Karine Polwart announces new album and tour dates

Karine Polwart
Photograph by Sandy Butler

Multi-award winning songwriter and musician, theatre maker and published writer Karine Polwart – six-time winner at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, including 2018 Folk Singer of The Year – will release a new album, Laws Of Motion, on October 19, 2018 via Hudson Records. Polwart’s seventh release, Laws Of Motion is the follow-up to 2017’s much-praised A Pocket Of Wind Resistance, which earned Karine & co-writer Pippa Murphy a New Music Scotland Award, alongside nominations for the 2018 Scottish Album Of The Year & Radio 2 Folk Album Of The Year. Laws Of Motion – recorded alongside long-term collaborators Inge Thomson (accordion, percussion, synths & vocals) and brother Steven Polwart (guitars & vocals) – will arrive amidst a 13 date UK tour, including London’s Cadogan Hall on October 17, 2018.

Karine is trailing the announcement with the first track to emerge from Laws Of Motion – delicate,  finger-picked album opener ‘Ophelia’. Polwart wrote it having witnessed the portentous, far-reaching after-effects of 2017’s Hurricane Ophelia from her Midlothian home. Says Karine; “When the easternmost Atlantic hurricane ever hit The British Isles, it brought with it Saharan sand and an uncanny light. Meantime, deadly wildfires ravaged Galicia and Portugal, causing black ash to fall as far north as Tallinn in Estonia. Isn’t it time we started acting as if we’re actually sharing the same earth, the same air?”.

A Pocket Of Wind Resistance used the migratory habits of geese to crack open universally human societal & ecological issues. Across Laws of Motion Polwart continues to coalesce the familial and the familiar alongside the unsettling and the unknown, driven as ever by her gift for empathy and accessibility. Subject matter as disparate as Trump, WW2 & holocaust survivors are drawn together by the laws of the album’s title alongside the experiences of migrants and allegorical folk & children’s stories. Speaking about the broad focus of the album (which includes co-writes with Lau’s Martin Green), Polwart says; “I didn’t set out to write songs on a unified theme – they’ve just landed that way. Perhaps that’s no surprise, given the times we’re in.”

Laws Of Motion is the latest in an evolving series of collaborative projects across which Polwart has combined music & storytelling with politics & environmental-societal issues. Karine wrote A Pocket Of Wind Resistance (a Songlines & BBC Radio 3 Late Junction Album Of The Year) as a musical companion to her acclaimed theatre debut Wind Resistance, now published via Faber & Faber and selected by Robert McFarlane as a Guardian Book of 2017. The production, which debuted at the Edinburgh International Festival with a residency at The Royal Lyceum Theatre, was written, musically directed and performed by Polwart, winning her the Best Music and Sound Award at the 2017 CATS. Alongside three other nominations, it also placed Polwart on the shortlist for the Best Actor ‘Scottish Oscar’ in the Sunday Herald Culture Awards.

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).

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‘Ophelia’:

UK Tour Dates

17 October LONDON Cadogan Hall

18 October PORTSMOUTH Wedgewood Rooms

19 October PONTARDAWE Arts Centre

20 October MANCHESTER Royal Northern College Of Music

21 October EXETER Phoenix

22 October BRIGHTON Komedia

23 October CAMBRIDGE Junction

24 October LEEDS City Varieties

31 October SHREWSBURY Walker Theatre

1 November BRISTOL St Georges

2 November BIRMINGHAM Town Hall

3 November KENDALL Brewery Arts Centre

4 November GATESHEAD Sage

Tickets via https://myticket.co.uk/ and karinepolwart.com

NITEWORKS – Air Faìr An Là (Comann Music, CM002)

Air Faìr An LàIf the combined words “folk” and “electronica” bring on an attack of the vapours, a lie down with the reviving sal volatile of Niteworks’ second album Air Faìr An Là (At Dawn Of Day) might just help. The four Skye lads of Niteworks clearly love their traditional music but, obviously, generations born into techno and its offspring want to reflect contemporary sounds, too. If Martyn Bennett was a pioneer in this field, Niteworks are most ably picking up the reins and forging forward on their own account.

This time around, they’ve engaged top techno producer Alex Menzies (aka Alex Smoke), who overcame his own initial reluctance about the project and has helped to create a vital, full-throttle album that’s subtler than it might at first appear (try the constantly mutating rhythmic pattern punctuating the 1968 spoken-word recording of Skye man, ‘Calum Ruadh MacNeacail’), and definitely stands on its own merits.

