Paul Johnson is still suffering from delusions of grandeur and is again banging on about our ‘world renounced’ interviews as if he actually believes it.
Meanwhile… back in the real world, it would be more appropriate to use the term ‘world renounced’ to describe that ‘Pretty Damn Cosmic’, fiddle player extraordinaire, Mr Ric Sanders. So, let’s do that then to introduce this year’s folking.com interview with Ric Sanders (interviewed by Darren Beech and Paul Johnson).
In the interview we talk about Ric’s 34th Year with Fairport, the call from Dave Pegg in April in 1985 to join the band to be part of the Gladys’ Leap album. We talk about the ‘Fairport Extension’ set, the New Forest Folk Festival and Maart’s inspirational heroic ‘Metal Matty’ performance last year.
We discuss ‘echo delay pedals’ and Ric’s musical background of Blues, Jazz and Rock. We move on to the new Ric Sanders Trio album Headspace with Vo Fletcher (Guitar and Vocals), Michael Gregory (Drums & Percussion), talk about the previous album Standing on the Corner and Graeme Taylor’s fantastic new studio where the new album was recorded.
The interview closes with a Home Service announcement that totally took us by surprise. Ric talks about his first album for Harvest EMI, when he recorded with Soft Machine and how that led up to working with John Tams on Rise Up Like the Sun.
The interview should start playing automatically, if not click on the play button below to listen.
The idea of holding a folk festival in Skegness in December probably raised a few eyebrows when it was first mooted. The suggestion that it should be held at Butlin’s may have caused a pursing of lips but it makes perfect economic sense. The artists have a major venue and a captive audience to add to a winter tour and the camp and its staff gets extra use and revenue. There are two main venues, both are very large and both were packed on Friday evening.
Entering the Pleasure Dome, sorry, Skyline Pavilion trying to figure out where everything was it was nice to be greeted by the harmonies of Said The Maiden on the Introducing Stage – the third open venue in the middle of the pavilion. It was nearly the end of their set, unfortunately, but we stayed to hear Kings Of The South Seas before insinuating ourselves into the Centre Stage for False Lights. Live, they are less reliant on Jim Moray’s synth wizardry and proved themselves to be an exceptionally good folk-rock band in the classic style. They may prefer to think of themselves as mould breakers but they are actually doing what some bands seem to have forgotten how. Their attempt to perform ‘How Can I Keep From Singing’ without PA was not a success, however; the natural acoustics of the room are not as good as they believed.
At an event like this you can’t hear everything so I was now faced with a decision – Eliza Carthy And The Wayward Band or Billy Bragg? The fact that we now had decent seats settled it and we stayed put for the first half of Eliza’s set. Her twelve piece band are set to be the next Bellowhead (whatever anybody says) and are more than up to the task. As well as old favourites, including a “duelling fiddles” interlude with Sam Sweeney in ‘My Boy Billy’, there was a new song, ‘Devil In The Woman’, slated for their first studio album. Bragg called, however, and we arrived for what seemed like the mellow end of his set with ‘Levi Stubbs’ Tears’ and ‘Greetings To The New Brunette’. No! Amongst the polemic he sang ‘Between The Wars’, still powerful and relevant, and ‘There Is Power In A Union’. I reflected that the latter needs some revision with the unions battered down. We may discover that there is power in unity. ‘A New England’ wrapped up his set perfectly.
CC Smugglers followed with the sort of set that only a band as youthful as them could have the energy to play but shouldn’t have the chops to pull off. They have played so many gigs since I first saw them, even ones they weren’t invited to, and have become so tight and slick. Richie Prynne prowled his stage like a circus ringmaster, never still and rarely silent, cajoling and haranguing the audience, the songs and even his band-mates like a true showman. If the idea of the last set of the night was to wind the audience down then CC Smugglers were not the right choice.
The first and last time I heard Moulettes was at very uncomfortable gig and I was looking forward to hearing them in a nice chair. Actually, the best seating for the band is a bean bag with a lava lamp, joss-sticks and a guy dishing out small squares of blotting paper. Sadly the only mind-altering substance available was a pint of Hobgoblin. This was the final gig of the Constellations tour and Moulettes were also previewing their new album, Preternatural, with songs which, for want of more specific titles, we’ll call ‘Octopus’, ‘Nematode’ and ‘Behemoth’. I love the sound of the band, I love their instrumentation and their style but I really don’t know what they are about a lot of the time. “Surreal dreamscapes” were mentioned and I guess that’s about right.
I chatted to Ruth Skipper after the set to ask her impressions of the festival. It turned out that they had only just arrived and gone straight on stage, which accounted for some of the sound man’s problems. At their simplest Moulettes can be two guitars, bass and fiddle but at various times will be added electric cello, bassoon, autoharp, some meaty drums and keyboards and a balance that’s right for the beginning of a song may be wrong by the end. I did discover that the band were looking forward to the water-slide and hearing more music later which proves that I have no future as an investigative reporter.
