Live | 2010

Pamela Wyn Shannon | The Wheelhouse, Wombwell | 20.01.10

A certain name has appeared on publicity material for the Barnsley House Concerts for what seems like months now, as well as on a poster for last years’ hugely successful Wombwell Mad-Fest, but due to unforeseen circumstances, including visa problems and the cursed snow, fate has dealt blow after blow for those of us eager to see Pamela Wyn Shannon at the Wheelhouse, a venue which seems tailor made for such a delightful performer.  Tonight, Pamela finally made it to the venue and I must say it was certainly worth the wait.  Appearing precisely how she appeared in the November 2008 article in fRoots magazine, with predominantly autumnal colours, including trademark green beret and accompanied by her husband, Pamela performed a variety of songs, some old, some new, but the bulk of the songs from her thoroughly engaging Courting Autumn album.  Always conscious of this ridiculously restrictive politically correct world we now live in, I avoid personal statements on appearance like the plague, especially when addressing young women, but to sum up my precise thoughts on the matter, allow me to quote Ian Anderson, editor of fRoots from the aforementioned article: “She turns out to be tallish, attractive, with engaging eyes, a sensible dress, long auburn hair, a green beret and an air of intelligent distraction about her”.  Yes Ian, my thoughts exactly.  I had the pleasure of staring right into those ‘engaging eyes’ when I spoke to the songwriter for a good half an hour before the show, when we sat in Hedley’s dining room, discussing such things as the snow, this prolonged winter, her baptism into the Church of Pentangle and her wonderful album Courting Autumn.  As a newly re-located American to these shores, I enquired where Pamela spent much of her early years.  “I spent most of my recent years in Massachusetts so I feel more like a New Englander at this point but I did grow up outside of Manhattan, about half hour outside of the Big Apple and then some parts of my life were in Pennsylvania because my parents lived in different places.  Then I lived in France for a while and I lived in Ireland for a while, so I’ve been all over”.  There’s a distinctly different feel to each of Pamela’s first two albums, the first one Nature’s Bride being predominantly Irish traditional in feel, whereas Courting Autumn follows more English themes.  I sensed a desire in Pamela to explore more pastoral themes in her music, possibly influenced by the early British folk guitar pioneers.  “I grew up without a tradition, without people going to the pub or going over to people’s houses and playing fiddles and flutes, I grew up by listening to the radio and I had an older brother who had lots of records and CDs and so the first influences were the radio and albums that were given to me, which was a lot of rock, 1970s and 1960s psychedelia, which I really loved.  Then I heard Irish music.  I was always interested in acoustic music, every time I heard something like early Strawbs, my ears would all sparkle”.  You only have to be in the company of Pamela Wyn Shannon for a few minutes before you discover what an informed guitarist she is.  She has the sort of elongated yet elegant guitar playing fingers that the German Renaissance master Durer would be frothing at the mouth over, which probably helped in her decision to become a guitar player in the first place.  “I wanted to study guitar but my mother said the only way I would get lessons is if I studied Classical so I studied six months of Classical and that was basically it.  I almost went to school for Classical guitar but at the last second I decided to go to art school in every rock ‘n’ roller’s tradition; go to art school, dress in black and join a band.  I had a 1965 Jazz Master and an amp and you know.. it’s fun”.  “Then I heard the Incredible String Band and my band mates would make fun of me ‘all you wanna do is sit around and shake lentil beans all day’ I was like ‘YES’.  I parted with them and did my own solo thing and went into the singer-songwriter thing but didn’t really feel completely at home there.  Bands like Pentangle were always my dream band and that’s why I came over to the UK. I saw them for their final concert, I played at the same thing at the Green Man Festival; it was like being baptised in the Church of Pentangle.  The rain was coming down and I was like ‘I don’t care, let it rain’ it was so wonderful to be there”.  Tonight, down in the Wheelhouse, Pamela released her guitar from the confines of its case on the small stage, before a couple of dozen enthused music fans who trust promoter Hedley Jones implicitly – he hasn’t let them down yet – to perform a couple of sets of well overdue songs at the venue, from one of the few American song writers to recently grace the pages of fRoots magazine.  Starting with “Tis Rambletide in Ambleside”, which features Pamela’s delicate touch on guitar reminiscent of a young Bert Jansch, together with ambient baby sounds courtesy of little Daisy, the youngest member of the audience, Pamela seemed relaxed and quickly became accustomed to the pastoral environment.  Actually, Hedley’s place is in the middle of Wombwell in industrial South Yorkshire, but once in the Wheelhouse it’s easy to forget that, and with the help of Pamela’s distinctly enchanting songs, we might have been – for all intents and purposes – somewhere in the Lake District.  The theme of Autumn is so vividly captured on Pamela’s album Courting Autumn, that you are left in no doubt as to which is Pamela’s favourite season.  I was keen to discover whether the songs on the album were written specifically to address the things Pamela wanted to say about the season, or whether they just came along organically from the subconscious.  “I think it was just such a natural thing, a sort of concentration of all the autumns of my life really, just all the things that I’ve been through in the autumn.  Living up in New England for the years that I have, which is really an incredible place in the autumn, I was living as a caretaker in a house museum, pretty isolated and so I was really clued in with the seasons and nature, so it was easy for me to dive deep into it.  So I guess it’s been a culmination of years of artwork that’s been focused on autumn.  I’ve always wanted to chase autumn around the world and go to every country and have autumn for a year”.  “Pipkin” is one of the most memorable songs on the album with it’s cascading guitar flurries and climbing chord patterns, which both reflect and capture the natural patterns of the song’s main theme, that of a seed coming apart from its pod and being carried away with the wind, expertly performed by Pamela in its rawest acoustic form.  The only consideration for a performer when performing totally acoustic in such an environment is how to balance the voice with the guitar.  In previous shows at this venue Carrie Elkin’s voice dominated everything, whether accompanied by partner Danny Schmidt or guitarist Robby Hecht, whereas Vanessa Peters’ delicate voice was maybe at times slightly overpowered by the combined strumming of hers and Manuel Schicci’s guitars.  Tonight however, there was a perfect balance between Pamela’s beautifully enchanting voice and the assured playing on her trusty Lowden.  Experimenting with languages, Pamela invited her husband up to help sing a couple of newer songs towards the end of the first set.  The duo introduced “Diod y Dial”, a song written by Pamela and then translated by the couple into Welsh as well as a Meic Stevens song, allegedly the Welsh Bob Dylan, with the sublime “Can Walter”.  The album’s opener “O Bittersweet Dear Madeline” became the concert’s closer with time remaining for a couple of traditional songs right at the end, one of which showcased the real beauty of Pamela’s guitar work.  With an assured flat pick style, reminiscent of some of Steve Tilston’s best playing, “Courting Coat” tells the tale of courting from the male point of view, a little hard to imagine Pamela shaving off her beard and sporting her courting coat, but I was willing to allow my imagination to be challenged momentarily.  After such a concentrated experience of all things autumn, it only remained for me to enquire what of the other three seasons.  Did Pamela have any plans for completing the four seasons as Vivaldi had done before her?  “I have three albums half finished and since I do it myself I’m on a very low budget home grown thing and so it might take a little longer until some nice smiley businessman comes and says ‘I wanna give you a record deal’ but those days seem to be sort of, erm..”  With such a remarkable take on autumn, without a doubt my favourite season, we can only hope the other three will eventually come along sometime soon.

Tom Russell | The Ropery, Barton upon Humber | 22.01.10

Barton-upon-Humber stands on the south bank of the Humber Estuary, in the shadow of the southern tower of what was once the largest single-span suspension bridge in the world, that was until sixteen years on from when it was built, when slightly bigger ones began to pop up all over the place.  Barton’s guest visitor tonight noted that it reminded him of a similar structure that spans the bay of San Francisco over in his home state of California; well we do like our guests to feel at home!  Tonight the imposing Humber Bridge, the wide river estuary that it spans and much of the little North Lincolnshire town itself was obscured by a foggy haze, coming in off the river, making the venue difficult to find, despite the place being allegedly well signposted with a series of brown tourist signs.  As usual, I left it to basic instinct, a well-tuned musical nose and the help of one or two locals, who were more than happy to point me in the right direction.  It was no ordinary night after all, Tom Russell was in town.  I did eventually find the Ropery Hall just at the end of a long stretch of buildings known as the Ropewalk, which tonight was little more than a dark silhouette set against the mist, where a number of people had gathered at the north end in the small foyer bar.  Whilst some of the audience milled about the bar area and others took advantage of the best seats in the house, I was shown through to the green room, where I found Tom Russell standing, leaning up against a table, gently fingering his guitar, whilst his guitar player Thad Beckman went through a few old blues tunes by the likes of Mance Lipscombe and Mississippi John Hurt.  I’d arranged to have a chat with Tom at some point during the evening, preferably between his two sets, but because I arrived unfashionably early, Tom’s Swiss wife Nadine (pronounced Nay-deen) led me straight through to see Tom.  “Ah, Rolling Stone?” enquired Tom with a grin, reaching out his hand for me to shake.  “I wish” I replied, fumbling about my bag in search of some preliminary notes.   As I invited Tom to take a seat for a few moments, Nadine and Thad quietly left the room and I waited patiently for the irritating cell phone interference to stop interfering with my handy recorder.  It seemed like everyone in the building was either sending or receiving texts and the interference was pretty reluctant to go away, so I decided that the content of our conversation was potentially more important than the quality and therefore I went ahead and pressed the record button.  Due to the speed in which I was plunged into Tom Russell’s company, together with the fact that my notes had pretty much disappeared, my first question was less Rolling Stone and more Smash Hits.  I rather lamely asked how the tour was going?  “Shitty” Tom replied in his familiar southern drawl, “come on, gimme a good question!”  As the cell phone interference continued to dit-dit-dit in my headphones, I chose to ignore it and settle down to business, enquiring about the new album Blood and Candle Smoke, the real reason for my being there.  I asked Tom whether the germ of the album started when he co-produced the wonderful Gretchen Peters record One to the Heart, One to the Head last year, which featured his song Guadalupe, the song that contains the blood and candle smoke reference.  “I’d been thinking about this record for about five years.  I’d done eight or nine records for High Tone; High Tone was purchased by Shout Factory in the United States by some of the guys who used to own Rhino Records.  They put out my back catalogue, they put out a double anthology called Veterans Day about a year ago and then they signed me for two more records and I told them I didn’t want to record a new record of originals until I felt I had ten or twelve great songs, from my angle, because in this day and age my perception is we are really at a low period in song writing right now and nobody’s making ten and twelve song records and if I was going to try to move up or out to a bigger audience I wanted a great record of original songs, but with a new sound as well.  I told them I wanted to experiment with recording in Tuscon, Arizona with some of that Calexico sound, more of a global sound because I was writing about Africa and Mexico.  So I thought about this record for the last three or four years and researched a lot of new sounds and new bands, so it was pretty well thought out”.  With such a well thought out concept, Tom gets right to the point by quoting Dory Previn on the opening song of both album and tonight’s performance with the line ‘I slept through the 1960s’ from “East of Woodstock, West of Viet Nam”, a song chronicling the time he spent teaching criminology in Nigeria in 1970.  I was curious enough to enquire whether the songwriter felt he had himself slept through the 1960s?  “Quite the opposite, I didn’t perform music until 1970.  I don’t look at eras so much as a magical place where the greatest writing we’ve had in the last 50 years was being done; the fact that I was there and heard Bob Dylan early on and saw the Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl and it was around when Bob Dylan released Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 and Blonde on Blonde within 18 months.  We’re really in a strange time where I feel a writer like me, whether I’m famous or semi-famous has to plough his own ground because all the scenes are dead, Americana, country to me isn’t very interesting, so you have to make something that satisfies yourself and hope that the audience digs it and I think we’ve done that with Blood and Candle Smoke”.  I was intrigued at the fact that the architect of the music we now know as ‘Americana’ should feel that the genre has somehow lost its way.  “Americans really invent these categories and then they pick it up over here.  Categories are for weak people in the end.  They don’t call Bob Dylan Americana, they don’t call Leonard Cohen Americana, they don’t call Merle Haggard…  If your writing is strong enough and your presence as an artist is strong enough and fresh, like it is with those guys, you can stand outside any attempt to categorise what you do”.  Tom’s point here, that we do tend to attach labels to artists who don’t fall under the ‘unique’ banner, was reiterated in slightly stronger tones later on stage, when he told his audience during the opening chords of “Criminology” that he was reaching out, away from this bloody boring Country Music and Americana that they said I invented.. what a stupid category, do they put Bob Dylan in there or Leonard Cohen?  NO!”  Tom was almost apologetic for mentioning the name Bob Dylan several times during our conversation and reasoned that “People may think it’s sour grapes or your embittered because you keep mentioning Dylan but, like my guitar player said, I was there, I got ears, I got a heart, I know how good that stuff is and we haven’t come anywhere near that again and I’m just glad I recognised it”.  It’s not only Dylan who meets with Russell’s approval.  The unlikely subject of Nina Simone crops up on the new album with a song that takes a look at how we discover or re-discover something remarkable in unlikely settings.  “I knew who she was, my folks might have had a few of her records, but here’s another thing about Americans, I felt she was in this bag of an edgy R&B singer or jazz singer and I wouldn’t be that interested in her and then I heard her on a record in Mexico, I was walking around and she was singing Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman” and I was just transfixed.  It’s a song about being in a different place, an exotic place, and truly hearing somebody you took for granted for the first time and then I realised she was a folk singer, she sang everything with a lot of attitude, so I’ve since collected a lot of her stuff.  It’s always different, it always comes from almost an angry angle but not so much as a black person or a woman but just a spiritually angry person, like I say Van Morrison is a very angry person, in the same way, a very interesting form of anger.  I’m pretty angry sometimes, but you work it out through your art either performing or writing”.  Half way through the first set Tom introduced the second song from the album that addresses his ‘other life’ of teaching in Africa and the experience of having a gun pointed in his face.  “Criminology”, which is ironically accompanied by a sweet and infectious palm wine guitar backdrop along with a jolly singalong chorus.  “I got a masters degree in sociology of law, or criminology, in the late 1960s, got a gig in Africa for a year during the Biafran War and had my eyes opened.  I didn’t even know where it was when I went and I was there a year in Nigeria and then went to Morocco and Spain and I loved it in a way.  It was exciting and I heard a lot of great music; had a gun pointed at me a lot and just grew up.  But I decided that the academic lifestyle was pretty square for me and I really wanted to go back and explore my first love which was music and become a songwriter and I think it took at least 20 years to find my own ground”.  Much of the new album is autobiographical and covers some extraordinary ground, whether it be dodging bullets in Nigeria or discovering the voice of Nina Simone in Mexico, two pretty polarised experiences to say the least.  The subject of love could not really be evaded and for “Finding You”, a song about his wife Nadine, Tom found a special place on the new album, but not before some careful consideration over the placing in the track listing, as Tom explained.  “I conceive of this record Blood and Candle Smoke as not only my strongest album, but as a record, where you’re getting near the middle of the record and you turn it over – if it was an LP – there’s a simple little love song in between all the heavy songs, that’s kind of how I look at it”.  “My wife Nadine is from Switzerland, I met her five or six years ago over there, she heard me on the radio.  She’s a lot younger than me but it turned out she was very familiar with Texas music, she knew Doug Sahm and Augie Meyers and his wife and so we hit it off.  I don’t write that many love songs unless I think I have something to say because it’s such an over-trod ground.  It’s just a very simple love song but it has a little Tom Russell twist when I’m talking about the blessing of the animals and the shoeshine boys because I always wanted to work that into a song”.  After reading recently that Tom proposed to Nadine in Venice with a ring of fried calamari, I suggested to him that romance is not quite dead yet then?  “You’re damn right, you can tell that to her.  Yeah, I thought that was cool.  I was waiting for the right moment.  I was going to propose on a mountain in El Paso but Venice was the right place.  I don’t know anything about jewellery so there was the ring of calamari that was nice”.  Tonight Tom was generous in delivering the new material, which also included “Mississippi River Running Backwards”, “Santa Ana Wind”, “Guadalupe” and “The Most Dangerous Woman in America”, all of which were well received by the enthusiastic Barton audience.  It was however, with some of the older material that encouraged the spontaneous foot tapping, not because they were better songs, but because they were very well chosen foot-tappers from Tom’s back catalogue.  “The Pugilist at 59” from his last album Love and Fear, brought the first set to an end.  Tom has chronicled his life pretty well in his songs over the years and has produced a prolific output since his first record in the mid-1970s.  Some of the most memorable works have been presented in what he likes to describe as his ‘thematic trilogy’, two parts of which have already surfaced on The Man From God Knows Where and Hotwalker.  Tonight Tom and Thad delighted the audience with an 18 minute monologue about Dave Van Ronk, interspersed with several blues licks in the styles of Lightnin’ Hopkins, Mississippi John Hurt and Doc Watson and culminating in “Tonight We Ride”, recalling the montage style of Hotwalker, one of Tom’s most engaging records to date.  I was eager to know when and in what format the third part was likely to surface.  “I did The Man From God Knows Where eight or nine years ago, I can’t remember, in Norway, a folk opera about my ancestors coming from Ireland and Norway.  It’s probably my most widely acclaimed record and then later on I did Hotwalker five or six years ago, which is sort of a collage of my childhood growing up in Los Angeles reading Beat poetry, listening to Bakersfield country music – we were listening to Buck Owens today and it’s still fresh and cutting edge – and there’s a lot of those voices on that record, Kerouac, Bukowski, Edward Abbey.  Those were the two thematic records and I’m working on a film now about the West through my eyes and a woman I know who ranches alone.  That’ll have a soundtrack that will be the third part of this trilogy as I call it”.  Whether or not Tom wants to shake off the mantle of inventor of Americana or any other label we might want to attach to him, folk singer, country singer etc. what cannot be disputed is the fact that he embraces the plight of the common man and has become a voice for the down trodden, whether that be the neglected Native American or those affected by the ongoing ‘Mexican problem’ with emphasis on the countries ludicrous immigration policy.  “I think the plight of the Native American is the thing closest home to me.  I live in the West and the first few songs I wrote were about the Native Americans, very much influenced – I’d say on stage some nights – by the songs of Peter La Farge who wrote “The Ballad of Ira Hayes” and some of the things Johnny Cash did.  We live in a country that has a hundred Holocaust museums and yet doesn’t have that many museums or doesn’t respect the people we holocausted really, the Native American tribes.  I find that rather odd because they don’t have as good a press agent or something”.  The song “Crosses of San Carlos” investigates how America conveniently forgets the mortality rate amongst Native Americans who escape the confines of the reservations they set up for them.  I asked Tom whether he thought America in general suffered any guilt or shame for the plight of the Native American?  “Yeah, well that and the fact that we’ve forgotten about them, we’ve put them on reservations, that’s what the song’s about, where they’re not supposed to have alcohol.  They’re so troubled anyway a lot of them go off the reservation to drink and die out on the road, that’s basically what the song is about.  Yeah, there’s a lot of guilt and shame and twisted American history the same way with the Mexicans. Americans are very chauvinistic, the culture changes every five years, they don’t know much about the Canadians or the Mexicans or anything”.  On the ongoing Mexican border problem, Tom honoured a request from the audience for his topical “Who’s Gonna Build Your Wall”, which addresses the hypocrisy of the countries’ immigration policy.  “It was controversial, I still do it occasionally and I did it on the David Letterman show.  It’s about the last administration trying to build a wall along the border and using, in a lot of cases, illegal Mexican workers to build a wall to keep them out.  So that’s the kind of tongue in cheek funny bit about it, it’s not like a very profound song”.  One treat during the concert tonight was the unveiling of a new song, a work in progress, which looks at another problem much closer home, Tom’s home that is, in El Paso, New Mexico.  “I like to occasionally do a topical song and I’m working on a song about Juarez, which is now the most dangerous city in the world really, the murder capitol that’s right across the river from us in El Paso.  It’s about the drug wars and America sending the guns that way and them sending the drugs this way and we’re kind of financing this murder spree”.  I wondered whether this was more prevalent to him as a resident of El Paso, being in such close proximity to Juarez?  “It’s relevant to the whole world.  You can read it in the International Herald Tribune and see it on CNN.  You hear more about the Juarez situation over here than you do living in El Paso because they’re kind of in denial.  El Paso itself is a very safe city, that’s the conundrum, and right across the river is the most dangerous city and El Paso papers or news doesn’t tend to dwell on that.  You get over here though and you’ve got guys writing for the London Observer, who I know, people like Ed Vulliamy who are writing books on the war situation”.  Tom Russell set out with a conscious decision to reach out to a wider audience with this exciting and considered album, which contains twelve memorable songs, some of which we heard tonight, that just might constitute a career best.  I wondered whether this current tour has so far confirmed this for Tom.  “I feel the audience growing.  I always feel good whether I’m playing for a hundred people or two thousand or whatever it was last night (Celtic Connections), that some people and especially a lot of young people are coming to the shows now because they do want to hear good writing.  You do have to go beyond the media because the media is kind of getting squished down; they’re either looking for the new 16 year-old girl or they’re gonna do something like the hundred best albums of all time.  They’re desperate for something, so for a guy like me at my age, to try to float a great record out at this point in my career, it’s very very hard to get by that guy at the BBC in London who goes ‘I know what Tom Russell does, who doesn’t know what Tom Russell does?’  So that’s really the war right now but it’s going good, this record has outsold anything else I’ve done”.  Finishing off with “Walking on the Moon”, a song co-written by Katy Moffatt, Tom rounded off a perfectly good night of great songs, new and not so new, unplugging his guitar and leaving the stage to walk amongst his audience, whilst singing the last refrain of Townes Van Zandt’s “Snowin’ on Raton” and leaving the room at the back to some loud and appreciative applause.

Madison Violet | The Wheelhouse, Wombwell | 30.01.10

The newly extended Wheelhouse in Wombwell opened its doors once again tonight for a sell out appearance by one of Canada’s best loved harmony vocal duos, Madison Violet.  The venue itself has been slightly extended, with the addition of an alcove to provide more room, not specifically to cram more people in, but to make the Wheelhouse even more comfortable for the handful of loyal regulars and for those visiting for the first time, including the guest performers of course.  Toronto’s Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIsaac have been together for just over ten years now and have in that time produced three fine albums, two in the guise of Madviolet Worry the Judge (2004) and Caravan (2006) and for their most recent offering, No Fool for Trying (2009), a name change from Madviolet to the slightly lengthened Madison Violet, due to the confusion arising from their former name and that of a 1980s psychedelic band, The Mad Violets.  Tonight, Brenley and Lisa gave a stunning performance, despite some lingering jet lag, with a selection of songs from each of their three albums, together with one or two more familiar songs from the pens of Paul Simon and fellow countryman Gordon Lightfoot.  Starting with “The Ransom” from their current album, the duo delighted the audience with their often perfect vocal harmonies, alternating between guitar, mandolin and fiddle (Lisa) and guitar and tenor guitar (Brenley).  Those harmony voices first came about purely by accident when the duo was rehearsing together over ten years ago.  Brenley discovered that Lisa could in fact sing, by overhearing her harmonising to a pre-recorded looped vocal of hers on a Head Rush looping device.  Whilst the singer was upstairs, having left the rehearsal space momentarily, Lisa added her own voice to Brenley’s.  Overhearing the two voices together, Brenley discovered that for the first time she loved the sound of her own voice, simply by hearing it being coupled with Lisa’s.  The task then was to convince Lisa that she should sing with her.  “I had a horrible fear of singing in public” Lisa explained.  Those voices now however, are almost inseparable.  Holding fellow Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot in reverence, the duo sang two of Lightfoot’s songs during their set, having recently met the man himself and even getting him to sign Brenley’s tenor guitar, which she was proud to show off to the audience tonight.  Brenley and Lisa first of all performed Lightfoot’s “Poor Little Allison” and then towards the end of the night, delivered a beautiful rendition of the better known “Sundown”, a minor 1974 hit for Lightfoot in the UK; a number one smash in their native Canada of course.  Without doubt the most familiar song of the night however, was the unexpected Paul Simon classic “Mr$s Robinson”, which the duo managed to breathe new life into and I’m pretty sure in doing so, reminded the audience just how great the song actually is when heard once again in its rawest acoustic form.  Of all the sad songs that have been drawn from the pens of songwriters throughout my time, not many have touched me quite the same way as “Crying” and “The Woodshop”, both written by Brenley in tribute to her late brother Stevie, who was unfortunately killed two years ago.  During the introduction to “The Woodshop”, Brenley explained the relevance of the line ‘dust to dust and ashes fifty-two’, her brother being the fifty-second homicide victim in Toronto in that particular year.  The song was rewarded with complete silence throughout, which it fully deserved.  Once heard, difficult to shake off.  Some of Brenley’s songs do often reveal something of a chaotic life.  Once doing rather well for herself working in the graphic arts industry, having all she really needed except that crucial of all ingredients, that of happiness, Brenley gave it all up for music.  During that time she has endured the daunting experience of being accused, handcuffed and thrown in a cold cell, whilst being completely innocent of an undisclosed crime.  Great songs come from such experiences though and “Baby in the Black and White” has subsequently become one of the most outstanding songs on the new album and also as a live favourite. For the more soulful “Small of My Heart”, Brenley and Lisa invited the Wheelhouse audience to join in on some gospel-like oos, which had the effect of momentarily transforming the packed Wheelhouse into a chapel of sorts, albeit a gospel chapel that serves up some mighty fine Guinness along with the songs, with a little help from regular barman Andy at the back of the room.  Lisa comes from a family of fiddle players and the playing of the instrument seems to come naturally to her, certainly as an accompanying instrument to some of the songs performed tonight, but especially in her bluegrass playing as heard on the traditional “Cindy Cindy”, which brought the night to a close.  There was of course the obligatory encores, which tonight consisted of the aforementioned “Sundown” and also the jaunty “Never Saw the Ending”, with its foot tapping instrumental fiddle tune coda, courtesy of the enigmatic Lisa MacIsaac.  Other songs featured during the night included “Best Part of Your Love”, “Skylight”, the Ron Sexsmith co-write “Sore Heart, Height Ashbury” and the catchy “Men Who Love Women Who Love Men”.  Once again, a thoroughly enjoyable and memorable night at the Wheelhouse.

