In Person | 2018

Martin Hayes Quartet | Howard Assembly Room, Leeds | 27.01.18

It was with a spot of unfortunate programming that I first experienced the gentle music of Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill, which happened shortly after the debut appearance of the Afro Celt Sound System at the Cambridge Folk Festival back in 1997.  With ill foresight, the organisers of the festival had perhaps misjudged their expectations that the audience might sufficiently settle down after such an enormous explosion of sound.  Before a feverishly ‘up for anything’ crowd, Martin and Dennis delivered a beautifully crafted set nevertheless, demonstrating that whilst they were not quite the right sort of act to follow the Afro Celts, they were indeed the perfect act to go on just before a solo performance by the festival headliner, Jackson Browne.  Fast forward about twenty years or so and Martin Hayes could almost be considered a household name, especially on the Irish/American side of things, in light of his most recent award winning project The Gloaming, which has already secured two number one albums in his native Ireland alone.  Martin’s latest project sees him team up once again with Dennis Cahill, together with New Yorkers Doug Wieselman on bass clarinet and Liz Knowles on Hardanger d’amore (fiddle with additional strings to you), each of whom arrived in fine fettle to perform material from the quartet’s blissful album release The Blue Room.  I arrived in Leeds a few hours earlier, specifically to squander both time and money in one or two of the city’s ultra-impersonal record shops.  I usually try to spark up some degree of small talk with record store staff, especially those who don’t look awfully busy, but not here.  The best I could get was a grunt from a chap in the lower dungeons of Relics.  It’s a city I told myself and if I were to meet the same person halfway up Kilimanjaro, he would definitely smile and say hello.  I tried to convince myself of this at any rate.  Between one record shop and another, I noticed three seemingly disorientated musicians appearing like meerkats, each looking in opposite directions along New Briggate – not that I have special powers of ‘musician’ detection to speak of, just the fact that they were each carrying an instrument case – and I immediately broke one of my recently adopted rules of avoiding musicians at all costs for fear of disappointment.  I approached them and enquired “are you lost?” to which one responded in a familiar American accent  “We’re looking for the Howard Assembly Room”.  “No problem” I said, “follow me this way”.  I escorted the three musicians to the venue, joking “does Martin usually arrive later by limo?” (he was actually parking the van).  I could tell they were not in the mood for jokes as they swiftly disappeared into the warmth of the Opera North box office without another word spoken. “Bye then” I said, as I stood in the bustling street outside, with dusk fast approaching. “See you later”.  After this brief encounter with the three quiet Americans, followed by a coffee in a nearby deli, Bob and Marcia’s “Young Gifted and Black” belting out over the house system, I warmed my hands and regained my faith in humankind by popping by the box office to collect my ticket for the concert.  As usual, I was greeted by one of Opera North’s pleasant staff, only too pleased to hand over my ticket wrapped around a photo pass lanyard.  Back in the street I passed someone who was busy having a conversation on his phone.  “Just because he doesn’t go to church doesn’t make him a bad person…”  I overheard him say as he passed.  Now that’s the sort of conversation I was in the mood for and I would have loved to have joined in, but at this point, I feel that I’m unnecessarily digressing.  Back to the Howard Assembly Room and the audience were now streaming in. The stage was simply organised with four chairs set in a semi-circle, each with a monitor in front – oh get with it man, we refer to them as ‘wedges’ these days.  As the four musicians appeared to a respectable ripple of applause, their second concert of this tour began with an unbroken twenty minute plus suite that included such pieces as “Easter Snow”, “The Boy in the Gap”, “The Orphan” and Joe Bane’s “Unusual Key”, judging by one of the set lists I later recovered after the show.  These tunes appeared to run the gamut between slow airs, hornpipes and ferocious jigs with the quartet finding their stride early in the set.  The entirely instrumental set featured much of the material from the album with one or two other pieces included.  The only voice we heard came courtesy of Martin Hayes, who introduced each tune in a whisper, with the exception of an introduction to the ten string Hardanger d’amore delivered by Liz Knowles, who pointed out that if it’s not sufficiently in tune, it makes for a miserable time.  The last time I saw a bass clarinet in the Howard Assembly Room, was in the hands of Courtney Pine, who steered the instrument to Venus and back with no trouble at all.  Tonight, Doug Wieselman’s treatment of the instrument was rather different; on the slower airs, it sounded delicate, breathy and fragile, a perfect companion to the fiddle and guitar, whilst on the faster, louder, galloping numbers, it took on the drone-like attributes of the didgeridoo, underpinning each of the dance tunes.  With each of the violins delicately complementing each other throughout, Dennis’s guitar brought everything together, his nervous fingers trembling, yet hitting each note on cue, with both empathy and precision.  Other pieces finding their way into the ninety minute set included “The Humours of Scariff”, “Brennans Reel”, “Port Sadbh”, “Tommy Peoples’ Reel” and “Mo Mhúirnín Bán” among others.  There’s no question that the Howard Assembly Room tonight played host to a class act, with beautifully performed music from an equally beautiful record.  The Blue Room is available now on 251 Records.

Sona Jobarteh | Howard Assembly Room, Leeds | 01.02.18

The planets appeared to be somewhat aligned tonight as I took my front row seat at the Howard Assembly Room in Leeds.  All the elements that usually go with a successful gig were very much in place; arrived early, found a handy parking space, greeted by a jolly friendly ‘concert host’ who was eager to chat to me about photography strangely enough and most crucially, I found myself seated in the midst of a cheery multi-cultural audience, each of whom wore beaming smiles as we sat in eager anticipation of tonight’s concert, half listening to the cool jazz ambience track.  World music events, for want of a better phrase, are really quite exceptional when it comes to the feel-good factor, there’s a relaxed contentment I rarely feel in other circumstances; it’s really quite intoxicating.  Well, whilst being completely loved up, I suspected I wasn’t the only one in the room falling head over heels for Sona Jobarteh even before she walked onstage.  I’m not sure what it is, apart from the obvious – beautiful woman, playful with the audience, utterly graceful and elegant and handy with a kora to boot – but you really can’t take your eyes off Sona Jobarteh for a moment, not even when her wonderfully charismatic percussionist Mamadou Sarr performs minor miracles with his congas, things he does with one pair of hands that normally takes three, you tend to keep focussed on Sona.  Perhaps it has something to do with the sheer ballsiness of this musician, who perhaps best suits the term ‘Wayward Daughter’ even more than Eliza Carthy.  After seven centuries of exclusively male dominated griot traditions, it perhaps took someone with enormous strength to challenge that tradition, Sona being the first female kora player from a West African Griot family to make her mark on the serious music traditions of her homeland; well you gotta love her for that if nothing else.  The one thing I’ve noticed at the Howard Assembly Room over the last few visits is that they seem to have done away with support acts, which meets with this reviewer’s approval.  Mind you, I haven’t been to a folk event here for a while, a scene where the opening act is often notoriously tiresome.  Perhaps on those nights there’s even a raffle in between the two sets.  I jest of course.  Tonight, there was no support and we were straight into the good stuff from the start.  On stage first were Sona’s band, made up of the aforementioned Mamadou Sarr on percussion, Derek Johnson on guitar, Andi McLean on bass and Westley Joseph on drums.  Sona followed shortly afterwards to a warm Leeds welcome.  For the first of just three UK shows in this tour, the material performed was varied, ranging from a handful from Sona’s current album Fasiya, with others from the Gambian tradition, each song played with warmth, tight precision and contemplative respect for that tradition. One song, “Saya”, was described as a song about loss, of losing someone, of the feeling you are left with and the pain one suffers, in two minor chords, with Sona switching to the guitar, whilst delivering the delicate sentiments in verse.  A poignant moment of the set.  It wasn’t all serious though, with Sona duelling with each member of her band throughout the 90 minute performance.  A very generous musician, Sona allowed her musicians to flex their musical chops, her smile signifying these to be the most enjoyable moments in the set.  Audience participation was invited throughout, with varying degrees of success.  If the audience were feeling the love, then one song in particular summed up such a feeling, “Kanu” (Love) being the last song of the set.  Returning to the stage for the one final encore, Sona and her band performed “Bannaya”, dedicating it to her elders, pointing out the importance of respecting the older generation, one of the chief principles of her culture, which met with a ripple of approval from the predominantly ‘older’ members of the audience, including this reviewer as he fast approaches retirement.  I’ve attended a good few concerts here at the Howard Assembly Room over the last few years and tonight’s performance was right up there with the best of them.  A triumph for Leeds, for World Music and for community spirit.  We long for Sona’s return visit. 

