Wood, Wire And Words are a trio from Portsmouth: lead singer and guitarist David Rozzell, who writes most of the band’s songs; Clare Rozzell, vocalist and double-bass player and Pat Francis who does most of everything else. The Boy With The Smile is their third album. David says that the group doesn’t like to be pigeon-holed with a genre but in that respect they don’t quite succeed. Regardless of the subject matter, this is Americana but with the exception of Pat’s Dobro they don’t overstep the line into the tropes of country. In fact, the combination of British subjects with the music of the Americas is central to their appeal. This is particularly evident in the single cover here; ‘1952 Vincent Black Lightning’. Had Richard Thompson not included a mention of Box Hill in the song it could be set anywhere in the USA although James would probably have ridden a Harley. That’s the way Wood, Wire And Words play it and, you know, it’s the best cover of the song I’ve heard.
The title track, which opens the show, is a rural love song which mentions Morris dancers and was written for a Harvest Festival gig and David returns later to the theme with ‘Toast The Harvest’. The next two tracks, ‘I’ll Not Seek Pardon’ and ‘More Than A Train’, are definitely cowboy songs but the latter has a clever twist. Setting it in the UK, David points out that here you can’t jump a train and lose yourself in the wilderness, hence the title. You can get as far as Wick but there will be several changes on route – they’ll track you down.
A few more songs deserve special mention. ‘The Words You Can’t Find’ is an autobiographical piece concerned with living with chronic pain, depression and memory loss but it’s not as dark as that makes it sound. ‘Truth And Democracy’ is their political protest and very good it is too. They balance that with the humour of ‘There’s No Food In My Bowl’ – which is about a cat.
I like The Boy With The Smile a lot. David Rozzell has a mighty voice and a real talent as a songwriter, the playing is tight and the whole album is very easy to listen to – in the best possible sense of easy listening.
With its arresting cover of a felled marionette, Battlefield Dance Floor is the 18th studio album from one of the most prized acts on the folk roots circuit.
Show of Hands’ first key release in more than three years, the 13-track album brings eight keenly awaited new songs (and a co-write) from the pen of Steve Knightley, widely acknowledged as one of the country’s most inspired and original songwriters.
Phil Beer is the ‘master decorator’ of the songs – a brilliant, consummate multi-instrumentalist while long term third member Miranda Sykes is back on board with her eloquent double bass and vocals after her sabbatical – and Cormac Byrne and his feted percussion skills (witnessed on last autumn’s UK tour) bring a vibrant fresh dimension to the party.
Rolling Stones collaborator Matt Clifford adds his keyboard skills to some tracks and an impromptu collective known as The Bridge Hill Shanty Men are the icing on the cake, weighing in with rousing choruses.
Possibly their most commercial release to date, Battlefield Dance Floor is an exuberant, lush, full-blooded album co-produced by the in-demand Mark Tucker and Knightley – Show of Hands’ first release since 2016’s The Long Way Home.
An album of broad brushstrokes, it mixes songs of despair and displacement, emphatic songs, tongue-in-cheek songs, poignant songs and carefully chosen covers into a classic Show of Hands package with wide appeal.
Knightley is a highly talented songwriter who has a great knack in addressing serious and pertinent issues with really catchy lyrics. Top class performances are guaranteed wherever they play” – Songlines
It bursts straight in with Knightley’s ‘Lost’ – a slickly produced, multi-layered and poetic opener – on the surface a number inspired by the story of doomed Devon sailor Donald Crowhurst who died while competing in the 1968 single-handed, round the world Golden Globe Race –but with a deeper theme summed up by Knightley as “a maritime-themed song about masculine despair.”
Catching the listener unawares the mood swerves abruptly to the upbeat, jaunty, genre-hopping title track as Bhangra meets Morris, a seed sown by Show of Hands’ recent close encounters with Johnny Kalsi’s The Dhol Foundation.
Politics and history graduate Knightley name checks some of the greats in history (Wellington, Drake, Churchill, Monty) in this savvy song of eve-of-battle drunkenness with its catchy rugby chant style chorus. Juxtaposing battle readiness with pre-battle abandon it travels through time from the Battle of Agincourt to D-Day and is littered with clever lyrics: “It’s a ballet not a battle/A salsa not a siege” and its ‘Tomorrow it’s a battlefield/tonight it is a dance floor” refrain.
A trademark Knightley song is shaped in the sublime ‘Just Enough To Lose’ – a poignant tale of failing love delivered by his distinctive voice. “It was just between the sowing and the reaping /You told me our crop was bound to fail’, the regret underlined by Beer’s beautifully judged fiddle and Clifford’s keyboards.