Judy Collins | The Duchess, York | 08.02.10

or some of us, the introduction to acoustic music came at a time when the sound of the electric guitar had got just about as loud (Townsend), as aggressive (Townsend, Hendrix) and as sneerfully complicated (Zappa) as it was likely to get.  In 1969 the Woodstock Festival certainly marked the height of rock culture of the time, but there amongst the likes of The Who, Ten Years After, Canned Heat, Santana and Jimi Hendrix, with his memorable take on the Star Spangled Banner, came the unexpected appearance of three ex-members of three previously successful bands.  Crosby, Stills and Nash, this time armed with acoustic guitars, something we’d almost forgotten about, came out of the darkness and brought a lighter, more harmonious sound that some of us had probably been waiting for.  Some of those watching the festival a couple of years later, albeit thousands of miles east of Woodstock and on the big screen, heard for the first time a sound that would mark a change of direction in the music we would now prefer to have infiltrate our already bulging cardboard boxes by the Dansette.  As Stephen Stills sang “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” in front of half a million people, it never occurred to me that I would one day be in the same dressing room as the beholder of those engaging blue eyes that Stills sang so eloquently about from the Woodstock stage in ‘69.  Even forty years on, I can see something in those eyes that may have attracted the young Stills and I found myself unashamedly spellbound by this woman sitting across from me backstage at the Duchess tonight.  “Would you like some tea?” she asked, as I settled down to chat to her about her life and music amongst other things.  I declined the offer knowing full well that time was of the essence and I had so much to discuss with her in the brief interval between sets to be bothering about the PG Tips.  Judy Collins, now in her 70th year, may have an apparent physical frailness, yet she also has a certain strength of character hardly altered in her fifty year recording career.  The stage at the Duchess was set fittingly for the occasion; a simple flower arrangement set on an occasional table, a Roland piano to the left and taking centre stage, a guitar stand looking after Judy’s signature Martin 12 string.  I overheard someone sitting on the second row say “this is where music should be seen, not at the Opera House”.  He was right of course; nothing quite beats being up close and personal, especially if the act you are about to see is something of a legend of popular song.  Judy, accompanied by her musical director Russell Walden played a set of just thirteen songs, yet her set was scattered with anecdotal remembrances and snippets of songs that aptly illustrate her life so far.  Standards like “My Funny Valentine”, “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair” and “Some Enchanted Evening”, all popped up somewhere during the set, along with the more folk orientated “Bottle of Wine”, “The Last Thing On My Mind” and “Thirsty Boots”.  Judy remembers lyrics like the rest of us remember important things we have to do; once they come to mind, she just has to sing them, almost as a reminder to herself.  Known more as an eclectic singer of contemporary folk songs, Judy gravitated to folk music in the wake of the folk revival after studying classical music, playing Debussy and Rachmaninov, before discovering the power of the folk music of Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie and headed toward Greenwich Village to busk.  With the early songs of burgeoning song writing talents such as Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen from Canada, Randy Newman from California and Robin Williamson of the Incredible String Band from Scotland, Collins brought an awareness of these artists to a wider audience, even encouraging Cohen to become a performer.  “I was very lucky because there I was in the midst of this froth of creativity and song writing and all kinds of people would find me.  I had a record label since 1961, when I started recording traditional songs and then on the third album I decided to record ‘city singer’ songs, so that was Pete Seeger, Ewan Maccoll, Bob Dylan, Tom Paxton and Mike Settle.  Mike Seeger was around too of course who died this past year.  I was just looking for good songs, that’s what I was looking for, good songs”.  Backstage, a good humoured Judy joked about being on both Sesame Street and The Muppet Show as well as being invited to sing at Bill Clinton’s inauguration.  What kind of gig is that? I enquired.  “Very, very exciting, we were all hysterical with joy and I found out a year earlier that he was a big fan and that I had met him when he was still a Governor and he had come to see me and made some very complimentary comments about how wonderful I was and how much better I was than when he had first time he saw me in 1964.  This was 1991 and he was sort of a retread fan, which happens if you stay in the business long enough, you have people who fell in love with you forty-five, fifty years ago and all of a sudden they see you again and they go ‘oh you’re just the same or better’, so that was the kind of fan he was, which was very exciting”.  Taking to the small Duchess stage tonight, Judy started her set with “Chelsea Morning”, the recorded version of which Bill and Hilary first heard in the 1960s, that subsequently was the inspiration for naming their daughter Chelsea.  “Very complimentary” said Judy.  As Judy signed a bunch of rare LP records that people handed to her tour manager earlier, I asked the Seattle-born singer about her early years living in Los Angeles and Denver, where she studied classical piano and whether playing Debussy may have given her that all important sense the melody that she has been equipped with over the past five decades.  “I think that has everything to do with it, being able to study all of that classical repertoire and then when I finally did start writing, when I was 28, there was a background to do it.  Also because of all the studying there was a great deal of discipline to do what I do today”.  Judy found folk music when she was in her teens, around the age of 14, and she admits that it took over her life, literally.  “I heard a couple of songs on the radio and bang!  They were the “Gypsy Rover” and a version of “Barbara Allen” sung by Jo Stafford”.  Judy’s only traditional song of the night, a beautiful airing of “John Riley”, a song that appeared on her very first album A Maid of Constant Sorrow (1961), reminded the York audience precisely what a stunning interpreter of folk songs she was back then and still is, even fifty years on.  Much of the set from that point on consisted of contemporary songs by the likes of The Beatles with “Norwegian Wood”, Sandy Denny with “Who Knows Where The Time Goes”, and more recently Amy Speace with “The Weight of the World”.  Although none of her many Leonard Cohen covers made it into the set tonight, his subliminal presence is always there when you’re in the company of Judy Collins.  Cohen’s songs have featured in Judy’s repertoire ever since she first recorded Suzanne for her In My Life album in 1966, before Cohen was really known.  “Nobody knew him, he came down from Toronto and was reading obscure poetry in little clubs in Toronto and his friend Mary, who I knew in New York, said he wants to come and play you some songs and have you tell him whether they are songs or not.  So he did, he came to my house and sang me Suzanne and that was the beginning of a very important relationship creatively.  He also was the one who told me to start writing my own songs so that was a big help for me.  You know, I put in my two cents for Leonard Cohen for years”.  Judy started writing songs in the mid-1960s after this very good tip from Leonard Cohen and tonight she sang her very first song “Since You Ask”, which appeared on her landmark album Wildflowers (1967), a name that Judy has been associated with ever since, her own record label being named after the album. Judy’s support for the evening, Kenny White, who did a sterling job getting things off to a good start, is one of the artists signed to the Wildflower label.  Although Judy kept the personal traumas of her life to a minimum tonight, I touched upon the one aspect of her social activism that is closest to her heart, that of her tireless campaigning for the prevention of suicide, something she has been involved with since the death of her only son Clark at the age of 33 in 1992 after a long struggle with depression and substance abuse.  “When this happened to me I figured I had to do something about it and so I started writing about it.  I have actually three books which deal with the question, one of them is called “Singing Lessons” in which I talked about it the first time and then I found a publisher who was willing to do a book about suicide.  Sanity and Grace was published by Tarcher and I really felt that I had to talk about it because there wasn’t anything else to do with it.  I think suicide survival is one of the more daunting and terrifying emotional experiences to go through.  It involves friends, family, survivors and it’s tough.  I think that it helped me a lot and I hope that the book helps other people too.  Suicide is a strange and very interesting phenomenon if it isn’t happening to you.  Teenagers are quite vulnerable to it as well.  Last year I helped to support something called A Cry For Help, which was a film that was made after the Virginia Tech murders and there had been some suicide clusters that happened after that and so I am going to be doing some work for them.  I don’t think I really know much about prevention but there are certain things that I think are true, mostly that you have to talk about it and get it out into the open and be honest about it”.  Still a hard working writer, performer and activist, Judy also has a busy year ahead with a new book about to be published and a new album called Paradise, which is due to be released in June to coincide with her Glastonbury Festival appearance.  Tonight Judy previewed one of the songs on the new album, Joan Baez’s “Diamonds and Rust”, which Judy and Joan recently duetted on at the Newport Festival last year.  Everyone knows that Joni Mitchell wrote “Both Sides Now”, but no one was in any doubt tonight that Judy Collins performed the definitive version of the song, which closed the set with a rapturous and well deserved applause.  As the persistent applause continued long after Judy left the stage, the singer returned this time without her musical director to conclude with an unaccompanied “Amazing Grace”, a fitting end to a lovely night in the company of one of the most charming, beautiful and elegant women I have had the fortune to finally meet.

Claude Bourbon | The Wheelhouse, Wombwell | 20.02.10

The Wombwell Wheelhouse once again drew a packed audience tonight for the first appearance at the venue by French-born guitarist Claude Bourbon.  The classically trained guitarist grew up in Canton de Vaud, Switzerland, where he developed a distinctly multi-styled approach to finger-picked guitar, encompassing everything from classical and Spanish flamenco influences to jazz, blues and folk, with a little Eastern influence thrown in for good measure.  Tonight the guitarist gave us a taste of these elements in a couple of sets of delicate songs and outstanding guitar tunes, fusing all the styles in a sort of improvisational recital.  One or two of the pieces were extended to include several short guitar pieces that segued into one another, not unlike a classical recital, but with the inclusion of several jazz and blues runs, at times utilising the bottleneck.  Bourbon first picked up a guitar when he was fifteen after hearing an instrumental version of the traditional “House of the Rising Sun”, apparently coming from a neighbours garage, which not only gave him the inspiration to pick up the guitar, but also to seek out new kinds of music such as the Spanish flamenco style of guitarists like Paco De Lucia, the more rock orientated Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin) and Richie Blackmore (Deep Purple) and the ragtime blues playing of Blind Blake as well as the works of various classical composers such as Joaquin Rodrigo and JS Bach.  Opening his set with a sixteen-minute medley of guitar tunes in various styles such as baroque, some Ry Cooder-esque bottleneck and some European Klesmer music, each with alternating tempos, Claude topped it off with his rendition of Gershwin’s “Summertime”, all played with great dexterity and flair.  The self composed guitar instrumental “Passing Through” coupled with the title song from Claude’s current album release Travelling Man, although released on his previous album Merci, Thank You, showcased the versitilty of his dextrous playing.  Quite coincidentally, adding to the atmosphere at the Wheelhouse, during the silence that preceded “Ghosts”, an owl could be heard outside, wanting to get in on the action, which was quite spooky.  If Claude’s command over singing in English, which was very good I hasten to add, is comparatively less assured, singing in his native tongue is instantly more relaxing, which he demonstrated on “C’est Dimanche”, whilst whistling over a ragtime guitar tune.  The second set began with an even longer piece than the opener to the first set, again composed of several short passages, all fitting neatly together as if originally intended that way.  After the show I asked Claude if I could peek at his set list to which he replied saying that he didn’t use them, therefore many of the titles remain unknown to me.  The twenty-six minute medley brought together classical pieces in the style of JS Bach, some of which I did recognise such as the excerpts from blind Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo’s famous “Concierto de Aranjuez” (“Orange Juice” to Brassed Off fans) together with a foot stomping version of the old gospel classic “You Don’t Know What the Lord Told Me”, with some improvisational guitar motifs expertly worked into the piece.  Towards the end of the night, a much more relaxed Claude performed a handful of songs including “There’s Somebody Missing Tonight” from Claude’s forthcoming album and the Spanish influenced “Sitting on a Cliff”, co-written by songwriting partner Tim Leaning.  Other songs included “When Love Has Quit the Scene” and the funky “Angel”.  With an extraordinary meeting between something typically French and something fundementally English, Claude Bourbon completed an evening of quality musicianship with “Bolero”, reminding some of Torvil and Dean and others of Dudley Moore’s hanky-pankying with Bo Derek in 10, which segued into the unexpected “We’ll Meet Again”, inspiring some cross channel communal singing from the entire house as Ravel met up with the forces’ sweetheart Vera Lynn.  Another top night in Wombwell.

The Snapdragons | Old Ship Inn, Lowdham | 10.03.10

Singer-songwriter Rosie Doonan, together with fiddler Katriona Gilmore and guitar player Gary Stewart, collectively known as The Snapdragons, headed down to Lowdham near Nottingham tonight, for an all too rare Snapdragons gig at the Old Ship Inn, organised by a jolly bunch of Warthogs.  I stowed away in the back of the ‘tour bus’ in order to have a word or two with the band before reaching the gig and assisted the band in devouring the light refreshments and pre-gig snacks obtained from a service station along the way.  The fourth member of the Snapdragons, cellist Sarah Smout was unfortunately away studying down in Norwich and therefore was unable to make an appearance with the band tonight.  With Hedley Jones at the wheel, making the journey as smooth as possible, Rosie scribbled down an improvised set list in her notebook as the band brought me bang up to date with yet another episode in the life of Rosie Doonan; Moving On as always.  Rosie’s lineage is well chronicled, her grandfather being the legendary John Doonan, he of Flute of the Feis fame, once known in the North East as the Whistling Welder on account of his superb command over the piccolo, coupled with a reference to his day job, that of working in the Tyneside shipyards.  Before him, Rosie’s great grandfather and even her great great grandfather before him, were also musicians, fiddlers from the Irish tradition to be precise.  Rosie’s dad, Mick Doonan is also a stalwart of the British folk scene and a familiar face around Yorkshire and the North East for the past forty-odd years, having been a member of such high profile bands as Hedgehog Pie and the Doonan Family Band amongst others.  Rosie grew up in this rich musical environment and has developed her own distinctive song writing talents whilst at the same time cultivating her own individual voice through a period of uncertainty, mainly centred around the complex decisions of exactly which way to turn, pop music, folk music or rock n roll?  That voice is rich in texture, clear in delivery and is certainly a voice like no other.  Rosie formed the Snapdragons by ‘stealing’ fiddle player Katriona Gilmore from the all girl band Tiny Tin Lady and then going on to steal cello player Sarah Smout from the Bradford-based band Wilful Missing.  Gary Stewart is the newest recruit, recently added to the line up from the ranks of Rosie’s own band, swapping his drumsticks for guitar somewhere along the way.  He told me tonight that he’d “had his initiation and had passed the test”.  Tonight at the Old Ship Inn in Lowdham, the trio played before a very appreciative standing room only audience at this, the final night of their 2009/10 Warthogs season.  The band started with Rosie’s jazz inflected “Need You Around”, her regular opener, which made an appearance on both the Mill Lane album that Rosie made with Ben Murray, which in turn drew some attention from the folk establishment, subsequently gaining them a BBC Horizon Award nomination in 2006 and then once again re-vamped for her own Moving On solo album of 2007.  Showcasing one or two songs from Rosie’s forthcoming album, which we are reliably informed will be called Pot of Gold, the Snapdragons performed the Latin inspired title song as well as the delightfully intoxicating “Into the Fire”, a song that is difficult to get out of your head once heard; fortunately, it’s not the sort of melody you would want to get out of your head in a hurry.  Katriona’s mandolin is becoming just as assured as her fiddle playing and her organic flurries on these two songs wove fleetingly throughout.  Katriona Gilmore by her own admission comes from a less extensive musical family than Rosie, but informs us that her dad has played guitar in a good few bands including Stealers Wheel, providing his daughter with some impressive musical genes.  Alternating between the fiddle and mandolin and providing harmony vocals throughout the two sets tonight, Katriona, also a Horizon Award nominee in the most recent BBC Folk Awards along with regular musical partner Jamie Roberts, proved once again that she provides a beacon of light in the vast ocean that constitutes the current music scene.  The second set kicked off with a couple of songs from new Snapdragon member Gary Stewart, a drummer who is steadily moving into the singer songwriter field with a handful of songs destined for his debut solo album.  Whilst drawing up an imaginary Pete Frame type musical family tree in the tour bus, which already included Rosie’s vast family connections and Katriona’s connections with Stealers Wheel, the Roberts family and the Lakemans, it was only right for Gary to proudly point out that he is in fact Barbara Dickson’s third cousin.  The Snapdragon’s family tree needs more paper and another ink cartridge in my pen.  Tonight Gary played the songs “In the Pines” and “Maggio” as well as his fine version of the Paul Simon classic “The Sound of Silence”, all three accompanied by Rosie’s intuitive harmony vocal.  Along with Gary, there is another new addition to the Snapdragon family tree and that is Brian the ukulele, which went towards revealing another side to Rosie’s playing, that is accompanying songs that lend themselves more to the Music Hall tradition.  Victor tells of the fleeting attraction Rosie once experienced with a complete stranger in the audience and employs a fascinating barber shop chorus whilst TLC, a heartfelt song about her sister, is told with a contrasting jaunty lightness and has an irresistible and infectious refrain, ‘sometimes all I need is TLC’.  Tender loving care was undoubtedly the main ingredient when writing such songs as the utterly gorgeous “Holding On” and the much newer song “Lady Blue”, both which reveal Rosie’s strongest quality, that of a beautifully sensitive song writer.  When Rosie pays tribute to other writers, she makes sure she leaves an indelible stamp on them. I have to say, and this comes from a dyed-in-the-wool Joni Mitchell fan, Rosie Doonan’s stunning version of Woodstock for my money is the definitive version and having seen her perform it on several occasions, I don’t admit to that in a frivolous way.  Tonight was no exception as she performed the song, during which Rosie held the audience spellbound.  Finishing off with an encore of James Taylor’s timeless “You Can Close Your Eyes”, the Snapdragons rounded off a memorable night in Lowdham, having brought their own sense of fun, some remarkable musicianship and a bunch of songs to remember.

Ruth Notman | The Rock, Maltby | 12.03.10

When Ruth Notman’s debut album Threads found its way onto my CD pile a couple of years ago, it came at a time when I was becoming more and more aware of the emergence of a new generation of folk singers, eager to celebrate the music of the likes of Nic Jones, Dougie MacLean and Sandy Denny, to the irritation of some of the old guard, who had claimed these artists as their very own.  Fortunately, I remain untarnished by this strange idea that these so called icons should be left untouched for fear of fire, brimstone and the wrath of what or whoever etc.  The truth is, Ruth can sing the telephone directory for all I care; her instantly recognisable voice to me is as vibrant and alive as a Saturday night and as fresh as a sweet Sunday morning.  Beginning her musical journey at the tender age of just thirteen years old, Ruth sought out the local folk clubs in and around the Nottingham area (those that would allow someone so young to play that is), encouraging her to eventually enter a competition for young folk musicians in the East Midlands.  Once she had gained a reputation as a promising young singer and musician, along with a musical partnership with the equally young fiddle player Bryony Bainbridge, Ruth went on to reach the finals of the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award and was immediately snapped up by Mrs Casey Records, with whom she signed a record and management deal.  Since then, Ruth has become a familiar face in clubs and at festivals all over the place.  Tonight I met up with the Mansfield-based singer after months of trying to pin her down.  We agreed to meet up at the Rock in Maltby, where we fully intended to catch up on the Ruth Notman story so far, after which she would perform a couple of sets of songs and quite predictably, giggle throughout, reminding us all of one important thing, that she is just a normal 21 year-old enjoying her youth, whilst being at the same time a talented singer who contributes something very special to the folk world.  Despite the Rock being at barely half its capacity tonight, after a most welcomed and successful string of sell-out gigs, an unfazed and entirely cheerful Ruth Notman filled all the remaining gaps with her bubbly personality and her own distinctive sound.  Equally confident on both guitar and piano, as well as singing unaccompanied, Ruth’s first appearance at the Rock brought with it a selection of beautiful songs from both her first album Threads as well as her latest CD The Life of Lilly, both released through Mrs Casey Records.  Starting with an unaccompanied “The Hedger and Ditcher”, Ruth weaved through some of her best loved songs including the traditional “Billy Don’t You Weep For Me”, learned from the singing of Nic Jones, the jaunty “Limbo” and Dougie MacLean’s sublime “Caledonia”.  Ruth always ensures that there is a long pause before the beginning of each song, where the singer appears to gather herself momentarily.  This shows both confidence and composure and clearly draws a line between the artist and the girl with the giggles, both of which are an essential part of any of her gigs, whether it be on her own as a solo artist, with her regular sideman melodeon player Saul Rose or with the extended trio, which includes cellist Hannah Edmonds.  Take the spirited girl away from this and you are left with just a bunch of songs.  It really does come as a well balanced package.  Sometimes from the stage, especially a large stage with a bank of bright lights such as those at the Wesley Centre, it’s difficult for a performer to gauge to what extent the audience is on their side.  Prompting communal singing is probably the best way of finding out and Ruth did this several times throughout the two sets tonight, most notably on “Rory McCrory”, a traditional song from West Cork and then again on “Who’s the Fool Now”, a song memorably performed during the early 1970s by Robin and Barry Dransfield.  Towards the end of the night, Ruth also performed a stunning version of “The Waters of Tyne”, presumably indicating that the Dransfield’s brilliant Rout of the Blues LP resides somewhere in Ruth’s folks’ record collection!  But I’m just guessing here.  There’s something astonishingly beautiful about the melody of “The Lark in the Clear Air”, which this reviewer never tires of hearing.  The song has been sung many times by this young performer, having been a familiar song around the house for many of her formative years and which has now finally surfaced on the Life of Lilly record, and not a moment too soon.  Introducing the song, Ruth gleefully admitted that she likes singing this song because “it’s under three minutes long and nobody dies in it!”  Although Ruth is a fine interpreter and arranger of both traditional and contemporary songs, it’s with her own compositions that tends to render me spellbound.  Ruth immediately clears up any ambiguity during her introduction to her beautiful “Over the Hill”, which is clearly not about being ‘passed it’ at all, but literally being geographically over a hill, a song written at a very young age for Ruth’s late aunt.  The recorded version on the first album has an astonishing beauty, superbly complemented by Saul Rose’s melancholy melodeon accompaniment.  Tonight Ruth softened even the hardest of hearts with her gorgeous performance of the song.  “Lonely Day Dies”, another self-penned song from the Threads album, was written whilst Ruth was doing her A levels and by her own admission, includes a familar Westlife-type key change on the recorded version, which tonight remained mono-keyed for convenience.  From the new album, Ruth performed another one of her compositions, “Holding On”, which once again incorporates everything that is good about Ruth’s songwriting.  Incidentally, we can also look forward to the song being included on the forthcoming Folk Against Facism compilation CD.  As a classically trained musician, Ruth exercises her arranging skills exceptionally well on the traditional “Cruel Sister”, which on record is almost operatic in scope and astonishingly dramatic in feel.  On stage with just the piano, Ruth manages to bring some of that drama to life, albeit in a more underplayed fashion, yet losing none of its original power.  Concluding the two sets tonight, Ruth performed the aptly titled Richard Thompson song “Farewell Farewell”, a song originally sung by Sandy Denny, a singer Ruth has an immense appreciation of.  Tonight Ruth told me that she tries not to listen to Sandy an awful lot in order to avoid singing too much like her, which she admits she has to do with everyone she listens to.  “I have to take a step back and monitor how much I’m listening to each person”.  Returning to the stage for a final encore, Ruth chose to sing the John Tams song “Hold Back the Tide” unaccompanied, which also concludes the new album.  I would imagine nothing less than a bright future for Ruth Notman, especially if she continues to demonstrate this contagious zest for life and living, together with an intuitive choice of material and an increasingly mature musical talent.  By her own admission, Ruth gets terribly nervous sharing with the world her own compositions, especially the more personal songs, but one would hope that in time, her confidence will grow sufficiently enough for us to hear more of these sensitive and beautiful songs.

Rodney Branigan | The Wheelhouse, Wombwell | 13.03.10

Now resident in London, the Texan-born virtuoso guitar player Rodney Branigan brought something entirely different to the Wombwell Wheelhouse tonight, which included playing two syncopated guitars at the same time.  You have to see it to believe it.  With impressive musical dexterity, together with a good natured personality and maybe just a touch of complete madness, Rodney brought some of his jaw dropping guitar playing skills to an unsuspecting audience in Wombwell.  Opening with one of his party tricks, the seated musician held his first guitar in the standard position, albeit slightly to his right hand side, then propping a second guitar in an upright position between his legs, he played both instruments simultaneously, with his right hand almost violently attacking one guitar, whilst the fingers on his left hand ‘shredded’ the fret board of the second guitar.  You would normally expect this to come across as a right old racket, but it actually came over surprisingly well.  “The Ambidextrous Duet” also involves beating a tambourine with his foot and as if he didn’t have enough to do, there was also a fair deal of guitar tapping and beating, a practice only advisable to those who know what they’re doing, otherwise it could potentially become quite a costly exercise.  Rodney owns up to the fact that during his apprenticeship year he wrote off no less than six guitars!  For those of us new to Rodney Branigan, there was an initial fear after this opening performance, that these shannanigans would constitute the bulk of his set, but fortunately for both him (especially his hands) and the audience, not to mention his poor instruments, the pyrotechnics were kept to a minimum.  The only other time he put his guitar in any kind of danger was during his infamous ‘Flip Trick’, which he warned us earlier that he just might have to skip tonight due to the low ceiling in the Wheelhouse.  The trick incorporates balancing one guitar on top of the other whilst playing both simultaneously, then during the performance, the two guitars somehow swap places in mid flight.  Blink and you’ve missed it. Rodney however did feel suitably inspired to do the trick tonight, despite the low ceiling, which he pulled off superbly well to the amusement of all.  YouTube makes a big song and dance about these tricks, but what you don’t see so much out there is the tender side of this singer songwriter.  “She Bled”, written for the Domestic Abuse Hotline in Texas, is a beautifully sad song, which Rodney claims to be one of a very few sad songs he performs.  With a voice reminiscent of the young Jeff Buckley, Rodney has the capacity to captivate an audience in the traditional way as well as with the help of all the trickery and gadgetry.  The same can be said for the well chosen songs from the repertoires of others.  For the second time at the Wheelhouse recently, I was reminded of just how good Paul Simon’s songs are after years of trying to avoid them.  Madison Violet performed a great version of “Mrs Robinson” at the venue recently and tonight Rodney performed “The Boxer”, an over done song in early Seventies folk clubs but after a couple or three decades away, the re-vitalised song was most welcomed; I even joined in on the ‘lie-la-lies’.  Conversely, performing a Soundgarden song in the style of Johnny Cash would seem a little adventurous at first, but having said that, Johnny’s swansong was in fact a cover of a Nine Inch Nails song, so I guess this take on “Rusty Cage” is not as unusual as you might think.  Thom Yorke’s “Creep” has often been heard in clubs since we first became aware of the Radiohead song in 1992, but seldom have I heard it performed with such conviction.  “The Trilogy” is a medley of three songs comprising “Jamming With Mo”, “Heading Home” and the Beatles’ “Come Together”, which Rodney faithfully adapts for his own purposes.  Rodney not only borders on the quirky, but often strays into down right eccentric territory.  In a sort of commercial break mode, Rodney delivers a song that contains just the four words, sex, herpes, ouch and scratch, in that order, to a sort of familiar cocktail lounge melody, topped off with some scratching effects on the guitar; we are left in no doubt as to the singer’s bizarre sense of humour.  This humour is not confined to quirky songs and raunchy jokes, which peppered his set tonight, but also in the clever way he utilises his instruments, as previously described.  Towards the end of one song for instance, Rodney stretches out one leg, the one with the tambourine attached to his foot and performs a memorable ending to “Remember Me”, shaking the tambourine at an unfeasible rate, which rendered the silent audience frozen momentarily.  How did he do that?  “That’s what happens when you gain a hold of your epilepsy and embrace it; lock your leg and shake a tambourine” was his explanation.  Towards the end of the night, almost as an afterthought, Rodney performed a rather tasty version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Castles Made of Sand”, which reminded us of just how poetical Hendrix could be when he wasn’t burning his guitar.  There was a tangible and delighted buzz in the Wheelhouse tonight after Rodney’s performance, which was one of the best received at the venue.  It may have been the standard of musicianship, the teasingly naughty jokes, or maybe just the relief that the roof was still intact!

Barnsley Acoustic Roots Festival 2010 | Various Venues | 19.03.10

Barnsley has been sadly bereft of a folk festival for almost twenty years now and this year a small group of local music enthusiasts, namely Carol Roberts, Stephen Dolman and Hedley Jones, together with a handful of volunteers, decided to put that right and stage a memorable show over the weekend at a couple of familiar locations in the town.  Under the heading of the Barnsley Acoustic Roots Festival, this formidable team gathered together some of the best known names in the business for three days of fun and music starting at the Civic in the town centre on Friday night, with a concert featuring the inimitable Eliza Carthy Band as well as local hero Dave Burland and the ‘small town boy’ Gerry McNeice.  These days Eliza Carthy’s concert appearances bear little resemblance to those we witnessed a few years ago as she boldly takes on some of the most extraordinary and complex arrangements for her own unique songs.  Mostly centred around her latest album Dreams of Breathing Underwater, Eliza and her band filled the already packed Civic auditorium with an incredible sound for a good ninety minutes on Friday night, introducing no less than four brand new songs during the course of the evening, including “Thursday”, “Hansel” and “Monkey”, embracing both her folk and music hall influences but at the same time maintaining a very contemporary feel.  Her band featured Emma Smith on double bass, Phil Alexander on keyboards and accordion, Willie Molleson on drums, who also provided the engaging spoken part in the magnificent “Mr Magnifico” and finally the Imagined Village’s amazing Barney Morse Brown, whose Hendrix-like pyrotechnics almost stole the show.  Hard to imagine all that coming from the cello player!  Barnsley-born Dave Burland, who is also one of the festival patrons (along with singer Kathryn Roberts), is no stranger to this town and likes to think he knows Barnsley and those who live here very well.  In fact there was a sense that many of those who came along to Friday’s concert were very much looking forward to seeing Dave once again on his home turf.  His distinctive velvet voice and warm personality has changed little over the years and he made sure that much of his set centred around songs that are at once familiar to this particular neck of the woods including “Spencer the Rover” and “The Dalesman’s Litany”.  Opening the evening concert was Gerry McNeice, a singer songwriter from Otley, who performed a handful of songs from his new record Small Town Boy including “Danger Sign” and “Home”.  Gerry, who was also the MC for the evening was helped along by a couple of friends, who together for one night only made up the Small Town Boy Band, including Barnsley’s own Dominic Howell on cajon and bodhran and Michael Adams on trombone.  On Saturday the festival moved up the road to the Kingstone School, by way of some dancing in the town centre.  The rain didn’t seem to deter the enthusiastic traditional dancers as a distinctly festive spirit returned to the town.  The School provided the perfect venue for the rest of the weekend, where you could not only see several excellent concerts in the main hall, but also bump into the artists in the foyer, share a joke or two with them and have your CD signed, buy a drink from the real ale bar, run by volunteers Andy, Bernie and Grace, enjoy some delicious food provided by the regular school catering staff, or even take along your instrument to the open mic session held in one of the classrooms.  On the main stage on Saturday afternoon 17-year-old fiddler Sarah Horn and 18-year-old guitarist James Cudworth brought a taste of some of the promising fresh talent we have in Yorkshire, with Sarah’s note perfect fiddle playing set against James’ guitar accompaniment, taking on not only familiar Irish folk tunes but also tackling complex arrangements such as Dave Brubeck’s classic “Take Five”.  Singer-songwriter Emily Slade, who has been pretty much absent from the countries stages for some years now due to raising a young family, returned to these parts with a handful of well-crafted songs interspersed with stories of bringing up baby, stuff she really knows about.  Also a gifted guitarist, Emily performed some delicate arrangements of her own songs as well as one or two well chosen covers such as Pete Morton’s much covered “Another Train”, some of which can be found on her two album releases 2003’s Fretless and the earlier Shire Boy from 2001.  Kerfuffle’s outstanding set brought together the multiple talents of brothers Sam and Tom Sweeney, the versatile accordion, clogging and singing talents of Hannah James and local guitarist Jamie Roberts, making his first of two main stage appearances of the weekend.  With some tight arrangements and some seasonal songs, the band made the right of passage from being a young talented folk band to becoming, for all intents and purposes, a grown up and seasoned band.  Rounding off the afternoon concert on the main stage was County Durham’s favourite son Jez Lowe whose songs are now as familiar to us as most of the ones already in the tradition, but with very contemporary themes such as “London Danny”, “Taking On Men” and the hilarious “It’s a Champion Life”.  Whilst volunteers cleared the concert hall in preparation for the evening concert, many singers and musicians gathered in the packed open mic room for an informal session whilst North Carolina’s Dana and Susan Robinson provided an old time fiddle and banjo workshop, inviting musicians along to learn a few new tunes in an authentic Appalachian style.  Damien Barber kicked off proceedings for the evening concert with a fabulous dance display by children from local schools, Kingstone, Dodworth St John’s and Shawlands Primary, keeping traditional rapper, Morris and clog dancing alive and well in South Yorkshire.  Damien and his team worked throughout the week leading up to the festival with the children in these schools and the amazing results of just one week’s work was presented on the main stage to thunderous applause, which was fully deserved.  Local singer Steph Shaw, who lives just down the road from her old school, captured the hearts of most of the audience, even bringing a tear to the eye of some of the burliest blokes at the bar, with her stunning rendition of “Over the Rainbow”.  Charming and unaffected, Steph is a credit to the area and provided the festival with its heart; a very justly deserved inclusion to the programme.  Dana and Susan Robinson went on to perform their main festival set, bringing to Barnsley a taste of Appalachian Mountain music, with a set of fiddle and banjo accompanied songs.  Rounding off Saturday night was the full on energetic force that is The Demon Barber Roadshow, which incorporates the famous rapper dance, the mighty Dogrose Morris, some sprightly clogging by the four colourful Demon Barber pixies as well as some percussive sparring between beat boxer Johno and drummer Ben Griffith, all aided and abetted by the rest of one of the tightest outfits in roots music comprising of Damien Barber, Bryony Griffith, Will Hampson and Lee Sykes.   The Sunday afternoon concert was dominated by Martin Simpson, whose peerless guitar playing is now legendary.  With no less than 23 nominations in the annual BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards and winning six, the Scunthorpe-born singer and guitarist brought the audience to complete silence as he delivered an outstanding set of songs, some self-penned such as his award winning “Never Any Good” as well as some familiar favourites such as Chris Wood’s “Come Down Jehovah” and Randy Newman’s “Louisiana 1927”.  Before that though, opening the Sunday afternoon portion of the weekend was Tom Doughty, an outstanding lap slide guitar player with a gentle manner, who eased the audience into an equally gentle Sunday lunchtime concert.  Demonstrating his expert command over bottleneck playing on both National Steel guitar and the Weissenborn, an early version of the Dobro, Tom won a few new friends in Barnsley and I shouldn’t imagine it will be long until he returns.  The Kittiwakes brought their own distinctive sound, which included some fine intuitive playing on two fiddles courtest of Kate Denny and Jill Cumberbach and accordion from Chris Harrison, but also some impressive three-part harmony singing, showcasing some of fiddler Kate’s original material from their debut album Lofoten Calling.  Teeside husband and wife duo Stu and Debbie Hannah, better known collectively as Megson delighted the audience with their astonishing singing and playing.  Twice nominated in the Best Duo category of the BBC Folk Awards, the couple performed an effortless set of their own songs whilst their dog Moog waited in the wings for his afternoon walk. Martin Simpson finished off the afternoon concert and then almost immediately appeared at his own ‘Meet the Artist’ session, where his audience was given the opportunity to ask any questions they liked.  The Barnsley Acoustic Roots Festival approached its eagerly anticipated home run, the evening concert, which featured arguably the best folk trio in the world.   Last month, Lau picked up their third consecutive award in the category of Best Group at the BBC Folk Awards, no doubt filling the individual mantelpieces of guitarist Kris Drever, accordion wizard Martin Green and fiddler Aiden O’Rourke.  Their headlining appearance at the festival was eagerly awaited and they endeavoured not to disappoint (they didn’t).  Centred around their current Arc Light record, the trio alternated seamlessly between furiously dextrous playing to sublime moments of pure beauty, which left the audience spellbound.  Earlier in the evening, local Barnsley duo Katriona Gilmore and Jamie Roberts opened the final concert with a set of self-penned songs and tunes from their current album Shadows and Half Light, accompanied in places by Dominic Howell, again providing percussion.  Singer songwriter Pete Morton then delivered the goods in his excellent set, featuring songs from his 25-year career as a leading English songwriter, utilising words and language in the best and most effective way.  All three acts provided a memorable finale to this festival.  Festivals now dominate the music calendar up and down the country, and provide the best platform for performers both well known and established as well as up and coming and new.  I see no reason why Barnsley shouldn’t have its own annual festival and if they do decide to continue, they will have a job trying to top this one.  I look forward very much to next year with fingers crossed.

Leddra Chapman | House Concerts, York | 26.03.10

I thought I was pretty much used to house concerts, having been a regular visitor to the Wombwell Wheelhouse over the last couple of years, but my first visit to House Concerts – York made me realise over again that an initial visit to a new venue can be slightly daunting.  You immediately find yourself shoulder to shoulder with complete strangers, squeezed into a small room with some overspill occupying the adjoining open kitchen area and staircase.  No one is uncomfortable though, as the logistics seem to have been worked out in a similar fashion to those who came up with the idea of the sardine tin.  Tonight I learned that this is hardly surprising, taking into account that more names were on the waiting list than those who had valid tickets.  House concert seats in this particular cottage on the outskirts of York are seemingly in high demand.  There’s no introductions at this house concert, or at least there wasn’t any tonight, presumably adopting the sort of attitude seen in many of the trendy venues these days; just let the artist pop on stage and introduce themselves.  This may also be an attempt to shrug off the old folk club formula of tiresome MCs and raffles.  Although I am totally in tune with the idea of giving the artists as much floor time as possible, I must confess I personally prefer just a simple ‘ladies and gentleman please welcome..’ not least to identify who’s in charge.  Tonight there was an unexpected support act who introduced himself as Benjamin Francis Leftwich, also known in some circles as ‘Lights’, whose soulful performance reminded me of either of the brothers Tom Baxter and Charlie Winston, take your pick.  With a gentle approach to guitar playing and a bunch of soul searching songs, Ben provided precisely the sort of opener that suits a good house concert, a gentle easing in with some thought provoking lyrics with a definite melancholy air.  Leddra Chapman’s star is on the rise there’s no doubt and her album Telling Tales is receiving the acclaim it deserves, with quite a lot of airplay to boot, which is justly deserved as she is unquestionably a quality act.  Leddra not only writes exceptionally good songs, she also has the vocal dexterity to match, which added to her natural attractiveness and bubbly personality makes the job of admiring her not exactly difficult; you can’t help but be drawn in.  Returning to this venue and starting with her newest single release from the album, the punchy “A Little Easier”, Leddra demonstrated a confidence beyond her years.  Joined by Jon Hall on guitar and Billy Hanwell on violin, Leddra’s uncluttered arrangements brought the best out in both the familiar songs and those not so well known, as well as those brand new.  The only reason I could see for having amplification at the venue tonight was for balance, as the room was less than borderline size for a PA system.  The piano, guitar, violin arrangement lends itself to uneven sonic distribution and therefore the sound system was probably necessary.  Leddra’s set was made up mainly of songs from her debut album, but there was one or two new songs in the set, as well as some older songs that didn’t quite make the album.  “Red Hair” for instance is a stunningly beautiful love song, with an unexpected ending, that showcases Leddra’s command over solo piano accompaniment.  With the help of Leddra’s famous pink toy piano, “Summer Song” brought a taste of the eagerly awaited warm season right into the heart of Tony and Nicki’s living room, whilst “Story” once again reminded us all why we were here, to hear classic story telling in some of the most accessible pop songs available today.  Marisa Jones and Michael Porter are for all intents and purposes the same delightful protagonists as Terry and Julie, two characters we all know and love from Ray Davies’ “Waterloo Sunset” but under different circumstances.  “Wine Glass” is arguably Leddra’s most sensitive song, which demonstrates her ability to poetically describe the essence of love; the little idiosyncrasies of attraction, the curve of an eyelash, the way a glass is held. Beautiful.  With some audience participation on “Picking Oranges”, the delighted singer helped bring together those of us who were still getting comfortable with all the shoulder rubbing and pretty soon strangers became friends and we were soon all united in song.   With just the two songs written by other artists, or ‘cheeky covers’ as Leddra prefers to call them, Jamie T’s wordy “Shiela”, thankfully devoid of the estuary rap and house-wrecking monkeys and MGMT’s “Time To Pretend” with Billy’s sweet violin intro replacing the bubble and squeaks of the original, we had two surprising choices that had Ledra successfully skirting over the profanities.  The majority of the set though, was made up of Leddra’s own distinctive songs and it has to be said, it’s with those songs that her strength lies and it was rewarding to discover that after such a fine debut album, they are still coming thick and fast.

Stephanie Lambring (with Brad Tursi) | The Wheelhouse, Wombwell | 28.03.10

It has been just eight months since I first heard Stephanie Lambring’s debut album Lonely to Alone and in those subsequent months the disc has rarely been off the turntable (or whatever the equivalent to that is these days).  The album has also been played numerous times over the Wheelhouse sound system during this period, so it has to be said, Stephanie’s appearance at the venue has been eagerly anticipated, not only by the organisers and the regulars, but also by those who wanted to come along tonight but were sadly unable to due to the gig selling out well in advance.  When I first heard the record back in the summer of last year, I remember thinking how refreshing it was to hear such a young Nashville-based singer-songwriter (only 22 at the time), singing and writing songs about things that matter, tackling such subjects as racial and sexual prejudice to the demon alcohol and obesity, but at the same time throwing in the odd inoffensive love song.  Tonight, the young Indiana-born singer, together with guitar player Brad Tursi, proved that there was no studio trickery on that recording and that Stephanie really is blessed with the ability to sing with such assured maturity rarely heard in one so young.  Making their first appearance at The Wheelhouse, both Stephanie and Brad appeared relaxed and soon had a warm rapport with the audience.  Starting with three songs from her debut album, including the opening song “If I Knew” followed in quick succession by “Forgotten Goodbye” and “If I Could”, a song that introduced us to Brad’s sensitive mandolin playing, Stephanie demonstrated the richness of her now familiar voice, which was at no point swamped by over instrumentation by either musician.  The house PA was in use tonight, which went towards ensuring the balance was right.  The Wheelhouse doesn’t really require a PA and for solo performances is rarely used, for duos though, it works really well.  During most of the songs played tonight, either those written by Stephanie or Brad or on the couple of covers they performed, the two musicians complemented one another with some sensitive playing and close harmony vocals.  On the Civil Wars’ “Poison and Wine”, the couple performed a duet in the old traditional way, sharing verses then uniting for the wonderfully tight chorus.  The other ‘cover’ included in the set provided us with one of the highlights of the night.  When I first heard Gillian Welch sing “Annabelle” on her debut album Revival in the mid-1990s, I thought song-based music could get no better, not least for the inclusion of David Rawlings’ delicious guitar accompaniment.  Stephanie and Brad performed a pretty faithful version of the song tonight, with Brad paying homage to Rawlings’ spine-tingling guitar solo, whilst the close harmonies matched equally those of the original singers.  That particular song is probably one of Welch’s darkest and many of Stephanie’s songs lean towards the sad end of the country spectrum.  By way of explanation Stephanie insisted during the introduction to “Mutual” that she is “..a happy person as you can tell, if you’d just heard my album you’d probably think I was kinda troubled but I really do love life, I just like sad things – so now for the fifty-seventh break-up song of the evening…”  It was a real bonus to have Brad Tursi along as well.  Not only did he provide sensitive guitar and mandolin accompaniment to Stephanie’s songs, together with a laid back harmony backing vocal which really did bring out the best in Stephanie’s singing, he was also given a platform to perform a handful of his own songs, all of which were made available on a tour EP.  Stephanie was happy to step back and let Brad take centre stage to perform all five songs from his current EP, “Lover On The Telephone”, “In For The Night”, “Two Hearts”, “Playing House” and “Blue River” as well as his soulful “Out Love Me”.  Locally-based musician Katriona Gilmore was on hand to play some tasteful fiddle on Brad’s “Playing House” after the shortest of rehearsals up at the house, having had only enough time to run through half of the song before the show.  Written in a song writing class at Belmont College, Vincent is based on one of Stephanie’s real life friends, albeit with a courteous name change.  The song reminds us all once again of the harsh reality that sexual bigotry is still very much present in the world around us.  Likewise the final song of the evening, which is also the title song from the album, Lonely to Alone looks at the even more ludicrous forms of narrow-mindedness that we all encounter in our daily lives.  In four verses, as many different forms of bigotry are addressed, from bullying to racial prejudice and finally child abuse.  The song resonates after we first hear it and I dare say it will have probably stayed with most of those who heard it tonight long afterwards.  Going against the grain in traditional Nashville song writing terms, some of Stephanie’s songs at times touch a raw nerve to which the songwriter argues “you’ve got to be bold sometimes; I get tired of songs that all say the same thing. I think as a songwriter your job is to communicate what everyone knows what’s going on but no one really talks about”.  Whilst at Belmont, Stephanie has been in the ‘Best of the Best Showcase’ for three consecutive years, proving that at home, her credentials as a first rate singer-songwriter have being noticed early.  Hedley Jones quite rightly described tonight’s concert as ‘magical’ before asking the duo to return to the stage for a final encore of “Nothing”, one of the songs from Stephanie’s new untitled EP.  Just three days into their current UK tour and a couple of concerts under their belt, we can be assured that the name Stephanie Lambring will be heard much more in the future.

Kris Drever and Anna Massie | Thornensians RUFC, Thorne | 08.04.10

The Thornensians Rugby Union Club played host to the second in a series of folk concerts in Thorne on the outskirts of Doncaster tonight as the town once again tried its hand at bringing major folk acts to local ears without having them venture too far out of town.  Still very much in its infancy as a folk music venue, the club once again experimented with how best to position the stage area in the clubhouse for instance, it being arranged slightly differently from the first night back in October, which featured guests Heidi Talbot, Boo Hewerdine and John McCusker.  Coincidentally the second in this series was also the second gig in Kris Drever’s current solo tour, solo that is apart from his current touring partner, multi-instrumentalist Anna Massie, explaining earlier that he’s “not in love with being a solo artist, it’s kind of lonely and there’s nay craic”.  Well if you’re going to invite someone along to help with the ‘craic’, look no further than Anna Massie, who Kris Drever refers to as his ‘little musical howitzer’; a musician of unquestionable talent, who appears equally at home on fiddle and mandolin as well as being an extraordinary flat-pick guitar player.  Featuring a couple of sets of material drawn from Drever’s newly released album Mark the Hard Earth, the duo performed in a relaxed, almost casual manner before a healthily sized audience gathered once again in the clubhouse.  As one third of the award winning folk supergroup Lau, the tall figure of Drever has gained the reputation as one of the finest musicians in the country, blessed with a distinctive voice and dexterous guitar playing style, but at the same time, a musician who maintains an unaffected and effortless boy next door attitude and demeanour, whether he’s on some of the countries biggest stages with Lau or the smallest in Britain’s folk clubs with whoever he is enjoying the craic with.  Starting with “Steel and Stone”, the lead song from Drever’s first solo outing Black Water, Kris reminded us once again of what a fine interpreter of contemporary song he actually is.  Sandy Wright’s distinctive song repertoire has been visited once again on the new album by Kris and both “Shining Star” and “Wild Hurricane” make welcome inclusions to Drever’s current live set, which also includes Wright’s earlier “Beads and Feathers”.  Drever likes to point out that not only is Wright “a tremendous jazz guitar player, pianist, drummer, singer, composer, songwriter, trumpeter and accordionist, but also very good at close up magic and balloon tying.  A very well rounded individual”.  Likewise, Boo Hewerdine is another key songwriter from whose repertoire Drever is only too pleased to draw from.  Hewerdine’s songs are perhaps (so far) the most commonly heard here at the Rugby Club, having himself appeared at the venue on the club’s inaugural night, but also having been featured in tonight’s support spot and then again with Drever and Massie’s performances of “Sweet Honey in the Rock” and “Harvest Gypsies”.  It really was Sandy and Boo’s night it seems.  Anna Massie’s exceptional mandolin work on such songs as Phil Colclough’s “Call and the Answer” and the traditional “Shady Grove”, the penultimate song of the night, brought a new dimension to the songs as did her fiddle work, especially on the traditional tunes and on Paul Cranford’s “Fenella” and Ola Bäckström’s “I’m Not Tired of the Pacific Ocean”.  Each of the individual songs and the fine instrumental arrangements showcased the duo’s dextrous cohesion and flair for playing together and no better than on some breathtaking duelling guitar work during a set of traditional tunes in the first half.  The award-winning musician not only provided intuitive instrumentation but also some fine harmony vocals, deputising for the likes of Tim O’Brien more than adequately.  There was also a surprise inclusion to the set, a re-working of Lal Waterson’s atmospheric “Midnight Feast”, which has just been released by Lau on an EP featuring Karine Powart, which must’ve been something of a premiere.  I almost imagined Kris would’ve left out his brother Duncan’s “The Crown of London” due to the complex rhythm arrangement provided by Ian Carr’s guitar contribution together with Tim O’Brien’s banjo and Donald Shaw’s harmonium and the outstanding rhythm section of Andy Seward and Roy Dodds on the album version.  I momentarily forgot that Kris had Anna with him, therefore no such worries.  Her intuitive mandolin work brought the song to life and made for one of the night’s highlights.  The other highlight being the beautiful “Mickey Finn’s”, a wistful air that precedes the equally beautiful interpretation of the traditional “Green Grows the Laurel”, again from Drever’s first album.  With the release of Drever’s second solo album, came the obvious dilemma of what to leave out of his live performances.  Who would’ve imagined a solo Drever gig devoid of “Braw Sailin’” or “Fause Fause” for example?  With Drever’s fine interpretation of the traditional “Shady Grove”, the duo completed the night’s performance with a further encore of the timely “Farewell to Fuineray”.  The support for tonight’s concert was, like the first concert in this series, drawn from local talent.  Strange Triangle, featuring Rick Chappell on guitar, Ian Garner also on guitar and harmonica, Mike Davies on percussion and Mick Phillipson on bass, brought the kind of warm up that the main guests usually enjoy; a set of familiar songs to set feet tapping and get the audience in the mood for a good night.  Full marks for their effort as the aforementioned Boo Hewerdine, along with Messers Paul Weller, Bob Dylan, Lennon and McCartney, Billy Bragg and Richard Thompson were represented with the respective “59 Yards”, “Wildwood”, “I Shall Be Released”, “Norwegian Wood”, “Which Side Are You On” and “Wall of Death”, the final song played as a heartfelt tribute to their friend who sadly passed away earlier in the week.

Diz Disley Benefit Concert with Shagpile | The Rock, Maltby | 10.04.10

Originally organised by drummer/photographer Bryan Ledgard, this benefit concert for the late jazz guitarist Diz Disley came at a confusing time.  When the news broke that Disley was extremely poorly, friends such as Dave Swarbrick rallied around in aid of the ailing musician and tonight’s concert was thought of as South Yorkshire’s helping contribution.  Since organising the concert though, Diz sadly passed away on March 22 and it’s quite possible that those who pledged their support were unaware that the concert was still going to go ahead as planned.  Swarb had pretty much organised and paid for Disley’s funeral and it seemed only right to see that the concert went ahead to ensure everyone’s endeavours would help in some small way to ease the expense burden of this unexpected and shocking end to one of the countries much loved characters.  In the spirit of a memorial concert, Shagpile’s appearance at The Rock in Maltby did go ahead despite the poor turn out and Dave Burland and Co provided a couple of hours of classic rock and roll; the three minute variety that makes the hairs stand on end.  The band, made up of guitarist/singer Dave Burland, sporting his legendary sunburst Gibson, Dave Fisher on keyboards, Bryan Ledgard on drums, Chris Baty on lead guitar and Robin Garside standing in at short notice on bass, took to the stage at the Rock and gave those of us who could attend a memorable night of nostalgia and fun.  I guess it’s hard to feel cheerful when we lose our friends but tonight’s concert was taken in the spirit of a Wake and all the classics rolled out one after the other, with the two Daves (Burland and Fisher) alternating between the Chuck Berrys and Little Richards and the Fats Dominoes and the Jerry Lees with a whole lotta shaking going on in between.  In all fairness the shaking was kept to a minimum due to doctor’s orders.  “That’s done me blood pressure no good at all” Burland quipped at the end of “I Hear You Knocking”.   Peppered with Diz Disley anecdotes and assorted memories, the concert featured the likes of “Long Tall Sally”, “High Heel Sneakers”, “Staggerlee”, “See You Later Alligator”, “Flip Flop and Fly”, “Great Balls of Fire”, “Mystery Train” and “Teddy Bear” to name but a few.  Probably the most contemporary song of the night came in the form of the classic Little Feat number “Dixie Chicken”, which re-visited that band’s classic Waiting For Columbus take on the song.  I was just willin’ the band to go straight into “Tripe Face Boogie”.   Dave Burland declared at the end of the night that the gig would’ve tickled Diz.  I’m absolutely certain it would.  I look forward to seeing Shagpile again in happier times and with a slightly larger audience.

Ashleigh Flynn | The Wheelhouse, Wombwell | 11.04.10

Ashleigh Flynn’s first words from the specially extended stage at the Wheelhouse tonight were “I love this place”.  The stage, modified to cater for the supporting trio, provided ample space for Ashleigh to maneuver during two thoroughly engaging sets with still enough room in the place for the once again eager audience.  Originally from Kentucky, but now resident in Portland, Oregon, the singer-songwriter grew up beside the Ohio River with all its romanticised Mark Twain landscape, of steamboats and barges making their way along the muddy Mississippi.  Described variously as ‘the darling of the NW Americana scene’ and ‘Americana’s answer to Norah Jones’, as well as one who is in possession of a ‘pitch perfect voice of an angel’, the charismatic singer-songwriter arrived at the Wheelhouse towards the end of the third week of the European stint of her current tour.  Ashleigh captivated her audience tonight with her charming personality together with a bunch of well-crafted songs, mainly hand picked from her third and most critically acclaimed album to date American Dream and proved to this doubting journalist that she could indeed perform the songs from the album with just an acoustic guitar and harmonica rack, despite the album’s seemingly vital instrumentation.  American Dream is one of those records that is packed with stories and characters from the writer’s own American landscape, songs that transfer effortlessly into live performance when stripped down to the essentials.  Much of tonight’s two sets centred around these songs.  Starting with The 7th Sea, Ashleigh performed all but a couple of the songs from this album with the occasional nod to her previous records thrown in, such as “Barrow”, “Isa” and “Devil’s Pass” from her Chokecherry record and “Deep River Hollow” from her earlier eponymously titled debut.  Before the show Ashleigh explained her idea of the American Dream “In the record it’s just a notion that it’s a farce.  It’s something that we conceived of and that we fantasized that really hasn’t come to pass for many people, although we have a really strong middle-class.  It’s shrinking and we have a lot of poverty and the whole capitalist structure of our economy just runs people over and leaves them out.  Five percent of the people have 90 percent of the wealth”.  Ashleigh goes on to describe what her own personal American Dream is “being able to chase my dream of playing music, writing songs and living as an artist”.  Living that dream has taken Ashleigh around the world and it’s to the heart of South Yorkshire that she found herself tonight, amongst people who know and understand her songs.  Mixing bluegrass essentials with a pop sensibility, both “Mystery” and “Phoenix” are fine examples how well Ashleigh adapts her songs for solo performance; both work equally well as stripped down acoustic songs as they do as produced pop songs on the album.  “Well they were written for the guitar” the song-writer explains.  Playing Dylan has become a trend here at the Wheelhouse, perhaps due to the unavoidable presence of his Bobness; his is the largest portrait in the Wheelhouse wall gallery, despite the fact that he has never been here.  “Boots of Spanish Leather”, was Ashleigh’s choice, albeit an abridged version and thus joins a handful of other classic songs heard recently at the venue.  “Knock on Wood”, not to be confused with the old Eddie Floyd soul classic, but the feel-good shuffle from Ashleigh’s latest record, is one of the most accessible songs on the new album with a rhythm that I for one just couldn’t resist, so much so that I was only too pleased to join Ashleigh on stage, brandishing my instrument for some pretty basic reception stage mandolin accompaniment, which had some feet tapping along at what Ashleigh referred to as the ‘cottage’.  “We’re gonna rock the cottage tonight” she was heard to say at some point before the song.  Finishing off with two folk standards “Will the Circle be Unbroken” and “Rocky Top”, slightly modified to serve her home State of Kentucky rather than Tennessee, which she teasingly joked “Tennessee sucks”.  Currently suffering from the usual tour hazards such as lack of sleep and a bit of a chesty cold, the be-scarfed singer soldiered on and served up a top class performance throughout the night.  Earlier in the evening, Nottingham-based Owen Harvey and the Adeys provided a superb support set with a selection of songs from Owen’s own pen.  The sound in the Wheelhouse has never been as well distributed and the balance between the bass, guitar and mandolin, together with a fine vocal performance from the young singer-songwriter, was superbly realised.  With songs like “City Lights” and “New York” from his debut Disappearing Strangers album as well as a handful of new songs destined for his forthcoming follow up record, Owen Harvey and the Adeys were a surprise hit.

John Renbourn and Robin Williamson | The Duchess, York | 20.04.10

It’s almost impossible to think of anything other than the Incredible String Band and Pentangle when you’re in the company of Robin Williamson and John Renbourn however much you try.  Their respective former bands made such an enormous impact on the folk scene in the 1960s, that to avoid mentioning their names would be foolish. John Renbourn is quick to remind us though, that at first Pentangle was all but scorned as a folk band and ridiculed mercilessly by the community who would later go on to embrace them.  The Incredible String Band on the other hand was largely immune to such ridicule, as both Robin Williamson and Mike Heron were perfectly aware that their stream of consciousness approach was a little like Marmite and it mattered to them not one jot.  When I met up with the two musicians backstage at the Duchess tonight, I was well aware that each of these musicians would have probably preferred to be asked questions about their subsequent work over the last three, nearly four decades, but I unavoidably gravitated towards the days of the legendary Howff in Edinburgh and Les Cousins in London, wallowing in my own sense of nostalgia but at the same time, and more importantly, not apologising for it.  Leaning over the table towards me, Robin eyed me suspiciously from behind the curtains of gold locks that flanked his bearded face and took great pains to point out to me that “since 1961 when I began to play music, I made something like 68 records and something like 58 of them have been made after the Incredible String Band”.  It’s true, a lot of water has gone under their respective bridges since the 1970s and so it’s with that part of their repertoire the duo concentrated on tonight.  I must confess, having one-to-ones with two legendary figures of the British folk scene is potentially a daunting prospect if you allow it to be but both John and Robin make it quite easy to believe that you’re their old mate from the outset, which really puts you at ease.  I saw this throughout the night as members of the audience approached them.  They really are two of the most approachable musicians I’ve so far met, and I’ve met a few.  I mention this only to illustrate the mood of the evening, which had from the outset a considerable warmth to it, like a meeting of the spirits; not quite 5000 spirits it has to be said, but a healthily congregated few, some of whom would no doubt have remembered the heyday of the Howff or indeed Greek Street as well as some who would’ve been very much part of the burgeoning folk scene of the 1960s themselves.  I was seated at the same table as the legendary guitarist Stefan Grossman at Renbourn’s request, who probably knows Renbourn’s guitar licks better than most, Bert Jansch excluded.  Tonight at the Duchess, the two-seated musicians played some of the music that has informed their careers both before and after their most recognised period.  Once having described himself as the ‘genius of this parish’, the Incredible String Band founder swapped his guitar for the Celtic harp some time ago, both as an accompanying instrument for his intriguing spoken stories and as a versatile instrument of choice to rest his songs upon, as well as the odd classic blues thrown in.  With a particularly unique and eccentric vocal style, Williamson is equally at home with mystical songs and stories as he is with Dylan covers, Blues classics and Country and Western songs, all accompanied with either the harp, mandolin or an assortment of whistles.  Avoiding the ISB period altogether, the songs tonight ranged from Blind Willie Johnson’s pulsating “I Can’t Keep From Crying”, Dylan’s sublime “Absolutely Sweet Marie”, David Allen Coe’s quirky “I Stay Stoned on Your Love” to a quite unexpected take on Motörhead’s “Ace of Spades”.  With metronomic bass drum at his feet, Robin Williamson performed one of his most engaging songs, “Love Letter to My Wife Bina”, preceded by an amusing tale of the difficulties of travelling around the world on planes, in times of terrorism paranoia, explaining to customs that the box does indeed contain ‘instruments of war’.  Other stories about being assisted with his harp’s flight case in Memphis by confused black airport staff or Island hopping in the Highlands in dinghies, were told between songs and tunes from all over the world.  Let’s not forget that Williamson was exploring World Music long before the term was coined.  Along with Bert Jansch, John Renbourn created a unique sound both as a duo and in the five piece Pentangle.  Renbourn was always a much less heavy-handed guitarist than his mate Bert and often provided a lightness of touch that underpinned Jansch’s claw hammered attacks.  Renbourn would probably be the first to admit that he no longer possesses a young man’s body and for comfort has taken to attaching an extension to the underside of his guitar, which effectively lifts the instrument for ease of playing.  I’ve always maintained that no other acoustic guitarist bends a note quite like Renbourn, who creates a sound that is very distinctly his own. Tonight we heard this repeated over and over.  After providing some distinctive blues guitar riffs on the opening song “Can’t Keep From Crying”, the guitarist shifted emphasis to the Bahaman slack-key style of playing with a homage to Joseph Spence on “Great Dreams From Heaven”, giving a nod to both Spence and Ry Cooder at the same time.  Unlike Williamson, John Renbourn was willing to reminisce musically on his former band’s repertoire with both “The Snows (They Melt the Soonest)” and “Lord Franklin”, two memorable traditional songs from an earlier time.  As a duo, Robin and John seldom sing in close harmony, relying instead on their diverse voices to blend in unison to good effect, notably on Dylan’s “Buckets of Rain”.   Towards the end of the evening the audience were encouraged to clap along to the blues song borrowed from Howling Wolf (with new lyrics) “Wang Dang Doodle” as the two musicians sparred effortlessly on harp and guitar.  I guess Willie Dixon didn’t imagine that sort of harp playing when he wrote the song back in the 1960s.  Rounding off things nicely with first of all a re-visit to the duo’s collaboration album Wheel of Fortune with “Lights of Sweet St Anne’s” and finally the mandolin led “Hills and Valleys”, bringing the night to a close with no encore, despite a good two minutes of applause from a most appreciative audience, applause that went on well after the house lights came on.

Katriona Gilmore and Jamie Roberts | The Wheelhouse, Wombwell | 23.04.10

Katriona Gilmore and Jamie Roberts are two of the most hard working musicians on the British folk music scene today.  If they’re not working together as a duo, then one of them could until recently be seen as part of the young folksy pop girl group Tiny Tin Lady or even more recently, as one of Rosie Doonan’s Snapdragons.  Her partner on the other hand, can still be seen and heard as the guitarist with the band Kerfuffle or alternatively, forming the necessary embouchure to put his trombone to good use in a variety of local outfits.  It would neither be so unusual to see the two of them marching side by side down the street banging drums as part of the Frumptarn Guggenband at most Northern festivals; a family affair which requires the wearing of stark red tunics and matching hats.  That’s not to mention all the wonderful work they each do with young performers, teaching, encouraging .. and so on.  You need to take a breath just talking about it.  Together, the duo have made one full length album Shadows and Half Light as well as a couple of EPs and are currently in the middle of their national tour, getting the current album out of their system to make way for their follow up, due for release sometime in October.  They were also nominated for the prestigious Horizon Award at this years BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.  You could say the future looks bright.  Tonight at the Wheelhouse, Kat and Jamie delighted the packed audience with a mixture of familiar older songs and tunes such as “Middle of May”, “Susannah” and “So Long” together with some tasters of what’s to come on the new record.  “All I’ve Known” is a veritable opus of a piece incorporating a complex fiddle and guitar arrangement, with Jamie’s trademark percussive guitar and determined vocal, both of which dominate this modern folk tale, augmented by Katriona’s intuitive fiddle work.  Katriona’s songwriting continues to form the basis of a pretty healthy repertoire with a couple of new songs, the rock based “No Rest For the Wicked”, about life on the road with an un-named yet thinly disguised girl band and the mandolin-led “Fleetwood Fair”, both of which join the beautifully heartfelt “Travelling in Time”, a song written for and about her own ageing Grandparents and the haunting “Hunter Man” which opens the debut album.  Jamie alternates quite easily between his own distinctive heavily percussive lap style guitar playing to the sublimely sensitive flat pick style, such as in the opening to “The Shepherd and His Fife” reminiscent of Kris Drever’s guitar work.  Opening for Kat and Jamie was local singer Steph Shaw, who rushed in enroute to another gig to sing a handful of covers including Suzanne Vega’s “Luka”, Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” and Dougie Maclean’s “Caledonia” amongst others, together with one of her own self-penned songs “Let Me Down”, proving once again that there’s no shortage of talent in Barnsley.  It was also rather delightful to have in the room tonight Nashville’s Stephanie Lambring and Brad Tursi, winding down after their successful British tour and returning to the Wheelhouse to see Kat and Jamie after Kat played with the duo at the venue at the start of their tour.  That’s one of the things about this music that makes us love and respect it so much, how quickly friendships are forged.

Wath Festival 2010 | Montgomery Hall, Wath upon Dearne | 02.05.10

Once again the sleepy South Yorkshire town of Wath-upon-Dearne came alive with colour and music over the weekend, courtesy of various street performers and dance displays from around the World, including Bhangra dance, Irish dance, Street dance and the the Mighty Zulu Nation.  The sound of drums from the Barnsley Samba Band and the contrasting sounds of stomping feet and jingle bells from the Wath Morris team breezed up the hill towards the Parish Church just before noon, where buns were scattered upon the gathered congregation from the tower above, after the will of Thomas Tuke was read out in the town centre moments before.  A timely spell of good weather draped a blanket of sunlight upon the town just as the ancient bequest to the ‘poor’ – that ‘Forty dozen penny buns will be thrown from the church tower at 12 o’clock on Christmas Day, forever’ – took place.  Thomas Tuke obviously wasn’t thinking too much about inflation 200 years ago as penny buns are particularly difficult to come by in 2010, so as one deviation from the will inevitably occurred, it seemed only logical to make another slight amendment by moving Tuke’s bequest forward by a few months and have the celebration on May Day at a much warmer time of the year; ‘tis a moveable feast after all.  The Festival kicked off on Wednesday night with a schools concert at the Montgomery Hall and continued on Friday night with the first of several concerts featuring some of the best known names in the folk and acoustic music world as well as some of our more local talent, including York’s Holly Taymar and Chris Bilton.  Holly is a singer-songwriter with a chirpy personality and a penchant for writing songs about everyday things such as the guilt of cutting back overgrown bushes for instance, or waking up and not quite being quite able to feel ones toes as well as that old favourite, home sweet home.  Making her debut at the festival in 2009 on the Marquee stage, Holly managed to make a host of new friends in Wath, that is apart from one little boy in the audience who loudly declared during her set – ‘I can’t take any more folk music!’  With a constantly cheerful nature, Holly provided a delightful opening set this year on the main festival stage.  Kevin Dempsey and Joe Broughton are unquestionably a faultless act in terms of brilliant musicianship and fun stage presence.  The duo provided an astonishing set of songs and tunes, despite arriving late to the festival due to some unavoidable and horrendous traffic problems on the M1.  With no sound check, Kevin and Joe played a set of complex instrumental music with the odd song thrown in, courtesy of Dempsey’s impressive repertoire of songs, with influences ranging from Irish, Scots and Eastern European and even a version of the theme from Postman Pat, just for the kids in the audience.  Jon Strong was last seen at the festival in 2007 when he played a solo set at roughly the same time, on the opening night back then.  This year Jon returned with his band consisting of Duncan Waller on bass and Roy Wyke on drums.  With a selection of self-penned songs, some very recent, the band increased the volume and rocked the joint for fifty minutes, concluding with a remarkable version of Rod Stewart’s “Mandolin Wind”, without a single mandolin in sight.  Headlining the opening night was the Lonnie Donegan Band featuring Peter Donegan who took centre stage to present a real treat for Skiffle fans.  Peter and the band brought back to life the memorable Lonnie Donegan repertoire featuring classic Skiffle hits such as “Rock Island Line”, “Grand Coulee Dam” and “Putting on the Style”.  Starting with the marching drums of “Battle of New Orleans” and closing with the lullaby “Goodnight Irene”, with an encore of “Muleskinner”, Peter alternated between guitar, mandolin and keyboards throughout a set that took us well into the late hours.  Not only sounding like, but also bearing an uncanny resemblance to his dad, Peter and the band brought a real sense of nostalgia to the festival.  The town was full of community events during Saturday morning, which included the aforementioned reading of the will and the celebrated bun throwing at the Parish Church.  A procession climbed the hill past the Montgomery Hall where all of the main stage concerts would be held throughout the weekend.  Behind the Church, a marquee had been erected to cater for further events and concerts providing a variety of activities and entertainments for all including an afternoon ceilidh with Desperate Measures and performances by the Samzeo Georgian Singers and the Orlyk Ukranian Dancers.  The main concerts continued throughout Saturday afternoon at The Montgomery Hall with a programme of guest appearances starting off with the young singer Lucy Ward who began her set just after lunchtime with enthusiastic performances of songs such as Lal Waterson’s “Red Wine Promises” and the traditional “The Canny Lad” going on to encourage the audience to sing along, by way as an ode to the British weather, George Gershwin’s classic Summertime.  Alternating between guitar and concertina and sporting a Sex Pistols t-shirt, the young Derby-based singer performed each song with an almost theatrical passion, convincingly adopting the role of each of the songs’ characters. Providing the festival with possibly the most touching moment, Lucy performed a beautiful rendition of her own song “Bricks and Love” featuring the chorus of the traditional “Eriskay Love Lilt” which I defy anyone to be unmoved by.  Chris Sherburn and Denny Bartley gently eased the audience into a set of songs and tunes in their own inimitable style.  Full of humour and fun, the set included songs such as “Connie’s Song” (mo bhrón ar an bhfarraige) and “Roseville Fair” together with a handful of traditional tunes.  Quite possibly the most approachable characters on the folk scene today, their warmth on and off stage was almost tangible throughout their stay at the festival.  The Swedish-born Canadian Sarah MacDougall and partner Tim Tweedale made a welcome return to the area for another set of songs from the singer-songwriter, predominantly from her current album Across the Atlantic.  Starting with “Crow’s Lament” Sarah and Tim performed the songs on guitar and Weissenborn respectively with one or two brand new songs thrown in such as “I Fall” and “It’s a Storm”.  Two of the most memorable songs from the set were “Cry Wolf”, during which the audience was encouraged to cry like a wolf together with the burlesque “Ballad of Sherri” which tends to stay with you.  Rounding off the afternoon with an astonishing set was Wirral-based band Elbow Jane, whose easily accessible self-penned songs together with a selection of well-chosen covers held the audience captivated for the entirety of their ninety-minute set.  The evening concert began with an appearance by local hero Ray Hearne together with bodhran player Ciaran Boyle.  Alternating between Ray’s own songs such as “Manvers Island Bound” and “Melting Shop Chaps” from Ray’s current album The Wrong Sunshine and Ciaran’s traditional Irish songs, the duo served the purpose of warming up the audience and setting the standard for the rest of the evening.  Festival patron John Tams along with singer/pianist Barry Coope, provided the festival with what could only be described as its heart midway through Saturday evening, with another memorable and thoroughly engaging performance.  As a singer, songwriter, sometime actor and social activist, Tam sees himself first and foremost as a ‘communicator’ and it was through his words and music that he communicated on Saturday night to an enthusiastic audience.  One table of Guinness drinkers, known locally as the ‘Guinness Boys’, held their thumbs skywards once again as the duo performed a bunch of favourites from their repertoire including ‘Lay Me Low’, ‘Amelia’ and ‘Steelos’.  Headlining Saturday night was new parents Heidi Talbot and John McCusker along with singer-songwriter Boo Hewerdine and double bassist Kevin McGuire, who took to the stage for the first time since little Molly Mae was born five weeks ago.  Adding baby stories to their between song chat, Heidi and the four-piece ‘trio’, performed songs from Heidi’s album In Love and Light to a delighted Wath audience including “The Music Tree” and “Bedlam Boys” as well as a couple from Heidi’s forthcoming album, which included the lullaby “Tell Me Truly” as well as a couple from Boo Hewerdine’s pen including the Eddi Reader favourite “Patience of Angels”.  On Sunday, two concerts ran simultaneously both in the Montgomery Hall and in the Marquee behind the Church.  Steve Tilston is very much part of the British songwriting establishment and has over the years provided many artists with memorable songs such as “Slip Jigs and Reels” and “The Naked Highwayman”.  During his set, Steve was joined by established musician, bassist Dave Bowie, who between them performed a set of relatively new songs such as “The Road When I Was Young”, “The New Weeping Willow Blues” and “Madam Muse”.   South Devon’s enormously talented twins Laura and Charlotte Carrivick, better known as The Carrivick Sisters once again brought a taste of bluegrass to South Yorkshire with a set of songs showcasing their dexterity on fiddle, mandolin, Dobro and guitar.  Songs such as “Darling Corey”, “The William and Emma” from their current album Jupiter’s Corner sat well alongside the jazz inflected “I Can’t Believe” from their previous record Better Than Six Cakes, which of course they are.  Ella Edmondson’s debut album Hold Your Horses has only been around for just over a year but in that time the songs have been played at many gigs and festivals and have gained a reputation for being highly memorable in melodic structure; remarkable to say that most of them were written when she was just fifteen.  On Sunday afternoon, Ella, daughter of Adrian Edmondson and Jennifer Saunders, was joined by her regular band of bassist Buddy Valentine and drummer Si Paul and once again demonstrated a marked maturity in her stage delivery with songs such as “Run and Hide”, “Sing For You” and the stunning “Fold”.  Whilst the afternoon concert brought many of the weekend ticket holders to the main hall, other artists were appearing in the Marquee behind the Parish Church, where Charlie Barker and Harriet Bartlett, Tom Palmer, Gilmore and Roberts and Isambarde could be seen, together with an afternoon set by visiting Americans Stacey Earle and Mark Stuart.  The evening concert began with the presentation of the Richard Moody Trophy to its proud recipient Niamh Boadle, winner of the Young Acoustic Music Competition during the afternoon.  The competition founder Pete Thornton-Smith presented the award to the young singer before she went on to play a short set in front of the sell out Montgomery hall audience.  The performance was welcomed by the Wath audience who clearly agreed with the judges decision, demonstrating an appreciatitive warmth during her short set, despite some technical hitches at the beginning.  The young musician handled it professionally and probably won even more fans with her gentle ‘these things happen’ attitude, smiling throughout.  Tom Bliss played his farewell concert exactly a year to the day ago, when he hung up his array of acoustic instruments in order to concentrate on a real day job.  Accepting an offer to return to the festival as a guest was too good an opportunity to miss and he got together a couple of friends Dave Bowie and Phil Cockerham who helped him out during this return visit.  Stacey Earle and Mark Stuart are one of the most engaging acts you are likely to see on the acoustic music circuit.  Sister of Country Rock legend Steve Earle, Stacey has an easy approach to her music and with the help of husband Mark Stuart, their blissful harmonies and intuitive playing could once again be heard in South Yorkshire, having last been heard back in 2008 at the Wombwell House Concerts.  With tight harmonies and intuitive guitar playing, the couple brought a taste of Texas to Wath, with a set of delightful songs such as “Spread Your Wings” and “Curly Headed Baby”.  Headlining the Festival on Sunday night was Ade Edmondson and the Bad Shepherds, who have cornered the market for playing folked-up versions of 1980s punk classics such as The Clash’s “London Calling”, The Smiths’ “Panic” and The Stranglers’ “No More Heroes” as well as a nod towards Talking Heads with “Once in a Lifetime”.  If the performance was too much for the older folk community, it certainly got the thumbs up from the misbehaving back row up in the rafters of the Montgomery Hall, who loved every (three) minute.  Festivals are like the proverbial duck on water and every festival has moments of panic when things like an accident on the M1 makes it difficult for artists to arrive on time, or more time is needed for artists to get a proper sound check to ensure customer satisfaction, which may mean a slightly longer wait in the queue outside, or maybe just the change of a beer barrel might be slightly inconvenient.  The trick is to make it look like it’s running as smoothly as possible.  One thing’s for certain; the quality of the artists appearing at the Wath Festival 2010 over the weekend, both on the main stage and out in the Marquee, was once again first rate.

Wizz Jones | The Rock, Maltby | 07.05.10

A Wizz Jones performance has probably changed very little over the years and we’re talking fifty years here; still every bit the folk troubadour he always was, relaxed and with an almost encyclopedic knowledge of blues and folk styles, Wizz made his welcomed debut at the Wesley Centre, although he was no stranger to the old place in Wentworth.  Removing the old Epiphone he bought second hand in 1967 from its battered case and his more recently acquired banjo, Wizz settled down for a relaxed and intimate performance, suitably aided by the smaller stage that Rob Shaw occasionally erects in front of the much bigger concert stage, for matters of intimacy.  Tonight, that small stage was just right for an artist who was in no mood for anything other than a laid back performance, which included such blues and folk classics as “Weeping Willow Blues” and “The Glory of Love”.  Although Wizz Jones never quite achieved the same level of recognition as his contemporaries Ralph McTell, Al Stewart and Bert Jansch, his name frequently pops up in indexes of biographies and tonight he regaled us with tales of being frequently contacted for memories of those singers and musicians he either influenced or rubbed shoulders with in the past.  “I remember Sandy Denny..” he told one writer, “she was always pissed!”  With a nod to some of those contemporaries, Wizz paid tribute to the likes of Davy Graham with “Angi”, Robin Williamson with “Womankind” and also referred to Steve Tilston’s “Some Times in This Life Are Beautiful” as ‘one of his easy ones’, which he went on to play with assured confidence.  The two musicians frequently refer to one another at their gigs, which shows a mutual respect.  Dylan was also referenced with his take on the timeless “Song to Woody”.  Other ‘old favourites’ coming out to play tonight included “Sitting on Top of the World”, “That’s How I Learned To Sing the Blues” and “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed” and “Burning”, blues standards that appear to have stood the test of time.  Local musician Dave Deighton joined his friend on stage towards the end of the night to perform the old Mose Allison blues “You Can Count on Me to Do My Part”.  Although known as a guitar player first, Wizz also has a long association with the banjo, having first set out on this fifty year musical journey with banjo player Pete Stanley appearing on the seminal Sixteen Tons of Bluegrass album and tonight Wizz finished his first set with a couple of banjo led songs “Long May You Run” and the old Grandpa Jones number “Old Rattler”.  Wizz still appears perplexed as to why he keeps getting asked to sing his own songs such as “National Seven”, which he explains was written in about two minutes in a Paris hotel room.  The same could possibly be said of Happiness Was Free, a nostalgic reminiscence of times gone by. Wizz famously extolled the virtues of beatnik life in 1960, appearing on the Tonight programme, where he was interviewed by Alan Whicker.  Wizz now feels embarrassed by this footage.  “Here was this war hero who was sent down there to interview a load of stupid kids who were complaining because they couldn’t get a cup of tea, he must’ve thought we were pathetic”.  Despite this, the one timeless moment in that old film was the confession that all Wizz wanted to do was travel and play music and history has shown us that this is precisely what he has done and what he is still doing fifty years on.  Long may he continue to do so.

Holmfirth Festival of Folk 2010 | Various Venues, Holmefirth | 08.05.10

It is by way of a gradual process that you become aware of the rural charms of Holmfirth; once you leave behind the usual red brick chaos of the city or town from whence you came and descend upon this sleepy town in the rolling hills of West Yorkshire.  The familiar brown stone buildings, dry stone border walls and astonishingly beautiful panoramic hillside views allow you to breathe once again as the old A635 meanders down towards a different and much more conducive kind of chaos, that of a small town community willing to embrace some of those almost forgotten local traditions, whether they fully understand them or not. Winding down my car window and switching off the irritating drone of Radio 4, currently dominated by recent political events, I followed the sound of drums and jingling Morris shins, both of which appeared to be coming from the general direction of the car park of one of the town’s numerous pubs, which I later discovered was the Old Bridge, the designated hub of the festival and the obvious initial stop-off point.  First though, I had to negotiate the almost grid-locked traffic.  It was lunchtime on Saturday and I found my self bumper to bumper along the Station Road, impatiently awaiting some sort of movement down in the town centre.  Maybe Slubbing Billy’s Morris side had spilled out onto the street or a bunch of stray cloggers were attempting to re-create the Abbey Road album sleeve on the zebra crossing on the corner of Victoria Street?  These inconceivable fantasies crossed my mind as I became steadily more concerned that whilst I was in the car, I was missing out on the fun that I could plainly detect was happening all around me.  After finally getting parked up, the first person I met up with was Cath Ingham, one of the festival organisers who gave me a few minutes of her time in order for her to fill me in, being a Holmfirth virgin and all.  I needed to catch up on what the festival was all about and what had happened so far this weekend.  The festival began on Friday night I was told with a concert by Show of Hands at the Picturedrome next door.  Stafford Galli strutted their Celtic stuff at the Post Card, whilst Belshazzar’s had a Feast of fun entertaining their audience in the cavernous Old Bridge function room.  Cath by her own admission hadn’t seen the main concert, concerning herself more with the task of ensuring all her venues were running smoothly for the weekend.  It’s an arduous task running a festival.  You could ask a hundred people about their own Holmfirth Festival of Folk experience and you would no doubt get a hundred different accounts, each bearing little or no resemblence to one another.  It all depends on what you want.  There’s so much to do and so many venues around the town, that it’s quite impossible to see it all.  One of the festival artists, guitarist Wizz Jones was playing at nearby Maltby on Friday night and therefore I missed the start of this festival.  Had I known Wizz was also one of the festival artists, maybe I would’ve left it until his appearance at Holmfirth in order to also catch Show of Hands.  Never mind, I got to Wizz twice in one weekend.  Bargain.  By Saturday lunchtime, Barnsley’s favourite son Dave Burland was settling into an hour of songs and stories in a ‘Lunch with Dave Burland’ session in the upstairs room of the Carniveria across the road from the Old Bridge.  It was standing room only and several eager festival goers had taken to sitting on each of the steps leading up to the upstairs loft room where Dave sang some old favourites including “Here’s the Tender Coming”, “The Banks of the Sweet Primroses” and “Rosie Anderson” as well as the obligatory handful of Richard Thompson songs.  Outside Hervey’s the outstanding fiddler Sarah Horn was thrilling not only those who had come specifically to see her and her partner James Cudworth, but also passers by who had lined the parimeter wall as the duo played a selection of songs and tunes including Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five”, the traditional “Black Jack Davey” and the debut of a new fiddle tune called “A Cup of Tea”.  During the afternoon several activities were taking place simultaneaously such as Gary Stewart performing on the outdoor stage, Owen Phillips at The Nook and local singer-songwriter Roger Davies in the Parish Church.  Niamh Boadle, the winner of the recent Young Acoustic Roots Competition, which took place at the Wath Festival over the May Bank Holiday weekend, made an unexpected solo appearance, having been billed to appear with Gerry McNiece who was unfortunately unwell, opening the late afternoon concert in the Old Bridge function room.  Niamh performed a selection of traditional songs including “The Month of January”, “Lass of Glen Shee” and “My Lagan Love”, either unaccompanied or with her guitar.  The concert also featured appearances by Scots singer-guitarist Ewan McLennan and stalwart of the British folk revival, Miriam Backhouse.  The evening concert at the Picturedrome featured Bellowhead’s Rachael McShane with her band.  Performing songs from her debut No Man’s Fool album, Rachael and co brought their own mixture of jazz-inflected folk songs, with Rachael herself alternating on either fiddle, cello or one of those cylindrical things you shake.  Whilst Dave Burland played his second set of the day, this time in the Old Bridge, sharing the stage with Paul and Liz Davenport, Muldoon’s Picnic, Chris Coe and Zoox, Mr Fox’s otherworldly torch and drum procession marched by scaring the neighbours to death and filling the kids with joy at the same time.  Gerry McNeice had recovered sufficiently to provide a sweaty open mic session over at the Cricket Club whilst Richard Kitson and Wizz Jones brought some of that old school magic to the upstairs room in the White Hart.  It’s hard to escape the influence of the long running TV series Last of the Summer Wine when visiting Holmfirth.  Sid’s Cafe is central to a lot of activity over the weekend as it sits adjacent to the Parish Church and between the two, provides a sheltered sun trap for dance displays, the Sunday service and other activities throughout the weekend.  Whilst Gerry McNeice and Niamh Boadle delivered a guitar workshop in the upstairs room of the Carniceria, Gerry baffling his audience (including me) with C Modal tuning, and Niamh choosing DADGAD to further baffle the guitar players who showed up, Hamish Currie was doing something similar but with less strings; his Ukulele session.  On Sunday morning a large gathering had congregated to sing Lord of the Dance amongst other songs, whilst presided over by two giant fibre glass figures.  Hull’s Hazel Richings and Linda Kelly collectively known as Hissyfit sang a couple of seafaring songs in the shadow of the Parish Church bell tower whilst Ray Hearne rolled into town to do something very similar to what Dave Burland did at the same time on Saturday, a lunchtime meet the artist session.  Soon afterwards, Gerry McNeice once again gathered a few friends to perform a handful of songs in the Parish Church with his fluctuating band consisting this time of Katriona Gilmore, Niamh Boadle and Dominic Howell.  The performance included four songs from Gerry’s Small Town Boy record “Legend of Black Jack”, “Danger Sign”, “Braw Sailing” and “The Shadow of Skiddaw” together with one of Katriona Gilmore’s impromtu jokes.  Hamish Currie started the Sunday afternoon concert with a few tongue loosening warm ups including “Shady Grove”, Davey Steele’s “Beaches of St Valery” and Dave Taylor’s “The Barmaid” finishing with Davie Robertson’s “Star O’ the Bar” before Australian singer-songwriter Rory Ellis surrounded himself with a couple of guitars and a banjo in order to perform his outstanding set of self-penned songs such as “Street Angel House Devil”, “Bojangles” and “65 Pontiac”, with everyone joining in on the single word chorus of “Work”.   The trio comprising singer/flautist Maggie Boyle and guitarists Gordon Tyrrall and Gary Boyle were next to take the stage at the Old Bridge during the afternoon before Ray Hearne’s infectious personality found its way to the front, where he brought a different sort of sunshine to Holmfirth with his songs including “Melting Shop Chaps”, “Things To Say” and “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”.  Jeff Warner comes from a folksong collecting background, both parents heavily involved in field recording the likes of Frank Proffit in post war America.  Dressing in collarless starched white shirt and black waistcoat, both of which could easily have been borrowed from a wax museum figure, gave an authentic taste of what Warner does.  Playing guitar, concertina and spoons, Warner brought home the old songs that had probably started around here in the first place only to have made a long voyage half way around the world where he picked them up.  The finale of the festival, even though music could still be heard in the Picturedrome with an outstanding performance by the young band Ottersgear, was the gathering of friends in the Old Bridge, where Will Noble took the lead on the traditional festival closer “The Holmfirth Anthem”, bringing a most enjoyable community festival to an end for another year.

Jessica Kilroy (and Kier Atherton) | The Wheelhouse, Wombwell | 14.05.10

After a good three months of touring Europe, Montana-born singer-songwriter Jessica Kilroy and road companion Kier Atherton arrived surprisingly refreshed at the Wheelhouse for an intimate evening of songs and music, seamlessly flitting between acoustic folk songs and Americana flavoured bluegrass to the more recent experimental flights of fancy to be found on the duo’s current record, under the guise of Pterodactyl Plains.  Jessica’s music has become much more complicated to categorise now after releasing three albums of starkly differing musical styles from the sparse acoustic folk of Before Dawn (2003), the rootsy bluegrass of Big Dreams (2007) and now the trance-like ambient experimentation of Raven (2010).  Performing for the most part solo, Jessica chose a selection of songs from all three albums with just the one song from another writer’s pen, Gillian Welch’s “Red Clay Halo” and the one traditional song, the turn of the century African American spiritual “Wade in the Water”, which was helped along by some enthusiastic audience participation.  Starting with “Pandora”, a sublimely mellow song from the songwriter’s earliest period, the opening song from her first record in fact, Jessica brought her soulful voice to an almost unsuspecting Barnsley audience.  Having been almost scared off by the might of Nashville, Jessica responded with “Big Dreams”, a song that details the scary reality of following one’s dreams to an essentially cut throat business at the end of the proverbial rainbow.  Good humoured and immediately friendly both on and off stage, Jessica’s approach to stage craft is instantly rewarding to her audience and it doesn’t take long for a rapport to gain momentum and before the end of the first set, Jessica had made a roomful of new friends, all of whom willingly joined in on the choruses when prompted.  Inviting on stage singer/guitarist Kier Atherton, who between them have adopted the guise of Pterodactyl Plains, a name derived from an imaginary prehistoric Montana landscape, the duo performed a couple of new compositions from the new album, in which Jessica frees herself from the constraints of the country/folk three minute song structures, embarking on some fine exploratory sonic experimentation with “Solace” and “Stay Awhile”.  Jessica has overcome a lot during her lifetime, not least the fact that she spent much of her childhood in leg braces.  With a great deal of self determination, Jessica has gone from fire fighting to mountain climbing and continues to live her life to the full through her music.  With a gentle guitar playing style, Jessica put her sunburst Gibson to some good use on songs such as “Home”, “Mamma”, “January Chances” and with an encore of her infectious “Keep Searching”, a poignant song about not giving up, completed yet another great and memorable night at the Wheelhouse.

Shepley Spring Festival 2010 | Shepley | 28.05.10

The most welcomed visitor to Shepley this year was without doubt the sun, the presence of which was felt throughout the entire weekend, arriving just about the time the first tent peg was being hammered in and hanging around until the very last one was pulled out.  Poor inclement weather has plagued the Shepley Spring Festival over the last couple of years, so much so that special provisions were made this year, including a heating system for the main marquee, which as it turned out wasn’t required after all.  Those familiar with Shepley will know that weather conditions never stop the smiles though and this year they were just that bit wider.  Talking of smiles, festival organiser Nikki Hampson must have been grinning like a veritable Cheshire cat when she signed off the last artist contract, having put together a most agreeable festival line-up that would I imagine suit most tastes, from those familiar with the formidable duo combinations of Kris Drever and Tim O’Brien or Kevin Dempsey and Joe Broughton, to those with an insatiable appetite for a cappella singing, this year courtesy of the trios Coope Boyes Simpson and the Young ‘Uns, through to the mighty army that is the Seth Lakeman fan club, who descended on the festival site en masse to see the poster boy of folk as the sun went down on Saturday night.  As festival goers arrived on Friday afternoon, the normally sleepy fields of Shepley, just south of Huddersfield in the shadow of the imposing Emley Moor transmission tower, drew a pleasant air of anticipation.  It was the proverbial duck on water effect though that had festival visitors calmly setting up camp and relaxing by the bar as slightly worried organisers scurried around upon hearing of train delays from Manchester and Leeds, who soon had cars going off in all directions to ensure all the guests were on stage at the advertised times.  Such is that sort of dedication and hard work familiar to anyone who has attempted to organise or help run a festival.  By early evening after a few deep breaths, everything seemed to be set to go according to plan and no train delays, volcanic ash clouds nor a bolt of thunder was going to prevent the 4th Shepley Spring Festival from going ahead.  Simultaneously opening this years festival were Midlands-based trio Cupola on the main stage, whilst Sarah Horn and James Cudworth began proceedings before the altar of St Paul’s Church down in the village.  The neighbouring Village Hall was the venue for the Friday night ceilidh with regular Shepley ceilidh band Bedlam taking to the stage featuring Bryony Griffith, Will Hampson, together with brothers Ross and Drew McKinlay, all comfortably re-housed in the hall after previous festival experience proved that the close proximity of the dance tent to the main concert marquee suffered from a conflict of interest.  Imagine Martin Simpson celestially emoting to the “Granemore Hare” whilst Edward II were pushing 11 on the sound system and you’ll have a better picture.  The evolving ‘family’ band of Bedlam, together now for almost eighteen years, settled in nicely as the sun set down on Shepley village.  Other acts appearing in the Church on the opening night were Moore Moss Rutter, Becci Senior and James Davies, Lucy Farrell and Jonny Kearney and the Shelley Music Centre Big Band.  On the main festival site, after the opening trio, Scots traditional singer and guitarist Ewan McLennan brought a taste of his own unique guitar style and distinctive voice, once again garnering the attention that he thoroughly deserves as a rising folk artist.  Slightly jet lagged, under-rehearsed and un-sound-checked, Tim O’Brien together with Lau’s Kris Drever delivered a superb set featuring songs from Drever’s Mark the Hard Earth album, which the two collaborated on last year, such as Phil Colclough’s “The Call and the Answer”, Sandy Wright’s “Wild Hurricane” and Boo Hewerdine’s jaunty “Sweet Honey in the Rock”.  Introduced as ‘Shepley’s own Transatlantic Session, the two musicians demonstrated some astonishingly intuitive playing with O’Brien alternating between bouzouki-guitar, mandolin and fiddle, whilst Drever provided his own trademark guitar accompaniment, forming a musical transatlantic bridge between Orkney and Nashville.  Previewing one or two songs from his new, as yet unreleased album Chicken and the Egg, the follow up to 2008’s Chameleon, Tim O’Brien introduced “My Girl’s Waiting for Me” and the infectious “You Ate the Apple” to a delighted Shepley audience, all of whom were given the opportunity to buy early pressings of the album not due for release until June.  Finishing with “Get Out There and Dance”, Tim and Kris completed their memorable performance and left the audience definitely wanting more.  The enigmatic Jim Causley fronted the band that he first met at this festival in 2007.  Mawkin:Causley returned to headline the Friday night concert, which will probably be their final appearance at the festival and almost everywhere else as they once again go their separate ways.  Kicking off their set in familiar camp style, the band surprised the audience with their rendition of the Carpenters’ “Close To You”, as the unusually seated guitarist Dave Delarre nursed his own war wounds having recently undergone surgery for a hernia.  Despite the guitarist’s slightly incapacitated state, the band was just as exciting and vibrant as ever, running through some of the finest songs in the band’s repertoire such as the mediaeval call to arms “L’Homme Arme”, “The Saucy Sailor” and “Cropper Lads”.  Causley’s playfulness was no better demonstrated than in his bedtime story of Snow White, inviting the audience to join in ‘Pantomime/Butlins style’.  Finishing off in unsurpassed Causley campness, the fields of Shepley vibrated to Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff”, with Jim Causley flaunting his wares, pink t shirt and brightly coloured underpants as if he was in a Soho bar rather than a folk festival.  Needless to say, the audience relished in every minute of it.  If the sun was universally welcomed throughout the weekend, especially by the many visitors gleefully participating in the several outdoor pursuits such as the giant Orb hamster balls, the traditional fairground Speedway ride or the climbing wall or just having a cold beverage whilst watching the array of dance displays in the main festival arena, the downside of good weather may be the fact that the concert marquees don’t attract quite the same numbers during the afternoons.  I must point out that my absence during Saturday was due to a prior engagement and not an opportunity to take advantage of a sunny afternoon at the seaside, nevertheless I am therefore not qualified to report on Saturday’s proceedings. I hear it all went swimmingly.  The red tunics of the Frumptarn Guggenband are now as familiar to Shepley visitors as the green grass beneath them as they sweated it out in the open field, delighting the audience with the odd Samba tune and Deep Purple classic.  The blistering sun beat down on the many families who arrived during both Saturday and Sunday afternoons.  Even if the numbers were down in the concerts whilst the sun was out, the sight of so many people of all ages experiencing a folk festival is a delight in itself.  In the Festival Hub, Kevin Dempsey and Joe Broughton played an exceptional set to a smaller audience than they would possibly have preferred but it made absolutely no difference to the standard of the music.  Other artists playing at this concert included Sarah Horn and James Cudworth, Craig, Morgan and Robson, Ewan McLennan and Lucy Farrell and Jonny Kearney.  Sunday afternoon saw the return of Sarah Horn and James Cudworth, this time in the Festival Club, featuring Sarah’s younger brother Andrew on Cajon, once again an indication to Shepley’s stringent commitment to providing a platform for young performers.  The afternoon concert also saw performances by Lydia Noble, Anthony Battersby, Jiggawatt and Becci and James.  Over in the Cricket Club, three stalwarts of the British folk scene Coope Boyes Simpson were cracking open bottles of champagne to celebrate the launch of their new CD As If on the No Masters label.  A large crowd gathered in the oven-like clubhouse eager to get their hands on the new product and also to have a word with singers Barry Coope, Jim Boyes and Lester Simpson.  Barry Coope joked that they were just here for the Champagne, as the room filled to capacity to share in the celebration.  Producer Neil Ferguson and fellow Chumbawamba member Jude Abbott were also on hand to lend additional support to their label mates.  One of the most pleasant revelations at this year’s festival was the newly formed trio of Tom Moore, Archie Churchill-Moss and Shepley’s own Jack Rutter, who kicked off the final main concert in the Festival Hub on Sunday evening.  Formed at a music summer school, the trio Moore Moss Rutter demonstrated a mature approach to playing traditional English, French and contemporary tunes with the odd song thrown in.  Starting with a set of tunes “The Drummer/Mount Hills” the trio were enthusiastically welcomed, especially by the many young friends and supporters congregated at the front of the stage.  Devon’s own Jackie Oates returned to the festival after last year’s successful appearance in the folk opera The Navvy’s Wife as well as running a fiddle workshop in the nearby Cliffe House.  Songs from Jackie’s latest album Hyperboreans made up most of the set, excellently performed by her band featuring Karen Tweed on accordion, standing in for regular accordion player Mike Cosgrave, new guitarist Tristan Seume, who also played bouzouki and James Budden on double bass.  Starting with “The Miller and his Three Sons”, Jackie’s maturity as an artist in her own right became more apparent throughout the set, which included the reworking of traditional songs such as “Young Leonard” and the “Pleasant Month of May” to Bjork’s “Birthday” and her brother Jim Moray’s “Wishfulness Waltz” culminating in the title song from her last album Hyperboreans.  With a final encore of the timely parting song “May the Kindness” Jackie Oates and her band left the stage having made more friends and fans in Shepley.  Coope Boyes Simpson’s eagerly anticipated set, featuring the bulk of songs from their newly launched album, drew a large crowd in the Festival Hub.  With three distinctively strong voices, the entirely a cappella set featured familiar songs such as Jim Boyes’ “Unison in Harmony” and Robert Burns’ “The Slave’s Lament” as well as a selection from the new record, Richard Thompson’s “Keep Your Distance”, “Silence” and the heartbreaking Clive James/Pete Atkin song “A Hill of Little Shoes”.  Lester Simpson also revealed a shared love for The Who, with an alternative look at things with a new song “We Got Fooled Again”.  Before the marquee was vacated to allow for some adjustment in the seating plan in order for the finale of the festival, which would include dancing, MC Mick Peat joined Coope Boyes and Simpson and Will Noble for the traditional singing of “The Holmfirth Anthem”, always a significant moment in this area of Yorkshire.  Cornwall’s 3 Daft Monkeys made a welcome return to Shepley this year with a diverse repertoire of songs encompassing such influences as Klesmer, Celtic, Balkan, Gypsy, Latino, Ska, Reggae and Traditional Folk. Tim Ashton, Athene Roberts and Jamie Waters’ world-influenced acoustic sound and driving rhythms soon had the specially cleared dance floor full as Athene mesmerised her audience with a highly animated performance.  Drawing from a ten year repertoire, many favourites came out such as “Social Vertigo”, “Astral Eyes”, “Eyes of Gaia” and “Human Nature” with a choice of encore finishers to which “Paranoid Big Brother” won hands down.  Finishing off the festival this year and keeping to Mac McKinlay’s tradition of going out on bagpipes, previously seen with the Red Hot Chilli Pipers and Peatbog Faeries, Scotland’s Isle of Tiree band Skerryvore’s mix of traditional music and songs with the urban sounds of rock and funk.  Shepley Spring Festival continues to grow as an important fixture on the festival calendar and is becoming a major word-of-mouth player.  The organisers continue to listen to their public, take on board ideas, change things each year for the better and strive to help the community through their endeavors.  It came as little surprise to me then when Mac McKinlay’s parting words as I left the festival were “I’ve got some good ideas for next year”.  We therefore look forward to Shepley’s fifth Spring Festival with much anticipation.

Beverley Acoustic Roots Festival 2010 | Various Venues, Beverley | 20.06.10

“Do you want the quiet camp?” asked one of the friendly box office stewards as I checked into the Beverley Acoustic Roots Festival on Friday afternoon, to which I responded, without hesitation, “oh noo, put me down for the noisy camp!”  Of course there’s nothing that could really be described as ‘noisy’ at this charming little East Riding festival, not even if you happened to find yourself right next to the speaker stacks during Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams’ extraordinarily vibrant set on Saturday night, or if you chose to postpone sleep temporarily in order to squeeze into the Wold Top Marquee for one of their popular late night sessions.  The normally sleepy town of Beverley does however come alive at this time of the year for a weekend full of quality music, poetry, comedy, storytelling and dance events, all of which run simultaneously on various stages throughout the weekend, including one main indoor stage, three marquees of varying sizes, an indoor club room and the nearby Friary, not to mention the village green, the towns many welcoming pubs and the beacon that is Beverley Minster itself.  Time lapse photography would probably best capture the steady transformation from the normally tranquil deserted sports field to the packed festival site as guitar and fiddle cases, double basses and harmoniums, clogs and swords together with a whole bunch of arts and crafts paraphernalia, pour onto the festival village site as night time falls.  The normally clearly audible Minster chimes that ring every fifteen minutes are soon obscured by other sounds throughout the evening and well on into the early hours.  On Friday evening, as the likes of Lydia Noble, Jack Rutter and the Blackbeards Tree Party Trio got things going in the Wold Top Marquee and the Dreams of Apollo quartet drew attention to themselves in the open air, the two main stages played host to two contrasting opening acts on the Concert Marquee stage and the main Leisure Complex hall respectively, with Bowie, Bliss and Cockerham kicking things off on the former and a bunch of brave school kids on the latter.  The young representatives from the Longcroft School made their big stage debut, after introductions by the Mayor of Beverley, the playwright John Godber and finally by local hero Henry Priestman, who spent much of the week leading up to the festival conducting songwriting workshops at the school.  The former Yachts/Christians songwriter made a welcomed return to the festival accompanied by guitarist Pete Riley.  Famously referred to as ‘songs for grumpy old men’, Priestman’s current repertoire largely made up of songs from his solo album Chronicles of Modern Life manage to speak to a good majority of the audience, who possibly empathise with some of the sentiments, this reviewer included.  As the songwriter warmed up the audience for the evening’s headliner Eddi Reader, a young Brighton-based exponent of World Music of the Turkish/Cypriot variety Dogan Mehmet together with his band The Deerhunters, charmed the audience over at the Concert Marquee for an energetic set including much of the music from his current album Gypsyhead.  Whilst County Sligo’s Dervish filled the Concert Marquee with their own brand of Irish Celtic music and songs, Glasgow’s first lady of folk pop Eddi Reader weaved her spell over a packed main hall audience with songs from her current album Love is the Way as well as a handful of songs that have made her voice instantly recognisable throughout the world, some written by her band mate Boo Hewerdine “Patience of Angels” as well as the uplifting anthem Perfect, from her Fairground Attraction days.  Late into the night, after the main guests have left their respective stages and the halls are cleared for another day, one of the festival’s most popular sessions takes place in the carpeted Wold Top Marquee, presided over by Miles Cain and Leila Slater, who welcome festival artists onstage for impromptu and intimate performances that go on well into the early hours.  So popular are these session now that an orderly queue forms outside running a one out, one in system.  On Friday evening musicians and songwriters such as Leddra Chapman, Boo Hewerdine and Dogan Mehmet rubbed shoulders with poets Mitch Benn, Rory Motion and Oz Hardwick with further performances from both Eddi Reader and Henry Priestman.  It’s difficult to describe the appeal of these shows other than that you feel the performers are equally as relaxed as the audience by this time, where the dividing barrier between performer and audience is lifted and honesty replaces showmanship.  Saturday got off to a good start with a difficult choice of activities to consider, such as Barbara Dickson’s autobiography presentation, where the singer was interviewed on the Acoustic Stage, talking candidly about her life in music, whilst Jeni and Billy conducted a songwriting workshop in the Friary.  The Beverley Festival and Brown’s of Beverley support the Teenage Cancer Trust charity and the TCT Sessions in the Wold Top Marquee got off to a great start with up and coming singer-songwriter Leddra Chapman who performed an excellent set of songs from her Telling Tales album, which is attracting the attention of the MOR DJs on Radio 2.  With the delightfully seasonal “Summer Song”, Leddra and bandmates John Hall on guitar and Tom Beech on keyboards, brought to the festival an extra ray of sunshine.  Saturday afternoon also saw Dave Burland tie up his faithful pooch temporarily whilst he took to the Festival Marquee stage in order to treat his audience to a set of familiar songs both traditional and contemporary together with his trademark nod to the music that really flicks his switch, exemplified in his version of “I Knew the Bride When She Used to Rock and Roll”.  Dave Burland will always be a rocker at heart, despite his penchant for turning out gorgeous renditions of much older songs with an unmistakable voice and a warm personality to match.  Whilst Plum Hall delivered the goods on the Concert Marquee stage and Edwina Hayes resurrected Don McLean’s “Vincent” for her growing army of admirers in the Acoustic Marquee, it was the guitar that drew crowds to the main hall.  There was no shortage of guitarists over the weekend with Saturday playing host to both Martin Simpson and Sean Taylor on the very same bill.  With now familiar pork-pie hat and guitar in hand, Sean Taylor delivered a superb set of songs, some from his forthcoming fourth album Walk With Me as well as from his more familiar Calcutta Grove.  Having done his homework, the young Kilburn-born blues singer turned in a stunning version of Skip James’ “Killing Floor Blues” with its thoroughly haunting intro.  Martin Simpson is no stranger to Beverley and together with Andy Cutting on melodeon and Andy Seward on upright bass, the Scunthorpe-born guitarist once again dazzled his audience with another masterful performance of songs culled from a seemingly bottomless pit of a repertoire.  With several BBC Folk Award gongs on his mantlepiece, Simpson’s place on the British festival circuit is undisputed, as one of the most gifted guitar players this country has produced and Beverley had the pleasure of his company twice over the weekend.  Contrasting with the one off concert performance by the Brighouse and Rastrick Band over in the Minster, which was for all intents and purposes a ‘sit-down’ event, as the conductor brought things to order with almost regimental precision, the main hall played host to an evening of a more challenging spectacle of music and dance.  The grandly named Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams played a cameo performance at the 2009 festival during an afternoon billed as The American Party, which was so well received at the time, it not only secured them a gig in the town a few months later but also secured them an invitation to return this year to play on the main stage.  Described variously as mystical, quirky, versatile, fresh and accomplished, the Hillbilly Pink Floyd returned this year to provide yet another memorable performance with outstanding versions of “Flapjacks from the Sky” and “Picture”, dividing the audience equally into the confused and the converted.  The Demon Barber Roadshow was probably the only band that could follow that.  Named the Best Live Act at the 2009 BBC Folk Awards, those who packed into the main hall on Saturday night were treated to a show worthy of that title.  The core band consisting of Damien Barber, Bryony Griffith, Will Hampson, Lee Sykes and Ben Griffith were joined by some of the most versatile performers in contemporary and traditional dance including Tiny Taylor, Fiona Bradshaw, Laura Connolly, Hannah James, with their various colourful and energetic clogging routines, whilst Dogrose Morris’ David Hall and James Boyle proved once again that Morris dancing isn’t necessarily uncool anymore.  The race however for the undisputed highlight of the show was divided between two joint winners; JB’s extraordinary beatbox display, in which he takes out the rest of the band with a ray gun before speeding away on his Vincent and the celebrated rapper dance courtesy of the boys in the band.  Then there’s Bryony Griffith’s rendition of “Bonny Boy” isn’t there?  Back to the polling booths methinks!  Sandwiched between these two high energy driven outfits was Forro Porro, a quartet formed from two established duos The Hut People and Mambo Jambo, providing the night with a touch of South America to add the word ‘fiesta’ to the programme of music, dance, song and fun.  The chimes of the Minster bells merged effortlessly with the various choirs that congregated in the Concert Marquee on Sunday Morning.  Whilst over at the Friary, Karen Tweed provided a packed room of accordion, fiddle and whistle players with some expert advice, the Black Umfolosi 5 together with the Swinemoor Choir and the Beverley Community Choir, came together in harmony with both children and adults alike.  The sun came out during the afternoon in order to illuminate the Festival Village, already alive with various dance displays, including maypole, clogging and Morris as a unicyclist rode by and a bloke juggled with a sweeping brush.  The Wold Top Marquee played host to another fine programme of singers and musicians including local siblings the Hall Brothers (with Jon Carey), Norwich-based singer-songwriter Jess Morgan and guitarist Gren Bartley, to name but a few. Jess Morgan’s debut at the festival included a handful of songs from her debut album All Swell, including “Pamela”, “Eels” and “At Sea” together with one or two new songs.  One of the most eagerly anticipated sets at this year’s festival came from an unlikely source.  Charlie Dore and the Hula Valley Orchestra, whose authentic take on 1930s American pop songs brought a completely different sound to the festival village.  Taking standards by the likes of Jimmie Rogers, Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin and Al Bowlley and giving them a Hawaiian feel, helped along by Julian Littman’s lap steel guitar and Steve Simpson’s western swing fiddle, Charlie demonstrated just how appealing the old songs can be when played with such dedicated professionalism.  Joining Charlie on stage was old friend Barbara Dickson, who joined the band for a fine rendition of “Roll Along Kentucky Moon”.  Keeping with the oldies, songs that is, not the artists, the newly formed Whiskey Dogs appeared throughout the weekend, covering the spots reserved for the much loved Alley Cats, who have been reduced to the mum and dad duo now that the kids have toddled off to university.  With newcomer Brian Swinton on mandolin, Pete and Janey Bolton continue the family tradition of keeping alive their fine repertoire of country blues, bluegrass and folk classics.  Jeni and Billy described themselves as America’s smiliest couple when they made their debut at the 2009 festival, being their first ever appearance in the UK.  They return this year with a new record Longing For Heaven, the follow up to last year’s Jewell Ridge Coal, with their smiles and their engaging stage presence intact.  Jeni and Billy played more shows at this festival than they bargained for after fellow American performer Jerry Harmon was forced to pull out following a domestic accident.  As evening set over the towering spires of Beverley Minster, the final concerts got underway featuring the Lau-like Tyde, The Black Umfolosi 5 and The Proclaimers on the main stage, whilst the Concert Marquee played host to some festival favourites including Jeni and Billy, The Whiskey Dogs, Koshka and once again Charlie Dore and the Hula Valley Orchestra, topped off with some Blazin’ Fiddles, bringing an all round Scottish finale to the festival.  Having Blazin’ Fiddles and the Reid twins share a stage at the end of the night instead of the two seperate stages they actually played, might just have been the perfect end to what is steadily becoming a firm favourite on the British festival circuit.  However, Charlie and Craig’s hugely popular “500 Miles” sufficed and became the tune that rung in my ears as I left Beverley for another successful year.

‘Ello Beverley: The Wordy Side of the Beverley Festival by Liam Wilkinson

“Ello Beverley!” begins Rory Motion as he steps into the pink-yellow glow of the acoustic stage lights.  “It feels quite intimate, saying ‘ello Beverley” he continues in his familiar, friendly North Yorkshire accent, referring to the town as if it were an old mate of the same name who had, perhaps, been waiting there since last year’s festival.  And as Rory begins shuffling his scraps of paper and nudging his guitar, harmonica and vibraphone into position at his feet, one feels almost compelled to respond with a jovial “welcome back” or a much more suitable “how’s tha been, feller?”  The intimacy of the Beverley Festival, with its palpable sense of community and warmth, is very much a part of the lure.  The festival has, in recent years, enhanced this vital element by creating a ‘festival village’ – complete with assorted eateries, shops and a village green – all situated within the grounds of the town’s Leisure Centre.  The acoustic tent is located at the heart of the village and, from the Friday to the Sunday, is the setting for a plethora of diverse informal concerts, not only boasting folk, acoustic and roots music but also performances from poets, authors, comedians and storytellers.  Thanks to the people behind the festival, the layout of this year’s acoustic tent has been arranged to complement the intimacy of the event, the stage being at the centre of the space rather than at the far end, and the ambient lighting heightening the cosy informality of the concerts.  Rory Motion, of course, is an old friend of the festival and, for those of us who’ve seen him here before, it feels only correct that he should begin the proceedings of this year’s wordy side of the Beverley festival in his own inimitable manner.  In what could be described as a cosmic weaving of true stories and surreal musings, interlaced with outlandish passages from his family history and peculiar tales from his caravan in York (so crap they named it once), Rory Motion delights his audience with his spoon-reflection accounts from the life of a man whom we presume to be a human being (a status that is soon thrown headlong into doubt as he shows us his staggeringly accurate tree impressions).  Rory’s one-line observations of life’s peculiarities, peppered with ingenious puns and wily word-play, not only amuse the festival-goers who have spent much of the day grappling with cumbersome and complex camping equipment, battling to put up their tents in the exceedingly strong Beverley winds, but also warm them up for a weekend that promises to be nothing short of marvellous.  What’s more, Rory even plays a vibraphone with his head.  Hot on the heels of Mr Motion is Mitch Benn, a man of whom the pocket-size programme says “is one of the best writer/performers of comic songs in the country”.  What the programme neglects to mention is the fact that Mitch Benn is clearly the result of a genetic fusing of Jack Black and Bill Bailey, with any of the 1970s British Saturday afternoon wrestlers thrown in for looks.  His delivery is as eloquently aggressive as a restored 19th century steam engine careering through the crowds at a village fete.  His songs are reminiscent of the American rock band Boston, had they decided to write on themes of spontaneous combustion, murdering schmaltzy chart-topping singers and adopting African babies.  All of the above, of course, makes for a riotous night in a blustery tent in Beverley, but it isn’t until Mitch performs his Jeff Wayne-inspired rendition of The Very Hungry Caterpillar that the festival crowds realise exactly what they’re seeing – a world-class comedian with enough comic-energy to keep the Beverley Leisure Centre’s swimming pool heated throughout the weekend.  On Saturday morning, after a cheap and cheerful cup of tea from Big Al’s, it’s back to the acoustic tent to find a living legend testing her microphone for what promises to be an intriguing hour-long interview.  From the folk clubs of the 60s to the theatres of the 70s, from hit singles that made her a household name to appearances in dramas that delivered her to the screens of millions of household televisions, Barbara Dickson seems to have done it all. And despite the bulging luggage of her success, Barbara is by no means the diva that, by rights, she should be.  On the contrary, her presence puts one in mind of a friend who has popped in for one of Big Al’s cups of tea and a light-hearted chat about her dazzling fifty-year career as one of Britain’s most cherished entertainers.  Incredibly, one can even detect a nervous shake in Barbara’s hands as she picks up her guitar at the end of the interview and sings, with an impeccably beautiful voice for such an early hour, her rendition of “The Recruited Collier”.  Later, it’s over to the club room, another of Beverley Festival’s intimate venues, to poke my nose into the Larkin Project.  As a life-long fan of the poet Philip Larkin, I’m already aware that this year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the poet’s untimely death at the age of 63 and am excited to see his life celebrated here at Beverley.  Although Larkin’s memory has been preserved to some extent around Hull, where he lived and worked for most of his life, it is only in this anniversary year that we are beginning to see an appropriate appraisal of the man’s life and work.  Today’s session begins with three astounding short-films inspired by Larkin’s poetry, featuring narrations from the brilliant Hull-born actor Sir Tom Courtenay and Bob Geldof – a choice of voice that, at first, seems bizarre but one that soon becomes wholly justified.  The films then give way to a live performance from Peter Knaggs who reads a handful of original poems that celebrate the mundane details of domestic life.  Peter’s poem in praise of tin-openers is most certainly a highlight.  It’s always with held breath and white knuckles, however, that one approaches a tribute to Larkin.  It’s well-documented, by now, that Philip wasn’t exactly a cheery poet, nor was he the kind of community-spirited poet that this country seems to insist on producing these days.  Larkin is the figurehead for all misanthropic poets who was happier to report on what he saw from his window, be it that of his flat or the carriage of a train, than actually mingle with the people that populated his work.  A roomful of poetry and music lovers in an East Yorkshire leisure centre would, perhaps, have terrified Larkin, especially as a handful of them attempt to put some of his poems to music.  Strangely, however, some of the songs seem to work well and have been compiled on a CD that is available to listen to in full at  A duo going by the name of Man Made Noise turn Larkin’s Mr Bleaney into a dreamy, Pink Floyd-esque song that manages to capture the dusty, post-war England that Larkin described so well.  Kristian Eastwood’s rendition of At Grass is also a refreshing reading of Larkin’s work, as is Edwina Hayes’s This Be The Verse, but, perhaps, neither are as refreshing, nor as strange and otherworldly as Far Out by the band Awash with Antler – three young ladies who appear to have overdosed on an almost lethal cocktail of Bjork, The Unthanks and Philip Larkin’s Collected Poems.  If it wasn’t so intriguingly entertaining, I suppose I could simply sit and listen to the distant sound of Mr Larkin, spinning wildly in his grave.  One of the huddle of poetry lovers that gathered in the club room in memory of Larkin was Miles Cain, a familiar face at the Beverley Festival and a man who appears to inject more energy into the event than the Saltend Power Station.  York-based writer and entertainer Cain not only presents the late night festival club in the Wold Top tent from 11 until 2am on each night of the festival, but also finds time to perform some of his own poems and songs throughout the weekend.  Shortly after the Larkin event, I head over to the acoustic tent to catch Miles as he entertains a very appreciative crowd with his agreeable blend of Americana folk and imagery-laden poetry.  Whilst his songs charm the crowd, it is his poetry that leaves Cain’s audience enchanted.  In his poem about the summer of 1977, Miles writes “We were eighteen…full of bones and sex…four letter words fermented inside our cheeks…our bodies grew chains overnight”, encapsulating a whole generation in just a few lines.  His poems sprawl like landscape paintings, but possess all the vitality of abstract expressionism.  In his poem The Devil Invents Fast Food, Miles delights us with lines such as ‘the brief adoration that burns human fibre’ and ‘dentists shoved metal into addicted molars’ – lines that are, themselves, good enough to eat and extremely moreish.  On the final day of the festival, two more British institutions set foot onto the Beverley stage.  Roy Bailey and Tony Benn have been touring theatres and festivals across the country with their show The Writing On The Wall and, as a special treat, have come to Beverley to show us what all the fuss is about.  And it’s a quiet fuss, a gentlemanly fuss, a fuss into which one can’t help being absorbed. Sitting in and, occasionally, attempting to get up out of their armchairs, seventy-five year old Bailey and eighty-five year old Benn serve up a mixture of songs, anecdotes, snippets of great speeches and oodles of political philosophy in order to paint a clear and truthful picture of our country’s political history.  Letting those two voices rest in one’s ear for an hour and a half is to receive great wisdom and to see the current political climate with new eyes.  And though it might be tempting to use the word ‘lecture’ when describing this unique travelling show, its use would be completely inaccurate due to the fact that both Bailey and Benn simply present their material, allowing the audience to make up their minds.  Of course, there is nothing more powerful than that.  And even if we weren’t to stay around for this evening’s festival finale, to go home after Bailey and Benn’s set would be to leave Beverley 2010 with a sense of immense satisfaction and fulfilment.  Bravo.

