Hosted by Dunton Folk, the church of St Mary Magdalene welcomed a gathering of friends old and new for the official launch of Daria Kulesh’s third solo album, Earthly Delights. Daria’s gigs are like that – there’s always someone good to talk to. This was the big band – the first time I’d seen the line-up – with regular collaborators Kate Rouse, Marina Osman, Jonny Dyer and Vicki Swan on nyckelharpa and bagpipes. With them were Katrina Davies on fiddle, Heather Sirrel, whose 5-string bass is almost as tall as she is and Edwin Beasant on drums and percussion.
We weren’t expecting too many surprises. Daria sang the album in order but embellished the stories behind the songs and sometimes got quite impassioned about the iniquities of rulers, raising an ironic laugh when she talked about coming to democratic Britain after living in Russia and carrying with her the history of the Ingush people. She confessed in her introduction to ‘Earthly Delights’ that one of her delights was turnips – that got a real laugh – but someone reminded me that she is Russian, after all!
Players came and went but everyone was back on stage for the first half closer, ‘Vasilisa’. The mix and the arrangements were tight but this was Daria’s event and the job of the musicians was to project her which, of course, they did admirably. This wasn’t a night for extravagant soloing but even so I do wish that Jonny had been a bit higher in the mix – it may just have been where I was sitting, of course.
In the second half, before ‘Cap & Bells’, Daria introduced the composer, Joseph Sobol. He was sitting just behind us so, of course, my wife had already engaged him in conversation during the interval – I said that there was always someone good to talk to. I should say that, at the time, I was chatting to someone I hadn’t spoken to in nearly twenty years – that’s the sort of evening it was! ‘Greedy King’ is perfect for a big finish with everyone back on stage.
For the first encore, Daria soloed a song called ‘The Highlanders’ and let us into a secret. This is a hidden track on Earthly Delights – more of an Easter egg actually because it’s track zero. Daria assures me it’s there but I haven’t managed to access it yet. Finally the band came back for ‘Heart’s Delight’ from Long Lost Home – a perfect ending for a evening of songs that are, on the one hand, about human weaknesses but also about human happiness. Of course there were still people to talk to before we wended our way into the night.
Hector Gilchrist, as you will quickly discover, comes from Ayrshire but is much travelled. To misuse a common phrase, however: you can take the man out of Scotland but you can’t take Scotland out of the man. There is someone like Hector in just about every folk club: always welcome, able to produce a set at a moment’s notice. They may not be stars but some can elevate themselves above their apparently humble status. Gleanings is a collection of traditional and contemporary songs that might seem typical except for Hector’s skill in finding a previously unconsidered piece.
He begins with the lovely ‘Baltic Street’. It’s a tale of love and self-sacrifice with words by Violet Jacob and a melody by Carole Prior and I guess it’s unique to Hector. It slips easily into ‘How Many Rivers’, Robert Burns’ ‘A Rosebud By My Early Walk’ and Steve Knightly’s ‘Exile’. By now, the album is feeling rather downbeat and I’m hoping for something rather more lively. Although a guitarist himself, Hector only plays on one track, ‘Sir Patrick Spens’, and leaves most of the work to Bob Wood. Also supporting him are Carol Anderson on fiddle and the myriad talents of Vicki Swan and Jonny Dyer. Moira Craig takes the second vocal lines – I’m not going to belittle her contribution by referring to “backing vocals”. You’ll note that all of them are regular visitors to WildGoose studios.
The liveliness begins with ‘A Waukrife Minnie’ – a night visiting song of the sexual encounter not the supernatural sort – with Carol throwing in a fiddle tune at the end. ‘My Ain Countrie’ is a wistful song of exile and then comes the first of those unconsidered pieces. ‘The Stag’ was written by Angelo Brandaurdie, an Italian composer, songwriter and Renaissance music specialist. It’s an oddly philosophical piece in which the titular beast urges the writer, a hunter, to use every part of his body instead of just taking a trophy. Whether the hunter actually kills the animal is not recorded. After ‘Sir Patrick Spens’ things cheer up again with ‘The Gallowa’ Hills’ and then comes the second unexpected gem. Janis Ian’s ‘When Angel Cry’ is a real downer, written at the height of the AIDS crisis. Vicki and Jonny provide the accompaniment with all the delicacy you’d expect.
Gleanings is an album reminiscent of a time when singers didn’t overthink things. It’s a collection of songs that Hector likes and enjoys performing which is where we all came in. That’s not a veiled criticism; I’d not heard ten of these sixteen songs before proving that there is always something new to discover.
