fingerpicked acoustic guitar carries along the folksier ‘One and the Same’, the drums making an entrance midway to beef it up alongside Langley’s violin that seeks to find common ground in shared pain, his voice soaring to falsetto at the end of lines, his intricate Thompson-influenced guitar work again in evidence on the musically uncluttered ‘Within My Citadel’, another infectious melody and bout of self-analysis about going with the wind in order to have a sense of belonging, of building walls to keep from hurt and of, perhaps, prolonged adolescence as he sings about “remnants of a boyhood in disguise.”
Returning to that broken home, the need to move on but being stuck in limbo and smiling for the camera, ‘Nothing Good’ is a slow waltz ballad that paves the way for ‘Threadbare’, another number, its Fleetwood Mac melodic groove enhanced by the West Coast-like guitar pattern, organ swirls, Moore’s violin and Brooke Sharkey’s backing vocals, about love unravelling (and with another mirror reference) and the need to get back on the horse as he sings “I don’t know what love is but I know that it’s out there”.
Melodeon to the fore, ‘Green Liquor’ has a choppy percussive guitar rhythm as he returns to political commentary, the song addressing the paradox of London’s East End where the homeless seek shelter and while buildings stand empty, “earnest for the ghost of a resident”.
It’s back, then, to the fraught dynamics of love with the sparsely arranged ‘Pallet and Brush’ that uses the conceit of him sitting for a painting “coloured by all of my ills” as a relationship metaphor, “our faces disfigured/Forbidding each other to speak.” Although sharing the imagery of distance, love of a different nature shapes ‘Wed To Arms’, a post-Brexit metaphor about conflicting feelings for his country (“I am wed to her charms… but she’s wed to arms”), an island on an island, and the course on which it is set as “we sail the seas of isolation” like “the North Atlantic Drift”.
Maybe it’s that disillusionment that leads the album to end with ‘Cobalt Blue’, an intimate voice and electric guitar that looks for, if not salvation and redemption, then to at least “both go down together” as he sings of his waking freewheeling from a dream of Melbourne and of ploughing Van Dieman’s Land, the penal colony island off south eastern Australia to which convicts from Britain were transported. You know the healing may have begun when you can see the sky and not the ceiling.
Paradoxically, an album that turns it mind to personal and national isolation it may well prove the one that expands the horizons of audience awareness and appreciation far beyond his present borders.
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The second crop of fruit from the joint project between Sam Carter and Jim Moray brings in Stuart Provan on drums and adds Archie Churchill-Moss’s melodeon to Tom Moore’s violin with Barnaby Stradling on bass.
As with their Salvor debut, it’s rooted in traditional folk songs given a contemporary and often off-kilter treatment with contemporary resonance, case in point being album opener ‘Babylon’ which, opening with a radio broadcast sample, takes the shapenote hymn by the scruff of its neck and lurches into a driving rock drum beat bulked up with electric guitars and brass, the “Babylon’s falling” chorus refrain chiming with its described reaction to current British and US politics.
The drums and guitar solo may lean to the heavier side of folk rock, but there remains a definite traditional air to the 19th century transportation ballad, ‘Black Velvet Band’, set to a new, moody and slow-paced six minute plus tune by Moray that’s a far cry from the familiar rousing Dubliners’ version, the verse melody leeching off the similarly-themed ‘The Whitby Lad’.
The Roud collection also provides the source for ‘William Glenn’, Carter taking nasally lead on a nautical tale of mutiny, superstition and the crew casting overboard the captain they deemed responsible for the storms, a rousing, urgent shanty-founded interpretation learned from Nic Jones with the addition of new lines based on Tony Rose’s version as ‘Sir William Gower’.
Written by Moore, ‘The Ombudsman’ provides an instrumental break, violin naturally to the fore over a dampened bass drum thump, the initial nervy African-textured guitar work giving way to fierce, almost prog-folk riffs, the fury subsiding for the leaving song ‘Far In Distant Lands’, another shapenote hymnal, taken from The Southern Harmony 1854 as ‘328 Missionary Farewell’, it’s timely echoes of the migrant crisis delivered over a wheezing drone and a tinkling repeated keys pattern, building to a climax with wind effects before its final ebbing way.
It’s back to sea for the album’s lengthiest number, ‘Captain Kidd’, the Roud broadside about the legendary alleged pirate who was executed in politically controversial circumstances in 1701, the tune based on ‘159 Wondrous Love’ from The Sacred Harp, starting out in acoustic mode with Moray’s vocals accompanied by fiddle and drone before erupting around the two minute mark into steady-paced but full-blooded electric folk rock.
Another folk standard ballad, ‘Murder In The Red Barn’, the Suffolk-set true story of how Maria Marten was shot dead by her lover William Corder who was subsequently tracked down, found guilty and hung in 1828, events also giving rise to a popular melodrama and something of a local tourist industry, with even part of Corder’s scalp, ear attached, being displayed in Oxford Street. Unusually sung from Corder’s viewpoint, it’s set to a folk rock combination of ‘129 Heavenly Amor’ and ‘146 Hallelujah’, two tunes by shapenote composer William Walker that appear in The Sacred Harp, and featuring an almost Byrdsian jangling guitar solo. A fine companion piece to ‘The Murder Of Maria Marten’ recorded in 1971 by Shirley Collins and The Albion Band.