Stephanie Lambring | The Wheelhouse, Wombwell | 09.07.10

Stephanie Lambring first appeared at the Wheelhouse at the end of March this year as part of her UK tour accompanied by singer-guitarist Brad Tursi.  Returning to the venue this time as a solo performer, Stephanie once again delighted her audience with a set of songs from both her current album Lonely to Alone as well as her tour EP Trail of Goodbye, both of which contain some of the strongest songs to have appeared on the Americana scene over the past twelve months.  The Nashville-based singer-songwriter pointed out that the only love song she has ever written, “Tonight”, still has not found the right person yet, despite being young free and single herself.  She confessed that everyone assumed she and Brad were an ‘item’ on her last visit, therefore both hers and Brad’s availability was inadvertently dampened in terms of potential romantic liaison.  On this occasion, joined by another available female companion, Stephanie was out to have fun and she didn’t mind sharing this information with her audience.  Stephanie also claims that her best writing endeavours concern breaking up and she went on to demonstrate this with the remarkable “Mutual” from her EP, along with “Nothing and Flowers”, all played solo this time around but losing none of the power of the recorded versions or indeed the versions she performed last time around at the Wheelhouse.  In the absence of Brad Tursi, this reviewer was only too pleased to help out by accompanying Stephanie with some guitar on Gillian Welch’s “Annabelle” to varying degrees of success.  The high point of the set however was Stephanie’s stunning title song from the album Lonely to Alone, which never fails to impress, before a final encore of “If I Could”.  Kicking off the evening was York’s Holly Taymar, joined by Chris Bilton on a variety of accompanying instruments ranging from mandolin, banjo, glockenspiel and various bits of percussion.  Holly’s trademark rambling was as pleasantly engaging as ever, interspersed with a selection of self-penned songs such as the perennial “Bush Song”, the sublime “Toes” and the exquisite “Home”.  Other songs out to play tonight were the Stairway-esque (by her own admission) “Went to War”, “Beautiful Days” and a specially requested “7am”, as well as the infamous song that actually name checks a former Facebook friend, who will not be mentioned here for fear of opening a libel suit, before closing with a version of the old pop standard “I Can’t Help Falling in Love”.

Folk Delivering Hope | The Regent Hotel, Doncaster | 14.07.10

This latest Folk Delivering Hope concert followed the first successful AHS Foundation benefit concert last year, where such artists as Clive Gregson, Jez Lowe, Ray Hearne, Steve Womack and Katriona Gilmore and Jamie Roberts gave their time and effort, not to mention memorable performances, to support this dedicated team headed by fund-raising co-ordinator Eileen Myles, to help victims of the tragic Kashmir earthquake in Pakistan.  Almost a year on, this latest concert was set up by Eileen, once again under the banner of Folk Delivering Hope, with a little help from a small band of friends and helpers, including a bunch of musicians and the local music promoter and enthusiast Hedley Jones, all giving their time freely to help this worthwhile cause.  After a warm introduction by Eileen Myles, who welcomed everyone to what promised to be a varied evenings programme of music and at the same time explaining the ongoing efforts in raising funds for Kashmir, the first artist to take the stage with a set of well chosen songs, was Sheffield singer-songwriter Charlie Barker, who had just negotiated a flurry of mid-week rush hour Doncaster traffic, with hardly enough time to prepare herself prior to taking the stage in order to kick the party off.  Apologising for wearing no makeup whatsoever (as if she needs it!), Charlie launched into her own laid-back set of inspiring songs, which included a couple of her own compositions, “Sleeping at the Station” and the moving “Poppies”, both of which sat equally alongside more familiar songs such as Marc Cohn’s “Silver Thunderbird”, Alison Krauss’s “Gravity” and Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “I Take My Chances”, which started her set.  This reviewer had one or two responsibilities of his own during the evening, including the privilege of introducing all of the artists as well as helping out the other home-grown Doncaster contributer on stage tonight, Liam Wilkinson.  Although it’s virtually impossible to comment on that performance objectively, having been a part of it, all I can say for certain is that from the stage, it did feel thoroughly fulfilling and exceptionally nice to be a part of such a worthwhile cause.  In my other role as concert MC, it was rather delightful to be able to introduce Bob Fox at last, an artist who has been trying to fit one of these concerts around his busy schedule for quite some time.  The date for tonight’s concert therefore was agreed upon according to Bob’s availability.  Taking the stage by mid-evening, Bob brought a taste of the North East to this ‘southern’ audience with familiar anthems such as “The Bonny Gateshead Lass” and “Dance to Your Daddy” as well as his version of Chris Leslie’s “My Love is in America”, “The Whitby Tailor” and a jazz inflected Ewan Maccoll song “Champion at Keeping Them Rolling”.  Finishing off with two songs in one, both connected by the same familiar natural landmark, the Tyne River, Bob sang the traditional “Waters of Tyne” along with Jimmy Nail’s surprisingly beautiful “Big River”, before leaving the stage with the sneaking suspicion that he might just make another appearance before the night’s end.  Nashville’s Elizabeth Cook took time out from her current UK tour to appear at the concert with her trio, which included husband/guitarist Tim Carroll and ex-Midnight Oil double bassist Bones Hillman.  Starting with the opening song from her latest record Welder, “All the Time” indicated an immediate shift towards country music, exemplified by Elizabeth’s unmistakable Southern drawl and laid-back Tennessee front-porch sensibility.  There was no doubt that the audience was witnessing the real sound of Nashville with songs like “Times are Tough in Rock ‘n’ Roll”, “Blackland Farmer” and “El Camino” together with Elizabeth’s take on The Velvet Underground and Nico’s song “Sunday Morning”, offering a recognisable touch to those as yet unfamiliar with Elizabeth Cook’s gutsy repertoire.  An artist in his own right, having written songs for John Prine and Asleep at the Wheel, Indiana-born Tim Carroll played a couple of songs from his own repertoire, firstly the Johnny Cash influenced The TGV, for which Elizabeth put on her dancing shoes to demonstrate how they do it in Tennessee, loosening up the change in the pockets of her unfeasibly tight jeans, followed by “What’ll We Do ‘Til Then” from Tim’s All Kinds of Pain record revealing a more sensitive side to his song writing.  The high points of Elizabeth’s set though rested with “Heroin Addict Sister” from which the title of the Welder album derives, the cathartic “Mama’s Funeral” and the regular finisher “Sometimes it Takes Balls to be a Woman”, rounding off the set on a high.  It was nice to see both Bob Fox and Jez Lowe deliberating quite amicably on the order of proceedings tonight, agreeing that Elizabeth Cook’s set should separate the two North East singers and both agreeing that Jez should finish the night off with some of his best loved songs from a vast repertoire spanning almost thirty years.  Starting with “Will of the People”, Jez alternated between guitar, cittern and mandolin, with a voice familiar to anyone with even the remotest interested in British folk music.  Recent songs such as “Bare Knuckle” and the hilarious “Potholer’s Song”, a country flavoured ballad, which addresses the unlikely membership of the ‘ex-pitman’s pot holing club quiz team’ complete with Geordie yippee-i-ays, blended well with the more familiar “Ballad of Tasker Jack” and from the much lauded Radio Ballad “The Ballad of the Big Ships” Jez’s superb “Taking on Men”.  For a fitting finale, Bob Fox joined Jez Lowe for a completely off-the-cuff, unrehearsed and impromptu performance, with the two North East singers completing an excellent and memorable night of music and song with Jez’s “Back in Durham Jail”, the union song “Union Miner” and a final encore of The High Part of the Town. The last words belonging to Bob as he quipped.. “not bad for a pair of buskers eh?”

Cambridge Folk Festival 2010 | Cherry Hinton Hall, Cambridge | 03.08.10

The wood pigeons inhabiting the trees in the grounds of Cherry Hinton Hall once again sent out their annual alarm calls to neighbouring birds, which roughly translate to ‘why are all these large white marquees here?’  As other assorted wildlife woke to the sound of tent pegs being hammered in, hundreds of people descended upon the sleepy fields of Cherry Hinton park on Thursday morning, a few hours before Ezio welcomed regular visiters and newcomers alike to the 46th consecutive Cambridge Folk Festival.  There are always slight changes in detail each time the gates are flung open, usually at around ten o’clock on the Thursday morning, but never anything major.  The bar in the Guinness tent may run a different way or the now familiar wicker figures may have taken up a new instrument; one year a fiddle, the next year a flute.  This year a couple of banjo playing foxes precided over the influx of festival visitiors on a warm seasonal morning.  After the usual familiarisation of the site, the ritual tagging, the purchase of the all important and crucial festival programme, this year’s cover featuring you the audience sitting before the main stage in what appears to be a beautiful summer’s evening, it was time for some music.  The opening act at this year’s festival was none other than local boys Ezio Lunedei and Booga, who being no strangers to this festival, brought a warm welcome to the crowds who had gathered in front of Stage 2, the largest stage marquee open for business on Thursday night.  With familiar songs such as the one about being drunk on a bicycle and the enduring crowd pleaser “Deeper”, the duo suitable warmed up the audience for the evening to come.  Port Isaac’s Fisherman’s Friends gave Doc Martin a night of peace and quiet down in Cornwall as the ten singers formed an orderly crescent shaped line on Stage 2 in order to bring some traditional sea shanties to a hugely receptive and appreciative gathering.  The fifteen year old combo, made up of former (and current) fishermen, lifeboatmen and coastguards, the five baritones, two top tenors, two second tenors and one bass, delivered their own broad range of songs and shanties before a delighted audience.  From Rock Island, Illinois, Lissie introduced to the healthy Cambridge audience a handful of songs from the singer-songwriter’s current Catching a Tiger album.  With a soulfully engaging voice and a folk pop sensibility, Lissie’s eagerly anticipated performance didn’t disappoint.  Even a heartfelt rendition of Lionel Richie’s “Hello”, which the singer confessed she had only just learnt, went down a treat.  The even more eagerly anticipated performance by Oxford’s Stornoway, in all honesty didn’t capture the atmosphere everyone expected, the young band delivering something of a luke warm plodding sort of set.  The songs were familiar to those who had already added Beachcomber’s Windowsill to their pile of CDs, and the songs were created much the same as on the record, but sometimes you need more from a live performance.  Other acts on Thursday night over in the club tent were Cocos lovers, Adam Brown and Alan MacLeod, Tyde and The Muckle Loons, who demonstrated precisely how to finish off an opening night at a festival. By my reckoning the Mojo interview, held annually in the club tent, reached its seventh consecutive year this morning as Seasick Steve joined a list of previous interviewees including the likes of Loudon Wainwright III, Jimmy Webb, Richard Thompson, Steve Earle, members of The Imagined Village and last year’s memorable gathering of artists involved with Topic Records, each in turn facing a barrage of questions from those eager to discover more about their heroes.  This year Colin Irwin spoke to the enigmatic blues singer about his life and work before a predictably packed house.  Shortly before this, half the membership of The Muckle Loons, suitably recovered from their energetic club tent set of the night before, conducted a fiddle workshop where fiddler players young and old turned out with fiddles in hand and were encouraged to put away their inhibitions for an hour or so and join in.  The hands-on workshops are always the best ones and today’s was no exception.  Scotland’s Breabach drew the crowds into the Stage 1 area for the first time this year, as the largest stage at the festival made itself available for a feast of music that was to follow over the next three days.  The vibrant Celtic sounds washed over the open fields of Cherry Hinton, provided by one of the most innovative bands on the circuit at the moment.  If like me you thought one set of bagpipes was enough, then you would probably have been bemused at two sets being played simultaneously.  Fear not though, it all seemed to make perfect sense in practice even if in theory it didn’t.  Following Breabach, one of the most eagerly anticipated sets of the weekend came courtesy of Fort Worth’s Quebe Sisters Band, featuring the impressive talents of three young fiddle playing siblings, Grace, Sophia and Hulda Quebe.  Again, from a reviewer who had previously thought that one fiddle, two at the most, was enough for any occasion; it was nothing short of delightful to hear these three fiddles playing together.  With tight harmonies and frighteningly skilful playing, the band instantly won the hearts of the Cambridge crowds, which in turn secured full houses everywhere they played subsequently around the festival site.  Bearing in mind the memorable Stage 2 set by Imelda May in 2009, a ripple of anticipation soon spread around the festival site today, everyone presumably wondering how the pairing of these two diverse Irish talents was going to manifest itself.  Would it be Imelda May’s rockabilly band plus the added bonus of having one of the finest box players in the world join their ranks, or vice versa? We discovered it was actually a case of inspired job sharing as Sharon kicked off with a few sets of tunes in her own inimitable fashion, then introducing her very special guest as ‘the most amazing singer I’ve heard in my life and the most gorgeous person’, bringing on the charismatic singer, who went on to dominate the stage dressed in green tartan with trademark quiff, brandishing a tambourine and delivering some fine Irish rockabilly, infusing the stage with oodles of energy.  The ever-smiling and seated figure of Sharon Shannon looked on in awe as the Imelda May did her thing, as only she can.  With a thirty year pedigree of playing Balkan Gypsy tunes, the Serbian trumpet player and band leader Boban Markovic, together with his son Marko, brought a taste of full-on orchestral brass music to Cambridge. The Boban and Marko Markovic Orchestra are probably a world away from their British counterparts such as the Grimethorpe Colliery Band as they brought the stage alive with sound and colour, if that’s not blowing their trumpet too much.  Seth Lakeman continues to draw large audiences wherever he plays and Cambridge is no exception.  Attracting an audience that filled the main Stage 1 area to bursting point, the band once again delivered an energetic and thunderous performance featuring some of Seth’s best loved anthems such as “Hearts and Minds” and “The Hurlers”.   So large was the audience that with little surprise Joe Pug was left to sing to a much smaller gathering around at the Stage 2 marquee simultaneously.  The great thing about the Imagined Village is that you can be witness to several gigs at once, whether you want a bit of the great Chris Wood or a bit of Carthy (either Eliza or Martin variety), or whether your tastes are more World Music oriented, there’s a little of the Afro Celts or the Trans Global Underground in the mix, yet all serving a very British purpose.  The collective returned to Cambridge this year Bragg-less but still very much on form with such diverse songs as “Scarborough Fair”, “Byker Hill”, “Cold Haily Rainy Night” and Slade’s “Cum on Feel the Noise”.  Seasick Steve drew probably the largest crowd of the day, despite the heavy rain.  At one point the bluesman invited a female member of his audience up on stage where she was suddenly flanked by two unfeasibly long beards, for all intents and purposes a ZZ Top tribute act, as Steve serenaded her to the easy to please audience’s delight.  At the same time, the Swiss Cajun trio Mama Rosin delivered a particularly fun set on Stage 2, with their very own mix of Cajun and Zydeco with a punk/rock twist.  With Cyril Yeterian’s melodeon and Robin Girod’s guitar, banjo and rub board together with Xavier Bray’s back beat, the energetic young trio narrowed the distance between Lakes Geneva and Ponchartrain for a delighted Cambridge audience.  As night settled on the damp Cherry Hinton fields and rain-soaked campers headed back across town to Coldhams Common via the festival shuttle bus, there was the gloomy prospect that the rain had set in for the duration. With the sounds of The Wonder Stuff and The Unusual Suspects ringing in everyone’s ears though, it really didn’t matter at all. If anything is going to wake you up on a Saturday morning after either a late or heavy night, especially one that ended with such rainfall, then Rachel Unthank’s singing workshop was more than likely going to do the trick.  Standing alone on the club tent stage armed only with her ukulele and the good looks she was born with, Rachel soon had the early risers singing along in harmony or boom-chicka-rocka-chicka-rocka-chicka-boom-ing in delicious Geordie accents before you could say something like ‘why-aye-marra’.  Rachel’s long association with the children of this festival preceeds her main stage success with both The Winterset and The Unthanks by a long margin.  Adapting some of those singing skills she previously used on kids to warm up the adults, Rachel managed get everyone singing along at the top of their voices.  Joe Pug’s second appearance at the festival got off to a good start on the main stage, attracting more of an audience this time.  Despite looking a little bit lost on such a big stage, Joe made up for it with a handful of powerful songs such as “Bury Me Far From My Uniform” and “Unsophistocated Heart”, utilising an almost unapologetic Dylan style, complete with harmonica rack, guitar and sneering vocal.  The combined forces of Delgados founder Emma Pollock, Future Pilot AKA, MC Soom T, Kim Edgar, Scots singer-songwriter Kenny Anderson otherwise known as King Kreosote and a couple of equally well known Canadian artists Mattie Foulds and Michael Johnston, not to mention the multi-BBC Folk Awards winner Karine Polwart banging a few drums, the Scots-Canadian equivalent of The Imagined Village made their Cambridge debut on the main stage this afternoon.  The unfortunately named Burns Unit combine many influences to create their unique sound, which was one of the unexpected surprises of the festival.  Simply stealing the show at this years festival though was the unlikely trio of Dom Flemons, Rhiannon Giddens and Justin Robinson, otherwise known as the Carolina Chocolate Drops, who brought a flavour of the old String and Jug band era of American folk music.  Not only utterly gifted in their dextrous playing of cheap instruments and everyday household items such as the one pound plastic kazoo and the jug respectively, the trio also entertained in a sadly forgotten or little used style.  Little wonder that their current album Genuine Negro Jig became the best selling cd of the festival this year.  The club tent provides a platform for festival visitors to showcase their own particular talents by simply queueing up and waiting their turn.  Over the years, some of the best and brightest of new artists we have subsequently come to know and love have become known to us through this platform.  Niamh Boadle is one of the rising talents of traditional music today, recently winning the BPAS Young Acoustic Roots Award in May.  Her delicate guitar style and beautiful voice became known to a new batch of listeners this afternoon in the club tent as guests of the Acoustic Routes club.  During the same session, Sam Carter, recipient of this year’s coverted Horizon Award at the annual BBC Folk Awards, chose a few songs from his stunning debut Keepsakes in one of the club tent’s showcase sessions.  Joined by double bassist John Thorne and introduced by the familiar voice of BBC Cambridge’s Sue Marchant, Sam played a fine assured set encouraging the audience to stand in order to get more people in.  Rachel and Becky Unthank are no strangers to Cambridge and their story is anything but an overnight success.  First appearing on the bill as a duo in 2004, Rachel and Becky have gone on to be part of the celebrated Winterset, appearing in a club tent showcase a couple of years later and then finally winning the hearts and minds of many with the launch of their celebrated album The Bairns in 2007, with three outstanding sets on each of the stages at that year’s festival.  Now, with a change of line up and a third album Here’s the Tender Coming, the expanded Unthanks woo’d another large audience today as they opened up the evenings concert with the timeless “Felton Lonnin”.  In all fairness, by the very fact that The Unthanks have a very unique sound it is by their uniqueness that they have a Marmite-like reputation.  Love them or hate them, it’s reassuring to know that most of the Cambridge audience are very much on their side, as is this reviewer.  By contrast Kathy Mattea returned to the festival after twelve years since her last appearance.  Once again joined by her regular guitar player, Bill Cooley, Kathy selected a bunch of songs from her fine repertoire, confirming her reputation as a purveyor of intellegently written songs whether they come from the tradition, other writers or her own pen.  Fay Hield drew a good crowd for her showcase performance in the club tent this evening.  Accompanied by Sam Sweeney and Rob Harbron on fiddle and melodeon respectively, Fay gave us a taster of what’s to come on her long awaited solo album Looking Glass, pre-release copies of which were available at the festival.  As a fine interpreter of traditional song, reminiscent of a young June Tabor, the former Elswick witch looks set for a promising solo career.  The last time the unmistakable voice of Natalie Merchant was heard coming from a Cambridge Festival stage was in 1988 when the singer fronted 10,000 Manics.  Her ‘sensuous voice’ has changed little in the ensuing years and it was with sheer delight we heard that voice once again, coinciding with the release of her remarkable new record Leave Your Sleep.  After such a hot day, in stark contrast to Friday, the crowds were ready to party and the two closing acts would soon have everyone on their feet.  The Holmes Brothers (Sherman and Wendell) brought the main stage area alive with their blend of R&B, soul and blues with a touch of gospel, whilst Latin American and Scots traditional were being fused for a fiesta of fun courtesy of Salsa Celtica on Stage 2, bringing the penultimate day of the festival to a close. It’s something of a tradition to sit in front of the main stage to hear the omnibus edition of The Archers, whist reading the Sunday papers.  The weather looked promising once again and now that the two large screens on the outside of the main stage make it less essential to fight for a place right at the front, the focus is on choosing a prime place in front of the screens.  Before midday, a nice gathering of seats and blankets made up an orderly, if somewhat chaotic looking sea of bodies.  Gretchen Peters opened up proceedings earlier in the club tent with her songwriting workshop, enlightening those eager to learn something of the finer aspects of the art of songwriting.  One of the recent aesthetical improvements to the Cherry Hinton grounds during the festival weekend is the gallery of amusing artworks by graphic artist David Owen scattered around the site.  Whether it be Morecambe and Wise in Morris kit or a HSO warning that we should definitely not meet on the ledge, Owen’s pop art has become a familiar attraction to the site and long may it continue.  The young Jackie Oates is featured in one of Owen’s posters, coincidentally and justifiably merged with another famous first lady.  I can’t think of any other adjective than ‘delightful’ to describe anything and everything Jackie Oates does.  There’s an inherent professionalism in everything she turns her hands to, whether it’s a collaboration with other musicians, a fiddle workshop where she shares her knowledge of tunes from her own neck of the woods, or whether fronting her own fine band.  Accompanied by the diverse talents of Mike Cosgrove, Tristan Tsume and James Budden, Jackie held her audience spellbound at this main stage appearance and at other appearances over the weekend, all featuring amongst other things, songs from her current album Hyperboreans.  Wearing a peculiar hat isn’t unusual at the Cambridge Folk Festival, so today’s campaign for wearing even more adventurous forms of head gear, endorsed by festival manager Eddie Barcan, brought a smile to most.  There was indeed the young lady with a 45rpm vinyl record worn as a sort of fascinator, or the bloke with a wicker basket on his head, not to mention the kettle hat.  It’s all part of the Cambridge experience.  I spent some of the afternoon talking to festival regulars, whilst Salsa Celtica endeavoured to get everyone on their feet dancing as a grey cloud hovered threatening to break the spell of fantastic sunshine since Saturday noon.  Writer and broadcaster Ian Clayton was happy to reminisce about his thirty-odd year association with Cambridge from a single happy go lucky music loving Northerner of the Seventies to his more recent family oriented visits.  For Gretchen Peters’ second appearance of the day, the singer-songwriter was joined by her partner Barry Walsh to perform a selection of favourites from her repertoire.  Introduced as a brilliant songwriter, Gretchen’s warmth as a performer was tangible as she performed songs such as “Independence Day”, “Germantown” and the stunning Tom Russell song “Guadalupe” with Barry’s sensitive piano and accordion accompaniment.  The unexpected surprise of the festival came with Jamaica’s sixty-year-old trio The Jolly Boys, masters in the art of Mento, which is neither a martial art nor a lozenge to make your breath sweeter, but the indigenous music of Jamaica and predecessor to both Ska and Reggae.  Starting with a couple of authentic Mento folk songs, no one could have foreseen how the set would have developed.  Cambridge has witnessed a full orchestra of ukulele’s playing the “Theme From Shaft” and David Bowie’s “Life on Mars”; Cambridge has also bore witness to a former Comic Strip actor attempting to be serious whilst playing “London Calling” and “Up the Junction” on a mandolin; but who could’ve imagined a Cambridge set list containing classics by the likes of Lou Reed, The Stranglers, The Doors, Blondie and Steely Dan, albeit in Mento style?  Forty-six years ago almost to the day, the young Paul Simon appeared at the very first Cambridge Folk Festival, banging out a thirty-minute set of Sixties Soho scene songs at the beginning of the Saturday evening concert.  Almost five decades later, the young offspring of said folk superstar almost died on stage it has to be said with a mediocre performance, and believe me this is kind.  Harper Simon’s debut album warrants a place on the bill of any festival but something went horribly wrong tonight.  Opening with The Buzzcocks “Ever Fallen in Love”, already covered more successfully in stripped down form by Thea Gilmore, was thoroughly bewildering.  Losing his thread midway through the first chorus caused the loss of focus from which he couldn’t recover sadly.  From class geek to class act though, as Mali’s Rokia Traore delivered a beautiful set on the main stage.  With four outstanding albums to select songs from, Rokia delighted the audience and saved the evening’s concert from its dodgy start.  Over on Stage 2 the enigmatic CW Stoneking brought a taste of his own unique take on the blues, drawing from the Mississippi and Piedmont blues traditions, with the help of the Primitive Horn Orchestra.  With a memorable performance on the BBC4 Folk America: Hollerers, Stompers and Old Time Ramblers, the Australian blues singer brought to Cambridge some of that evocative spirit of a bygone age of jazz.  Established festival enthusiasts will recall Kris Kristofferson’s memorable performance at the Isle of Wight festival in 1970, when at one point the singer/actor leaned over towards band mate Norman Blake and quipped “I think they’re gonna kill us”, responding to the unrest in the crowd.  No such reception tonight as the country giant growled familiar song after song such as the timeless “Me and Bobbie McGee”, including a nod to former girlfriend Janis Joplin and the delicious “Help Me Make It Through the Night”, which couldn’t help remind us all of his unforgettably intimate Whistle Test performance with Rita Coolidge in the Seventies.  I wasn’t sure how this performance was going to work, but fortunately it went well.  In view of the fact that he is one of our great songwriters, the least it did was tick a box.  A choice of finishing act this year with either Lunasa on Stage 1 or Show of Hands on Stage 2, whilst Jackie Oates finished off the featured artists in the club tent including performances throughout the day from the likes of Jonny Kearney and Lucy Farrell, Megson, Sean Taylor and the Hub band.  I must mention in closing though that had the group of revellers, who had gathered in front of the closed Guinness tent to hear some late night drunken rebel singing, moved slightly to the right towards the campsite entrance, they would have witnessed some of the most delicious bluegrass music, courtesy of the young Devon siblings Carrivick Sisters, together with an extraordinary young mandolin player called Joe Tozer.  The main stage for you one day me lad.