Next up were Magna Carta. Chris Simpson on-stage is pretty much the same as Chris Simpson off-stage – he’s a raconteur, discursive and philosophical and Doug Morter is his perfect right hand man. Chris has surrounded himself with some very fine musicians but the set felt loose and the decision to give Morter a solo of one of his own songs seems questionable. Back on the firmer ground of The Fields Of Eden things were much more sure-footed and ‘Airport Song’ was a nice encore.
The queue for Tom Robinson curled twice round the pavilion and things were clearly running late so what might have been another difficult decision was made easier and we settled in to hear Sam Carter. He opened his set with ‘Yellow Sign’, the song he began with when I first heard him, and I was shocked to realise that that was six years ago. He has grown as an artist so much. Just when we were settling into the style of his own songs he switched to ‘The Wife Of Ushers Well’, which he sings with False Lights, and ‘Rocking The Cradle’. He played a superb set which showed the power of one man and his guitar. Sam was probably the highlight of the weekend for me.
We got back just in time to catch the end of Tom Robinson’s set so I did get to sing ‘2-4-6-8 Motorway’ again before The Unthanks appeared on the Centre Stage. With the full ten-piece band on stage it’s easy to overlook the contribution of Niopha Keegan to the group but her trumpet playing was the fondant icing on several songs. The technical problems rolled on so The Demon Barbers XL were thirty-five minutes late on stage, almost taking the gloss off their excellent set which began with traditional songs and ended as a dance display featuring hip-hop, interpretative dance and a fearsomely fast rapper. It’s quite disconcerting to see a stage bare of wires, mic stands and other clutter but they needed all the space they could get. I got to bed by 2.00 am, more or less – it was a long day.
By midday the pace was beginning to tell and the queues for the afternoon sessions were noticeably lighter and some people I spoke to were planning a power nap in preference to more music. No such luxury for your man on the spot.
TradArrr were excellent. They can really rock and with Marion Fleetwood on lead they can turn in a bittersweet ballad like ‘My Laggan Love’ or ‘Silver Dagger’. Between them they boast five lead vocalists, a full string quartet, a keyboard player who frequently added unexpected flourishes and two drummers, one of whom plays cornet. There were hints of high camp as PJ Wright planted a foot on the foldback and Guy Fletcher prowled the stage hunched over his mandolin but they restrained themselves well. It was then a choice between waiting for Jacqui McShee’s Pentangle or scurrying off to catch The Band From County Hell – sorry Jacqui.
The Band From County Hell are a Scots/Irish group from Lincolnshire and are huge fun – ‘The Day My Granny Died’ is a song everybody should hear at least once. They have been around for a quite a while, with six albums to their credit and it seems odd that they aren’t better known – although they don’t lack for support. The first notes played by Blazin’ Fiddles were on keyboard and guitar which is, I’m sure, their little joke. It’s not logical to find them restful but they are so tight and their music is so hypnotic. I promise that I didn’t nod off but I was definitely on a different plane of existence for a lot of their excellent set.
I returned to the Introduction Stage to hear Chris Cleverley whose debut album, Apparitions, I really like. His set, mixing traditional songs and his own compositions didn’t disappoint and he’s already working in new songs including ‘All I Want’ which will send me back to Joni Mitchell’s Blue as soon as time allows. I stayed for Polly And The Billets Doux, who won the day’s vote for a main stage slot next year, and The Black Feathers, who really needed a more sympathetic environment.
The Ric Sanders’ Trio have finally come out as a fun band with their new album and set of old blues, string band and swing numbers. It might be called the Vo Fletcher Trio since it is his guitar that forms the foundation and his voice that sings the songs but when the singing stops it is Ric’s flights of instrumental fancy that take their music to another place. The album is a lot of fun and their set reflected that. Then it was decision time again. I’d been told that Fotheringay would be playing the same set that they had toured all year “only better”. That was true but I missed the excitement of the earlier gigs when the band were still finding their way into, or back into, the music. Nevertheless, theirs was the set everyone wanted to hear.
Since they lost Messrs. Knight and Zorn I really wanted to hear what Steeleye Span would do. With two new musicians to induct the answer was to go back to first principles so ‘All Things Were Quite Silent’ was followed by ‘Blackleg Miner’ and ‘Weary Cutters’ was teamed with ‘New York Girls’ featuring Maddy Prior on ukulele. And they rocked. Julian Littman added a rap to ‘Boys Of Bedlam’ and Spud Sinclair played the sort of electric guitar that we haven’t heard in the band since Bob Johnson’s time. As a final touch they closed with an a capella version of Rick Kemp’s ‘Somewhere Along The Road’.
There is no getting away from the fact that playing the final set of a festival after Steeleye Span have gone off to rapturous applause is a daunting task but Folklaw threw themselves into it with energy and aplomb. Fiddler and songwriter Nick Gibbs was joined by Gaz Hunt on a minimalist drum kit, Martin Vogwell on bass and mandolin and Bryn Williams on guitar and bodhran – not to mention crossing the venue floor on the backs of chairs! They sent the crowd off exhausted but happy.
So does a December festival work once you get over the culture shock of rocking up at 5.00 pm on a Friday in the dark? This is still Skegness and with Storm Desmond blowing around us “bracing” just didn’t begin to describe it but when the wind dropped on Sunday it was mild and pleasant. The accommodation and facilities were excellent and the unsung stars of the weekend were the Butlin’s staff who were friendly and helpful and worked long hours. However, this was folk music adapting to Butlin’s not the other way round. The artists existed in a bubble of stage/backstage/ accommodation or arrived, performed and left and there were quite a few I would have liked to have spoken to so I apologise to them. A bulletin board for messages or to arrange meetings wouldn’t take much to set up and would be a big help, too. But, yes, it works and if you have considered going but not done so I can recommend it.
In a lot of ways, it’s difficult to review an album by an artist to whom you feel emotionally attached. You struggle to maintain your credibility as a critic but it’s difficult not to make excuses for some musical stumbles.
Rejoice! Standin’ On The Corner, the new album by Ric Sanders’ Trio, is just as brilliant as one would hope. It’s so good, in fact, that it should make critics’ ‘Best Of’ albums for 2015. And it should certainly make any blues-jazz- and yes, folk lovers’ gift lists this holiday season.
Sanders, the virtuosic violinist from Fairport Convention, and band mates Vo Fletcher and Michael Gregory have joined together to reintroduce some of their favourite songs to modern music lovers.
The title track (not to be confused with the 1950’s pop hit ‘Standing on the Corner’) kicks off the album with an exuberant boom, finding Sanders in fine and fluid form as Fletcher joins in with sterling guitar work and vocals – including some fine yodeling! – all grounded by Gregory’s steady percussion. The joy and agility found in their musicianship clearly comes from their years of playing together in various bands.
“Vo and I met in Birmingham when I was about 18,” said Sanders. “He didn’t sing much in those days but we kept bumping into each other and playing. About 15 years ago, Vo and Michael and I started to get together somewhat regularly and play, just for fun.”
And that fun has turned into a triumphant reimagining of many blues’ songs some of which, including the title track, have been sited as contributing to the birth of rock.
“It is very much the blues end of country, the way we do it,” said Sanders noting the trio perfected their rendition of the Jimmie Rodgers-penned song during some of those informal just-for-fun sessions. “We started playing it at gigs and as soon as we started the audience started dancing and singing.”
It’s easy to understand why that – and the other tunes on the album – would bring people to their feet. The blues numbers on the album – mainly researched by Fletchers and Gregory – are a true blast of Memphis’ – and the Trio’s – best.
Even if you’re not a fan of the original ‘Mule Skinner Blues’ – written by Rodgers and George Vaughan – you’ll be hard-pressed not to love the rendition on this album that finds the trio in sterling musical form behind Fletcher’s lion-hearted voice.
But don’t think this is all high-spirited hi-jinx. The trio shows their softer side on such numbers as Mississippi John Hurt’s classic ‘Lewis Collins.’ And the bonus track of Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London,” is just plain fun.
“Another essential thing we did was [record the album playing] all together,” said Sanders. “It’s really the only way you can record this stuff. Basically it is all live takes, warts and all.”
And listeners will hear that’s the perfect way to hear them.
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Catherine Howe & Vo Fletcher started working together in 2007, just after the reissue of Catherine’s legendary album ‘What A Beautiful Place’ produced by the late Bobby Scott. Catherine knew Vo as a musician and songwriter and admired his work, and from the very outset there was a musical rapport and understanding between them.
It naturally followed that they should perform some local concerts together and start recording. Catherine says, “We decided to record as ‘live’ an album as possible so the basic performances of guitar and voice were recorded together and without separation. We chose to record this way, “knee-to-knee” as it were, because we wanted to retain all spontaneity for these songs. The recordings have been enhanced wonderfully by Ric Sander’s fiddle playing, and we later laid down some harmonies too.
We’re called the album English Tale because, in essence that’s exactly what it is, a collection of songs inspired by people either Vo or I have known and loved, others we wish we’d known, and others we’ve welcomed to England. There are no co-written songs here, each comes from the pen of either Vo or me. The guitar pieces, which punctuate the set nicely I think, are, of course, Vo’s compositions. Nevertheless, you can hear how much of a collaborative piece of work English Tale is in the performance and choice of song.”
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About Catherine Howe: Catherine Howe has been a virtual recluse for the last twenty five years having walked away from a successful acting and music career. She reappeared two years ago with her critically acclaimed album Princelet Street which in turn generated huge interest in her back catalogue and in particular her first album What A Beautiful Place (1971) produced by the late Bobby Scott. (Available now on Numero Records)
A Halifax lass Catherine was sent to London at the age of twelve to be a pupil and later graduate of the original Corona Stage School. In the late sixties she appeared in many classic TV shows such as Dr Who, Z Cars, Dixon of Dock Green before deciding in 1970 to follow a career in music. She recorded four now classic albums winning an Ivor Novello award along the way for her song ‘Harry.’
About Vo Fletcher: In a long and varied career Vo has played, recorded and toured with: Nigel Kennedy, Fairport Convention, the Ric Sanders Group, Rik Mayall, Touch & Go, The Albion Morris Band and Brent Ford & The Nylons to name but a few.
About the Songs:
In The Blue is about a public school boy I once knew who was archetypically positive in temperament and yet hopelessly disconnected from his emotions. I am trying to paint a picture of him here and the blue suits his airiness.
Thoughts On Thomas Hardy speaks for itself. Thomas Hardy is my favourite poet and, like other literary and artistic male figures, he was willingly drawn to clever and good-looking women. His were, in all likeliness, physically innocent, romantic attachments during years when his marriage was a sad affair. Again, this reflects what is still perceived as a distinctly English male characteristic of that era.
Lucy Snowe. Lucy Snowe first appeared on the ‘Silent Mother Nature’ album in 1976. I think it is one of the best songs I’ve written and it’s a song I’ve never stopped singing, which is why it appears again here and this is the best version of any. Lucy Snowe is a character taken from Charlotte Bronte’s novel Villette, and is a thinly-veiled autobiographical creation inspired by Charlotte’s experience of first and unrequited love. She transforms her real-life love into a fictional story of mutual love while finally managing to leave the reader in a suspense of ambiguity when the hero doesn’t return from a trip abroad to claim his bride to be. We are left wondering whether he is simply delayed or, in fact, drowned. Charlotte was balancing her own emotions in this unresolved ending. It’s a long time since I read Villette yet the song still stands as my youthful impression of the character Charlotte Bronte created in 1853.
Nothing Love Does Surprises Me. Well, this is simply a generic English folk song describing, in story form, how agape love pervades everything if you can see it that way. I like to think Thomas Hardy might have seen it this way.
Where The White Rose Meets The Red. I was born in Yorkshire and have often travelled the old road across the Pennines from Halifax to Rochdale, Yorkshire to Lancashire, the white rose and the red. It can be wild and deserted up there, and there are even the remains of the road the Romans laid still, clear to see, going straight up the hillside. In my imagination I went back a hundred or so years and thought about a young woman, maybe living in Halifax or in one of the outlying villages, and how she might meet a traveller, fall for him and think of him as a once-in-a-life time chance of escape from a fruitless life. He promises to take her away and she arranges to meet him, secretly, on the highest point of the road crossing the Pennines, but will he come to her?
An English Tale is about a woman – a friend of my Aunt Howe (Margaret) – whom I knew when I was quite a young girl and who was always something of an enigma to me because I wasn’t sure of her history. All I knew was that she had been born in Vienna, had a Viennese accent and air, was astute and was interested in my progress. She had no family but, my Aunt told me, once had had a husband. I never knew the details of her earlier life but imagined she had left Austria because of the War. This song came to me in my sleep.
Keeping The Faith Near. My Aunt Howe (Margaret) was the daughter of a religious man, and was religious herself. She worked all her life in the service of children, first as a teacher then as a social worker. She had a wonderful way with children although she never had one of her own. She was strong, bright and optimistic and, at about seventy-five years old, was diagnosed with vascular dementia. It took three or four more years before the condition turned her into a confused and delusional old lady, but it never took away her spirituality.
In Return For What I Bring This is the only song on the album which doesn’t fit into the story mould and, unlike the majority of the songs on ‘English Tale’, was written many years ago. It’s a song I have always intend to record and this was the time to do it. It does relate to a time in my life when I was very sad because of someone I loved, so it has a tale behind it in that sense.
Trees is the story of my love of trees in the English landscape and the living things that they provide for – birds, insects, children, clean air; and the things they give – shade, beautiful shapes to see and sounds to hear, green, and continuity beyond the human span. Trees is another very early song, in fact it is a 60s song, written so long ago that I only remembered the first eight bars of melody and lyric and had to write the rest anew. It was first written long before there was any concern about global warming and it takes on that extra meaning now.
Harry is here simply because Vo and I perform it together these days, and we thought it would be nice to include a new version of it – for old times’ sake.