NANCY KERR – Instar (Little Dish Records LiDiCD002)

instarInstar is term given to an intermediate stage of an animal’s life-cycle, most usually applied to insects. It explains the rather disconcerting cover image and suggests that Nancy may one day make an album called Imago. This is complex album with roots in the natural world and the Sweet Liberties project and as its title indicates it’s about transition and impermanence whether by natural processes or by man’s intervention.

I’ll start in the middle with ‘Fragile Water’ which is one of the album’s key songs. It’s derived from/inspired by ‘The Great Selkie Of Sule Skerrie’ and from that starting point it looks at our perception of ourselves – our self-identity, if you will. It’s also a superb piece of writing; words that are simultaneously simple and complex with a beautiful tune. Before that ‘Written On My Skin’ is a song about blood. “Last night I ran with Reynardine” is the opening line as Nancy invokes a symbol from the tradition that everyone will recognise but it’s really about sexual assault and alludes to the fact that acts of parliament are written on vellum – supposedly a symbol of permanence.

The Sweet Visitor Band on the album are Tom Wright, James Fagen, Rowan Rheingans, Tim Yates and Greg Russell – all five sing and three are multi-instrumentalists as is Nancy herself. CJ Hillman guests on three tracks and this line-up could be termed folk-rock – sometimes it leans that way – but can also be quiet and delicate.

I was fortunate enough to hear Nancy and the band on the final date of their recent tour and the insight gained from hearing her talk about her influences is so important. Three books inspired the music: Common Ground by Rob Cowen, Helen Mcdonald’s H Is For Hawk and George Monbiot’s Feral – if you want to dig deeper there is your reading list.

I can honestly say that there isn’t a song here that I’d skip over. There’s the folky humour of ‘Farewell Stony Ground’ vainly trying to conceal a serious point and ‘Oh England What Seeds’ about the Tolpuddle Martyrs but also for all the people that the Empire transported around the world. ‘Gingerbread’ is their Christmas single and even that has a down-side and ‘Crow’s Wing’ was inspired by seeing a peregrine falcon in the middle of Sheffield. This is definitely a candidate for album of the year.

Dai Jeffries

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Artist’s website: http://nancykerr.co.uk/

Nancy Kerr And The Sweet Visitor Band live at the West End Centre, Aldershot

Nancy Kerr
Photograph by Dai Jeffries

The first time I heard Nancy Kerr play she was sitting primly on stage alongside Eliza Carthy. How things have changed: now she’s front and centre, mistress of her stage with a superb band behind her. The Sweet Visitor Band is a fluid entity. With James Fagan at home on child care duty Greg Russell took the lead guitar role and, this being the last gig of the tour, Hannah Martin stepped in for the very busy Rowan Rheingans – what a super-sub she is. Tom Wright on drums, guitar and pedal steel and Tim Yates on double bass remain in place. In most bands you might call them the engine room but they are much more that.

This tour was to promote Nancy’s new album, Instar, a complex work and Nancy did acknowledge that it was good of us to turn out to hear what was essentially a bunch of new songs. They opened with ‘Farewell Stony Ground’ from the new album, the story of a man who set up a car park on a piece of waste ground and took the public’s money for fifteen years. An urban myth? Can we be sure? The song is a perfect slice of English folk-rock in contrast to the title track which starts with a jazzy feel from the drums.

The band is remarkably flexible. At quiet points, the harmonies of Nancy and Hannah dominated minimal accompaniment; in full-on mode with five voices together and every else going full blast, comparisons with the folk-rock bands of the early seventies are inevitable.

Highlights – I looked at my notes and thought ‘that was good, so was that…’ but ‘Fragile Water’ with Hannah on banjo stands out as does the chugging rhythm of ‘Light Rolls Home’, a song written about Nancy’s end of Sheffield. They closed the first set with their Christmas single, ‘Gingerbread’, not the happiest song as Nancy conceded but it has a hummable tune if you don’t concentrate too hard on the words. The other side, ‘It Was Red’, was the first encore. ‘Kingdom’, which opened the second set, was one of several songs written for Sweet Liberties which appear in new clothes on Instar and is another storming almost-rocker.

It was an excellent show: powerful, thought-provoking, sometimes angry sometimes tender and I do have to give a cheer for the Westy which continues to book the best of folk music acts. It’s great to have such a venue a couple of miles from our front door.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: http://nancykerr.co.uk/
Venue website: http://hampshireculturaltrust.org.uk/west-end-centre

SINGLES BAR

A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Latest WaxingHis first new material since 2012 album Seven Songs, HENRY SPARKS releases the aptly titled Latest Waxing, an EP of five acoustic tracks sung in his distinctive swallowed vocals style. Incorporating lines from Blake’s poem, the tumbling ‘While We Were Building Jerusalem’, accompanied by Catriona Bryce on cello, sings of striving for a better life while, enveloped by fiddles, ‘If She Falls’ is a hymnal-sounding song of love and devotion. Again accompanied by cello, ‘So Like A Child’ is a slow waltzer lament for things lost, giving way to the unrequited love themes of ‘The Cowboy Song’ which, despite the title and featuring Alan Cook on pedal steel, sound quintessentially English in a Lilac Time sort of way. Accompanied by just sparse acoustic guitar, the last number is the moody, dark and leafy folk of ‘Migrant’, a timely musing on the hopes and fears of refugee in transit. He waxes eloquently.
http://henrysparksmusic.co.uk/

Of Maids And MarinersThe idea of singing Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’ a capella, slowed down with handclaps and percussion is just so far out but that is what SAID THE MAIDEN have done on their debut EP, Of Maids And Mariners. It is just such a great idea and it works. The lead track is an up-tempo version of ‘The Soldier And The Maid’ showing off Hannah Elizabeth’s fiddle playing and after ‘Jolene’ comes the Davenports’ ‘Spring Tide Rising’ featuring Kathy Pilkinton’s whistle and Jess Distill’s shruti. The first two tracks were produced by Stu Hanna and the latter two were recorded live. Said The Maiden will be huge before too long.
www.saidthemaiden.co.uk

Green OnionsIn celebration of Record Store Day 2016 Topic release a unique double A-side vinyl single. On top is a version of Booker T’s ‘Green Onions’ by MARTIN SIMPSON, ANDY CUTTING and TOM WRIGHT. Cutting takes the lead with Wright drumming and playing guitar lead. There’s a bass in there, too, although there is no indication who might be playing it. Underneath is SIMPSON CUTTING KERR with a specially recorded version of ‘Willie Taylor’ with Simpson on lead vocal and banjo. There is a distinctly transatlantic feel about this variant with a chorus that isn’t heard in English versions. Hedy West claimed it as an Anglo-American ballad but everyone seems to agree with enjoying the fact that the heroine was rewarded rather than punished for her action.
www.topicrecords.co.uk

English Songs 2In support of the same event Fledg’ling release the latest of their replica EPs. English Songs Volume 2 features SHIRLEY COLLINS accompanied by Robin Hall. ‘Dance To Your Daddy’ carries none of the baggage that the last fifty-something years have added to it and doesn’t sound anywhere near as naive as you might expect. The version of ‘The Sperm Fishery’ is different from that on False True Lovers – no banjo, which only appears on ‘The Foolish Boy’. That track, together with ‘My Bonny Miner Lad’ seems rather slight by modern standards and the chorus of ‘The Foolish Boy’ is rather silly but all four tracks were recorded with a simple dignity that sometimes seems lost these days. The inner sleeve includes a vintage photograph of Alan Lomax And The Ramblers.
www.fledglingrecords.co.uk

THE ALBION BAND – Vice Of The People (Powered Flight Music POWFCD02)

The stark acapella ‘calling-on song’ “A Quarter Hour Of Fame” takes a knowing pop at the industry known as ‘pop’ for, if Simon Cowell were to take even the slightest interest in a ‘folk’ band I’m sure he wouldn’t know what to do with them. So, in a track that lasts a mere 44 seconds it would appear the new line-up of The Albion Band mean business much like their predecessor. Forthright views conveyed with a passion were always part of the original band’s make-up thanks due in no small part to the lyrics of John Tams and I’m pleased to say Katriona Gilmore (fiddle) and Gavin Davenport (guitar/concertina) continue in that spirit. Of course, an Albion Band wouldn’t be The Albion Band without the inclusion of at least a couple of trad arr: songs/tunes and in this regard they don’t disappoint with re-workings of “Adieu To Old England” and the downright shanty-rock anthem treatment of “One More Day” where the trademark Stratocaster sound (once provided by Sir Simon Nicol) will leave any festival-going audience with a smile a mile wide. The rest of the band; Blair Dunlop (guitars), Benjamin Trott (lead guitar), Tom Wright (drums) and Tim Yates (bass/melodeon) really are a great ‘engine room’ providing rock solid rhythms and I’d say in conclusion that the band’s name and music is in safe hands. In the words of the great David (we are not worthy) Essex ”Rock On”!

PETE FYFE

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.

A new Albion Band album… The Vice of The People

Alongside Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention, The Albion Band are one of the “Big Three” of English Folk Rock, fusing traditional British songs and tunes with contemporary instruments and sounds. All three were formed by legendary band leader Ashley Hutchings. Generally considered one of the most important groupings in the genre, The Albion Band has contained or been associated with a large proportion of major English folk performers from Richard Thompson to Martin Carthy in its long and fluid history.

Until 2011, the one constant has been Albion Band leader and bass player Ashley Hutchings but, on the fortieth anniversary of the band’s founding, an idea was sparked for a re-imagined, new line-up that would bring together a new generation of performers. The new line-up recaptures the spirit of The Albion Band’s heyday with a rockier, edgier approach to traditional English folk music.  Taking the unique character of classic era Albion Band (Battle of the Field/Rise Up like The Sun) and fusing it with award winning song writing and a contemporary rock and indie vibe, this is the new sound of 21st century English Folk Rock, and a shot in the arm for the whole genre.

For the first time in the band’s history, Ashley steps aside to let son, Blair Dunlop, lead a new generation of folk artists.

“For a good number of years people have been encouraging me to re-form The Albion Band. I have resisted these calls; getting the old faces together again in a permanent kind of way didn’t seem the right thing to do. Then, just before last Christmas, I had a Eureka moment. The way forward was to allow a new generation to take over the baton of The AlbionBand. The next day I asked my son Blair what he thought of being part of a new re-invented Albion Band. His reply was that he couldn’t think of anything he would rather do. We were up and running. Initially, I thought I would be some kind of Brian Wilson-figure, lurking in the background, pulling the strings. However it hasn’t turned out that way. The youngsters don’t need me and are building something new themselves.” Ashley Hutchings

“We have a hell of a heritage to live up to, but with this record we’re confident we’ve made something that stands comfortably alongside anything the genre has had to offer. It’s contemporary, relevant and will bring the concept of traditionally rooted rock to a new audience.” Blair Dunlop

This new line up features a number of performers from a range of backgrounds reflecting earlier versions of the Albion Band. These members include Folk Award nominee Katriona Gilmore (Tiny Tin Lady, Gilmore/Roberts – Fiddle and vocals) the traditionally biased vocalist, concertina player and guitarist Gavin Davenport, (Solo, Crucible) drummer Tom Wright (former Young Folk Award finalist and member of Eliza Carthy projects, Glorystrokes), and Tim Yates (Blackbeard’s Tea Party/The QP) taking on the onerous duty of playing bass – only the second bass player – the first being Ashley Hutchings himself – and lead guitarist Benjamin Trott.

Such a radical overhaul of Albion recruits has met with some controversy, given that no original member of the band remains after Hutchings’ departure, but the startling debut album strikes a contemporary chord that is set to firmly answer many questions.

In our opinion this album has the potential to become the seminal album release of 2012. The work captures the very essence of what the Albion band is and what it stands for. It cleverly works in the best of what has gone before and boldly demonstrates why Folk-Rock is here to stay! Folking.com

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.