AURI – Auri (Nuclear Blast 27361 42120)

AuriI really didn’t know what to expect from this album. I know Troy Donockley, of course – at least his work with everyone from Maddy Prior to The Bad Shepherds and I know he can play like a demon. Tuomas Holopainen, I learn, is the founder of Nightwish and a composer of symphonic metal so were we in for prog uilleann pipes? Vocalist and viola player Johanna Kurkela is a new name to me so what would Auri offer?

I find myself in an odd position. I love the instrumental sound that Auri makes from Tuomas’ huge keyboards to Troy’s delicate whistles and guitar. There isn’t much in the way of metal but guest drummer Frank Van Essen is an important part of the sound. Symphonic describes it well, as would choral with all the multi-tracked vocals, it is a big rich sound.

My odd position? For the most part, this is not an instrumental album and my first port of call for songs would always be the lyrics but I can’t get into these. If I let my mind wander and just listen to the sound Auri make, I’m quite happy. Johanna has a clear voce which is more robust than it first seems and if she were singing in her native Finnish, I wouldn’t be searching for meaning, and would be raving about what a great album this is.

There are some stand-out tracks; ‘Underthing Solstice’ is one such as are the wordless ‘The Name Of The Wind’ and the closing ‘Them Thar Chanterelles’. I rather like ‘Aphrodite Rising’ but I’m not sure what it’s about although I can probably make some guesses. This is why I didn’t get into 70s prog-rock and avoid concept triple-albums wherever possible. I never was an intellectual.

Dai Jeffries

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AURI – introducing a remarkable new trio


Everything begins with a vision. A virtuoso imagination hovering auspiciously in the air, composed of multi-faceted fragments and ideas that gradually become more concrete, slowly taking shape and then finally forming out of the minds of their makers as a new project. Completely unexpected, it’s just a natural, flowing process. This is just what happened with these three outstanding, internationally successful musicians who have created a musical gem in the form of AURI, which shines even brighter than the glittering Polar Star in the night sky. Johanna Kurkela, Tuomas Holopainen and Troy Donockley – the charismatic protagonists behind AURI – take their eponymous debut on a fairytale journey through time and space, far from here and now reminding us of the fantastic adventures of Alice In Wonderland.

Comprehensive sound cascades full of magical and surreal moments that touch all senses await us; sometimes yearning and dreamy, then again rousing and intense. AURI celebrate a kind of epic-romantic ethno pop that seems to float in quaint spheres, which are intangible yet unleash multi-faceted soundscapes filled with powerful imagery. These sound cascades are based on Celtic traditional sounds, atmospheric-cinematic dream sequences, melancholic melodies and a touch of transfigured mysticism; beautiful instrumentation yielding an unfathomable depth.

Let’s start from the very beginning:

“The original idea to call this project AURI came from the Patrick Rothfuss books”, explains Nightwish mastermind Tuomas Holopainen – an exceptional composer, founder of the world’s most successful symphonic metal band of our time and innovative pioneer for an entire genre. “There is this female character called AURI, who is a very impressive character. The narrative of the books is one of my eternally favourite novels, but it is not just this character – AURI; the symbol of this word just goes perfectly with the kind of music we do. Something is inherent in the concept that lets you know immediately what we are all about. It symbolises the project very well. It’s the perfect match in every way.”

And he is right. AURI is also a Finnish maiden name and derives from the Latin term Aurora, which means dawn. A word that could not have been more significant for this project, because as enigmatic and mysterious as the moment in which the sun rises, saying goodbye to the nocturnal sky and slowly awakening the world out there to life, also appears that particular formation. “A magic dwells in each beginning”, the poet Hermann Hesse (1877 – 1962) once said. And what could be more magical than the magic of the first dawn, which marks the beginning of a new day – maybe even a new life?

AURI made its way to life through the faith of three passionate artists who felt the need for music to exist which they could not describe, formed simply by a harmonious symbiosis. In 2011 the band came up with the idea of creating something in common for the first time.

“We have known each other for a long time and we are really good friends in our free time as well. We see each other constantly and realised early on that we share a preference for similar musical landscapes. We think the same about music, we enjoy the same music and love to create music. So it was an obvious thing for us to start a joint project to find out what we can do together. We were just curious. By that time Troy had already written a song called ‘Aphrodite Rising’. We made a demo of that song and were totally enthusiastic, as we knew immediately that this would work and that we should definitely record a full length album.”

Unfortunately, there was no time then so the project had to wait for some years.