Opening with ‘Dookin’’, spacey sonics lope along until first a vibrant fiddle and then pipes drop in, hoisting the melody line across a thumping drumbeat. Kinnaris Quintet’s Fiona MacAskill and her two colleagues provide excellent fiddle parts throughout.

Other guests include Julie Fowlis, whose coolly sparkling vocal soars over ever-intensifying beats in ‘Òran Fir Ghriminis’, and Lewis musician Iain Morrison who brings a slow, atmospheric version of his own song, ‘Like Wolves In The Night’.

SIAN, a trio featuring Ellen MacDonald (recently with Daìmh), deliver crisp vocals on the title track, a waulking song, and also the album’s lead single, reviewed here in a recent Singles Bar. The rapid vocal repetitions are weirdly well-complemented by an ‘80s Kraftwerk-ish bubbling undercurrent. MacDonald’s warm tones also take up ‘Do Dhà Shùil’ (‘Your Two Beady Little Eyes’), a St Kilda lullaby with a soundscape that conjures blowing sand, rattling boat masts and the sea’s sighing fall-rise.

Dragged from the very earth itself is ‘Cumhachd’ (‘Power’ or ‘Energy’): a primal incantation where Allan MacDonald’s hypnotic vocals are slowly subsumed as he picks up the tune on his pipes. More pipes feature on ‘Iain McGee’s’, this time steadily bubbling up through a trance-ish rendering of the tune, before erupting wildly out. In contrast, the increasingly dark, insistent ‘Lùths (Gabh Greim)’ wibbles along, unsteady as an old cassette tape, and closing tune ‘Highlander’s Farewell’ somehow works a traditional strathspey up into what could be an action film car chase soundtrack.

Updating traditional music can be risky, but clearly Niteworks have found their contemporary groove and, right now, they are riding it expertly.

Su O’Brien

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.

Artist website: www.niteworksband.com/

Live at Celtic Connections feat. Julie Fowlis:

Levellers on limited edition coloured vinyl

Levellers

To celebrate their 30th anniversary, the Levellers have announced the release of a series of limited edition coloured vinyl albums, including the never before released headline set at Glastonbury 1994.

The announcement comes ahead of the band’s very own Beautiful Days festival, which starts Friday 17th August in Escort Park Devon and sees the Levellers being joined by the likes of the Manic Street Preachers, The Hives, Suzanne Vega, Calexico, Gogol Bordello and many more. The full line-up can be found here.

The anniversary celebrations continue after the release of their Top 20 album We The Collective earlier this year, which saw the band transform classic tracks into new acoustic arrangements, resulting in their highest chart position in twenty years and widespread critical acclaim.

Now the band will be releasing eight albums on vinyl via the band’s own label, On The Fiddle Recordings, from September 2018 to June 2019 with release dates to follow.

The albums have been remastered by the band’s Jon Sevink from the original 1/2” analogue tapes, who says of the project:

“One of the biggest disappointments in Levellers history has been the assumption that none of our original master tapes had survived. Following a meeting with Warner Records, I received an email listing the whereabouts of our entire recorded output since 1991. Analogue 2” multitrack tapes, 1/2” masters! So we can now repress the albums from the original mix masters. On coloured vinyl… Yesss!”

These limited-edition releases will only be available from independent stores and via the band’s website.

Some of the albums have never been released on vinyl and each of the band’s original studio albums from the 90s will contain a previously unreleased live album recorded on tour at the time of release.

While the Levellers are big fans of Record Store Day, they feel it has been hijacked by the majors in recent years, pushing smaller labels to the back of the queue and so wanted to do something special for the fans and to celebrate this milestone in their career.

“Independent shops can’t afford to stock everything for Record Store Day – it’s ridiculous,” says singer Mark Chadwick. “We did it for a couple of years but avoid it now – we can’t compete with a new Led Zeppelin or Beatles record! It’s a shame because who doesn’t love putting out great records in beautiful packaging?”

To kick off the campaign, their two most recent studio albums, Letters From The Underground and Static On The Airwaves will be released on pink and purple vinyl respectively.

Top 5 albums, Levellers (#2, 1993) and Zeitgeist (#1, 1995) will be issued as limited edition 2LP orange / yellow vinyl sets in December.

Spring 2019 sees the band’s next three albums released on vinyl for the first time ever. Recorded at the peak of their career, the double live album, Headlights, White Lines, Black Tar Rivers (#13, 1996), along with Mouth To Mouth (#5, 1997) and Hello Pig (#28, 2000) also get the coloured vinyl treatment.