Featuring in both the Child and Roud collections, ‘Serving Man Become A Queen’ gets a sweeping rework, barreling along on both a newly written Moray tune and a borrowing from The New York Trader as it moves from high velocity drums-driven urgency to a slower passages with a brief touch of almost Bach organ.
The penultimate track and another nautical tale, here about one of three Scottish brothers who turned to piracy to support himself and his siblings, ‘Henry Martin’ begins with clattering African-styled percussion from Laurence Hung before Provan’s drums and glowering electric guitar take control, the number venturing into almost improvisational jazz rock territory towards the end. It ends in suitably jaunty form with melodeon akimbo and fiddle surging for ‘Drink Old England Dry’, a song originally written in response to Napoleon’s boastful threats to invade and drink the country dry, the French subsequently variously substituted by the Germans and Russians, but here reworked to tone down any pro-Brexit sentiments with Moray and Carter trading the new verses and joining together on the suitably rowdy, glasses raised chorus.
Invented in 1844 by Scottish mathematician Hugh Blackburn, a harmonograph is a mechanical device that uses two balanced swinging pendulums to draw geometric pictures, two different but equal forces working in perfect harmony to create a complex whole. What better metaphor for the musical symbiosis of False Lights could you ask!
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Seven projects will create new music rooted in the English folk tradition following the latest round of funding awards by England’s national development agency for the folk arts.
The English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) has made four awards under its 2017 Creative Bursary scheme and three through its Creative Seed Funding programme.
Both initiatives are funded through the PRS for Music Foundation Talent Development Partner scheme. They come under the umbrella of EFDSS’ Artists’ Development Programme, which provides professional development support, both creative and business, to artists at all levels of their career.
Katy Spicer, EFDSS Chief Executive and Artistic Director, said: “All the successful applications are rooted in the folk arts but will bring a fresh take on their subject matter.
“By its very nature, folk music has always evolved and reflected the issues of its generation and these awards will help to develop some very innovative and relevant proposals. We look forward to supporting and working with the artists as their ideas take shape.
“Our bursary and funding schemes are designed to kickstart projects, giving the recipients time to bring their ideas to life. A great example is Sam Sweeney’s Made in the Great War music and storytelling project which began thanks to an EFDSS Creative Bursary.”
The Creative Bursary scheme invited applications from more established artists for an award of up to £2,000 to support creative research and development, together with use of rehearsal space at Cecil Sharp House and access to the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. They have been made to:
· Alex Vann (Spiro) to create an instrumental concert trio using traditional English tunes as the basis for improvisation where each performance is one piece of improvised music using traditional tunes as the cornerstones
· Tom Moore and Archie Churchill-Moss (Moore Moss Rutter) to develop and produce an album of new art-music based compositions and devised improvisations with their roots in local English folk tune traditions
· Alma (John Dipper, Emily Askew & Adrian Lever) and Nick Hennessey to devise a new multi media experience including lighting, data projectors and other technology to enhance the performance and build bridges between inherited traditions and modern media experiences
· Fiddler Rowan Piggott to explore traditional and contemporary folk songs highlighting the decline and environmental threats to our native honeybee and bumblebees.
The Creative Seed Funding Programme was open to emerging artists and involves a £750 bursary to research and develop new work linked to the English folk arts. The awards have been made to:
· Emily Mae Winters to research, record and tour new songs dealing with modern socio-political issues including the movement of people, feminism, fake news, global warming, war and social media
· Heg Brignall (Heg & The Wolf Chorus) to research new material based on modern day myths or myths and legends that have found their way back into our culture, leading to a single/EP release and finished studio album in 2018
· India Electric Company to research, write, record and release the second in a series of releases for 2017 with the theme of country and the city on a six track EP/album.
A series of remarkable, intimate preview gigs has heightened the sense of anticipation around the reunion of Jack Rutter (Seth Lakeman Band), Tom Moore (False Lights) and Archie Churchill-Moss (Beyond the Marches) in the trio that won them the 2011 BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award. The intervening years have seen them play with some of the biggest and best acts in English folk music, and in 2015 they reconvene to release the follow-up to their acclaimed, eponymous debut album.
Widely regarded as three of the best players of traditional folk amongst a precociously gifted generation, their finely-crafted arrangements wield a rare potency. II is the culmination of everything they have been striving for, a documentation of their music-making. The result of four solid years of graft, of touring, of performing, and most importantly, of growing in the tradition. It features ancient traditional material from Britain as well as newly composed tunes and songs. II focuses on their own movements from the countryside to large cities, and the contrasts that come into play, liberally sprinkled with the sound of modern electroacoustic grit. This album has as much to do with contemporary music as it does with folk or baroque. Produced by Andy Bell, the record was made in Sheffield in December 2014.
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