Red Tail Ring | Roots Music Club, Doncaster | 09.02.18

I often wonder what visiting musicians from overseas might think of our idiosyncrasies or local customs whilst they sound-check up there onstage.  How do they cope with our local dialects for a start?  I imagine a few of them who visit the Ukrainian Centre stare into the void as they tune their instruments, wondering what on earth those creepy dolls are all about in that glass case up on the wall?  What are all these strange pictures of people dancing?  I’ve spent moments at this venue thinking precisely the same.  But there again, it’s rather wonderful to have a little bit of the Ukraine right here in Doncaster.  Bearing in mind that these particular musicians have been negotiating roundabouts since arriving in the country back in the middle of January, queueing in unbearable motorway traffic and sampling our ‘terrible’ British coffee, they do seem pretty relaxed about things.  Perhaps they are.  Perhaps seven years of touring together has ironed out any earlier wide-eyed fascination with the UK and this Michigan-based duo, Laurel Premo and Michael Beauchamp, otherwise known as Red Tail Ring, might literally have already seen it all.  For the uninitiated, The Ukrainian Centre in Doncaster is a little bit like a working men’s club, but instead of two turns and a raffle in between, we have, well, two turns and a raffle in between, although it has to be said, much better turns and I dare say much better raffles.  The prizes themselves range from the latest CD donated by the headline act, maybe a bottle of wine or maybe a ticket to next week’s show, which is perhaps better than a tray of meat and a box of Celebrations.  The best nights at the Roots Music Club are the full nights, which are often rich in atmosphere, rowdy in between numbers and imbued with a fair bit of community spirit.  Tonight wasn’t packed and therefore the atmosphere wasn’t quite as it should be.  It was restrained, the applause was gentle and there was no encore.  A little bit flat.  But, I hasten to add, this had absolutely nothing to do with the efforts of those who run the club nor the artists onstage, who were absolutely wonderful.  Perhaps it had something to do with a nearby old time music festival where all the local banjo enthusiasts were headed.  Standing pretty much close together throughout their set, almost facing one another, Laurel and Michael delivered their songs and tunes on cue, appreciating the thirty-odd people present in the audience and engaging them with some of the stories surrounding the songs.  The duo’s appearance has changed recently as Michael pointed out between songs, with the duo’s hirsute reversal in plain view; a clean shaven Michael sitting aside a curly-bobbed Laurel on the cover of the duo’s 2013 album The Heart’s Swift Foot, dramatically transformed to a bearded and platted guitar player and a Ripley-cropped banjo player we see before us tonight.  The duo’s set alternated between old traditional songs and tunes, songs from the repertoire of others, such as the Carter Family’s “A Distant Land to Roam” and the old Jimmie Rodgers’ “Blue Yodel #1” also known as “T for Texas”, with a fair deal of their own original material to boot.  Laurel’s flair on both the fiddle and the banjo was complemented by Michael’s guitar playing, whilst both harmonised throughout the set.  One of the aspects I hadn’t previously picked up on until I heard the duo live, was the timbre of Michael’s voice, which is injected with a rich tremolo, which perfectly complements Laurel’s singing style.  The first set gently drew the audience in with such songs as the title song from the duo’s current album release Fall Away Blues, the traditional “Yarrow” and a couple of instrumental tunes, culminating in a breathtakingly authentic take on Skip James’ “I’d Rather Be the Devil”, Laurel’s fiddle weeping along throughout.  If the first set brought us some of the most accessible songs such as “Fall Away Blues” and “Love of the City”, the second set saw the duo tackling the more difficult arrangement of “The New Homeplace”, a curious melody which seems to stay with you long after hearing it, as well as the sprightly “Wild Bill Jones”, showcasing some of Laurel’s deft banjo picking. 

Quercus | Howard Assembly Room, Leeds | 16.02.18

June Tabor, or rather, the voice of June Tabor, has been ringing in my ears for over thirty years now, ever since I first heard June sing back in the mid-1980s.  A Cut Above, an album she made with guitar supremo Martin Simpson, was my initial introduction, although she had in fact been around on the folk scene a good deal before this, her first records appearing in 1976.  The tall slender almost beguiling figure who appeared on the cover, wearing boots that could’ve been mistaken for fishing waders, owned what was to become one of the principle voices on the British folk scene over the next few decades, winning plaudits not only from the folk and world music communities, but also the rock world, her voice being championed by the likes of Radio One’s John Peel.  Cut to 2018 and June’s voice is as good as ever.  Gone are the unfeasibly long boots and jeans, together with the long dark locks, today replaced by predominantly black shawl and gown with just a hint of twinkling stars, resembling a grieving Sicilian widow.  What does remain though, is that voice, a voice that defies description.  Of the numerous collaborations June has undertaken over the years, some of which I’ve been lucky enough to see first hand; her performances with Oysterband for instance, or that one memorable appearance with Richard Thompson and the rest of Fairport Convention on stage at Cropredy performing “A Sailor’s Life”, not to mention that one occasion when she and Martin won the hearts of a packed house at the late lamented Rockingham Arms Folk Club in Wentworth.  Tonight, at the Howard Assembly Room, June was joined by Iain Ballamy on saxophone and Huw Warren on a rather grand Steinway, for a performance by Quercus, one of June’s other projects, which investigates the more jazz focused side of the Warwick-born singer’s voice.  It seems only right that a trio who go under the name ‘Quercus’, meaning ‘Oak’ in Latin, should be surrounded by the un-fussy wooden panels of the Howard Assembly Room stage.  Any prior investigation into June’s jazz leanings would have already revealed her treatment of Chet Baker’s “This is Always”, and I guess tonight we knew what delights lie ahead.  We’d heard the trio’s rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice it’s Alright”, which appears on their current release Nightfall, but did we really expect such a performance as this tonight?  Every word from the heart, every word truly meant.  June sings with her eyes open, focused on the middle distance, a tear occasionally evident, or is that just a twinkle reflecting the stars on her shawl?  June can be hilarious too.  When talking of her days as a librarian, she mentioned the most requested book at the time, being Love Story by Erich Segal, with the tag line ‘love means never having to say you’re sorry’, delivered in an almost valley girl accent, then a pause, then a stern expression, then “bollocks”.  You tend to hang on to June’s every word, an authority on matters of the heart.  This shows in every word she delivers both in song and in-between songs.  “The Manchester Angel”, “Lassie Lie Near Me”, “You Don’t Know What Love Is”, “The Lads in Their Hundreds”, “Caroline of Edinburgh Town”, each song magnificently investigated, researched and delivered in the most sublime fashion.  On that aforementioned album from the early 1980s, June sang Richard Thompson’s “Strange Affair”, demonstrating even back then, just how beautifully she is able to craft Thompson’s lyrics and tonight she closed the final set by revisiting “Beat the Retreat”, one of her finest covers of any song.  It wasn’t all about June Tabor tonight though, Quercus operates as a democratic trio, with each contribution as vital as the other and tonight both Huw Warren and Iain Ballamy sparkled with musical ingenuity, the impressionistic piano and breathy tenor sax working so well together, especially on “Fern Hill”, part of a wider Dylan Thomas suite, whilst June disappeared for a short while to tend to her, according to Iain, “online poker habit”.  Returning to the stage for just the one encore, Quercus performed a fitting “Auld Lang Syne”, the song that opens their current album, and a great farewell closer if ever there was one, leaving the audience momentarily spellbound.  A wonderful evening of truly inspiring music.