“The band was busy with Nightwish and also Johanna was hooked up with her solo albums, the time just wasn’t right but the idea never let go of us”, recalls Tuomas. “But when we decided to take this year off of Nightwish in 2017, it was clear that the time was right to put it all together and see what we came up with. We wrote new songs, flew to Cornwall for the photo shoot and recorded the album over the summer at my place in Finland. Troy played his parts in England. We also had some selected guest musicians from the Netherlands and the UK on board. Everybody did a great job and we mixed the whole thing in September.”

What characterises AURI and what is always apparent is the beautiful connection which unites the talented trio.

“One of my favourite quotes comes from British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872 – 1958), who once remarked in an interview: `It never seems to occur to people that a man just wants to write a piece of music´”, quotes the Finnish sound artist. “That was his philosophy for writing music and that is pretty much the thing with AURI as well! There is no hidden meaning; we just enjoy creating music together. What you hear is what you get. It happens by itself. Basically it’s the same process with Nightwish. I do not see a big difference in that, except one thing; Nightwish have just grown into a giant behemoth, it’s a completely different dynamic. And then you have AURI – a whole new project with just three people, who are starting from scratch.”

The main reason for Tuomas to let Nightwish pause for a year was that he felt he had reached the absolute creative peak as a songwriter and composer with the current masterpiece Endless Forms Most Beautiful,

“especially with the last track ‘The Greatest Show On Earth’”, he sighs. “I could not feel anything songwriting wise and tried to write some tracks during the break, but got stuck. It seemed that nothing could help me out. I felt like I had no more stories to tell, it was weird. I didn’t feel like working on music at all during that time, I didn’t feel like working on Nightwish at all. But with AURI I found focus again. And the moment we held the final master in our hands, all the dams seemed to break and for the next two months I was doing pretty much nothing except Nightwish and working on a lot of new songs. A whole new world opened up for me. I cannot even say what exactly happened but working with AURI has given me a lot and I feel inspired again.”

AURI is the result of a shared passion. Everyone was involved in everything. However, Tuomas Holopainen does not want to reveal too much about the songs and their stories, “since the listener should bring their own story to the songs – after all, that’s what makes the album so beautiful.

“It lives from the imagination of every single person!” says the composer. “But what I can tell you is that some of the content and the song lyrics are inspired by the Patrick Rothfuss books. Maybe people who know those books and those stories will recognise some parallels and certain scenarios, but believe me; the album equates to so much more.”

If Tuomas describes ‘Auri’ in his own words, he cannot help but smile.

“Just a few days ago, we had this conversation within the band and we thought about the best way to describe it. Two terms came to our minds; Rabbit Hole Music and Celestial Metal. Obviously you can hear influences from folk music, Celtic music, soundtracks – all that music that we love and adore, but categorising the style is really impossible. I’ll leave that to the listeners.” A tour is currently not planned but one thing is already certain: “This is definitely not just a one album thing!”

So sit back, close your eyes and let yourself fall into the depths. A world of wonder and miracles awaits you behind the mirrors. Are you ready?

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Rock legend Steve Hackett announces new album

Steve Hackett
Photograph by Tina Korhornen

Guitar virtuoso and rock legend, Steve Hackett (formerly of Genesis), releases his latest album The Night Siren on 24th March 2017 through InsideOut Music (Sony).  As implied in the title, The Night Siren is a wake-up call… the warning of a siren sounding in this era of strife and division.

The Night Siren showcases Steve’s incredible guitar playing as strongly as ever, along with regular Hackett collaborators and also musicians from several different countries who Steve invited to join him in celebrating multicultural diversity and unity. This includes singers from Israel and Palestine, who both actively campaign to bring Jewish and Arabic people together. There are also instrumentals from the USA and Iraq and a multiplicity of sounds, including the exotic strains of Indian sitar and Middle Eastern tar and oud, the ethnic beauty of the Peruvian charango and the haunting Celtic Uilleann pipes.

Steve is widely travelled, making friends everywhere he goes and has always embraced multicultural diversity.  In these times of unrest, he has been inspired to express his belief that the world needs more empathy and unity. His wish to involve a range of musical sounds, instruments, musicians and singers from different parts of the world is both a development of his eclectic approach to music and shows how people can be brought together, even from war torn regions.

Talking about his latest work, Steve says, “This latest waxing represents a bird’s eye view of the world of a musical migrant ignoring borders and celebrating our common ancestry with a unity of spirit, featuring musicians, singers and instruments from all over the world.  From territorial frontiers to walled-up gateways, boundaries often hold back the tide.  But while the night siren wails, music breaches all defences. To quote Plato, ‘When the music changes, the walls of the city shake’.”

The musical journey takes us from ‘Behind the Smoke’, focusing on the plight of refugees throughout the ages, to the penultimate track ‘West to East’ which reflects on the damage of war and the hope for a better world. From personal to universal, the themes celebrate the life force, breaking free from chains of repression.

The album features: Steve Hackett (guitar & vocals), Roger King (keyboards & programming), Nad Sylvan (vocals on Inca Terra), Rob Townsend (all things wind), Amanda Lehmann (vocals), Gary O’Toole (drums), and Benedict Fenner (additional keyboards & programming). Also featured are singers Kobi and Mira (Israeli and Palestinian), Nick D’Virgilio (drums) from the USA, Malik Mansurov (Tar) from Azerbaijan & Gulli Breim (drums & percussion) from Iceland. Additional musicians who add to the rich flavour of the album are Christine Townsend (violin & viola), Dick Driver (double bass), Troy Donockley (Celtic Uilleann) and Leslie Bennett (keyboards on ‘The Gift’).

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‘In The Skeleton Gallery’:


A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 17Having released their latest album, Good Times Will Come Again last year, MEGSON now lift the lead track, ‘Generation Rent’ (EDJ), as a single. A punchy protest against how today’s young generation find it impossible to get on to the property ladder, it comes as both album version and radio mix. Sandwiched in-between, there’s Morning Mist, a traditional-flavoured ballad that spotlights Debbie Hanna’s vocals, Stu providing harmony, set to a minimal acoustic guitar, and a live recording of Stu’s near six minute The Longshot, a football-themed song that celebrates striving against the odds rather than giving up, because when. there’s no hope, “ a longshot is better than none”.

Barbara DicksonAs a prelude to her spring tour with Troy Donockley BARBARA DICKSON releases an EP of Five Songs. The opening track is the traditional ‘Palace Grand’ – although it goes by several titles – accompanied initially by piano and acoustic guitar until the strings sweep in. Next is ‘Farewell To Fiunary’ starts with bodhran and drone building via multi-tracked vocals to a magnificent finish in which you can almost hear the creaking of oars on the Sound Of Mull. ‘The Hill’ is a Dickson/Donockley original with another lush arrangement while ‘The Laird Of The Dainty Dounby’ is an all-too familiar tale of the villainy of the aristocracy. Finally we have Robin Williamson’s ‘October Song’, a nicely thoughtful setting that honours the original and boasts a pipe solo from Donockley.

Singles Bar 17Born in Hampshire but based in East London, THOM ASHWORTH deals in the British folk tradition, his a stripped down approach played on bass. His self-released debut EP, Everyone’s Gone To The Rapture (available as a download from his website or as a limited edition CD) offers four examples of his work. Two traditional numbers load the front end with a sonorous reading of ‘Tyne Of Harrow’ and a moody drone-like treatment of familiar folk chestnut ‘Lord Bateman’. Not strictly traditional, the EP ends in striking style with a dark, minimal and spooked version of Sidney Carter’s ominous anti-war protest song ‘Crow On The Cradle’, the percussive heavy self-penned title track initially striking a kindred note, Named after a computer game apparently, it started out with a left over verse from a track on Interregum, the Marillion-like swansong album by Ashworth’s former band, Our Lost Infantry, and grew into a comment on how technology is taking away today’s livelihoods, as it did the weavers and miners before. A name to watch.

Whitney RoseWHITNEY ROSE may come from Canada, but her South Texas Suite (Six Shooter) EP celebrates her recent two month residency at Austin’s Continental Club with six songs of a Lone Star persuasion. It opens south of the border with the gorgeous Three Minute Love Affair, the sort of timeless Texicana ballad you could imagine either Marty Robbins or the Mavericks (Raul Malo produced 2016’s Heartbreak Of The Year album) doing. Four of the other tracks are also self-penned, ‘My Boots’ a playful twangy guitar Loretta Lynn-like tribute to her footwear, the steel-streaked ‘Bluebonnets For My Baby’ harking more to 60s doowop balladry, the reflective mid-tempo swayer ‘Looking Back On Luckenbach’ sounding pretty much as you might imagine from the title (Waylon’s spirit presumably hovering over the recording session) and the brief – and a touch pointless – guitars, steel, fiddle and honky tonk piano instrumental closer ‘How ‘Bout A Hand For The Band’,. The remaining number finds her in a laid back swing mood for a cover of Brennen Leigh’s ode to good old retro technology, ‘Analog’. She’s touring here in May and, on the evidence here, will be well worth catching.

Runaway HorseAnd while we’re musically in Austin, RUNAWAY HORSE are a trio from the same fronted by the breathily voiced Mari Tirsa, accompanied by guitarist Daniel Barrett with Rick Richards on drums. Their self-released five-track EP, Beautiful Blue, harks to cosmic Americana with songs rooted in the landscape her New Mexico raising. It’s all fairly sedate and dreamy (though closer ‘Arrive’ has a persistent percussive one foot marching beat underpinning its tinkling starry skies feel), with both opener Holy Water and the title having a gentle, hymnal quality. They’re a little bluesier on the five minute plus ‘The Well’ (the Fleetwood Mac to the Cowboy Junkies elsewhere) while the ticking rhythm of the slowly swelling ‘Once’ sees Tirsa stretching her keyboard wings to fine effect.

VARIOUS GUISES are the duo of Blanche Ellis and Maya McCourt and Tide Take Him marks their recording debut. They mix acapella vocals with guitar and cello and a little assistance from Tom Hyatt’s piano and vocalist Dana Immanuel. The title track is a reworking of ‘What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor’ so that it’s no longer a shanty and instead is sung with a syncopated rhythm or slowed to a funereal pace. Tackling a song as hackneyed as this is always a risk but Various Guises really do something with it. With one more exception the songs are original ending with ‘The Sound And The Fury’ and the traditional ‘Bedlam Boys’ both of which are nicely nuts.

Barbara Dickson – new EP

Barbara Dickson

Barbara Dickson’s career spans 50 years and she is now recording some of her most interesting material, a fusion of old and new.

I started in folk clubs of the 1960s’, says Dickson, ‘and there I learned songs I’ve never forgotten.’ That material, paired with soaking up the ‘new’ songs of the time has given her a prodigious knowledge of music. Since 2004, she has been recording many of those songs with Troy Donockley, her collaborator and musical soulmate.

Five Songs is a taster of music they are playing on Barbara’s UK-wide concert tour, taking place in February and March, where they appear from Yeovil to Perth! The songs on the EP are a cross section of her favourites of now; 3 traditional songs, ‘Farewell to Fiunary’, ‘The Palace Grand’ and ‘The Laird of the Dainty Dounby’. The remaining two tracks are ‘October Song’ by Robin Williamson of The Incredible String Band and an original song by Barbara called ‘The Hill’.

Artist’s website:

Listen to ‘The Hill’ here:

Adrian Edmondson announces return of The Bad Shepherds

Adrian Edmondson and The Bad ShepherdsADE EDMONDSON

The Bad Shepherds announce new album and  UK Tour, “Mud, Blood & Beer”

After an extended hiatus during 2012, ADRIAN EDMONDSON’S celebrated folk-punk outfit THE BAD SHEPHERDS, have announced details of their return with a album and major 24-date UK tour. Both will be entitled ‘Mud, Blood and Beer.’

Ade tells the story in his own words…

“The Bad Shepherds’ last performance was at The Union Chapel towards the end of 2011. We’d been going since 2008, made two albums and done hundreds of gigs. We needed a break, to get a fresh perspective on things as much as anything else. I had some TV shows to make, and a side project called The Idiot Bastard Band with Phill Jupitus and Neil Innes. Troy was going on a year-long world tour with the Finnish prog-metal band Nightwish, and Andy was starting a new band, Ducie. Knowing how the balls can sometimes drop forever when you stop juggling I wasn’t really sure that we’d ever really get back together.

That night at The Union Chapel was quite an emotional event. It’s a funny feeling, knocking something on the head when it’s going well. I’ve done it a few times before, most obviously with The Young Ones and Bottom. But there’s always a fear that what you’re doing is going to get stale, and that it’s best to get out when you’re at the top.

Bizarrely, last year there was a move to revive Bottom. I wasn’t quite sure about it from the start. I’d called an end to my working relationship with Rik in 2003, a) because I thought we’d peaked, and b) because there were lots of other things I wanted to do in my life, music being one of them. When the idea for the new Bottom series came we met and worked on it for a while, but pretty soon I realized it wasn’t what I wanted to do – it felt too much like treading the same path again.

I came to realize that what I really wanted to do was get together with The Bad Shepherds again. Why? Because I am in love with the band. Because I love the sound we make. Because I love being with Troy and Andy. Because the best gigs I’ve ever done in my life, in any art form – in terms of excitement and connection with an audience – have been with The Bad Shepherds.

And on top of that I’d begun to write bits of lyrics and tunes for completely new songs. Our set list up until now has been full of radically re-arranged covers of punk and new wave era songs, mixed with traditional jigs and reels. But I was eager to get together with Troy and work on these new self-penned songs. Songs that take their inspiration from who we are as people and as a band, and how we’ve got to where we are through all the MUD, BLOOD and BEER.

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