Anna Coogan | The Wheelhouse, Wombwell | 07.08.10

Seattle-based singer-songwriter Anna Coogan arrived at the Wombwell Wheelhouse slightly frustrated by the fact that the airline had managed to lose her suitcase containing all her worldly belongings; well the essentials that a touring musician requires to get through a couple of weeks in a strange country at least.  Putting the horrible week thus far behind her temporarily, Anna instantly engaged with her audience tonight, performing songs from her debut solo album The Nocturnal Among Us as well as a few well chosen songs from her impressive back catalogue.  Starting with “Back to the World”, coincidentally the opening song from that album, Anna’s distinctive voice filled the little summer house, characteristically alternating between straight singing and falsetto with ease.  Perhaps Anna’s operatic training at the Mozarteum in Salzburg prepared her for the confident way in which she delivers a song or maybe it’s the influence of Alison Krauss, whose delicate voice provided Anna with gateway into the world of folk and acoustic music as opposed to her formal training, the threshold of which Anna crossed with some considerable ease.  Whilst “Dreaming My Life Away” demonstrates Anna’s command over melodic pop songs, it’s with the more thought provoking songs such as “Crooked Sea” that Anna excels.  The little promotional video Anna made for this song, filmed in the back of a VW bus, being probably the smallest imaginable house concert in the world, was probably more than anything else responsible for Anna’s Wheelhouse appearance tonight, Hedley Jones having seen the video, knowing how well that performance would transfer to his garden shed.  Originally from New England, it’s little wonder that the sea takes a major role in Anna’s growing repertoire.  From a community that shares some of the maritime music of Nova Scotia, it seems only second nature for her to include the likes of Gordon Lightfoot’s haunting “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”, which evokes the hazardous and unforgiving legends of the Great Lakes to the traditional “Golden Vanity”, which also demonstrates Anna’s fluent handling of traditional material.  Inspired by Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, “Indian Summer” deals with the darker side of human nature, picking up on one infamous murderer’s Native American background, as chronicled in Capote’s celebrated true life novel.  Written after reading the book alone, Anna confesses that it made her quite nervous for an entire weekend.  Despite Anna’s other nervousness, that of driving alone in a strange country, suffering from insomnia and having her suitcase in transit God knows where, the singer cheerfully tells of picking up some clothes as a temporary measure from an Edinburgh charity shop, namely Pets Need Vets, reasoning that pets are getting their vets whilst she is getting a change of clothes.  Anna remained professional, engaging and cheerful throughout.  Anna also provided a couple of new songs in her set, one of which was described as being under construction ‘with scaffolding all over it’, destined hopefully for a follow up to The Nocturnal Among Us.  Towards the end of the night, Anna brought out a couple of stunning songs from the new album Coins on Your Eyes and the beautiful “Holy Ghost of Texas”, a song that first appeared on her Glory album, revamped and re-vitalised for the new record, which together with a pretty faithful version of Springsteen’s evocative “My Hometown” made for a memorable set at the Wheelhouse.

Voices for Nature Concert | Old Moor, Dearne Valley | 08.08.10

Once again the RSPB Old Moor bird sanctuary in conjunction with the Dearne Valley Green Heart partnership invited a handful of singers and musicians from around the country as well as further a field in order to support an afternoon of fun and music and to raise funds for the nature reserve.  The first concert was so successful last year that it only seemed right to continue with a second concert this year and it looks likely that it will become an annual event, certainly if today was anything to go by.  Whilst people came from all around and settled themselves in and a round the specially erected marquees, some in the sun, some in the shade, MC Ray Hearne got things off to a great start with the apt “Now I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, one of the songs from his remarkable album The Wrong Sunshine.  Fortunately we were granted the right sunshine this afternoon as each of the guest acts took to the stage, presided over by Ray, event organiser Marie, who looked after everybody superbly well, and Hedley of course, who looked after the sound for the afternoon, together with a whole bunch of volunteers from the sanctuary providing a warm welcome and excellent catering facilities.  Returning once again to support the concert was WW.Combo, a local trio featuring this reviewer, flanked by two giants, Liam Wilkinson who provided two self-penned rights of passage songs, from childhood to adulthood with “Crocodile Island” and “The Land That Never Comes”, whilst bassist/pal Gary Wells took care of the bottom end, all three of us endeavoring not to scare the birds away.  Fresh from her successful appearance at the Wombwell Wheelhouse the previous night, and suitably refreshed after being reunited with all her worldly belongings that had unfortunately been missing in transit for almost a week, Seattle-based singer-songwriter Anna Coogan delighted the audience this afternoon with a selection of songs from her current album The Nocturnal Among Us, such as “Back to the World”, “Crooked Sea” and “Coins on Your eyes”.  With a clear and distinctive vocal delivery and sensitive guitar accompaniment, Anna also provided a couple of well chosen covers to complete her set.  Local musicians Katriona Gilmore and Jamie Roberts provided a sneak preview of what’s to come on their new album, the follow up to the excellent Shadows and Half Light due out in autumn, with complex arrangements of the traditional “The Shepherd and his Fife” and Jamie’s “All I’ve Known”, to the more familiar material from their existing repertoire, Katriona’s heartfelt ode to failing memory “Travelling in Time”, the updated take on one of Stephen Foster’s songs “Susannah” and Jamie’s notes on chronic procrastination in “So Long”.  After a short break where real ale and sandwiches was being served by the Old Moor staff, together with the usual mingling of friends, Ray Hearne kicked off the second half with another song from The Wrong Sunshine, the anthemic “Things to Say” going on to introduce each of the final few acts in turn in his usual charismatic and light-hearted fashion.  Originally Phil Beer had generously offered his services but was unable to make it to the concert due to unexpected illness.  So at short notice the Teeside husband and wife team Megson stepped in to help out.  Stu and Debbie Hannah are no strangers to these parts having appeared at the Barnsley Acoustic Roots Festival earlier this year and once again the couple woo’d their audience with a set of thoroughly engaging songs from their steadily expanding repertoire.  Performing songs from their new album The Long Shot, including “The Last Man in the Factory”, “Two Match Lads”, “The Cabman” and the title song, with it’s humorous take on something close to this couple’s heart, football, the duo delighted the audience, if not only with their superb musicianship, their good looks or their song writing credentials, then certainly with their beautiful harmonies.  Stu and Debbie, in standing in for Phil Beer, not only experienced a warm and receptive audience in the heart of the Dearne Valley, but also took the opportunity to take their pooch Moog for a walk in the beautiful surroundings.  Staying with the North East, Jez Lowe was up next to deliver some of the stuff the singer-songwriter is known for; good well-crafted songs for and about the everyman.  With “Will of the People”, “The Judas Bus” and “Jack Common’s Anthem”, Jez soon had the audience in the palm of his hand.  Like Megson before him, Jez also provided a couple of snapshots of this sporting life with a couple of related songs “It’s a Champion Life” and the “Ex-Pitman’s Pot Holing Club Quiz Team” bringing a smile to the Old Moor audience.  Completing an excellent afternoon of fun and music came the dual forces of fiddle maestro Anna Esslemont and percussion genius Cormac Byrne, augmented by Nick Waldock on bass and guitar.  It’s virtually impossible to categorise Uiscedwr other than to put them in that box marked ‘special’, a trio whose chief responsibility is to dazzle with their dextrous playing, particularly during one of Cormac’s breath taking bodhran solos.  With a set of songs and tunes, although the term ‘tunes’ is fantastically inadequate, the band stopped everyone in their tracks, even the birds, for an hour of deeply intuitive playing.  Despite Anna’s Welsh and Cormac’s Irish background, it was lovely to hear Anna praise her newfound home on the outskirts of Holmfirth paying homage to the county she has fallen in love with, with her favourite song “Yorkshire Tea”.  The second Voices for Nature concert was once again a success, not only in terms of the musical content and the welcoming attitude of the staff but also in the fact that since last year’s memorable concert, new members from the folk community have added themselves to the Old Moor membership and have found a delightful place to visit, which they would otherwise probably have never known about.

Chloe Hall Trio | The Wheelhouse, Wombwell | 12.09.10

In lieu of the Australian flag, which was still in the post by the time support singer Gerry McNeice opened proceedings at the Wheelhouse in Wombwell tonight, the white rose of God’s Own County flew in its place, prompting discussions during the course of the evening on the subject of which county actually won the Wars of the Roses?  We Yorkshiremen have stubbornly short memories when it comes to some subjects!  The Chloe Hall Trio hail from a place that couldn’t be further away from our 15th Century punch ups, unless you climb aboard a space ship is.  Melbourne, Australia is home to all three members of this tight little outfit, led by singer-songwriter Chloe Hall and supported by two musicians, Chris Milden on bass (and puns!) and Teal Bain-Roben on percussion.  Performing songs predominantly from Chloe’s latest album Outside, her second full length record, the two male companions of the road provided much more than a tight rhythm section, but some of the most deliciously harmonious singing ever to be heard in the confines of Hedley’s shed.  Starting with the title song from the new album, the tall ever smiling singer had to use little effort in getting the audience to join in on the song’s uplifting chorus.  “It’s Not Too Late to Change” addresses the ongoing difficulty a government has in apologising for its past, in this case the treatment of the indigenous peoples of Australia.  As a former Alzheimer’s Australia worker, Chloe used her subsequent artistic credentials to recreate in her poetry, part of an interview with a carer who describes the moment he first laid eyes on his wife, the woman he now cares for in late stage dementia.  “Dance With Me” is a beautiful song, which perfectly describes what it means to care for someone.  This reviewer’s usual aversion to anything by Sting was temporarily suspended with the trio’s version of “Message in a Bottle”, which closed the first set.  Chloe’s own particular metaphor for turbulent waters is evident in the infectious Shipwreck, a highly personal song, which remains one of her own live favourites, not least for the highly contageous chorus. The same could be said for the “Don’t Say Goodbye”, which received a thunderous applause from the packed Wheelhouse audience.  Finishing on a note of optimism with a deserved encore, “Born in the Morning” reminds us all that tomorrow is another day and to make the most of it.  With practically every one of the songs from the new album performed during the course of the two sets, as well as a memorable Police cover and a debut UK performance of a brand new song, which addresses our aesthetically tainted landscapes, the Chloe Hall Trio joined the impressive list of Wheelhouse success stories.

Corinne West and Kelly Joe Phelps | The Rock, Maltby | 17.09.10

With two highly respected solo careers behind them, Corinne West and Kelly Joe Phelps have joined forces to play a few shows as a perfectly complimentary duo.  Tonight, the two musicians reached day five of their current twenty-nine date British tour, playing two outstanding sets at The Rock in Maltby to a predictably packed house.  For pre-gig Internet research geeks (this reviewer included of course), the intuitive musicianship came as no surprise, having witnessed their first outing as a duo via their performance at Shoenberg’s Guitar shop in Tiburon, California, where they could be seen performing “Amelia”, “Lady Luck” and “The River’s Fool”, all of which were aired once again tonight.  There is no doubting Corinne’s exceptional ear for good guitarists, having already toured the UK with dobro maestro Doug Cox last year.  With Kelly Joe Phelps however, the singer-songwriter has not only found a first rate musician to work alongside but has also discovered a kindred spirit, a musician equipped with a clear understanding of her back catalogue of songs.  At times during the course of the concert, it was evident that the two musicians were so thoroughly engaged in their highly improvisational musical interaction, especially during some lengthy codas, that the duo may well have temporarily forgotten the audience was there.  Their combined love of the acoustic guitar is almost tangible, so much so, that with a little help from the duo’s highly animated performance, sweeping movements back and forth, up and down, it seemed their guitars were sharing a very private and intimate moment, sometimes in mid-air.  When Kelly Joe Phelps burst onto the scene some sixteen years ago as a fresh-faced baseball hat with a guitar and with a superb debut album Lead Me On, many of us were knocked out by his bottleneck style guitar playing, a style that has been very much abandoned by this gifted guitarist apart from a brief hiatus on his most current album, the instrumental Western Bell.  Despite many calls for its return, Kelly Joe sticks to his chosen path, that of a fine flat pick guitarist, a style that compliments Corinne’s songs superbly well.  With many of Corinne’s best loved songs coming out to play tonight, including “Mother to Child”, “Cowgirl Lullaby” and a superb reading of the sublime “Angel” accompanied by some weeping guitar runs by Kelly Joe, the current tour also offered an opportunity for the duo to perform a couple of brand new songs including “Trouble No More”.  Finishing with the traditional “Lass of Loch Royale” (If I Prove False to Thee), the couple left the stage without returning, despite calls for an encore.  With sixteen songs performed, some familiar, one or two not so, it was probably deemed enough to constitute a perfectly good night of well-crafted songs.

Bernard Wrigley | The Wheelhouse, Wombwell | 25.09.10

Bernard Wrigley considers himself first and foremost a singer of songs, despite his many other varied talents; a fine guitarist and concertina player, a raconteur and comedian, an actor and celebrity.  Familiar to all who have followed the soaps over the years as well as being a well-known character actor in many a TV comedy show or film, Bernard is most comfortable in front of an audience with his guitar, his bass concertina and the wits he was born with.  Tonight the ‘Bolton Bullfrog’ was slightly distracted by his surroundings as he played at the Wombwell Wheelhouse.  As he sang a handful of familiar songs and read from some of his poetry books, you sensed that he was imagining one of these summer houses at the bottom his own garden.  Such is the manner of the observational comic, ever aware of his surroundings as well as his audience.  With an almost nostalgic trip down memory lane, the set tonight included a medley of songs the young Bernard would try to sing many years ago when he was just starting out, sitting on the edge of his bed strumming his Russian Cossack trying out such songs as The Four Seasons’ “Sherry”, Helen Shapiro’s “You Don’t Know” or even Astrud Gilberto’s “The Girl From Ipanena”.  Mixing the unlikely genres of Northern seaside postcard humour and American country blues, Bernard allows himself to blend the two seamlessly with songs like Steve Morris’s “Some Bugger from Yorkshire”, Fats Waller’s “Your Feet’s Too Big” and Dominic Behan’s “Liverpool Lou” not to mention advice on what to do if the binman’s been and been and missed your bin!  Finishing with the “Celebrity Blues”, Bernard treats us to a few blues impressions from the likes of Patrick Moore and Roy Hattersley, and with a mouthful of water, gave the front row an unexpected surprise.  Another fine performance from one of our most enduring home grown personalities.

The Old Dance School | The Grapes, Sheffield | 04.10.10

Huddled together tightly on the small stage at the Grapes tonight, was the seven members of Birmingham-based outfit The Old Dance School.  Led by the seated figure of Robin Beatty on guitar, the band consists of Helen Lancaster and Samantha Norman on violins, Laura Carter on woodwind, Aaron Diaz on trumpet and flugelhorn, Adam Jarvis on double bass and last but certainly not least, the brilliant Tom Chapman on cajon and cymbals.  In a relatively short period of time, this collective, all from the Birmingham Conservatoire, has managed to find its own unique sound, which at no point feels like a band going through the motions. Inventive, clever and completely cemented together musically, the seven piece mini-orchestra deliver the goods on time, in time and in perfect condition.  Pretty used to stages of all sizes, the band acknowledged the fact that The Grapes is a relatively small stage for such a big band, although Helen Lancaster informed me prior to the show that “we’ve played smaller”.  The small upstairs room of The Grapes in the heart of Sheffield city centre, actually added to the atmosphere tonight with every seat in the house taken, leaving only the small area in front of the stage for late comers to perch themselves upon the floor.  Tom Chapman jokingly referred to the place as a “wonderful, wonderful dive”, which was taken in the spirit it was intended.  Starting with “The Envelope” from the band’s current album Forecast, each musician in turn demonstrated the very thing that makes this band so special; the sheer dexterity of playing and cohesion between the seven disparate musicians, very much in evidence before the first number was through.  Add to this the joy of witnessing a band in a live setting, whose music had only previously been known through their recorded work, the secrets are revealed before our very eyes, such as Aaron Diaz’s atmospheric note-less trumpet effects at the start of “The Enlli Light”.  Who would’ve thought?  For a room completely packed with people, it was rewarding to hear a pin drop during the more delicate songs and tunes, Beatty’s gentle “Strange Highway” for instance or the sublime “Little Lewis”, written and performed beautifully by Helen Lancaster.  Tom Chapman’s cajon was one of the highlights of the overall performance, a key player in this band.  Creating tension, suspense and excitement, all at the same time, would not under normal circumstances be the responsibility of the drummer, but in the hands of Chapman, the cajon comes alive with dynamic sonic results.  Even the bank of lights hanging from the ceiling above the audience was also very much in tune with the band’s music, spookily coming on and off on cue throughout the performance, with seemingly no human intervention.  If you happen to be a fully paid up member of the folk music purist club, with an inherent aversion to the complexities of Jazz, Aaron Diaz’s trumpet interludes just might have you toddling off to the record shop to pick up some Chet Baker first thing in the morning; such is the appeal of this sort of playing in a folk music setting.  If Bellowhead blast out the brass as if it’s going out of fashion, then Diaz opts for the more mellow modal jazz that made Miles Davis a household name.  Robin Beatty couldn’t be more perfect as a front man in this outfit, with his distinctively fluid singing style and mature song writing credentials.  If “Strange Highway” demonstrates Robin’s command over melodic structure, then Sydney Carter’s “John Ball” and the traditional “Glenogie” further demonstrate an understanding of interpretation and arrangement.  After an encore of the “Convenience Set” (The Broken Pledge/The Wayward Son/Convenience Reel) the band left the stage and walked out into their audience, leaving by the back door to rapturous applause and calls for even more.  I certainly welcomed more; in fact, they could’ve played all night as far as I was concerned.  A real breath of fresh air and a band to watch out for during next years festival season.

Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo | The Wheelhouse, Wombwell | 08.10.10

Hedley Jones must’ve been scratching his head when he surveyed the proposed stage area at his little Wheelhouse tonight, before the arrival of the all-female four-piece acoustic collective, Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo. Being more than familiar with the venue already, I too had my concerns about how two bowed instruments and an expanding and contracting piano accordion would contend with the confined space.  Ah I thought, it’s Hedley Jones, he’ll manage it somehow, immediately discarding all my initial concerns.  Emily Barker, Jo Silverston, Anna Jenkins and Gill Sandell did eventually squeeze into that space after a small deal of stage adjustment and went on to play a couple of superb sets together before a packed sell-out Wheelhouse audience.  I would like to have said ‘standing room only’ but there wasn’t even anywhere else to stand.  With Jo on both cello and saw, Anna on violin, Emily on both standard and resonator guitar (and harmonica) and Gill on accordion and flute, the band played pretty much acoustically, with only the enhancement of Emily’s vocal and guitar, courtesy of a stripped down PA system.  The other instruments were loud enough to make an evenly balanced sound around the venue.  If anything, the beautiful harmony vocals provided by Jo, Anna and Gill, were slightly on the quiet side behind Emily’s enhanced voice, but it certainly didn’t spoil anything.  With Emily taking the lead on most songs, the mic was necessary to rise above the cello, fiddle and accordion.  Once you do hear the collective sound of these instruments in the hands of these four women, either acoustically or through a PA, it soon becomes apparent that The Red Clay Halo is a perfect vehicle for Emily’s songs.  Starting with “All Love Knows” from their current album Despite the Snow, the band soon relaxed into their stride with each of the musicians completely in tune with their instruments and their role within the band.  Jo Silverston’s cello is a familiar sound on the music scene and not just on the folk scene, but the music scene in general, most notably as part of the expanded Unthanks collective.  Her bow was equally at home on both cello and musical saw tonight, showcased particularly well on Emily’s “Bloated Blistered Aching Heart”, again from their current album.  For anyone acquainted with Kenneth Brannagh’s brooding unshaven and teary-eyed Swedish detective Kurt Wallander, as he roams the golden wheat fields of Ystad solving grisly murders, the sound of Emily Barker’s ethereal voice will be familiar, as heard over the opening titles to the BBC drama.  With a couple of subtle changes to the lyrics, “Nostalgia” returns to its original form during tonight’s performance, with ‘Melbourne’ and ‘Johnson Street’ taking their rightful place once again, instead of whatever Emily was required to sing for the telly.  As we patiently await the release of Emily’s new album Almanac, we we’re treated to a taster of what’s to come with a performance of the band’s new single download, available at the Wheelhouse tonight as a postcard, each one containing the download code.  “Little Deaths” has all the retro feel of late Sixties Brit-folk, Bert Jansch and Pentangle and the like, as opposed to the band’s familiar leaning towards Americana in songs such as “Blackbird”, “Fields of June” and “Disappear”.  With the imminent release of Gill Sandell’s own debut solo album Tarry Awhile, Emily swapped places in order for the sweet-voiced singer to perform one of the numbers from the album, the John Douglas song “Wild Mountainside”, which had the Wheelhouse in complete silence throughout.  Emily also pays tribute to another songwriter and makes no bones about being a ‘huge fan of Neil Young’, turning in a pretty faithful version of “Look Out For My Love” from the Young’s Comes a Time period.  Jo and Anna were also given space to demonstrate their virtuosity on cello and violin respectively on the odd set of tunes incorporating that old favourite “Drowsy Maggie”.  Closing with a timely sing-a-long song, a fine interpretation of Mike Waterson’s “Bright Phoebus”, the band returned to the stage for a final encore, another set of foot-tapping tunes to send everyone on their way.  Once again, the Wheelhouse was treated to a top class band of top notch musicians with support courtesy of Sarah Horn and James Cudworth, two relatively new faces on the local folk scene and a duo to watch out for in the future.

Folk Delivering Hope | The Regent Hotel, Doncaster | 10.10.10

The third Folk Delivering Hope concert once again brought together an impressive line-up of singers and musicians, all of whom descended upon The Regent Hotel in Doncaster’s town centre.  The hotel has enjoyed notable links with the music business for many years, not least for being the hotel that looked after The Beatles when they played next door at the tragically now demolished (to make way for a car park seemingly) and much missed Gaumont Theatre.  With Eileen Myles at the helm, Doncaster once again played host to seven outstanding acts, some from as far afield as Australia and Atlanta, Georgia.  All the guest artists gave their time for free in order to help raise funds for local charities under the Folk Delivering Hope banner, which is starting to make a name for itself in the town and surrounding area.  Folk Delivering Hope also registered today’s concert as one of the many concerts taking place around the world in the name of the Daniel Pearl Foundation.  The concert started with a message from President Obama, read out on stage, whose letter was sent to organisers of such events during this month long celebration.  The message was clear; music is good, therefore enjoy it.  After an introduction by Folk Delivering Hope organiser and fund-raiser Eileen Myles, who explained the aims and future plans of the charity, that good music began with a relative newcomer.  Making his Doncaster debut, young London-based singer-songwriter and guitarist Fabian Holland got things underway with a short set of self-penned songs including “The Landlord’s Daughter” and “Home”, both incorporating his own distinctive style of finger-picked guitar.  Fabian generously cut his opening set short in order for the following two acts to play and then head over to their respective evening concerts in Liverpool and Wakefield.  The first of these acts to drop by enroute to their own gigs was Australian singer-songwriter Emily Barker with her band the Red Clay Halo, featuring Jo Silverston on cello, Anna Jenkins on violin and Gill Sandell on accordion and flute.  The band had played at the Wombwell Wheelhouse the night before and had just enough time to appear at this concert before heading over to Liverpool for their next gig.  With a set that included a selection of songs from Emily’s established repertoire including “Blackbird” and the haunting “Nostalgia”, the theme song from the BBC Drama Wallander, together with a couple of new songs including the band’s new single “Little Deaths” and starting with a Neil Young cover “Look Out For My Love”, the band demonstrated just how sweet acoustic music can be in the right hands.  There’s also a sense of fun and camaraderie within the ranks of this band, with Emily at one point being reduced to the giggles as Gill Sandell struggled to equip the singer with her harmonica rack, after she forgot to put it on before starting “This Is How It’s Meant to Be”.  The effort nevertheless proved futile upon discovering that Gill had got the harmonica upside down.  Gill was given a more serious spotlight as she performed one of the songs from her own debut solo album Tarry Awhile, the John Douglas song “Wild Mountainside”, which was both delicate and beautiful.  Emily and Co finished their set with another song from the brilliant Despite the Snow album, “Disappear”.  The most eagerly anticipated set of the day came from the second band to have dropped in enroute to elsewhere.  Atlanta-based quartet Girlyman, whose intuitive harmonies and fine sense of melody, transferred effortlessly from record to live performance with ten well chosen examples of their craft.  Starting with “Easy Bake Ovens”, from the band’s most recent album Everything’s Easy, with all its Watergate-era references, the quartet of Doris Muramatsu (guitar, banjo), Tylan Greenstein (guitar, percussion), Nate Borofsky (guitar) and relative newcomer and ex-Po’ Girl JJ Jones (drums), performed an astonishingly tight set, exposing their command over three part harmony and melodic song structures throughout their forty-five minute set, which in all honesty, seemed more like just five.  Weaving a set made up of both up-tempo songs such as “On the Air”, to the sensitive “Say Goodbye”, “Maori” and the wonderfully moving “Everything’s Easy”, the band showed their versatility as individual song writers as well as first rate singers and musicians.  At one point the audience was introduced to an entirely new genre in music, Girlygrass, with Doris’s banjo-led “Kittery Tide” from their Little Star album.  Returning for their well-deserved encore, the original three members of the band performed an a cappella song in front of the stage they had just left, with a song that truly demonstrated the best of their vocal prowess, the utterly gorgeous “Up to the Sea”, as JJ looked on in silent appreciation.  After a short break, Fabian Holland returned to the stage to complete the performance he started at the beginning of the concert, with a few more delicate songs from his repertoire, played in an emotive yet thoroughly assured style.  The York-based singer-songwriter Holly Taymar, along with multi-instrumentalist partner Chris Bilton, gave a relaxed performance of self-penned songs such as favourites “Bush Song” and “Toes”, together with a couple of covers that were possibly as varied as it gets; Joni Mitchell’s sublime “A Case of You” and Outkast’s “Hey Ya!”  Holly and Chris also provided a couple of newer songs “For the Sake of it” and “Beautiful Days”.  Often jokingly likened to “Stairway to Heaven”, Holly’s song “Went to War” was this evening prefaced by the first verse of the Zep classic.  Holly’s infectious personality brought a smile to the Regent audience as well as a handful of beautifully executed song performances.  John Tams refers to Dave Wilson as a ‘magnificent songwriter’, an opinion that makes perfect sense once you’ve heard a handful of Dave’s songs.  As a vehicle for those songs, who better to team up with Dave than his own life partner, his wife Kip Winter, whose versatile vocal credentials help bring those songs alive, leaving a lasting impression.  Kip brought a taste of that vocal dexterity to the Regent this evening, despite being unfortunately plagued with laryngitis for the entire week leading up to this performance.  With a selection from the duo’s soon to be released album Milestones, including “Turn Turn Turn” and “What Mother’s Do”, dedicated to Dave’s own mum, together with one or two from their more established repertoire, such as “Matter of Time”, “One Step From Heaven” and the optimistic feel-good finisher “This Day Is Mine”, the duo demonstrated professionalism and experience as seasoned performers.  “Storm Around Tumbledown”, probably Dave’s most revered song, was even generously given over to Anthony John Clarke to sing in the last hour of the concert.  Singer-songwriter Rebekah Findlay provided the penultimate performance of the concert, making her Folk Delivering Hope debut with a set of songs ranging from Seth Lakeman’s “Farewell My Love” to Damien Rice’s “Volcano”, with a handful of songs from her debut album Northern Skies.  Alternating between fiddle and guitar, Rebekah performed a good cross section of her repertoire including two of her own songs, the beautifully evocative “Luskentyre by the Sea” and the title song from her album as well as the traditional “The Blacksmith”.  Unafraid to tackle the lengthy Tom Bliss ballad “Violin”, Rebekah had one more surprise up her sleeve.  Just when we thought Holly Taymar had performed the biggest eyebrow raiser of the day with a folked-up version of Outkast’s “Hey Ya!”, Rebekah startled the audience further with her own gentle interpretation of “You’re the One That I Want” (yes the very one!).  With husband Lee joining her on stage for the final song, a version of the strangely inexplicable yet utterly enjoyable Damien Rice song “Volcano”, Rebekah once again won a few new admirers in Doncaster tonight.  The finale of today’s concert came courtesy of Belfast-born, now Liverpool-based singer-songwriter, raconteur and storyteller Anthony John Clarke, whose mixture of songs and stories, peppered with his own views on the world we live in, reached an attentive audience at The Regent tonight.  With audience favourites such as “Tuesday Night is Karaoke Night” and “Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich”, mixed with the tender “The Broken Years” and a fitting tribute to the songwriting of Dave Wilson with the aforementioned “Storm Around Tumbledown”, whilst its author looked on, Anthony John Clarke performed a fitting finale to a great day of music, entertainment and worthwhile fund raising.

Ellen and the Escapades | The Boardwalk, Sheffield | 18.10.10

Leeds-based Ellen and the Escapades kicked off their very first UK tour at the Boardwalk in Sheffield tonight with a confident performance, despite having one man down due to illness.  Depping for bassist Andy Calder was fellow Leeds-based singer-songwriter, drummer and all round good bloke Gary Stewart, who learned the entire repertoire over the seven days leading up to this gig, whilst learning to play the bass at the same time.  Promoting their new Of All the Times EP, which was released yesterday, just in time for the start of the tour, the band played an all too short forty-minute set, headlining a showcase night featuring two other bands, together with a solo spot from the aforementioned Gary Stewart, who kicked the night off singing a selection from his debut album Boy Cries Wolf.  All four songs from the new EP were aired tonight including the instantly catchy “Preying On Your Mind” to the blues-drenched and utterly soulful “Yours To Keep”, together with performances of “Run”, “The Promise”, “When the Tide Creeps In” and “Nothing To Lose”, featuring the wizardry of Californian guitarist Jeff Schneider.  Completing the Escapades line-up was Chris Quick on keyboards and harmonica and James Warrender on drums.  It has to be said that the focal point of the band is the enigmatic Ellen Smith, whose unique voice gives the band its distinctive style.  Quiet, unassuming and rather shy, the singer seems most comfortable when stepping up to the microphone to deliver her songs rather than engaging in too much conversation or casual banter.  Earlier in the evening Gary invited Ellen up on stage during his set to duet on his Spanish-influenced “Behind the Door”, precisely as she did in the studio a few months ago.  This was probably the first and only moment during the night that the audience afforded the musicians a bit of quiet.  Once the song started and the mobile phone was located and switched off, the room fell into a moment of appreciative silence.  The two bands that were sandwiched between Gary’s opening set and Ellen and the Escapades headlining performance, raised the volume and as a consequence the volume of the chit-chat increased.  I may be old fashioned, or maybe just old, but if you raise your voice above that of the singer, then you are rude and should probably be in another room playing pool.  With that slight criticism, it only leaves me to ponder upon which Ellen and the Escapades gig I will be trying to catch next; I want to hear THEM and not the girls and boys out on the razzle.