Ruth Notman | Carrington Folk Club, Nottingham | 21.02.18

The Gladstone Hotel on Loscoe Street in the Carrington district of Nottingham, was built in 1882 and was once presided over by a landlord called George Fryer, an amateur heavyweight boxing champion back in the day.  He was also occasionally known as ‘The Nottingham Slasher’, which I imagine would prompt regulars to understand that when last orders were called, it really meant last orders.  Times have changed since William Ewart Gladstone’s day, the pub being built during his second premiership, yet from the outside it still bears all the hallmarks of a proper old English tavern with flickering lights visible through the frosted ‘smoke room’ glass windows.  Set back slightly from the main Mansfield Road within the location known as the ‘triangle’, the pub has been home to the Carrington Triangle Folk Club for a good few years and tonight the club’s special guest was Ruth Notman, beholder of one of the most distinctive voices on the British folk music scene.  Ruth was born and raised just up the road in Mansfield and ten years ago she released her debut album Threads when she was just 17.  Since then, Ruth has performed on some of the major stages up and down the country, has been involved in a handful of collaboration projects with her peers and has also released a second album The Life of Lily back in 2009.  Since then though, we’ve heard little from the songstress and tonight we were given the opportunity to hear that special voice and her songs once again on her own turf.  With her university studies having temporarily taken her away from music, Ruth put aside her dissertation, popped her piano, guitar and accordion into the car and made her way to the upstairs function room of The Gladstone Hotel to play her first gig in ages.  “Are you nervous?”  I asked before the show.  “I’m petrified” she admitted.  Before singing a single note or striking a single chord, Ruth almost apologised for having been away for so long and informed her audience that much of the material tonight would be songs from her two albums.  “I’m a bit out of practice” she confessed with one of her familiar giggles, before launching into “Limbo”, accompanying herself on the piano.  Playing completely acoustically, alternating between piano, guitar and accordion, Ruth reached into the past to perform some of her best loved songs before a packed house.  Throughout the evening, Ruth reminded us all of some of her own self-penned songs such as “Over the Hill”, “Roaming” and “Lonely Day Dies”, as well as other mainstays of her repertoire, “Billy Don’t You Weep for Me”, “Caledonia” and “The Hedger and Ditcher”, which effectively puts her old pal Saul Rose out of a job, Ruth having taken up the piano accordion, serving as accompaniment to some of her new songs, such as “As You Find Your Way Home”, a gorgeous song inspired by a tragic accident near her home over Christmas, but also to deliver a pretty complicated tune, her fingers dancing all over the place.  Ruth also braved venturing into Richard Thompson territory with a rather nice reading of “Beeswing”.  The audience couldn’t get enough of Ruth tonight, eagerly demanding not one but two encore songs.  “Do another four” came a cry from the audience.  Putting aside her instruments, Ruth took to the floor in front of the small stage to sing the traditional “Colcannon” and the John Tams song “Hold Back the Tide”, both performed unaccompanied and both of which received strong audience participation.  In true folk club fashion, Ruth’s two sets, were complemented by other singers and musicians who got up around the room to sing songs, including Ruth’s sister Amy, who delivered an utterly convincing performance of the Joan Baez song, “Diamonds and Rust”; two great voices in one family… can’t be bad!

Tony Allen | Howard Assembly Room, Leeds | Photo by Simon Godley | 07.04.18

It’s an unseasonably warm Saturday evening and I’m in the centre of Leeds, sipping coffee at the San Co Co, the most convenient coffee house along New Briggate, just a few doors from the Grand Theatre.  The waitress and I are almost on first name terms, so often have I been here.  This area of the city is the Leeds equivalent of the West End; Theatre Land with an Emmerdale vernacular.  I love it.  I feel at home here, notably as I watch people passing by with less than an hour to go before show time.  Saturday night is beginning to liven up, not least as an orderly queue forms on the Grand Theatre’s steps, a performance of Art, Yasmina Reza’s critically acclaimed play, shortly to start, starring three well known thesps, Nigel Havers, Denis Lawson and Stephen Tompkinson, judging by the array of posters displayed outside.  One flight of stairs further and Tony Allen is relaxing backstage with his band.  The only mention of ‘art’ in Tony Allen’s set tonight was a passing reference to one of his musical heroes Art Blakey.  Artistry though, is indeed very much part of Tony Allen’s overall package and tonight we witnessed some of that highly informed and ever-evolving musicianship throughout his set.  With the obligatory dry ice machine switched to a suitable ‘Ronnie Scott’s’ setting, the band emerged from the backstage area, followed by the Nigerian-born drummer and co-architect of what we now know as ‘Afrobeat’, looking suitably cool and relaxed as he peered out at his audience from beneath a brown felt fedora, his wise old eyes soon to be obscured by designer shades for the duration of the performance.  Each number was delivered with no need for introductions, no titles to worry ourselves about, although most of tonight’s programme centred round Allen’s current project The Source.  Generous as a band leader, each of his musicians were given plenty of room for improvised solos with a casual nod of the head; Nicolas Giraud on trumpet, Yann Jankielewicz on tenor sax, Jean-Phi Dary on keys, Mathias Allamane on double bass and Indy Dibongue on rhythm guitar.  It was almost 45 minutes into the set before we heard a single word from Allen, who confessed to being not much of a talker and like Charlie Parker before him, prefers to let the music speak for itself.  Almost by way of an apology, Allen pointed out that his music was constantly evolving, using food consumption as a metaphor.  “You could have the same meal three times a day but it would be boring”.  With a sprinkling of Afro rhythms, together with a pinch of reggae in places, the set was by and large a homage to some of the coolest jazz we are likely to hear, the source of everything Tony Allen continues to explore in his prolific output both live and on record.  Kudos to the Howard Assembly Room and Leeds, for having the good taste to play host to this remarkable musician and his wonderful band.

Joan as Police Woman | Howard Assembly Room, Leeds | 20.04.18

Once again New Briggate was a bustling metropolis of human energy as offices closed up for the weekend, breathing a sigh of relief no doubt before the Leeds evening adventures began.  A lengthy queue formed outside the Grand Theatre for a performance of Cats, where ALW meets TSE in a miasma of feline fun.  Meanwhile, those eagerly awaiting the arrival of Joan Wasser, otherwise known as Joan as Policewoman, infiltrated local bars and coffee houses until the crowds died down.  Leeds was still basking in the warm afterglow of a second consecutive day of high temperatures and unseasonal sunshine, surprising the city after the long and gloomy winter.  The Maine-born musician, singer, songwriter and producer whose alias was inspired by Angie Dickinson’s role in the TV series of the same name, appeared relaxed as she joined her band on stage tonight at the Howard Assembly Room, the band consisting of Parker Kindred on drums, Jared Samuel on guitar and keys, Eric Lane on keys and Jacob Silver on bass.  If their collective musical credentials were of an undisputed top drawer nature, then their voices were equally crucial to Joan’s outstanding performance tonight, with a smattering of convincing falsettos dropping in here and there.  Wearing a peach coloured silk tour jacket with her moniker and current album title emblazoned on the back, ala Rydell High’s Pink Ladies, together with red knee-length boots, the boys in the band were likewise attired (jackets, not the boots).  As Joan approached her keyboard centre stage, she did so with confidence as the band launched into Wonderful, effectively setting the bar stylishly high from the start.  Looking nowhere near her age, Joan performed every song from her latest release Damned Devotion, accompanying herself on either guitar or keyboard, with little pomp or ceremony between the songs, rarely stopping for chit-chat.  When Joan did speak, notably during the introduction of “What Was it Like?” a song dedicated to the memory of her late adopted father, she did so with warmth and affection.  Loss has played an unwanted yet major part in Joan’s life from the start, having been put up for adoption at an early age, then having re-discovered her birth parents, subsequently losing both of her fathers, together with the more public tragedy of losing her boyfriend Jeff Buckley in 1997.  These tragedies are present in Joan’s demeanour as well as in her work, though her pursuit of happiness is also a major priority for this artist.  With tonight’s set mainly concentrating on the new songs, one or two older selections came out to play, including “Eternal Flame”, “Honor Wishes” and “Human Condition”, each one reminding us of the powerful body of work Joan is responsible for.  Perhaps the most extraordinary moment of tonight’s performance came during the two song encore, when Joan performed a bluesy rendition of “Kiss”, avoiding Prince’s flamboyance and notably the word ‘kiss’.  Seeing the band venturing temporarily into a Doors type vibe, was really quite thrilling.  If this was the ‘extraordinary’ point of the evening, then the ‘bizarre’ point was right at the beginning, courtesy of singer songwriter Fyfe Dangerfield, whose songs were as complex and inventive as his costume changes were excessive and pretentious; more changes possibly than the entire cast of Cats downstairs, which included two hooded dressing gowns, a malfunctioning silk scarf and a pair of life-size hairy ‘gorilla head’ slippers.  The meaning of this will no doubt occur to me on a long bus journey sometime in the future, but at the moment, I’m at a loss.  Good night nevertheless.