Finally, in June 2019, for the first time ever, Levellers’ stunning headline set from Glastonbury ‘94 will be released on 2LP gold vinyl, completing the band’s year of “indies only” albums.

You can pre-order all vinyl from Monday 20th August at 9am from your local independent record store or at:
https://www.levellers.co.uk/shop & https://levellers.tmstor.es/

Just a teaser:

RACHAEL McSHANE & THE CARTOGRAPHERS – When All Is Still (Topic TSCD596)

When All Is StillIt’s been nine years since Rachael McShane realised her solo debut, the time since then keeping her busy as cellist, fiddler, viola player and singer with the now defunct Bellowhead, of which she was a founding member back in 2004, and, more recently, her role in the reworking of Peter Bellamy’s folk opera The Transports.

However, she’s now found a window to record a follow-up, again predominantly a collection of traditional material, working with two fellow North East musicians, guitarist Matthew Ord fron Newcastle bluegrass outfit Assembly Lane and Kathryn Tickell’s melodeonist Julian Sutton. She’s also joined on assorted tracks by former Bellowhead colleagues Paul Sartin on oboe and Andy Mellon, Justin Thurgur and Ed Neuhauser on trumpet, trombone and tuba, respectively. The album’s produced by Ian Stephenson who also handles double bass and piano duties.

With a couple of exceptions, her choice of material leans to lesser known of less commonly performed numbers from the folk canon, case in point being the opener, ‘The Molecatcher’, a waltzing ditty about infidelity as the titular cuckold catches his wife in flagrante although McShane’s sanitised the original lyrics so that now, he catches the lad by his coat (rhyming with sport) rather than his bollocks (rhymed with frolics) who declares the fine of ten pounds works about tuppence a time rather than a grind. Revisionist delicacy notwithstanding, it’s a fine and cheekily sung number, the tune of Sutton’s ‘Simpson Street Waltz’ written in honour of the studio where they recorded.

More usually known as ‘The Outlandish Knight’, a number she often played with Bellowhead, spotlighting melodeon, ‘Lady Isabel’ tells of a serial killer of young maids getting his comeuppance when his intended seventh victim tumbles him into the sea. The ballad exists in a wide variety of versions and lyrics, and, in keeping with the album’s mischievous tone, this retains the final verse where the girl bribes her parrot to keep quiet about where she’s been.

Originating from Huddersfield, the melodeon wheezing ‘Cropper Lads’ has been part of her repertoire for a while, a song celebrating the titular weaving industry craftsmen that makes reference to Great Enoch, a hammer used to smash up the jobs-threatening machinery during the Luddite uprising. It’s set to a new tune by McShane titled ‘Full Belly’, apparently inspired, not by anything weaving or industrial, but from playing an online game called Sushi Cat.

Lads from a different, ahem, field make an appearance in ‘Ploughman Lads’, a rousingly straightforward chorus friendly love song featuring percussion from Martin Douglas, followed, in turn, by the first of the two instrumental sets, McShane’s stately fiddle-led ‘Waltzing At Giggleswick’, written for a charity of which she’s patron and providing a platform for Ode’s guitar work, twinned with Sutton’s melodeon romp ‘The Ginger Cat Monster’.

By far the best-known number is ‘Two Sisters’ (you know, the one where one sister downs the other over a romantic rivalry and the body is found and turned into as self-playing fiddle and reveals her murder), except McShane reveals a cynical streak with a grizzly ending that shows justice a clean pair of heels.

Learned from the Peter Bellamy version, the mid-tempo swayalong ‘Barley and Rye’ is another song about bored wives who get up to mischief in the bedroom because they’re neglected by husbands more concerned with their work, here a farmer and his crops.

Sutton contributes the second of the instrumentals, the finely crafted and shape-shifting ‘Road To Tarset/Lake Of Swans’ both nodding to favourite haunts in Northumberland. On a darker note, this is followed by another staple, a suitably sombre and brooding take on euphemistically-titled incest ballad ‘Sheath & Knife’ which, variously recorded by Ewan MacColl, Eliza Carthy, June Tabor, Maddy Prior and Maggie Boyle, from whom McShane learned the song, tells how the king’s daughter becomes pregnant by her brother and goes with him to the greenwood to give birth where she asks him to put an arrow through her and bury her with their baby.