Eric Taylor | The Wheelhouse, Wombwell | 23.10.10

An evening with singer-songwriter Eric Taylor offers much more than a handful of songs and a joke or two in between.  Part songs, part theatrical performance, an Eric Taylor show has the potential to take you places you only ever dreamed of going, if you allow yourself to become lost in the vast American landscape that is, a landscape inhabited by carnival folk, Kerouac characters and Native American legends.  As Jack Kerouac and the other ‘Beats’ of the 1950s took us on wild zigzagging car journeys across America through their poetry and prose, Taylor does something similar with his stream of consciousness performances, something that likewise enables you to forget where you are momentarily.  Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, later finding his spiritual home in Houston, Texas, Eric Taylor has subsequently become known as one of the key players in the Texas songwriter’s circle that includes such notable figures as the late Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Steve Earle, Lyle Lovett and Nanci Griffith.  Married to Griffith at a pivotal time in country music that saw a cluster of new emerging singer-songwriters in the early 1980s, Taylor always felt more comfortable writing than performing and has subsequently gone on to find his niche as a fine storyteller, playwright and poet who is known to embellish his rich repertoire of memorable songs with an informative yet laid back narrative.  With his beret-covered head just dodging the rafters of the Wheelhouse tonight, the tall guitar player performed a selection of songs from his own impressive songbook, starting with “Carnival Jim and Jean”, immediately drawing his audience into a fascinating world of characters from the outskirts of town; the carnival people, midgets and knife throwers, cotton-candy makers and carnival dogs all driving Buicks.  For those along for the ride, it was going to be a thrill; for those not entirely on board, it was going to be presumably a long ride.  Paying homage to his friend Townes Van Zandt, Taylor prefaced “Highway Kind” with a highly probably tale, recalling the time in Houston’s Old Quarter, when Townes was asked to play a happy song amidst all the depressing stuff, to which the legendary songwriter allegedly responded, “these are the happy songs, you don’t wanna hear the sad ones”.  These stories are told with complete conviction, in an almost theatrical manner.  Weaving intriguing tales such as buying trinkets from Johnny Cash’s mother to meeting notable sub-culture literary figures including Naked Lunch author William Burroughs, the poet Allen Ginsburg and Jack Kerouac’s daughter Jan, author of Baby Driver, Taylor keeps your interest throughout.  Whether any of its true or not is unimportant; it’s the escapism that holds your attention, yet I suspect most of it is indeed true.  Referring to his eponymous titled album as ‘the old ‘95 record’, one of which was brought along to be signed by the singer tonight, Taylor retraced the steps of Kerouac’s anti-hero in that album’s opening song Dean Moriarty, indicating once again the enormous influence of On The Road on our key songwriters over the last five decades.  Likewise, Taylor thinks himself privileged to have been given the chance to travel between New York City and Texas, working with the likes of Dave Van Ronk, Eric Von Schmidt and Jean Richie; although he confesses that it came at a price, with heroin also becoming a huge part of his life.  “Whorehouse Mirrors” and “Pawnshop Knives”, “Manhattan Mandolin” and “Prison Movie” all stand testament to a life lived, each imbued with candid honesty.  As a survivor of recent heart surgery, Taylor returns to form once again with an insatiable appitite for travelling and performing, possibly against good advice.  In an almost cathartic performance, which touched on confessionals surrounding heroin addiction together with hints towards alcoholism, a supposed innate suspicion of mandolin players and jokes about Tom Russell, which resulted in nervous giggles from some members of the audience, Taylor’s eventful life was once again put on display for all to bear witness to, interspersed with a handful of honest and enduring songs.  Great to see him back.

Sharon King and the Reckless Angels | The Wheelhouse, Wombwell | 30.10.10

With the Wheelhouse decked out in all manner of Halloween decorations including luminous skeletons, bat lights and something strange on each of the windows, it was reassuring to be protected from the impending darkness outside by three veritable angels, however reckless they may be.  Edinburgh-based singer-songwriter Sharon King made her Wombwell debut tonight at the Wheelhouse, joined by Laura-Beth Salter on mandolin and Daisy Costello on cello, who together brought their own unique brand of transatlantic Scots-Americana to this decidedly warm and cosy summer house, just as the chills of winter approach us.  Sharon took up her familiar position centre stage, armed only with her small and handy acoustic guitar, flanked by her two angels, in order to perform songs from each of her three studio albums, 24 Hours, Quiddity and her most recent release Reckless Angels.  During an almost totally acoustic set, save for Sharon’s vocal mic and some slight enhancement on her guitar, the trio delivered a handful of self-penned songs, the bulk of which were from the current album, including the country influenced “Shiny Shoes”, the soulfully re-vamped “High Times” and the foot tapping “Cairn O Mohr”, a song with an Appalachian feel but about a deceitfully intoxicating local brew from north of the border.  The tempo-changing “Twinkle”, which contains the reference to the Reckless Angels within its lyric, coincidentally reflected the fireworks going on outside, mirroring all the flashing, banging and twinkling in the night sky above.  Tonight the song selections were interspersed with tales from Sharon’s particular neck of the woods, not least the stories from the beautiful Hebridean Isle of Eigg, a place Sharon is very much in tune with.  It wasn’t all familiar stuff though and the trio introduced one or two new as yet unrecorded or at least unreleased songs, both with a distinctive maritime feel, “Fisher King” and “Leviathan”.  Sharon also revisited her earlier album Quiddity performing both “Caroline” and “Wide Open” but with new instrumentation as neither Laura-Beth nor Daisy played on the original recordings, nor was Sharon able to play guitar due to an injury at the time.  Laura-Beth, also of all-female Scots band The Shee, was not only on hand to play some delicately gentle bluegrass mandolin, but also provided some beautiful harmony vocals along with cellist Daisy Costello, both of whom form part of the twenty-strong pool of musicians known in Sharon King circles as the Nevernever Cowboys.  With the perfectly complimentary instrumentation of guitar, cello and mandolin as well as three superbly aligned harmony vocals, there seemed little point in upping the tempo to get everyone in a party mood, choosing rather to keep everything pretty cool and mellow; everyone was pretty much in a mellow mood and therefore these delightfully mellow songs were given some delightfully mellow treatment.  Even the more rhythmic songs such as “Road to Siam” and the highly infectious reggae influenced “Lady Tuesday”, with Laura-Beth’s deliciously dexterous mandolin solo, maintained that distinctively mellow mood throughout.  With an encore of “24 Hours”, the title song from Sharon’s debut solo album, with its reference to the time it takes to get from Edinburgh to Melbourne, where the husband she was missing at the time was working (as Barry Humphreys said recently, that’s five Nicholas Cage movies – makes you want to get there sooner!), the trio left their mark on a suitably pleased Wheelhouse audience.

John Reilly | The Wheelhouse, Wombwell | 13.11.10

The Wheelhouse was full to capacity tonight as Liverpool-born Boy on a Dolphin frontman John Reilly, together with Canadian collaborator and tour companion Lewis Nitikman, made their debut at the small South Yorkshire venue.  Selecting songs from John’s forthcoming solo album, together with a couple from his solo back catalogue and of course one or two from the Boy on a Dolphin repertoire, both musicians were on fine form despite the Canadian showing signs of seasonal flu symptoms.  With a small set up of two keyboards, an acoustic guitar and a few bits of percussion, John and Lewis played a couple of intimate sets of basically stripped down versions of songs from their steadily growing repertoire including new songs “Living With It”, “This City”, “Frozen”, “Arrow” and “XL5”, some of which were available tonight on the new Frozen EP, an indication of what’s to come on the new album release due out in April 2011.  The new single “Deep and Blue”, which is currently Proper Distribution’s track of the week, was also performed with delicate precision.  “Concrete Oceans” recalls Reilly’s childhood home of Liverpool, once a bustling northern port, the Mersey now regretfully described in terms of ghost ships, eloquently delivered in this poignant song by one of the city’s sons.  As a songwriting team, John and Lewis have developed a highly productive symbiotic relationship, exemplified in songs such as the staggeringly beautiful “Wait for Me”.  It wasn’t all new material tonight though by any means, with the inclusion of a couple of songs from John’s debut solo album, the title track “Tea Cosy Hat” together with “Galway Bay” as well as Boy on a Dolphin’s “Life’s a Blast”.  Equally at home with modern standards such as Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” or jazz-inflected groovers like Jesse Winchester’s “Isn’t That So”, which featured a fine vocal by Lewis Nitikman together with a beautifully informed piano accompaniment, John is unafraid to venture into the realms of World Music with “Nou o N’Mazei”, the opening song from Boy on a Dolphin’s debut album WOords Inside, co-written with Ivory Coast percussionist Maurice Zou.  For the pure feel-good factor, Stephen Stills’ anthemic “Love the One You’re With” serves both as great sing-along chorus number as well as another indication of Reilly’s versatility as a singer.  Introduced as coming from an ‘underestimated and unappreciated artist’, or to be more precise, ‘a singer songwriter who doesn’t get the credit he deserves’, Reilly’s performance of Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Nothing Rhymed” reminded the audience once again of a perfect example of fine songwriting.  Elton John was also represented with two songs, “Rocket Man”, which unbeknownst to the audience was simultaneously being murdered by a contestant on the X Factor and the lesser known “I Feel Like a Bullet (In the Gun of Robert Ford)”, both songs from a period of the superb songwriting, courtesy of the fruitful partnership of Elton John and Bernie Taupin.  With a double encore consisting of the Hoagy Carmichael/Stuart Gorrell standard “Georgia on My Mind”, quickly followed by a superb reading of John and Lewis’s joint composition “You’re Not Alone”, again destined for the new album, the two musicians completed a thoroughly entertaining and song-filled night with more than just a touch of class.

Ian Siegal and Ben Prestage | Fibbers, York | 15.11.10

Fibbers provided a feast of blues tonight from both sides of the Atlantic courtesy of British bluesman Ian Siegal and Florida-born one man band Ben Prestage, who between them brought the newly refurbished York venue alive with the sound of tastefully selected rural blues and country-flavoured songs from the backwoods.  Ian Siegal has gained a reputation as a first class British bluesman, both as the leader of his own energy-driven blues band and as a soloist.  His current album Broadside has been named Mojo blues album of the year, the first such accolade for a non-American artist.  Straddling the boundaries of blues and country music, Siegal finds himself equally at home with Hank Williams as with Muddy Waters; “they’re all bluesmen” he insists.  Re-releasing the acoustic album The Dust (2008) especially for this current tour, which reflects the sort of material played during these solo shows, Siegal chose “The Silver Spurs” from the album as his opening number tonight.  With a fine cross section of songs mixing up country ballads such as Guy Clark’s “The Cape”, Kris Kristofferson’s “Silver Tongued Devil” and Townes Van Zandt’s “Tecumseh Valley” with Muddy Waters’ “Nineteen Years Old” and the traditional “Mary Don’t You Weep”, Siegal manages to keep his audience enthralled as he growls, howls and serenades in equal measure.  Making up for several nights of unfulfilled Tom Waits requests, Ian performed a fifteen minute medley, which included “Hold On”, “Jockey Full of Bourbon”, “Looking for the Heart of Saturday Night”, “Rain Dogs” and “The House Where Nobody Lives”, paying homage to an obvious personal favourite songwriter.  After an impressive warm up set from the young York-based singer/guitarist Mark Wynn who kicked off the night, Florida’s Ben Prestage brought the stage alive with his single-manned mini-orchestra, playing guitar, bass, harmonica and drums simultaneously, using each of his four limbs to the fullest extent in the process.  Performing songs predominantly from his current Real Music album, the one man orchestra delighted the audience with his energy and dynamism, starting with “Downtown Strutter’s Ball” from the album as well as including material from the likes of Jesse Fuller and the Reverend Gary Davis throughout his all too short set.  Immediately and without hesitation, Prestage honoured audience requests as they were shouted out by audience members already familiar with the bluesman’s repertoire, such as Catfish Blues coupled with Howling Wolf’s “Back Door Man” and Dave Carter’s infectious “Crocodile Man”.  Prestage kept up the energy to the final few bars of 2:19, famed for the use of his home-made cigar box guitar, essentially an electric guitar made out of an old cigar box.  Prestage also included the Hank Williams classic “Lost Highway”, again indicating the close connection between country music and the blues.  The extended applause and calls for a well-deserved encore at the end of Siegal’s set saw both bluesmen return to the stage to finish the night off in style, the pair bringing the night to a thrilling climax with Chuck Berry’s “Nadine”, the traditional gospel song “Revelator” and finally Prestage taking the lead on a storming version of “Big Fat Mama”.  A great night for music fans in general, but especially for those with a taste for the combined forces of country and rural blues music.

Andy Cutting | The Greystones, Sheffield | 17.11.10

Andy Cutting confessed right from the start tonight that he doesn’t sing, going on to say “well I do, however I would rather you stay than leave”.  The prospect then, for a night of instrumental melodeon tunes one after the other may under normal circumstances sound slightly daunting and in some cases that would be perfectly understandable.  However, the melodeon in the hands of this particular musician, which he refers to as his ‘funny little machine’, provides a panoramic musical landscape with the ability to take the listener away to similar emotional places that songs do.  Avoiding clever pyrotechnics, awkward and busy arrangements, the act of setting fire to his instrument or smashing it against the amp, despite being an honorary member of The Who, Andy Cutting instead sits alone onstage and delivers some of the most beautiful music you are likely to hear anywhere.  With a string of highly successful concerts at The Boardwalk, the Bright Phoebus co-operative, namely Kit Bailey, Fay Hield, Lindsay Smith, Jon Boden and Martin Simpson, together with a mammoth list of supporters, has broadened its remit, setting up a monthly concert night at the former Highcliffe Hotel, now re-named The Greystones in the Greystones area of Sheffield, for what could potentially be the premier mid-week musical attraction for the months to come.  Tonight, Nancy Kerr was delighted to perform her very first MC duties, whilst Andy Bell made sure everything sounded as good as it possibly could from his position behind the sound desk and Martin Simpson, one of our most respected musicians, was only too happy to look after tonight’s special guest’s CD shop as well as announcing the winners of the obligatory raffle.  Such is the sense of comradeship amongst the growing Bright Phoebus community.  Nancy started both sets off, first of all accompanying herself on the fiddle with the Northumberland courting song “Gan to the Kye”, which served as a timely antidote to another high profile courtship in the news “that we’re supposed to be interested in” and secondly with the unaccompanied “Morton Bay”.  Introducing Andy Cutting to the stage, Nancy affectionately described the musician as both brilliant and ‘eerily youthful’.  The sell out concert was populated by an audience who were respectfully silent through the music and deliberately noisy through the applause, which was predictably plentiful.  Whilst Andy performed tunes from his back catalogue such as “Incontinental Mood” coupled with “Flat World”, as well as a selection from his recently released eponymously titled debut solo album, such as “Atherfield”, “CEG”, “Charlie/Come Back!” and “Granton Fish Bowl”, the audience divided themselves equally between those with furrowed brows, stroking their chins intent on watching Andy’s every move with great concentration together with those gleefully swaying along to the variety of infectious rhythms, to finally those reclining in their seats, eyes closed, totally relaxed, allowing the music to simply wash over them, temporarily leaving their worldly cares behind.  In between each of the tunes, Andy delighted the audience with his stories, everything from his concerns about British bed and breakfasts, especially the cold toast racks and insufficient butter rations, to his beloved dogs and his children.  There’s something warm and immediately engaging about Andy Cutting, who speaks to his audience in precisely the same way he might chat to a friend at the bar.  This is also testament to the seemingly endless list of musician friends he’s had the pleasure to work with over the years.  Andy’s recording credit list is enormous, the celebrated melodeon maestro, named Musician of the Year in 2008 by the BBC in their annual Folk Awards, having worked with everyone from Kate Rusby and June Tabor to Chris Wood and Martin Simpson, by way of the odd foray outside the usual folk sphere, working with both Sting and The Who.  From the stage, Martin Simpson was delighted to announce some of the contenders in the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards tonight, which had just been announced on Mike Harding’s weekly radio programme shortly before the concert.  A couple of those nominees were present tonight, Andy once again nominated in the Musician of the Year category and Nancy Kerr nominated twice, firstly in the Best Song category for her song “Queen of Waters”, as well as in the Best Duo category along with husband James Fagan.  Martin also announced that Bright Phoebus luminary Fay Hield, not present tonight, was also up for the Horizon award, the news of which was received with great enthusiasm.  Towards the end of a stunning second set, which included the jaunty “Annaliese/There Are Angels”, together with “Oliver’s/Two Beers” and the two tunes “Potato/Theatre”, the names of which were inspired by the fact that Ian Carr finds the way Andy pronounces those two words hilarious, Andy invited Nancy Kerr up onstage for a set of tunes, “The Other Side of the World/Adder’s”.  With a final solo encore, Andy chose to play the utterly beautiful “Old Light” and “The Abbess”, two tunes that coincidentally close the new album, bringing what could only be described as a stunning evening of extraordinary music to an end.

The Rosie Doonan Band | The Thornensians Rugby Club, Thorne | 19.11.10

On the eve of her album launch in Leeds, Rosie Doonan and her band came to Thorne to play a set of songs predominantly from the new album Pot of Gold, the follow up to the stunning Moving On (2007), which saw Rosie literally move on in another direction from the familiar folk fare of her days with childhood friend Ben Murray.  With her trademark flame-red hair and piercing blue eyes, together with no small measure of ‘attitude’, Rosie was once again full of banter between songs, joking with both audience and fellow band mates alike, bringing a sense of fun to the evening.  Asking the audience whether they liked a bit of blues and a bit of rock the band launched into “Fall for Me”, the new single from the album, which already has an accompanying video featuring Rosie wandering through golden wheat fields with contrasting red hair and matching cardigan and Gibson electric, not to mention, a Mad Hatter’s tea party and obligatory streaker (don’t go frantically running to YouTube, it’s not Rosie!).  With a band including regulars Gary Stewart on drums and guitar, who also provided support, performing a handful of songs from his own debut album Boy Cries Wolf, Miklos Woodwood on bass, Jonny Firth on guitar and at one point drums and on his first outing with the band, Wilful Missing’s Sam Lawrence on mandolin and keyboards, the set was given a suitably rocky edge, especially on “That Boy”, the bluesy “Fool For You” and the soul-drenched “Don’t Let Me Go”.  Rosie was reminded during an interview earlier in the evening (see below) of a song that is rarely played live these days, the utterly gorgeous “Time” from her previous album, which Rosie forced herself to remember, going on to perform the song solo at the piano, which for me was the highlight of the night.  “Lady Blue” also demonstrated precisely this inherent command over emotionally charged sensitive songs that this songwriter returns to time and again.  Rosie can also be as whimsical as it gets with the ukulele accompanied “TLC” and “Victor”, borrowing from the music hall tradition.  Rosie may straddle the borders between folk and pop, with a gift for writing memorable melodies and may be possessed of an insatiable appetite for a bigger sound, but it’s with Rosie’s distinctive and inimitable voice that we return to time and time again.  May she continue to get the recognition and credit she thoroughly deserves.

The Great British Folk Festival 2010 | Butlins, Skegness | 06.12.10

As dusk fell upon the bitterly cold Lincolnshire coastal town of Skegness, normally populated by thousands of families during the summer months, woolly hats, scarves and gloves replaced the usual array of brightly coloured festival-wear reserved for much warmer climates.  The famous Butlins holiday resort provided some much needed warmth and hospitality for those brave enough to weather the December chill coming in off the North Sea, as well as presenting a programme of suitably diverse musical artists and styles, loosely falling under the broad banner of ‘folk music’.  As the resort filled with enthusiastic festival goers on Friday evening, Donovan’s “Catch the Wind” could be heard over the site tannoy system above the Sun and Moon pub, a system presumably reserved for children’s holiday announcements ala Hi-di-Hi during other times of the year.  The central hub chosen for the festival was the Skyline Pavilion, a structure dominating the Skegness skyline, providing a beacon for approaching festival goers diverging on Skeggy from presumably all four corners of the country and further afield.  The concerts throughout the weekend were shared between two main stages; the Centre Stage, housed within the pavilion itself and the similarly-sized Reds, suitably named after the famous Butlins Redcoats, situated within easy walking distance of the pavilion for those wanting to slip between acts.  Due to the adverse weather conditions leading up to this much anticipated event, some of the planned acts were forced to cancel at the eleventh hour, calling for some nifty programme changes.  Replacements were immediately sought and Nine Below Zero, Diesel Park West and an odd little band called Pie replaced Stackridge, The Unthanks and John Renbourn and Jacqui McShee respectively.  The initial concerns about whether or not a folk event would work at a holiday camp were soon dashed as those who did attend the festival weighed up the pros and cons.  There could be no argument over the fact that a nice warm chalet with hot running water won hands down over an ice cold tent and an old bucket, just as a nice warm concert venue won hands down over some chilly old marquee in a field.  Butlins also went to great lengths to ensure that real ale was in good supply as well as great food, despite the slight miscalculation over the quantity of Guardians required at the onsite newsagents.  Well at this their inaugural folk festival, they couldn’t be expected to get everything right.  The truth is, at this time of year, Butlins provides a perfect venue for a folk festival.  In hindsight, the event probably should have been re-titled The Great British Folk Rock Festival as much of the programme gravitated towards that specific genre with representatives from the cream of British folk rock’s heyday, including current or former members of such bands as Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, Jethro Tull, Fotheringay, The Strawbs, The Albion Band, Magna Carta and the list goes on.  With an impressive line-up featuring a handful of major folk luminaries such as Kate Rusby and Oysterband as well as a few acts bordering the blues and rock-based fringes of folk music such as Sandi Thom and The Strawbs, together with an appearance by one of the giant figures of 1960s folk/pop, namely Donovan, there promised to something for everyone.  The festival got underway on Friday evening with the Blues Band’s Gary Fletcher opening with a solo blues-based set on the Centre Stage, whilst at precisely the same time four original members of the 1970s folk rock outfit Hunter Muskett provided a nostalgic and gentle set of songs, reminding us once again that folk rock doesn’t necessarily have to consist of jigs and reels played on an electric guitar.  Doug Morter, Terry Hiscock, Chris George and Rog Trevitt visibly enjoyed themselves as they re-visited songs from the band’s two original albums of the early 1970s.  Whilst Pie stood in at short notice for Pentangle’s John Renbourn and Jacqui McShee, the Acoustic Strawbs, featuring Dave Cousins’ distinctively rasping voice performed a handful of memorable songs from a similar era to Hunter Muskett, once again flicking the nostalgia switches for those old enough to remember the originals.  Opening with the hymn-like “Benedictus”, the trio consisting of Dave Cousins, Dave Lambert and Chas Cronk, performed a handful of familiar songs from the band’s back catalogue including the particular crowd pleaser “Lay Down”.  Completing the evening with a spot of Lancastrian humour, The Lancashire Hotpots entertained the remaining few Strawbs left-overs, whilst the Centre Stage filled to bursting point for one of the UK’s best loved live acts.  Oysterband have a knack of livening up any room or party and their Friday night headliner set was no exception.  The outstanding set, packed with energy-driven Oysterband standards, resulted in a complete sell out of Oysterband stock at the Little Pot Stove concessions stall outside in the hall.  On Saturday, the Centre Stage played host to an afternoon of concerts featuring a London-based duo and two comedians, which was possibly the only bit of ill-advised scheduling of the weekend.  Nevertheless, judging by the crowd reaction, Phil Cool and Richard Digance’s back-to-back sets didn’t jar quite as much in practice as on paper.  Phil Cool’s unique brand of comedy combining surreal humour, hilarious facial contortions and brilliant impressions kept the audience happy during a relaxed afternoon on the Centre Stage.  Kicking off the afternoon was the London-based duo Ay Ducane, who provided a relaxed set of self-penned material and the one R&B cover “Baby Please Don’t Go”, demonstrating the duo’s command over Everly Brothers type harmony singing and excellent song writing credentials.  Galih Richardson and Francis Newington’s blend of acoustic indie-folk proved to be a great and well received opening act for the Saturday afternoon concerts.  During the open mic sessions over in Jaks nightclub a short distance away from the main hub of activity, American-born Jerry Donahue was on hand for some guitar talk, inviting audience members to ask questions about guitar picks, straps and strings as well as enquiring about what it must be like to have played a vital role in two of the best loved folk rock outfits of them all, Fairport Convention and Fotheringay.  Jerry was later joined by Lindisfarne’s Ray Jackson and the Albion Band’s Doug Morter for a reduced version of The Gathering, a six-piece band also featuring ex-members of Steeleye Span (Rick Kemp) and Jethro Tull (Clive Bunker) as well as Jerry’s daughter Kristina, all three of whom couldn’t make it to the festival.  Despite there being just fifty percent of the band present, the trio filled the set with crowd pleasers such as “Lady Eleanor”, “Wake Up Little Sister” and “Meet Me on the Corner”, which may well have been played simultaneously on the other stage where the song’s composer Rod Clements was also performing.  Saturday evening initially presented a dilemma in that both Sandi Thom and The Unthanks were due to be performing at precisely the same time.  Due to the unavailability of the latter, Sandi Thom drew an even larger crowd than anticipated and provided an exciting and vibrant blues-infused set, despite feeling decidedly under the weather.  Even “I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker” was transformed into a toe-tapping stomper.  As Saturday evening drew to a climactic close, there was a choice once again to consider.  Two contrasting performances were on offer with Devon-based Jiggerypipery featuring ex-Boomtown Rat Simon Crowe, whilst on the Centre Stage Deborah Bonham provided some soulful blues, performing a storming set which included a song from her late brother John’s most celebrated album Led Zeppelin IV and “The Battle of Evermore”, together with a fitting tribute to him and two other much missed family members with the gorgeous “The Old Hyde”.  On Sunday afternoon, as busker Phil Knight entertained the queues outside in the main pavilion, guitarist Gordon Giltrap prepared to dominate the Centre Stage with a master class of guitar dexterity.  Equipped with three guitars, the musician brought a little sunshine to Butlins with George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun” and his own “Heartsong”, the theme tune to the BBC’s Holiday programme.  More sunshine was provided by Shinjig’s lively Sunday afternoon set, which gave those dying for a dance the opportunity to do just that in front of the Centre Stage.  Nine Below Zero then went on to bring it all back home with an outstanding set of blues classics both new and old courtesy of Dennis Greaves’ hard rocking vocal and Mark Feltham’s sparring harp.  The most eagerly anticipated sets of the weekend arrived with some lengthy queuing in two directions, one queue to see Donovan, whilst the other queue waited patiently to take their seats for a seasonal performance by Barnsley’s best export since its famed bitter. Kate Rusby giggled as the curtain was raised for what turned out to be a delightful couple of sets filled with Christmas and seasonal songs.  Her ten-piece band included a brass section, bringing the sound of traditional yuletide Yorkshire to an enthusiastic and appreciative Lincolnshire audience.  Away With the Faeries kicked off the evening concert on the Reds stage with some suitably ethereal folk songs before Donovan’s solo set, featuring some of his best loved acoustic numbers such as “Catch the Wind” and “Colours”.  Donovan returned to the stage after a short break with his full Irish band, to recreate as closely as possible all the hits of the mid 1960s such as “Sunshine Superman”, “Hurdy Gurdy Man” and “Season of the Witch”.  Finally, a handful of seasoned folk rockers took to the Centre Stage for the final concert of the evening and indeed of the festival as The Dylan Project reminded us of the genius of Bob Dylan, with veteran rocker Steve Gibbons performing some of the best loved Dylan classics such as “Like a Rolling Stone”, “You Got to Serve Somebody” and even the Travelling Wilbury’s “Handle With Care” bringing the festival to a suitably frenzied climax with “Twist and Shout”.  Fairport’s Dave Pegg and Gerry Conway were on hand to provide an outstanding rhythm section, whilst PJ Wright gave a blistering performance on lead guitar.  During the weekend it was refreshing to hear helpful suggestions being bounded about for next year’s festival rather than criticisms, all of which will no doubt be taken onboard by an organisation keen to make this potential annual event work.  There is indeed a large area inside the Skyline Pavilion that would be superb for dance teams and the Sun and Moon pub would quite rightly be great for singarounds.  Fortunately Butlins have a team who are eager to please and will no doubt be looking forward to providing something even better in 2011.  Judging by the queue at the booking desk on Monday morning, I think those preparations are already in hand.