Underneath the Stars | Cinderhill Farm, Cawthorne, Barnsley | 22.07.18

Sunday nights at most festivals seem to reveal a distinct sense of a speedy wind-up, where everyone begins to pack up, tent pegs are pulled, food outlet vendors wash up their well-used equipment and cars begin to vacate the field in an orderly manner, and the music hasn’t finished yet.  At Underneath the Stars however, Sunday night is far too important for any such talk of vacating the place, as our host Kate Rusby prepares to take to the stage for her now annual home turf concert.  Kate takes centre stage and is aware that each and every member of her family, together with all her friends are close by, if not actually on the stage beside her, then scattered around the site doing their part.  It’s a family affair.  You will not see a more relaxed Kate Rusby anywhere else in the world than right here on her own doorstep in Cawthorne, near Barnsley.  For five years now this annual event has taken place and this year at a different location for the first time, just a stone’s throw from its original home Cannon Hall Farm.  Neighbouring Cinderhill Farm is an ideal setting for this family oriented festival, surrounded by nature-designed forestry, the poplars acting as a perfect windbreak, not that there was any wind to speak of this weekend.  The sun was very much out, covering the site with a golden glow.  It was sunglasses and hats and factor 50 for the kids.  During these last five years the festival has garnered a reputation as a second-to-none family festival with plenty to do for all the family, but also for its insightful and varied music programme.  It’s as though the mission has always been to please everybody, which it generally does, with its fine headlining pedigree; Richard Thompson (2014), Mary Chapin Carpenter (2015), Vieux Farka Toure (2016) and Newton Faulkner (2017).  The festival also maintains a keen ear on the ground for rising talent, giving exposure to the likes of Olivia Chaney, Kitty McFarlane, Gary Stewart, Toby Burton and Fabian Holland, to name but a few.  As a major figure on the British folk music scene as well as being very much a household name, there’s something incredibly warm and touching when Kate Rusby takes to the stage to have a chat with her oldest pal Sally Smith, who between them willingly let the audience into their childhood secrets, accompanied by unflattering slides and early music experimentation, including early home cassette tape recordings.  This very portion of the festival programme, which began quite by accident last year, is the most engaging part of the weekend.  You feel from this point on, that you are very much a part of the family.  Three hours later, the audience would be treated to a headline performance by Steve Earle and the Dukes, who would provide something completely different.  Grace Petrie, who had performed her set a couple of hours earlier, hugged the stage, watching intently as the Virginia-born, Texas-raised and now Nashville-based troubadour delivered his message in song, treating the audience to a handful of new songs from the band’s new record So You Wanna be an Outlaw, to one or two familiar classics from Steve’s back catalogue, including “My Old Friend the Blues”, “Someday”, “Guitar Town”, “Copperhead Road” and “I Ain’t Ever Satisfied”.  There’s a tendency to forget that Andy Kershaw is first and foremost a journalist and his sense of adventure is still very much in his blood.  With limited time to cram in as much of The Adventures of Andy Kershaw as possible, Andy took to the big Planets Stage armed only with his hard-travelled LP box, a faded BBC logo just barely visible, which evidently holds nothing but toilet rolls.  Andy pretty much left the content of his presentation up to the audience from a handful of suggested themes; “The Clash” cried one eager punter, whilst another wanted to be regaled with the Rolling Stones episode at Roundhay Park.  “How about Dylan?” cried another.  It was all a bit rushed but thoroughly entertaining and informative.  If Andy Kershaw, The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain and Joanne Harris and the Storytime Band could reluctantly be described as ‘novelty’ acts, they certainly were not out of place when billed alongside more serious music acts such as Blues singer Amythyst Kiah, composer John Metcalfe (with a fine performance by Rosie Doonan) and experimental folk tour de force LAU.  It all made for a richly diverse programme, geared to provide a broad range of entertainment throughout the weekend, which would include British folk music (Melrose Quartet, Jack Rutter, Martha Tilston, Lori Watson), Americana, Old Time and Bluegrass (Damien O’Kane and Ron Block, Midnight Skyracer, Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards), to what could loosely be described as World Music (Maya Youssef, I See Rivers, Yves Lambert Trio), not forgetting local talent, notably the Barnsley Youth Choir and throughout the weekend, the richly decorated Frumptarn Guggenband, showcasing their Mexican ‘Day of the Dead’ theme.  One of the most poignant moments at this year’s festival was the appearance of Syrian musician Maya Youssef, who was suitably dressed for summer as she took command of her 78-string qanun, flanked by fellow musicians Elizabeth Nott on percussion and Stefan Knapik on cello to perform pieces from her Syrian Dreams project.  The music gave us an opportunity to pause for thought “I will play this music until peace prevails” said the musician.  It’s certainly not just the music that keeps families happy throughout the weekend though, there are plenty of other activities going on around the festival site, including the impressive Pendulum Wave Machine, the Playground of Illusions, various workshops and crafts, together with the hugely popular Panic Family Circus.  Children are not only allowed to run around anywhere they like here, they are actively encouraged to; it’s their festival too.  Cinderhill Farm provides a safe and clean environment throughout the weekend and the absence of litter is noticeable.  I dare say this doesn’t happen by accident and beneath the gliding ducks there’s a whole busy mechanism of waddling feet; they just make it look simple.  By Sunday night, the quiet meadows stood empty beneath a cloudless sky as the main stage marquee filled for the festival finale, which featured Kate Rusby and her band with one or two special guests, including Mike McGoldrick and comedian Jason Manford, who joined Kate for a duet of “Falling Slowly” from the Once soundtrack.  This year the name Underneath the Stars could not have been more perfect as the sky darkened revealing all the stars available to the naked eye, the space station making an appearance just after midnight, as the sound of the California Feetwarmers’ own particular take on Dixieland jazz resonated into the night.  Underneath the Stars is a most beautiful festival and is yours should you want to join in with the fun.