Some years ago Show of Hands joined forces with exiled Chilean musicians to form the band Alianza so the theme of displacement is one well known to them and here it is explored in the Knightley-Johnny Kalsi co-write ‘Mother Tongue’, a stand-out track on the album penned soon after the 2016 Brexit referendum. The atmosphere-charged song is given a haunting, spiritual edge by the enigmatic chanting of British-Asian performer Shahid Khan.
There are songs with a lighter touch – the percussive, tongue in cheek ‘Cornish reggae’ of ‘Dreckley’, the tale of a Home Counties relationship threatened by the lure of the West Country replete with pasties and Poldark! It even includes a nod to The Great British Scone Debate – clotted cream or jam first on your Devonshire scone?!
Sykes takes lead vocal on the wry Knightley original ‘Make The Right Noises’, a cynical look at how we fake concern and enthusiasm because we think we should – concluding that ‘of the virtues sincerity is the most underrated’.
It’s over to Beer to take centre stage on a cover of Richard Shindell’s ‘Next Best Western’ – a gem of a road song which suits his voice – and flawless guitar work– perfectly while he also takes the microphone to deliver ‘My True Love’ – a gentle ballad written by Dubliner Adrian Mannering who Steve and Phil encountered on the Brighton folk scene back in their 20s.
‘You’ll Get By’ is a song of hope and reassurance for the older generation facing the array of life’s ups and downs (not just the province of the young!) and drums roll as ‘Swift And Bold’ marches in. A Knightley song written for 6 Rifles Infantry Regiment at a special celebratory concert at their Exeter HQ – at which to his surprise he was made an Honorary Rifleman – brings the battlefield back into view, with the Bridge Hill Shanty Men in full flow. Named after the regimental motto it’s a song which Steve was proud to write.
He says: “Being awarded the title of Honorary Rifleman meant I joined my grandfather and step brother in re-establishing a close relationship with the regiment.”
Steve also revisits a haunting song he first sang on Kirsty Merryn’s debut album She And I.
Merryn’s spellbinding ‘Forfarshire’ tells of lighthouse keeper’s daughter Grace Darling and her father William and Grace’s heroic rescue of shipwrecked mariners. In this version Steve is joined by Miranda and Gerry Diver, who produced Kirsty’s 2017 release. A useful man to know Gerry also plays myriad instruments on the track – mandolin, piano, fiddle, bass guitar, tenor guitar and percussion.
The album ends with ‘No Secrets’, released as a single to coincide with Show of Hands’ incredible fifth sell out of the Royal Albert Hall in 2017, celebrating 25 years of this unique band. Upbeat and breezy Steve describes it as a distillation of some sage advice given to a fellow folky on his wedding eve.
A classy cornucopia, it’s an album that successfully melds vintage Show of Hands and brand new material, infusing influences old and new and this time – as a four strong band – with even greater depth and panache.
Says Steve: “With the heartbeat and harmonies that Cormac and Miranda add, we are at last creating a sound we’ve dreamed of making for twenty five years!”
The music is sharp and the armoury is strong. Battlefield Dance Floor reinvigorates Show of Hands’ unshakeable position at the front line of folk.
Show of Hands will showcase songs from Battlefield Dance Floor on a 22-date autumn-winter tour of England and Wales (October 30-December 7). The album will be officially released on September 27, 2019 under licence to Proper Music Publishing and will be distributed by Proper Records.
Steve Knightley has said “Show of Hands is still a duo consisting of Steve and Phil. Miranda and Cormac have solo careers in their own right and whenever they join us they are always name checked as such! We are absolutely delighted to have them on board for this year’s Autumn tour and next year’s festival season.”
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Well, as we always say, it would not be Cropredy without our annual Chris Leslie interview.
Darren Beech and Paul Johnson tracked Mr. Leslie down on the Friday, luckily just before he was about to do a runner in the pink buggy to go off and do a gig with the ‘Banana Splits’.
In the interview, we talk about how the act of walking fuels the art of song-writing, the process of writing the ‘what Chris Leslie has been up to piece’ for the Cropredy programme each year and how this year’s article conjured up the visions and words of the John Tams version of Ewan MacColl’s ‘The Manchester Rambler’.
We also talk about the ‘Fairport Extension’ set, why Fairport are the best backing band in the world, the much loved and dearly missed Maart, we revisit the 25th Anniversary 1992 Cropredy year and remember when Robert Plant played a very special set as part of that celebration.
The interview should start playing automatically, if not click on the play button below to listen.
Did you know that Ernest Shackleton considered a banjo essential to mental health on his expedition to the South Pole? Neither did I but it’s one of the fascinating facts I gleaned from Martin Simpson’s sleevenotes for his new album Rooted. Mental health is one of the themes of the record and, being a banjo player himself, I reckon that Martin has a head start on some of us. It’s one of the reasons why the album resonates with me.
As you might expect Martin mixes original compositions, traditional songs and covers. Here, Martin’s new songs lean towards the American traditional style so the opener, ‘Trouble Brought Me Here’ sounds like it could be a hundred or so years old. The second track, ‘Kimbie’, is traditional and includes some of those “vagrant stanzas” that he’s fond of. By this time, you’ll be relaxing into the music and the distinction really won’t matter.
Rooted boasts a fine supporting cast including Andy Cutting, Nancy Kerr, John Smith and Ben Nicholls plus five backing vocalists but Andy Bell’s production and engineering ensure that Martin’s voice, guitar and/or banjo ride smoothly on top of the arrangements. I’m not totally convinced by one track and that is ‘Hills Of Shiloh’ which was very popular back in the 80s. It’s not the song but Martin takes it a little too quickly for my taste and the arrangement is rather too involved.
There are some great stories in these songs, though. ‘Ken Small’ tells of a man who laboured to unearth a tank from Start Bay left there after the disastrous Operation Tiger in 1944. ‘Joe Bowers’ came from Hedy West and is a relative of ‘Sweet Betsy From Pike’ and ‘Henry Gray’ is about a piano-player who was a member of Howln’ Wolf’s band and also worked with Elmore James and Jimmy Reed. Martin was invited to play with his band – what can you say? Robb Johnson’s ‘More Than Enough’ was a song that Roy Bailey played and Martin sang it with him in hospital just before he died.
The bonus disc is a set of instrumentals two of which are sung in the substantive set. I get the feeling that Martin let his hair down just a little – playing guitar is no joking matter – and invited the band to do the same. There are a number of songs that I haven’t mentioned; all as good as the ones I have and you’ll find that Rooted is a sublime record.
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Andy Clark’s debut album I Love Joyce Morris will be released on August 30th. His sound is similar to Animal Collective’s hit ‘My Girls’, or Tom Rosenthal’s ‘Just As’ and Andy allows space for sharing experiences of entering parenthood through his captivating songwriting.
Having released two singles ‘Welcome To The Party’ and ‘But For You’, where both sound and lyrics fit timeless classic singer-songwriting, the album I Love Joyce Morris serves as a time capsule, offering singer-songwriter fans of all ages to rewind ones own actions, goals, dreams and heartache. While Andy Clark is not shy to reflect upon both the triumphs and disasters in life, he also bakes it with an ingredient of wittiness. In the album title I Love Joyce Morris, meaning his children and refers to the saying “You’re the apple of my eye”, he uses the name of the local apple orchard Joyce Morris, inviting the audience to solve the code of the album title.
When I was a kid I wanted to be a dad. Now I’m a dad, my kids remind me daily how beautiful it is to be a kid and as I inevitably morph into a strange yet entirely predictable amalgam of my parents, as parents tend to, I begin to feel less a product of their influence and more an alternate expression of their respective beings; a necessary incarnation of consciousness
For me, being a parent feels somewhat like I have stepped out of time and perceived the conversation between past and future, where the points of intersection we call the present glow luminously and demand my attention. Where the notion of “me” seems at once a little silly and inexorable. What fun.
Being a parent has prompted me to confront myself\and to consider the environment to which I have become\so accustomed and moreover, it has called my attention to the now. I am reminded daily that my knowledge and understanding are both merely the sum of my experience and as such, are entirely arbitrary and often, quite distracting.
Why do I fixate on the minutiae of everyday life, when these small details do nothing more than to convince me that reality is one dimensional and centred around me? How boring. How insular. How separate. Not fun. My kids’ knowledge and understanding seem innate, infinite and worldcentric. How exciting, rejuvenating and extraordinary it is to be a dad; to have so coruscating a connection to the universe through your children, whose perceptions of the world are still unfettered and still aligned with the Great All; and whose love for you, for everything, is automatic, unbounded, immeasurable and mirrors the true essence of your own. So, I suppose to be a good dad I have to try at least, to be a good kid. Oh well. Here’s to trying.
To our apples Rory and Phoebe, who are made of love. I love you more than the universe,
Andy Clark has previously played shows in the US, Germany and UK, where he opened for Bob Geldof and played Glastonbury Festival. Following the release of the album, Andy Clark will continue on the I Love Joyce Morris Tour playing Europe.