Lighter notes are struck on another well-known number, ‘Sylvie’ being a version of ‘The Female Highwayman’ or ‘Sovay’. One of the first songs the trio put together, it opens with a plucked viola before the instrumentation swells as the tale unfolds of a woman disguising herself to test her lover’s loyalty and bravery by demanding the ring she gave him. Given that, in the final verse, she declares that had he parted with it she’d have shot him dead, it’s perhaps not a match for the long haul.

Set to a new galumphing, melodeon-driven cider-swigging tune by McShane with brass arrangement by Stephenson, it all ends joyously with ‘Green Broom’, a traditional tale of a broom cutter who, fed up of his son lying in bed to noon, sends him off to the woods to cut a bundle , the lad catching the attention of a fine lady on his way home and ending up marrying her. There seems to be a Norman Tebbit-like moral for our social benefits times in there somewhere.

Fresh, sparkling and lively in its arrangements and performance, it’s an album that should consign phrases like ‘former-Bellowhead’ member to footnotes rather than a delineation.

Mike Davies

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.

Artist’s website: www.rachaelmcshane.co.uk

‘Ploughman Lads’ – official video:

Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham announce major Scottish tour

Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham

Together Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham have established themselves as the epitome of excellence in the world of traditional music. With their musical magic and quick-witted humour they will pull your emotional strings one moment and have you falling off the seat with laughter the next.  Mike Russell has described them as “probably the best traditional musicians you are ever likely to hear”.

Phil, who is Artistic Director of Scottish Music at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, had the wonderful opportunity in 2014 to perform at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony alongside Nicola Benedetti. He also arranged & co-produced Pumeza Matshikiza’s performance of ‘Freedom Come All Ye’. Phil also arranged and co-produced tracks on Nicola Benedetti’s most recent album Homecoming, and works with John Ashton Thomas (Hollywood film orchestrator and composer) on orchestration and arrangements. This year Phil is also working on a new BBC series on piping.

Aly, who now holds 5 honorary Doctor of Music degrees, and was honoured in 2013’s BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, with a lifetime achievement award. His now world acclaimed Transatlantic Sessions  went network in the USA in 2014. Aly continues to develop the series, while also touring in the autumn each year Aly Bain, Ale Möller & Bruce Molsky.

Scottish August & September Tour dates for 2018 and booking details for all concerts (there are a lot of them) can be found at www.philandaly.com

Live at Inverary:

MAIREARAD & ANNA – Farran (Shouty Records SHOUTYCD04)

FarranFarran is the Scots word for the starboard side of a boat and is also Mairearad Green and Anna Massie’s fourth album as a duo. It’s a stripped back album recorded by Andrea Gobbi and co-produced by Calum MacCrimmon of Breabach, recorded off the floor with accordion, pipes, fiddle, guitar and Anna’s voice on one track.

The album kicks off at a pace with three pipe tunes by Mairearad’s teacher, P/M Norman Gillies, followed by ‘Wee McGhee’s’ which starts deceptively slowly but builds up speed as Mairearad starts to slip the triples in. It’s a really nice set as is ‘The Merton Set’ with Anna’s “peal of bells’ figure on the guitar’s bass notes on her own tune, ‘Laura Drummond’ Slip Jig’. It also lets the listener get some breath back for a while, although the third tune in the set, Mairearad’s ‘Emma And Ali’s Wedding’ picks up the pace again.

Up next is the only song, ‘Molly May’ – check out the cover – by Canadian singer-songwriter J.P. (John Paul) Cormier and given its country of origin and subject matter I don’t need to tell you who it puts me in mind of. It’s set in Nova Scotia, by the way, and I like it a lot. Then we have another pacy set, ‘Jamie’s’, followed by a chance for Anna to show off on guitar with a set of more reflective tunes, ‘Rachel Newton’s ‘The Eggshell Brewery’ and  Ian Henderson’s ‘Trip To Austin’ – I have a romantic notion of someone playing the latter as the boats come in to port but don’t ask me why.

‘Willie Macrea Of Ullapool’, another tune by P/M Gillies, sees Anna switch to fiddle playing in the style of a slow march before Mairearad joins in. There’s a traditional set before the album closes with a beautiful fiddle tune, ‘Mo Chailean – Dileas Donn’, written by Hector Mackenzie, an Ullapool fisherman.

Farran seems a little short but there is no doubt that Mairearad and Anna have produced another fine album.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: https://www.mairearadandanna.com/

‘Polkas’ from Summer Isle Festival: