Rosie Doonan and Ben Murray | The Salutation, Doncaster | 18.07.05
This appearance in Doncaster by Rosie and Ben closes the first year of Bob’s current series of gigs and was a good one to go out on. The duo played at the Sprotbrough club back in February and they were so good, that a return visit was perhaps inevitable. The duo played most of the material from their Mill Lane CD, “Need You Around”, “Seal Maiden”, “Gypsy Davy” and the sublime “Innishcarra”, as well as a few other covers, such as their own unique re-working of “Spencer the Rover”. The encore was perhaps the highlight of the evening, a delicate reading of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock”. You might think a song like this would have worn thin by now and become somewhat out dated, but Rosie and Ben managed to breathe new life into the iconic song. Bob Chiswick opened the night with a few of his songs and Jon Chapman did the support slot, giving probably the best solo performance to date, with a couple of brand new songs, which I’m keen on hearing again, together with one from his first album. A fitting end to the season.
Cambridge Folk Festival 2005 | Cherry Hinton Hall, Cambridge | 31.07.05
I caught the last half of The Bills’ opening set on Stage 2, whilst settling in for what promised to be another great Cambridge festival weekend. This Canadian five-piece band pleased the music hungry crowd with their own special blend of Latin rhythms, Romany melodies and North American folk tunes, with one or two jazz standards thrown in for good measure. Particularly impressive was their tight vocal arrangements, a good start I thought. The only set I was really interested in seeing on Thursday night was Martha Wainwright’s, which was to be her only appearance over the weekend. Martha’s performance was just as good as I had expected it to be, a run through of just about every song from her debut album and each performed impeccably well. There was a bunch of kids tightly holding onto the safety barrier in front of the stage, each joining in on the chorus of “Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole” each one of them familiar with the lyrics. I shouldn’t really have been so surprised. Hayseed Dixie were on next, much to the amusement of everyone. On Friday, I sat in an almost deserted club tent waiting for the Mojo interview with Jimmy Webb to begin. If I was certain to be at one single event at this year’s festival, it was this one, not because of this man’s undisputed reputation as a great songwriter, the fact that he wrote such classics as “Wichita Lineman” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” putting those particular towns on the map for one young Brit kid in the Sixties, nor for the fact that he wrote the unfathomable “MacArthur Park”, which today I have difficulty desyphering, but because I just had to be in the same room as the man who wrote “Up Up and Away”! It’s always pleasant when you discover that the ‘person’ is just as impressive as the ‘artist’ and this was definitely one of those revelations, Jimmy coming over as a very pleasant human being. The hour-long Mojo interview was entertaining, revealing and peppered with songs from his impressive back catalogue. His anecdotal delivery during Q&A was almost spellbinding. Although his replies were often concise and unburdened by the usual 1960s loss of memory “if you remember the Sixties, you weren’t there” nonsense, he still couldn’t adequately explain what the hell “MacArthur Park” was about, so we we’re all left pretty much in the dark. There seemed to be more festival side shows than usual this year, lots of women on stilts and Sir Edmund Hilary and Sherpa Tensing roped together, complete with snow covered skin suits and beards, whilst attempting to scale the north face of one of the festival’s green plastic trash bins in the main arena. KT Tunstall headlined Friday night on the main stage, playing for just under an hour with her band and delighting some of the younger members of the audience with a set packed with songs from her debut album Eye To The Telescope. This wasn’t Kate’s festival debut, having guested with the Klezmer hip hop band Oi Va Voi back in 2003, but this was definitely the set that she’ll be remembered for. There’s not much that can be said about Mavis Staples, other than it was thrilling to be in her presence, despite the fact that at times her voice was a little too strained. Perhaps the first lady of Gospel should have joined Karine Polwart on Saturday morning, who conducted a singing workshop in the club tent. I went along to see if I could pick up any tips but soon tired of the energetic warm up exercises, which comprised of much torso twisting, strenuous swimming strokes and breath-taking breathing exercises. She lost me before she started really, but I’m sure if I’d stuck around it would’ve been good for my voice and I would have been slightly fitter. Martha Tilston was joined by a small band of musicians, her set made up of songs from her Bimbling CD, as well as a couple of crowd pleasers, including the the haunting “Willy O’Winsbury”. Martha accidentally gave herself a fat lip by knocking her guitar against her mouth at the beginning of her set. Some of her songs on first hearing come over as slightly whimsical, but that’s the beauty of her song writing and performance. Martha is a throwback from the late Sixties, not unlike Melanie. To close proceedings for Saturday, there was an energetic performance by the Australian based Cat Empire, a funky Latino rhythm ensemble, whose charismatic leader Felix Riebl, a cross between Jay Kay and Jeff Buckley, soon had everyone in the audience swooning at his feet. A perfect dance band to finish a great Saturday at the festival. There’s nothing quite like Sunday morning at Cambridge Folk Festival, I’m always struck by the peace that seems to surround it. They still relay The Archers radio soap over the sound system and middle aged couples sit in their deck chairs reading the Sunday Telegraph and the Observer colour supplement. It’s all very English, very Home Counties. Fat and flushed beer bellies inhabit the Guinness tent at ten in the morning drinking copious quantities of the black stuff before midday. There’s a much younger audience emerging at the festival these days, although you tend not to see any of them until after lunch as they sleep off a good Saturday night party. Johnny Dickinson is an incredibly talented slide guitar player who just happens to be blessed with a remarkably confident Paul Rogers-esque bluesy voice. The fact that he hails from Northumberland and not the Mississippi Delta makes absolutely no difference when you hear how good he is. He played a few songs from his new album English Summer as well as one or two from his fine debut Castles and Old Kings. Canadian five-piece fusion band The Duhks – pronounced The Ducks – were next band to take to the main stage. I felt I ought to hang around at the front of the stage between Johnny Dickinson and the next act Mary Gauthier. The blend of styles were in fact not easy to categorise and they did have their own ‘sound’, a little bit of French Canadian with a sprinkle of Scottish and Appalachian old timey thrown in. They were young, energetic and I guess they brought some of their unique charisma to the festival. Bob Harris introduced Mary Gauthier to the stage, a singer who he has championed on his radio show for months now. Mary is a New Orleans country blues singer, much in the same vein as Townes Van Zandt, songs of hard living and hard drinking. She was apparently in prison by her eighteenth birthday and has had her fair share of trouble. She tells it how it is. Someone asked her if it is difficult writing those songs – “Nope, it’s living it that’s hard, the writing it down is the easy part”. There was something authentic about Mary Gauthier though and the set was well received by the Cambridge regulars. She was joined by a Nashville guitar player, whose name I didn’t catch, for her set. Cambridge isn’t known for its contribution to what has come to be known as World Music though it does endeavour to put on relevant acts every now and again. I was particularly looking forward to the Tinariwen set on Sunday night. The seven-piece band made up from nomadic Touaregs from the Southern Sahara Desert, came on in full traditional costume and struggled with the local English, speaking and singing in their complex Tamashek language throughout. The only English the leader and spokesman for the band could muster was “welcome to the desert”, which he said after every song. It all added to their incredibly intriguing mistique. The other notable thing about Sunday at Cambridge is that you are aware from the start that the festival is on the home straight, the last evening is often fraught with disappointment, mainly due to the urgency to shut up shop. The bars often close earlier and there’s always a much more visible police presence at the exits. I concede this might be in the interest of public safety, but it doesn’t alter the fact that the overall atmosphere changes during the course of the evening. Rodney Crowell provided one of the finest sets I’ve ever seen at the festival, his high energy set reminding me of a sort of country Bruce Springsteen, a Texan Elvis. He rocked out by performing songs from his prolific back catalogue as well as a couple from his latest offering The Outsider, whilst getting the entire audience behind him for outstanding take on Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”. The final band I caught at this year’s festival was the same band who delighted the audience last year when they unexpectedly were asked to stand in for a last minute cancellation. The Old Crow Medicine Show played a lively bluegrass/old timey set, in a ‘packed to the rafters’ – if tents had rafters – club tent. With the festival approaching the end, all that was left to do was to finish the evening off with a communal pint of Guinness in the Guinness tent. I think I saw everything I expected to see, and did all the things I wanted to do, although there’s always something that you miss. All in all a fair festival, certainly not the best by any stretch of the imagination, but good nevertheless. Highlights for me were both Marthas (Wainwright and Tilston), Rodney Crowell, Johnny Dickinson, Tinariwen, Mary Gauthier and the interview with Jimmy Webb, yet not so much his actual set.
Eleanor McEvoy | The Salutation, Doncaster | 17.10.05
Eleanor McEvoy was very much on form tonight when she played a couple of intimate sets at The Sal. She sang a selection of songs from each of her five albums including her most recent CD Early Hours. Not only is she a gifted singer and musician (electric and acoustic guitars, piano and fiddle), she’s also a prolific songwriter. Blessed with a warm velvet voice, whose familiar delivery and notable Irish inflections don’t seem to grate as they usually do with the likes of The Cranberries, Sinead O’Connor and Alanis Morissette. She actually does it so well that it isn’t a problem. When she sang “I’ll be Willing”, I got the distinct feeling that she was singing the song just for me; there was that kind of intimacy in her voice and in the arrangements. She confessed that she prefers this venue’s setting to the concert halls she’s used to around the world and it showed. “The Rain Falls Down” is just the sort of song I like, a folk song for today, it talks about being dumped, but not on the wild and windy moors, or outside a village tavern, but by email. “Only a Woman’s Heart”, “You’ll Hear Better Songs than This” and other songs proved her song writing credentials more than adequately and she left me wanting more. Unfortunately, Eleanor neglected to bring along her piano, which was a shame. I would’ve liked to hear her sing “October 9th”, but tonight it wasn’t to be. Perhaps next time.
Jess Gardham | The Salutation, Doncaster | 31.10.05
A fine singer songwriter with a great voice to match. It’s hard to avoid making comparisons to Tracy Chapman and the fact that she sang “Talkin’ ‘Bout a Revolution” made that so much more difficult. She’s probably the only singer around – other than Chapman – who can get away with singing ‘runrunrunrunrunrunrun’ without sounding ridiculous. Speaking to Jess before the gig, she told me that she was a dental nurse by day, which I wasn’t expecting. Judging by her performance tonight, her vocation should perhaps be on stage.
Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman | The Salutation, Doncaster | 14.11.05
Whilst young Kate Rusby still has old folkies swooning embarrassingly at festivals and in concert halls up and down the country, delighting everyone with her quaint Barnsley dialect, old pal Kathryn Roberts has matured into a delightful singer of both traditional and contemporary material. I say ‘contemporary’ but having presumably delved deep into dad’s record collection, Kathryn and her partner Sean Lakeman revisit timeless gems such as Lowell George’s “20 Million Things” and Tom Waits’ “Georgia Lee”, as well a whole host of others, even Paul Simon’s “Under African Skies”. Kathryn, every bit a Yorkshire lass albeit with the aforementioned restrained accent and Sean, every bit a Devonshire lad, from a family of gifted musicians with a younger brother hobnobbing with the Mercury Prize mob, fiddling and diddling his way into the realms of two-page entries in the Folk Music Who’s Who, if such a publication ever existed. Sean is still very much the laid back guitar virtuoso he always was in The Equation, the folk brat pack band all set to launch both Kathryn and Kate on equal terms, had Kate not given the band the slip just before that years’ Cambridge Folk Festival. Kathryn and Sean are keeping the tradition alive and well, in fact more than just well, obscenely healthy more like. There was nothing ‘showy’ in tonight’s performance. When Kathryn picks up the Soprano Sax, you know instinctively that it’s going to be just the right instrument for the job. Even the way she sits at the piano, it’s all very business-like, no Tori Amos antics here, no flirting with the piano, just pure music.
Nick Harper | Fibbers, York | 06.12.05
Nick Harper was pretty much on form at Fibbers tonight, thrilling the York audience with the severe battering he gave his guitar. Two strings broken this time, giving him no less than two opportunities to dazzle the audience with his trademark party piece – re-stringing without missing a beat, singing throughout. With a vocal range that could rival Jeff Buckley – he actually sang “Grace” tonight, in fact two performers sang it – Nick Harper gave his tonsils a gruelling hour or so, running through all his best stuff, “The Verse Time Forgot”, “She Rules My World”, “The Magnificent G7” as well as some of the songs from his new CD. He also did his rendition of “Guitar Man”, which half way through pays homage to Plant and Page with a blistering few bars of “Whole Lotta Love”. No effects pedal thingy sadly. KT Tunstall might’ve put him off, now that she has given the device the Top of the Pops treatment. Might not be cool anymore. Not content to limit his antics to the stage, Nick surprised everybody by jumping off the back of the stage, running through the side door and bombarding the audience with acoustic guitar in hand. It was that kind of fun night and I reckon he loved every minute. There were three supporting singers, a would-be Jeff Buckley (he was the one who sang “Grace” first), Gina Dootson (a young musician who we had earlier this year at the Sprotbrough club), and a Canadian singer songwriter, who is currently on tour with Nick. Each of the support singers was good enough in their own right, but in all honesty, it was Nick’s night through and through.
Jez Lowe | The Salutation, Doncaster | 12.12.05
Jez Lowe is a consistent performer who never disappoints, who never gives a poor show and never seems to appear without one of an entire wardrobe of striped t shirts, or is that hooped? These fashion terms bewilder me. Tonight’s gig at The Sal proved to be another success and there seems to be the beginnings of a strong following at the club. Jez ran through his back catalogue with ease and precision, bringing his unique brand of North Eastern wit and charm to South Yorkshire with songs like “Old Bones”, “Greek Lightning”, “Vikings”, “Another Man’s Wife”, “London Danny” and the beautiful “Tenterhooks”.