Cambridge Folk Festival 2018 | Cherry Hinton Hall, Cambridge | 05.08.18

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue

To my knowledge nobody got married at this year’s Cambridge Folk Festival, nor did anyone have a civil partnership, but the old rhyme provides a good enough message to help reflect on the past weekend, especially after hearing Rob Heron and His Tea Pad Orchestra use the term during their Thursday night performance in the Club Tent.  There’s always a sense of the old, the new, the borrowed and occasionally the blue here at Cherry Hinton Hall, regardless of which way around they pitch the beer tent or what size the programme is; there’s just something in the fabric of the place that makes us want to return time and time again.  I’ve returned over twenty times now and in that time very little has changed, notably the size of the festival site.  I’ve popped by the Cherry Hinton Hall grounds at other times of the year and I can confirm that it takes little more than a couple of minutes to walk from one end to the other diagonally, yet when 14,000 people are stretched out on their blankets with the daily newspapers covering their heads, protecting themselves from the rays of the sun, it takes a good deal longer.  Something old? Well the festival itself has been around for over half a century now and this year it welcomed back an artist who appeared at the very first one back in 1965, although according to Peggy Seeger it was as far back as 1961.  Peggy may be in possession of less vivid recollections in terms of certain dates and times, but what she has no problem remembering is the songs that she’s been singing for all those years and this weekend, accompanied by her son Calum MacColl, the New York City-born singer delivered some of her most cherished songs before an appreciative audience.  If Peggy was on form during her own Main Stage set on Friday afternoon, she was equally on form in conversation with Rhiannon Giddens earlier in the afternoon in the Flower Garden, where a number of people had gathered for the annual Mojo interview.  Rhiannon couldn’t get a word in, which seemed only right as Peggy had a tale to tell, and tell it she did with her memoir First Time Ever not too far from her mind.  Something new? Well there’s always something new at the festival, a festival that prides itself on nurturing new talent, whether that’s in the now very much established youth area, The Hub, this year presided over by a hard working team led by Rosie Hood and Nicola Beazley, or in some of the new and established acts being given their first Cambridge exposure.  The arrival at the festival of Allison Russell and JT Nero, otherwise known as Birds of Chicago, has been a long time coming and with no small measure of appreciation, this year’s guest curator Rhiannon Giddens made a personal dream come true. Sandwiched nicely between Main Stage appearances by American legends Janis Ian and John Prine, Birds of Chicago delighted a packed Stage Two audience with songs from their current album Love in Wartime, although their actual debut occurred a couple of hours earlier when the husband/wife team appeared in the bar alongside Darlingside and Yola Carter, performing Black Sabbath’s “Changes”.  Rhiannon brought together a choice selection of artists, including Birds of Chicago and Yola, as well as Peggy Seeger, Amythyst Kiah and Kaia Kater, each of whom performed their own sets throughout the weekend and then gathered with the exception of Seeger, for a grand finale in the Club Tent on Sunday night, which was one of the most moving performances I’ve seen at the festival so far.  It’s always a pleasure to see newcomers at the festival, whether they be new to the scene, or very much established acts making their Cambridge debut. Songhoy Blues are a relatively new band from Mali, whose Friday night set was one of the most energy-driven sets of the weekend.  Singer Aliou Touré eloquently described the scene before him as a sort of spiritual gathering, where religions and creeds pale into insignificance compared to the power of music – “everyone’s here for music and everyone’s smiling” noted the singer.  It would be difficult to give a mention to each and every one of the newcomers as there were so many, spread across at least four stages, but for me Alden, Patterson and Dashwood’s performance in The Den could quite easily have been transferred to the Main Stage with little fuss at all.  The Shackleton Trio, another new outfit to the festival, played that very stage, bringing their British, Scandinavian and North American influences to a festival not too far from their home.  Something borrowed? We need look no further than Patti Smith’s temporary loan of Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”, which was performed word perfect with the help of a piece of paper in her broken and bandaged hand, preceded by a brief nod to the Swedish Academy.  The singer acknowledged the fact that nerves prevented her getting through the song at the Nobel Prize ceremony, who stood in for his Bobness in Stockholm a couple of years ago, but no such fumbling on this occasion.  The song was delivered before an appreciative audience who were only too glad to show their appreciation afterwards.  Patti Smith really did go down a storm on Saturday night, closing with “Because the Night” and “Gloria”, both of which were delivered in precisely the same manner as the thirty year-old who delivered them in the first place.  Something blue? Well, we were all lucky enough to have nothing but blue skies throughout the entire weekend, along with scorching Mediterranean sunshine. Blue could also refer to The Blues and who better to deliver that than one of the festival’s old pals Eric Bibb.  Eric has been coming to the festival for several years now and always receives the sort of welcome he thoroughly deserves.  Smart, cool, age-defying and with that ever-present and alluring smile, Eric Bibb was relaxed as he performed a selection of his best loved songs with his small band, such as “Needed Time” and the rather jaunty yet poignant “Mole in the Ground”, leaving a satisfied crowd to bask in the open fields as the evening sun went down.  Other highlights of the 54th Cambridge Folk Festival included the huge voice and equally huge personality of Irish Mythen, the return of Drever, McCusker and Woomble, festival favourite Kate Rusby joined by a whole bunch of friends including Eddi Reader, the beautifully crafted harmonies of Darlingside, a delightful performance by Vera Van Heeringen and her trio, a Main Stage performance by the young piper Brighde Chaimbeul, who along with guitarist Jenn Butterworth demonstrated that just two musicians could sound as big as an entire orchestra, the hilarious Club Tent performance from a Cambridge institution, Peter Buckley Hill, to name but a few.  Then the various workshops and sessions throughout the weekend provided young and old with plenty to think about.  But in the end, I would have to say that the star of the weekend was the festival itself.  Fifty-three down and still going strong, so here’s to the next one, when we’ll probably have something older, something newer, maybe something borrowed, and in the meantime, I’ll probably remain slightly blue – it’s a whole year away. 

Bridget St John | The Greystones, Sheffield | 06.09.18

On the way to Sheffield tonight I set myself a task, to write a piece about the singer songwriter Bridget St John whilst deliberately omitting the name of John Peel, which I soon found to be impossible; those two names are so inextricably linked.  Choosing to dodge this predictable opener, something along the lines of ‘John Peel’s protege’ or perhaps ‘championed in the early days by John Peel’, I found Bridget’s own mention of the late radio presenter’s name, barely a couple of minutes into the set, somehow important to mention.  This was the fact that her previous night’s gig, as part of her current UK tour, was staged at the John Peel Centre in Stowmarket near the Peel family home, after which the singer stayed at the hallowed Peel Acres with his widow Sheila.  Bridget went on to point out that her cellist Sarah Smout also took a dip in the family pool before heading up to Sheffield, a city Bridget has somehow managed to avoid since her early student days, when she attended Sheffield University to study both French and Italian, a good fifty years ago.  The Greystones was surprisingly hot tonight as the place filled up with an audience predominantly made up of people who remember those early years, those days before Bridget obtained her Green Card and moved over to New York in 1976.  Despite leaving out many of the memorable songs from her early repertoire, such as “To B Without a Hitch”, “Curl Your Toes” and “Barefeet and Hot Pavements”, the singer filled some of those gaps with homages to her most notable contemporaries; Bob Dylan for instance, with the opener “Just Like a Woman”, then on to Joni Mitchell, whose unaccompanied “Fiddle and the Drum” segued into her own version of “America the Beautiful” and then finally, completing the set, Leonard Cohen’s timeless “Suzanne”.  “People tell me that I find the best covers” she said, going on to reveal, “actually, they find me”.  The advantage of a young singer having a mature voice beyond her age, is that she will probably still have it in later years and tonight Bridget sounded pretty much the same as she always has, singing songs that could quite easily be mistaken for those performed back in her early years.  We recall Bridget on the Old Grey Whistle Test, breathing down Bob Harris’s neck whilst performing the whimsical “Nice” and the yet to be named “Long Long Time”, or on one of Peel’s many radio shows.  There was just thirteen songs played tonight, Nice being one of them, together with the alluring “Fly High” and “Ask Me No Questions”, the title song from her Peel produced debut back in 1969, but devoid of her producer’s atmospheric church bells and birdsong samples – “the times people have come up to me and pointed out that those birds and bells could never have been recorded together at the same time”.  Bridget has clear memories of the old days and refers to such former collaborators, John Martyn, Kevin Ayers and Michael Chapman as her ‘brothers in music’ and tonight, Bridget was joined by her ‘sister in music’ the young cellist Sarah Smout, who provided all the necessary atmosphere with her empathetic strokes of the bow, mostly delivered with a distinct lightness of touch, then at one point going full throttle rock n roll on the Kevin Ayres-era “If You’ve Got Money”, before slapping her instrument in unison with Bridget on Buffy Sainte-Marie’s passionate gospel-fuelled “Lazarus”.  These days, when the tired old folk club format is often challenged, the compere, the support, the raffle and the awkward encore procedure that folkies tend to make a bigger issue out of than necessary, it makes a pleasing change to see an artist of Bridget St John’s stature, the female equivalent to Nick Drake, walk on stage unannounced, follow no tiresome opening act, avoid stopping midway through for a break and then to provide a set of memorable songs with a Leonard Cohen classic encore, each delivered in an old fashioned, no nonsense manner – it all made for just the kind of night I enjoy the most.

Take Three Girls… | Roots Music Club, Doncaster | 07.09.18

The start of the new autumn season at the Roots Music Club may have been low key in terms of audience numbers, but the usual standard was maintained as three local female performers made up the bill for the opening concert.  It actually makes a change to enjoy an entire evening of songs devoid of whalers, maidens, cross-dressing sailors, Napoleonic battles and grizzly murders, and for once, not a single political rant, but just three girls with guitars, passionately performing contemporary songs from the repertoires of such diverse acts as Nine Inch Nails, Corinne Bailey Rae, Queen and Guns and Roses.  Introduced in turn by regular compere Bob Chiswick, each of the singers eagerly took to the spotlight in order to perform in the relaxed atmosphere of the Ukrainian Centre, the main home of the club, with the audience pretty much on their side from the start.  In the case of Scarlett Kirwan, everyone in the room was rooting for the young singer as she made her first appearance outside of her own school environment.  Not even a teenager yet, and with eight months of practice under her belt, the eleven year-old confidently took her place centre stage and immediately found her stride with the help of a selection of songs by Jason Mraz “I’m Yours”, The Beautiful South “Rotterdam” and Amy MacDonald “Slow it Down”, each of which were received with the enthusiasm this young performer very much deserved.  With no small measure of courage, Anya Wiltschinsky chose some of the most challenging songs of the evening, from a diverse range of sources; the vocal pyrotechnics of Bjork for example, with a valiant take on the Sugarcubes’ memorable “Birthday”, to Whitney Houston’s “Saving All My Love For You”, again demanding several octaves with just the one set of tonsils available, by way of a rather interesting mashup of Tool’s “Parabola” and Mars Volta’s “The Widow”, a Prog opus of sorts and probably the highlight of the set.  Perhaps the venture was over-adventurous in places, as the singer traversed the myriad of jazz chords on Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy After All These Years”, then to immediately investigate a flavour of Joni Mitchell’s sublime “A Case of You”, whilst still catching a breath between Blondie covers, “Picture This”, “Sunday Girl” and “Maria” – but full marks for utter fearlessness nevertheless.  With two sets of covers done and dusted, the audience were then treated to the sultry delivery of such songs as Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” and Naughty Boy’s “La La La”, as Lu Moré caught the attention of the audience.  The leather-clad songstress brought a sense of the sensual to proceedings, with a gentle touch and a confident approach to phrasing, bringing her own fresh approach to such songs as “Zombie” (The Cranberries), “Perfect” (Ed Sheeran) and finishing with a couple of her own self-penned numbers “Walls” and “Deja Vu”.  With Stu Palmer in his usual position behind the sound desk, making each of these three performers sound as good as they possibly could, the audience was treated to an excellent opening night, and a great start to the new season, which will see appearances of such notable acts as Martin Carthy, Clive Gregson, Archie Fisher, Michael Chapman, Jim Moray, Cathryn Craig and Brian Willoughby and many more over the next few months. 

Lindisfarne | The Dome, Doncaster | 14.09.18

When Lindisfarne appeared at the Cambridge Folk Festival back in 1995, many of those present would not have seen the passing of Alan Hull coming later that year, an event that would have no doubt drawn a line under the band’s existence.  Almost thirty years later, the band are still here and those familiar songs are still very much celebrated by one of the North East’s finest exports, with original member Rod Clements at the helm.  Tonight, Doncaster turned out in force to see the latest incarnation of the band, featuring Dave Hull-Denholm, Steve Daggett, Ian Thomson and Paul Thompson, along with Rod Clements taking his usual position centre stage, alternating between mandolin, fiddle and guitar. After a short opening set courtesy of the Driffield songstress Edwina Hayes, whose tangible warmth and engaging songs provided the audience with more than a suitable warm up, the band, without standing on ceremony, launched into some of their best loved songs, including “All Fall Down”, “Lady Eleanor” and “Train in G Major”, delivering on cue, a repertoire that can be equally enjoyed as vibrant music of today as well as serving as pure nostalgia.  Can we really listen to Rod’s Dylan-influenced “Meet Me on the Corner”, without reliving those early youthful days?  The handsome charity souvenir brochure, ‘The Lindisfarne Chronicle’, shows a six-piece band ready for action, although tonight, the Fender-toting Charlie Harcourt was conspicuous by his absence, having been forced into retirement due to ill health this summer.  “Though Charlie has been playing like a demon – as always – his ongoing health issues have made it impossible to continue as a member of a touring band” said Rod.  “He has battled on long past the point when a lesser soul would have thrown in the towel”.  The remaining five-piece therefore soldiered on tonight, kick-starting their UK tour with no small measure of determination.  If Rod Clements took care of his own songs such as “Meet Me on the Corner”, “Train in G Major” and “Road to Kingdom Come”, it was very much left to Dave Hull-Denholm to look after the Alan Hull fare, with almost eerie interpretations of his late father-in-law’s “January Song”, “Alright on the Night”, “Winter Song” and “Run for Home”.  One of the most poignant moments of tonight’s show was Dave’s solo performance of one of Alan Hull’s more obscure songs, “Love Lasts Forever”, during which he accompanied himself on piano, bringing the hall to silence.  The song is one of several found on a series of old tapes at Alan Hull’s home studio, which include much older songs, recorded sometime between 1967 and 1969, many of which have never been previously heard.  For those who hold fond memories of Alan Hull’s charismatic and idiosyncratic songs, this material does seem to be in more than capable hands.  With the usual ‘fun numbers’ such as “We Can Swing Together” and “Fog on the Tyne”, the current band drew tonight’s concert to a close finishing with “Clear White Light”, augmented by loop vocals, which were not really necessary as the band can still handle things on that score with their own tonsils.  Leaving the stage to a standing ovation, this Lindisfarne tour can be considered very much underway.

Jez Lowe | Roots Music Club, Doncaster | 21.09.18

There’s nothing quite so rewarding to a music club’s organising committee, than for them to be searching the back rooms for more chairs, even as early as 7.30pm.  It was already a good night even before a single word had been sung, a single chord had been struck.  People mingled, glasses were filled, hands were shook, bodies were hugged, old friends were reunited, Jez Lowe was in town.  It takes a familiar name to ensure a good turn-out like this, but it’s certainly not just the name that fills the seats; it’s the rich body of work that comes with that name, songs that resonate with ordinary people, whether they’re mini political protests, songs about the plight of the mining industry and the North East shipyards, tender love ballads or even one about a dog called Aloysius.  The return to the Roots Music Club of Jez Lowe, playing his last solo gig before embarking on a five-week Canadian tour, saw him in fine voice and in fine fettle, alternating between guitar, bouzouki and mandolin, whilst delivering a broad selection from his prolific back catalogue.  There appeared to be more comic songs included in tonight’s set than usual, certainly the one about the dog Aloysius, but also the George Formby-esque “The Wrong Bus” and most notably, the brilliantly complex story of a Roman Soldier arriving in modern day Newcastle, coming to terms with the modern age; a sort of Roman Catweasel, complete with hilarious Pidgin Latin phrases. One suspects Jez had a ball writing this wonderful ditty.  “The Austerity Alphabet” updates such themed songs as the “Sailor’s Alphabet” and the “Woodcutter’s Alphabet” with a comment on the mess we find ourselves in at the moment; A is for Austerity, B is for Bankers and the horrible reality unfolds before our ears in alphabetical order, a beautifully well-constructed song if it wasn’t so worryingly true.  It was hot tonight at the Ukrainian Centre on the outskirts of Doncaster town centre, a strong community spirit providing much of the heat with choruses led by an accommodating performer, who delivered requests throughout the remainder of the show, including one or two favourites which have survived for many years, the enduring “Old Bones”, the delightfully melodious “London Danny” and as a fine finisher, “These Coal Town Days”. 

Jim Moray | Roots Music Club, Doncaster | 02.11.18

Jim Moray hit the folk scene running back in 2001 a couple of years prior to the release of his debut album Sweet England, effectively heralding in a brand new feel to British folk song, whilst fearlessly incorporating audio/visual gadgetry into his own particular vision of where these songs should be going.  Returning to Doncaster after five years, his last visit playing the CAST Theatre as part of the Doncaster Folk Festival, Jim enquired “were any of you there?”, the now Liverpool-based singer making his first tentative efforts to engage with the audience.  Strangely, even after all these years, we still consider Jim Moray a newcomer, despite having released no less than six albums and having played many of the top festivals and concert halls.  Tonight, the gadgets were kept to a minimum with only the occasional step on an effects pedal, no light show or photographic visual displays, and equipped only with an acoustic guitar and a concertina, the two sets were littered with well-constructed and finely arranged songs from the tradition.  As he pointed out, it’s not long into a Jim Moray set before you get a ‘Lord’ song, there’s plenty to choose from, Lord Randall, Lord Franklin, Lord Willoughby, Lord Bateman and others.  Tonight Jim settled for Lord Gregory and Lord Douglas, the latter being one of the most sublime performances of the night.  Mostly accompanied by guitar, the songs were both engaging and were performed with little fuss or fanfare, the idea being that all that was really necessary was the song itself.  Swapping a couple of times for the concertina, notably “When This Old Hat Was New” and once again during the encore, Jim Moray delivered just the one unaccompanied song, Joe Holmes’ “Another Man’s Wedding”, one of the songs from his current album Upcetera.  Perhaps the most engaging song of the set was “Sounds of Earth”, a new original song which concerns the romance between Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan as they worked on the golden record aboard the Voyager I and II spacecrafts, a song I would have liked to have heard again in quick succession if such a thing was acceptable in a live setting.  Instead, I rushed home and popped Upcetera on the player, whist writing this!  Before the leaving of Doncaster, Jim performed “The Leaving of Liverpool”, a homage to his adopted city, a good enough note to finish on.

Flossie Malavialle | Roots Music Club, Doncaster | 09.11.18

I doubt whether many people in the audience tonight, least of all Paul Morawski, imagined the show finishing with a rousing airing of The Fabs’ “Hey Jude”, its oft repeated “Nah nah nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah” being arguably the easiest sing-along chorus in the history of pop.  This is precisely what happened when Flossie invited Paul back up on stage for the finale of her set, leading the chorus in a wonderfully animated fashion.  The evening climax could have only been improved had the French chanteuse preceded this with Michelle, ‘Sont les mots qui vont tres bien ensemble, Tres bien ensemble’.  Paul was there tonight to kick things off with a set of familiar songs, including something by Rab Noakes “Gently Does It”, something by the pre-Fleetwood Mac team of Buckingham Nicks “Landslide”, the odd one by ol’ whatsisname Gordon Lightfoot “Early Morning Rain”, together with Paul’s own “Blue Sky”.  Having just turned forty this year, a year that turned out to be Paul’s annus horribilis, worse that he had ever imagined, having lost his dad so soon after losing his mum, both of whom played an important role in the history of this particular club, Paul closed with a reading of the poignant Tom Waits song “Time”.  Flossie Malavialle is no stranger to the Ukrainian Centre stage and tonight she returned with her familiar Gibson Jumbo, together with a bunch of memorable pop songs.  “Bonsoir Pet” was her opening greeting, delivered in her now familiar hybrid of Catherine Deneuve French and Vin Garbutt Teeside, before jumping in with her own take on Keith Pearson’s “More Hills to Climb”.  If Paul McCartney’s song for Julian Lennon concluded the evening, a more recent song from Macca’s highly prolific repertoire came earlier in the set with the rather nostalgic “Early Days”, a song that describes those formative days when he and his first musical partner sat opposite one another planning world dominance, ‘Dressed in black from head to toe, Two guitars across our backs, We would walk the city roads, Seeking someone who would listen to the music, That we were writing down at home’ – world dominance indeed.  Bobby Dylan popped up in the set with “Make Me Feel Your Love”, its writing credit very much Mr Zimmerman, though perhaps its popularity down to the 19 year-old Adele.  Flossie performed the song with a feminine authority.  There were also tributes to Tracy Chapman “Baby Can I Hold You Tonight”, Suzanne Vega “Luka”, Sting/Eva Cassidy “Fields of Gold” and a very personal tribute to the late Vin Garbutt himself, with a reading of his “Morning Informs”, “Gone, gone in the wink of an eye”.  Flossie exercised her tonsils with a couple of vocal workouts towards the end of the set, the much remembered “What’s Up” by the still very much obscure 4 Non Blondes, apparently the very first song Flossie ever performed at a festival back in 2001 when she was first over here working as an exchange teacher and then finishing with “Piece of My Heart”, a song first recorded by Aretha’s sister Erma Franklin, then Dusty Springfield and more famously perhaps, by Janis Joplin, amongst others.  Rounding off a very well rounded evening of song, Flossie and Paul, together with the audience, raised the roof… all together now “nah, nah, nah” etc. 

Archie Fisher | Roots Music Club, Doncaster | 16.11.18

It was during the 1980s that I eventually realised that folk music was a treasure trove of excellent songs and dazzling musicianship.  New names popped up in abundance as I discovered Nic Jones, June Tabor, Martin Simpson, Paul Brady, Andy Irvine, Dick Gaughan and countless others.  One of the LPs lurking in the shadowy end of the folk section was a mid-1970s record called Will Ye Gang Love, its cover featuring a moustachioed figure, sitting beneath a tree wearing what looked like leather trousers and matching sandals, with the name of the album in the trees top left, whilst the top right displayed the name Archie Fisher.  This, I discovered shortly afterwards, was one Archie Macdonald Fisher, a Glaswegian folk singer with a gentle voice and equally gentle guitar playing style.  After this moment of enlightenment, I began seeking out folk clubs and discovered one local singer/guitar player, namely Mick Swinson, also present tonight, performing one of the songs from this record, “The Broom a’ the Cowdenknowes” and a long term connection and friendship ensued.  People will have similar stories and memories of where and when they first discovered music and musicians and mine is no different from others.  When Archie Fisher returned to the Roots Music Club tonight, taking his seat centre stage with his trusty Fylde Falstaff on his knee, after a suitably fine warm up set courtesy of Derbyshire singer Pete Davies, it did feel a little like going back in time but without the need of a DeLorean DMC-12.  Songs and music combined with friendly and engaging patter can do this as simply as flicking a switch.  The 79 year-old singer, songwriter, TV and radio broadcaster appeared relaxed as he delivered his songs tonight, reaching back into a repertoire that includes songs that have been with him since the beginning as well as some newer additions, songs such as “Mary Ann”, “A River Like You”, “Song for a Friend”, “I Wandered by a Brookside”, “Final Trawl” and “Bonnie Border Lass”.  With an unfussy guitar playing style and a clear vocal delivery, each song evoked a special moment from Archie’s own past, of times performing in Gaelic to his mother’s horror “stick to translations son”, to his time touring with the late John Renbourn, regularly performing the song Lindsay together, which was also included in tonight’s set.  Having enjoyed a long career, singing with his siblings Cilla and Ray, and working at various times with the likes of Robin Williamson, Clive Palmer and Mike Heron (The Incredible String Band), Bert Jansch, Barbara Dickson, Tom Paxton, John McKinnon, John Doonan, Tommy Makem and Liam Clancy, Archie received an MBE in the 2006 New Year’s Honours List and remains a legendary figure on the British folk scene today.  Tonight’s appearance in Doncaster did little to harm that reputation as the singer closed with “The Parting Glass”.  I hope our parting won’t be for too long.

Great British Folk Festival 2018 | Butlins Holiday Resort, Skegness | 02.12.18

The timing of the Great British Folk Festival is just about right, especially for those of us who particularly enjoy Wintertime; it sort of sets the seasonal mood and should any of the billed performers include just a little seasonal spirit within their set, then it’s all the more enjoyable.  A Winter Union, a folk supergroup of sorts, featuring two established duos, Katriona Gilmore & Jamie Roberts and Hannah Sanders & Ben Savage, along with the superb singer Jade Rhiannon from The Willows, did this to the nth degree by reworking several seasonal songs during their impressive Saturday afternoon set.  It’s not just about Christmas or seasonal good cheer though, the festival endeavours to provide a broad range of music loosely associated with the folk and acoustic music scene and this year was no exception.  By Saturday afternoon, visitors had pretty much settled into their comfortable chalets, acquainted (or reacquainted) themselves with the site, probably sampled some of the local cuisine and enjoyed a good night’s sleep following the two concerts staged the previous night.  The weekend actually got off to a start a little earlier on Friday afternoon when The Salts opened the Introducing Stage, one of the now well established attractions of the festival, situated directly beneath the Skyline Pavilion, the focal point of this coastal site.  Organised once again by Stephen Stanley and Alan Ritson, the stage saw the emergence of no less than a dozen newcomers to the festival over the weekend, one or two of the acts having been around on the folk and acoustic music scene for years, Steve Turner for instance, but also a few newer acts, each given the opportunity to compete for a main stage slot at next year’s event.  The main stages, namely Reds and the Centre Stage began almost simultaneously on Friday evening save for around fifteen minutes, with ex-Steeleye Span guitarist Ken Nicol and one of the winning acts from the previous year’s Introducing Stage, Honey and the Bear, who played an impressive opening set.  The other two winning acts from last year Joshua Burnell and the very young Salutation would get their moment in the spotlight throughout the weekend.  The one unexpected surprise for Honey and the Bear was that they were asked to cover for an absent band, The Eskies who had been forced to cancel at the eleventh hour, the duo effectively playing both main stages on the same night, a slice of good fortune for them both.  Jon Boden got down to business with his eleven-piece orchestra, the Remnant Kings on the Centre Stage, resplendent in military tunic and confidence, whilst Ralph McTell provided a rather more laid back set midway through Friday night in Reds, with BBC radio DJ Janice Long hosting the concert.  Merry Hell were on form with their utterly entertaining late night set, filling the dance floor once again with relative ease.  After covering all but one of the previous festivals here in Skegness, I’m frequently asked about the event by both curious musicians and equally curious potential visitors alike.  “What’s it like?” they ask, going on to further enquire “is it run by Redcoats?” and “are there any knobbly knee competitions?” the usual tongue-in-cheek routine enquiries.  The Great British Folk Festival is rather unique on the festival calendar in that it’s one of the few major festivals where tents, camping stoves, wellies and children are surplus to requirements.  It’s also one of the most misunderstood festivals in that artists still don’t bring enough merchandise to flog, failing to fully appreciate the kind of healthy crowd they are about to play for.  We’re talking around 3,500 in one concert stage and 2,500 in the other, potentially around 6000 music fans eager to take some of the music home with them.  The festival is generally rich in atmosphere and every effort is made to make each act sound as good as possible, even if this means over-long turnaround times.  People seem to come from all around and it would be nice to know precisely who travelled the furthest to be at the festival this weekend.  One couple had come all the way from Hamburg to see their favourite band Lindisfarne and my photographer pal and I helped obtain autographs from each member of the band, which they scribbled onto this couple’s much valued CD, the reward for our efforts being delicious chocolate Santas.  These moments are precious to our own particular GBFF experience.  I will never quite understand why audiences are divided over LAU; one moment the casual quip about their music being a cure for insomniacs, the next minute grumbles about the trio’s wild improvisational Hendrix-isms.  The trio, made up of guitarist/singer Kris Drever, fiddle player Aidan O’Rourke and accordion and keyboard FX wizard Martin Green are extraordinary on any day of the week.  Their music is original, exciting, thrilling and highly complex.  They could quite easily please audiences with expertly played bog standard fiddle tunes but they don’t, and that’s the difference.  Easily the best performance of the weekend.  Most people who visit the festival are by now fully aware that this event employs a rather loose take on what we think of as ‘folk’ music, by including in previous years such diverse acts as Phil Cool, Ed Tudor Pole, Deborah Bonham, Tom Robinson and String Driven Thing, yet such acts as Steve Harley, whose only real claim to folk music is the fact that he cut his teeth in the British folk clubs of the late 1960s is a rather welcomed addition to the usual folk fare.  Whatever allegiance we may have to the confines of the folk community, there’s nothing quite like seeing and hearing Harley launch into “Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)” on a Sunday afternoon.  I almost took to the dance floor myself.  By Sunday evening, things took an awkward turn in regard to the dance floor, when for some unfathomable reason, the festival suddenly, and with little explanation, prevented any dancing in front of the stage in Reds, just as Lindisfarne was about to take the stage.  Although there’s a case to be drawn for both sides – those who want to dance and those who want to see the stage from the comfort of their front row seats – it did look rather ludicrous as the generation roles swiftly reversed.  It’s one thing witnessing middle-aged men attempting to keep order amongst the mosh pit youths at a punk gig in ‘77, but seeing people well passed retirement age being held back by young security guards was an amusing sight to behold.  I think sense and reason prevailed by the time Rod Clements launched into “Meet Me on the Corner” and the dance floor was full once again, whilst the security guys went for a cup of tea.   Earlier in the evening, the Centre Stage played host to Stillhouse, playing their final concert as double bassist Matthew Mefford returned to the States after exhausting his visa, rendering their appearance here at the festival emotionally charged as Jonny Neaves (guitar, vocals) and Polly Bolton (mandolin, vocals) bid farewell to their friend and bandmate.  A fantastic set of great songs and tunes, with all eyes on the remarkable mandolin skills of Polly Bolton, a musician whose sheer joy of performing is tangible.  Other notable sets over the weekend include Fisherman’s Friends, The Strawbs and The Men They Couldn’t Hang on the Centre Stage, whilst the Reds stage saw fine performances by Oysterband, Me, Thee and E and The Willows, together with an infectious performance by Daria Kulesh on the Acoustic Stage in Jaks, a smaller and much under used venue within the complex.  There was also notable performances by Elliott Morris, The Shackleton Trio and Emi McDade on the Introducing Stage, as well as some entertaining French Dance routines in the Beachcomber Bar.  I think we should also tip our caps to the Butlins staff, the catering and bar staff, the chalet cleaning staff and everyone who makes this festival work so well.  All in all, another great Skegness weekend of fun and music, something to warm up the chilly North Sea coastline as it approaches a much anticipated festive season.