A musician once commented on social media that the word he hated seeing in a review was “interesting”. I was as guilty as anyone and resolved to stop using it but have to say that An Invitation To Dance is a very interesting concept. Purcell’s Polyphonic Party combines the instrumental talents of Vicki Swan, John Dipper and Jonny Dyer and the album comprises twelve tracks mostly drawn from John Playford’s collections. The thing is that the tempos are strict and the repeats are listed for the dancers among us. The tracks run to between four and six minutes although ‘St Margaret’s Hill’ and ‘Softly Good Tummas’ may tax the stamina a bit.
Fans of John Dipper’s other band, Methera, will love this and as a non-dancer I also approached the album as a listener. Dipper restricts himself to the viola d’amore making it the principal melody instrument and as well as her nyckelharpa, Vicki demonstrates her skill on double bass and various aerophones, including bagpipes. Jonny plays harpsichord and piano as well as guitar, bouzouki and citole.
Inevitably strings dominate but the tracks to which Vicki adds flute, pipes or recorder provide sufficient variety for the listener. My favourite tracks are ‘Terpsichore’, taken from Michael Praetorious – I’ve always preferred early music to modern classical – ‘Mount Hills’ with lots of bagpipes and Jonny’s hand in the composition and ‘Kesterne Gardens’ with a remarkably modern sounding introduction on guitar and bass. There are a couple of maggots, which I discovered a couple of weeks ago is what they called earworms in the 18th century because the tunes go round and round.
I will confess that it’s taken me a couple of plays to get into An Invitation To Dance but now I’m there I can safely say that I’m very happy.
February 23rd is a date that should be known in history. On this day in 1944 the entire population of the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, those who weren’t away at war fighting for the Soviet Union, were told they were being deported for alleged collaboration with the enemy. Many were children and resistance was met with death.
Move forward to 2017 and February 23rd was the date chosen by Daria Kulesh to launch her second album Long Lost Home at Cecil Sharp House in London. The location was appropriate because, as Daria said, CSH collects and stores folk memories so that they are available for future generations and Long Lost Home is more than just an album of songs as Daria through her Grandmother, Fatima Akhrieva, is Ingushetian. The evening was a celebration of her journey to find that link to her past.
February 23rd 2017 will also be remembered for Storm Doris, which provided a suitably tumultuous backdrop to the event but unfortunately disrupted travel and meant some audience members were unable to attend. They missed an evening of powerful, moving emotion that was also uplifting with its message of hope for the future.
The evening began with two well received pieces from Timur Dzeytov, People’s Artist of Ingushetia, including a song about the deportations followed by a traditional tune. He played the dakhchan pandar, a form of the balalaika, and it was obvious even to me that this was not “Russian” music. There were resonances of the near- and middle-east in the sound. It was a suitably exotic opening.
Daria then took to the stage wearing a most beautiful dress that had been hand made and decorated in traditional style. She opened, as does the album, with ‘Tamara’ a dark song about sorcery and death. The simple accompaniment from Timur and Evan Carson (percussion) emphasised the words well. Evan came in as an emergency replacement but it certainly didn’t look that way, the sign of a very talented musician.
I’ve been fortunate to have seen some of these songs before, at least one on its debut, often with just Daria accompanying herself on guitar or shruti. For the album launch we were treated to a full backing band which allowed the music to be fully expressed. At various points during the evening we were also introduced to Jonny Dyer (piano and guitar), Kate Rouse (hammered dulcimer and piano), Vicki Swan (double bass, nyckelharpa and small pipes) and Phil Underwood (various accordions and guitar).
The evening followed the album so we were quckly enraptured with the ‘The Moon and The Pilot’, the story of Daria’s great-grandparents, Diba Posheva and Rashid Akhriev. Diba was one of the deportees in 1944, two years after Rashid died a Hero of the Soviet Union in the battle for Leningrad. It could not save his wife and their two young children, one of whom was Daria’s grandmother. It was impossible not to be moved by Diba’s story of resilience and love for her children.
My personal favourite on the album came not long afterwards. ‘Amanat’ is the story of a relative even further back in time, Chakh Akhriev, who was born in 1850 and essentially fostered to Russian parents as a hostage. It’s a story of a different time and place, yet of a man who never quite fitted in. The song appeals to me, maybe for that reason, and it is also a fine example of Daria’s incredible vocal ability. There’s so much power, range and control in her singing she entrances a room in the way very few other singers can.
This is not a review of the album so I will only mention one more song, ‘Heart’s Delight’. This is Daria’s translation of the Ingush ‘Song of Mochkha’. She also wrote the gloriously uplifting tune. The first time I heard it I thought it was the Ingush National Anthem, and it possibly should be.
“What is yours by right, May you always hold/May your heart’s delight become your fate.”
To show how music can cross boundaries this was the tune where Vicki Swan played her small pipes, a suggestion which originally came from Timur Dzeytov. It worked so very well; the drone of the pipes adding a frisson to the words that raised the hairs on the back of my neck.
For an encore we were treated to ‘Fata Morgana’, the opening track from debut album ‘Eternal Child’ and the start of Daria’s journey to her Long Lost Home in the Caucasus Mountains. To complete the journey Timur Dzeytov returned to the stage to play a lezginka, a traditional dance from the Caucasus. In the dance the man (on this occasion Anzor Aushev, who was one of Daria’s hosts in Ingushetia on her research trip for the album) is an eagle and the woman, whose name I don’t know, is a swan. It was a beautiful insight to a different culture, the dance involved no contact between the partners but the courtship aspect was more than clear. This is the dance which is also referred to in ‘Like A God’, the story of Daria’s great-great-uncle, and Diba’s brother, Aludin Poshev. It was said he could dance like a god.
We also had a speech from Khairudin, the leader of the Vainakh (Ingush & Chechen) community in London and I was left with the impression that Long Lost Home is a folk memory of Ingushetia that will become important to a country and people who are trying to reestablish their identity after many years of turbulence and suppression.
I sometimes feel that I’ve lived with this album for almost as long as Daria has. I heard all the songs as they were released in their various ways; I talked to Daria about the background to the project and some of the stories and even got a sneak preview of the cover art. After all the anticipation I began to have a niggling fear that Long Lost Home might prove to be an anti-climax. What do I know?
Daria’s first solo album, Eternal Child, was autobiographical in the personal sense: the story of a young woman travelling the world and having, shall we say, adventures. Long Lost Home is autobiographical in the historical sense. The long lost home is Ingushetia in the Caucasus, the ancestral home of Daria’s grandmother, a country whose people were displaced in 1944 on the orders of Stalin. There are some harrowing stories here as well as more reflective ones.
The first song we heard was ‘The Moon And The Pilot’ which originally appeared on a Folkstock sampler and then slipped into Kara’s live set. Now in its proper setting it has blossomed to become the keystone of the record. You probably know it by heart if you’ve read this far but if not I won’t spoil the story for you. It sits second on Long Lost Home, following ‘Tamara’, based on words by the Russian romantic painter and poet, Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov, about an immortal siren – there is an abrupt change in mood from the mythical to the painfully truthful in these two songs. Next comes ‘Safely Wed’ – arranged marriage was normal in Ingushetia but “Auntie Nina” defied the tradition – and the magnificent ‘Amanat’, another song that crept into Kara’s live set.
When I first listened to the record after every song I thought, “go on, top that” and, remarkably, Daria does just that. In the middle of the set is ‘The Panther’, the story of an NKVD officer who refused to aid the deportations and turned vigilante. Movies have been made of slenderer stuff. That’s followed by ‘Like A God’, about Daria’s grandmother’s uncle who defied Stalin in a different way and ‘Heart’s Delight’, based on a traditional Ingush song and set to a martial beat. Many of these songs are linked to Daria’s family going back three or four generations but the subject of ‘Gone’ is herself, still living in a land that is not her own but, unlike the Ingush of seventy years ago, she can return home.
The key musicians supporting Daria are multi-instrumentalists Jonny Dyer and Jason Emberton, who also produced the record and Ingush singer Timur Dzeytov who also plays the traditional dakhchan pandar, providing some of the more exotic sounds. Kate Rouse’s hammered dulcimer is a distinctive presence as are the nyckelharpas and smallpipes of Vicki Swan. Daria is in superb voice as befits these literate songs – the word “operatic” keeps coming to mind but that isn’t right at all. It’s about power and heart and love and melancholy and about telling important stories in a very human way.
Should you be looking for an album to confound all your expectations and destroy your preconceptions look no further, I say.
Seriouskitchen are a combination of storyteller Nick Hennessey and musicians Vicki Swan and Jonny Dyer and The Whispering Road is a work they have been performing for three years. It combines two old Scandinavian stories with original and traditional music and rolls and flows with no regard for the somewhat arbitrary track divisions.
The first story is ‘The Ring’, an almost archetypal Swedish tale involving a prince, an iron ring, singing animals and trolls and we’re getting perilously close to spoilers – although the prince does seem a bit slow on the uptake. Vicki restricts herself to the traditional nyckelharpa and sings the Swedish children’s song ‘Trollmors Vagvisa’ as well as providing atmospheric backing vocals.
The second story is ‘The Giant With No Heart In His Body’, well-known across northern Europe but collected in Norway. In Seriouskitchen’s adaptation the giant is a troll and the second story provides the background to the first as well as bringing its resolution. The frightening finale is in contrast to the more light-hearted opening. Even with the modernised style of story-telling Nick retains the traditional patterns – everything happens in threes in the approved manner. However, in the modern style it is the girl who is the brains of the outfit while the prince hides in a cupboard.
The Whispering Road is a wonderful piece of invention and although it may be too late to get it for Christmas it will make a fine New Year treat.