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The Ciderhouse Rebellion and Words of a Fiddler’s Daughter | Roots Music Club, Doncaster | 14.01.22

Fiddler’s Elbow | Roots Music Club, Doncaster | 28.01.22

Bar Stewards of Val Doonican | Roots Music Club, Doncaster | 11.02.22

South Yorkshire Folk Showcase | Cast Theatre, Doncaster | 15.02.22

An evening get together of local musicians featuring Banjo Jen, Frank Carline, the Kate Green Band, Charlotte Hannah, James Taplin and Dave Oldroyd with compere Ian McMillan.

The Wilderness Yet | Roots Music Club, Doncaster | 25.02.22

Concert for Ukraine | The Regent Hotel | 05.03.22

Gilmore & Roberts | Roots Music Club, Doncaster | 11.03.22

The Hunch with James Taplin | Cubley Hall, Penistone | 15.03.22

Findlay Napier with Sherburn Bartley Sanders | Cast, Doncaster | 07.04.22

Iona Lane Hallival Album Launch | Mill Hill Chapel, Leeds | 08.04.22

Union Jill | Roots Music Club, Doncaster | 22.04.22

The Memorial Concert for Lynn and Adam Morawski | Rockingham Arms, Wentworth | 29.04.22

Bob Chiswick compered the evening with his warmth and wit, Paul Morawski kicked things off with a few songs, before Rock stalwarts Pete Millbrook and Dave Lomas arrived at short notice to stand in for Rosalie Deighton (who sadly had no voice) and finally, no strangers to the Rock in its heyday, two mighty British songwriters Allan Taylor and Rab Noakes. It was as if time stood still. All proceeds going to Rotherham Hospice.

Bob Fox and Kootch | Roots Music Club, Doncaster | 13.05.22

Shepley Spring Festival | Storthes Hall, West Yorkshire | 20.05.22-22.05.22

Doncaster Folk Festival | Ukrainian Centre, Doncaster | 27.05.22-29.05.22

The Unthanks | The Barbican, York | 31.05.22

The five core members of the Unthanks would probably go otherwise unrecognised in the bustling city of York during a late afternoon rush hour, yet from the cool eatery along Walmgate to the stage door of the nearby Barbican, the extended eleven-piece band, complete with a couple of sound crew, make an imposing bunch, attracting one or two stops and stares along the way, namely by the walls of St Denys’s Churchyard and then on the steps of the stone archway at Walmgate Bar.  It promises to be a warm evening as the sun sets on one of the prettiest of all English cities.  The Barbican begins to fill, with more staff than audience it would at first appear.  Bags are checked, directions given, pre-gig drinks and presumably interval drinks are ordered and then seats are taken.  There’s an air of anticipation permeating the foyer bar, not just for any old Unthanks gig, but for the final concert of their current tour, a tour that has taken the band from Lincoln to Liverpool, Norwich to Northampton, Lancaster to London, Nottingham to Newcastle, Bath to Belfast, and many other cities and towns in between.  Dublin appears to have been a particular blast.  Tonight, the musicians have dined, laughed, reminisced, relaxed temporarily and are now ready to face their final audience before going their separate ways (for a short while at any rate).  

The Barbican has a suitably large stage, yet The Unthanks manage to fill it, with an imposing Steinway grand on one side of the stage, which will shortly be occupied by the band’s musical director Adrian McNally and a drums and percussion area is cordoned off on the other side, ready to feel the beats of Martin Douglas’s sticks.  In between, nine other singers and musicians will fill all the spaces during the course of the next couple of hours or so.  No fewer than seventeen songs are performed during the course of the evening, which comes and goes in what appears to be no time at all, though the band do indeed perform a couple of hour long sets.  Triumphant is a word to describe the lead song of the evening, the title song from the band’s forthcoming album Sorrows Away.  “Mount the Air” is perhaps the Unthanks’ magnum opus, symphonic folk at its best, yet “Sorrows Away” just might be a contender for that particular crown.  I doubt anyone will come away tonight without the chorus, or refrain, worming its way into their ears and presumably entertaining the walls of their respective shower cubicles a few hours later.

Rachel and Becky remain centre stage throughout, with Niopha Keegan occasionally joining the siblings, to deliver what is the essential vocal sound of The Unthanks.  Lizzy Jones’ trumpet lifts many of the band’s arrangements with clear and sustained melodic notes, a sound I can no longer imagine the songs without.  Towards the backdrop, which features an occasional projected motif and the band’s current logo, Niopha joins the string section, made up of Kath Ord on violin, Chrissie Slater on viola and Ele Leckie on cello, for many of the band’s more symphonic passages.  Chris Price and Dan Rogers look after the guitar and bass department, positioning themselves in close proximity to the drums, Chris seemingly pivoting a circle of stringed instruments and occasionally providing an additional vocal.

The audience is treated to several songs from the new album, interspersed by one or two undisputed Unthanks classics, such as “Felton Lonnin”, “Lucky Gilchrist” and the superb “King of Rome”, the arrangement of which is intricate, yet ever more playful at the same time.  If the audience is rewarded with the opening songs “The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry” and “The Bay of Fundy”, a song recently released as an album taster with an atmospheric accompanying video, then for the finale, the audience might consider all their birthdays having coming along at once, with the utterly uplifting “Farewell Regality”, following hot on the heels of the stunning “Mount the Air”, with a reprise of the “Sorrows Away” chorus to conclude, ensuring the ear worm is sufficiently lodged.

This reviewer first clocked eyes on the Unthank siblings in an upstairs room of a Doncaster pub sixteen years ago and those years have been marked by one achievement after another, with several innovative collaborations and line-up changes along the way. The one thing that never changes though, is the band’s attention to detail, its professionalism and the magic of some of the most authentic and original voices in music, and long may it continue.

The Magpie Arc | Cast, Doncaster | 09.06.22

The Magpie Arc’s very first live show has been a long time coming, the band having been around for a good four years and with no less than three EPs already released, together with one or two enchanting video promos.  The dreaded Pandemic saw to it that our stages, some of which this band should have already played, remained unavailable for the various lockdowns and therefore during this highly frustrating time, an eagerness soon began to develop along with a desire to get out and play as a matter of urgency, before the whole thing evaporated.  The wait has been excruciating for both band and audience alike, the band having already gone through a line-up change, which saw original member Adam Holmes leaving the nest for various reasons.  In the meantime, another Magpie has been drafted in with fellow Scot Findlay Napier stepping in just in time for the band to step out into the spotlight to finally reveal their live sound to fans and curious music fans alike.  

Doncaster provided the venue for the band’s initial concert tonight, with the walls of Cast’s second space being rattled with what could only be described as Folk Rock, a sound not heard in the town (now city) for a good while.  The seats soon filled with an audience just as eager to hear the band as the band was to play, with local hero Frank Carline on hand to settle the audience in, opening with a few of his own self-penned songs, together with the odd Robert Johnson number, effectively welcoming the audience into his kitchen; and it wasn’t even raining outside.

After their first song, The Magpie Arc’s musicians appeared to become more and more relaxed as the smiles came out.  These musicians are already established in their own respective fields; Nancy Kerr, an award winning folk singer with years of experience on the British folk scene behind her, Martin Simpson, an extraordinary guitar player whose expressive work on the acoustic guitar is known throughout the world and Findlay Napier, a Scottish singer songwriter, whose solo and collaborative work puts him very much in the spotlight whenever he performs. Meanwhile, Tom Wright (Albion Band) and Alex Hunter (Adam Holmes) provide a superb rhythm section, crucial for any band venturing into folk rock.  Despite their collective experiences, with long standing careers in folk music, there must have been something weirdly scary about tonight.  This was after all, the band’s first appearance and for one or two of them, a completely new musical departure, not to mention the fact that they haven’t been able to play a gig for ages.  Troopers all, the musicians soon found their feet and received a warm welcome to the stage, opening with “Canon”, possibly the first Magpie Arc song any of us heard, it being the opening song on their initial EP release.

Currently working on their debut full length album, the band presented a cross section of their story so far, which included the stunning “Greenswell”, one of Nancy’s finest moments, not just with The Magpie Arc, but from her entire back catalogue.  Martin stepped in with a familiar song from his late father-in-law Roy Bailey’s repertoire, “What You Do With What You’ve Got”, giving the song that extra dollop of ‘umph’, while Findlay brought some of his own material to the mix.  If the band happily showed off their country roots with a fine interpretation of the old Townes Van Zandt number “Loretta”, Martin Simpson found nothing particularly difficult in channeling Lowell George, with some fine bottleneck guitar during the vibrant “Roll Your Stone Away”.

The strident guitar chords on “Darling Charms” revealed something of the Fotheringport Span legacy, with a fine vocal courtesy of Nancy, whose command over storytelling blends in well with the overall sound of the band and was perhaps a good indication of the sound this band strives for.  It’s loud, it’s in your face and it’s fearless.  Yes, there are one or two in the audience who would’ve preferred the band to have been slightly quieter, but then again there was also one or two of us who would’ve liked the amps turning up closer to eleven on this occasion; this is Folk Rock after all.  I think it was Lincoln who once said ‘you can’t please all the people all the time’.

Steve Turner | Roots Music Club, Doncaster | 24.06.22

Underneath the Stars | Barnsley | 29.07.22-31.07.22

My Northern Skies was at the Underneath the Stars festival this year, presenting a 90 minute radio show special (above), which features music from some of the artists who appeared over the weekend. We also chat with Iona Lane, Sam Kelly, N’Famady Kouyaté, Mr Downes (Kate’s former drama teacher), Sally Smith, Kate Atkinson, photographer Bryan Ledgard, compères Leila Cooper and Andy Atkinson, Jason Manford, Damien O’Kane and Ron Block and from Los Angeles, Trousdale.

The stars were very much out once again, hovering over this little farm on the outskirts of Barnsley, for what turned out to be a fabulous weekend of fun and music and those fortunate enough to be underneath them, were in for a treat.  Celebrating no less than thirty years in the business, Kate Rusby’s presence could be felt all weekend long, from the moment we all arrived at the festival site, to its conclusion on Sunday night.  There was a tangible sense of belonging, a feeling that we were very much amongst friends.   

Brass is a grand old word with a strong association with the county of Yorkshire and brass was in no short measure this weekend, notably in the hands of the Brighouse and Rastrick Band, who appeared on the Planets Stage stage midway through and whose “Floral Dance” seemed to be a much anticipated event; an uplifting tune that even Terry Wogan couldn’t ruin (well, almost!).  Brass continued to make its presence felt in such combos as Flatcap Carnival, The Haggis Horns and Intergalactic Brasstronauts, not to mention a further scattering of sax and trumpet elsewhere throughout the weekend.  Contrary to the well-known saying, where there’s muck there’s brass, there was actually little in the way of muck, the festival site remaining clean and tidy all weekend long, in fact Damien O’Kane mentioned that after previous festivals, there’s actually very little to pick up, which can’t be said for other such events.  This is one of the aspects of the festival that makes it so child and family friendly and makes for a comfortable experience.  With one or two drizzly moments, the sun eventually came out on Sunday, covering Cinderhill Farm with a blanket of golden light, which is always something to savour.

For the first time, Underneath the Stars featured three prominent female headliners, something the organisers hope will be commonplace in future festival bills around the country.  Kate Rusby took her usual Saturday night spot, sandwiched between the Irish rockabilly queen Imelda May on Friday night and the American singer songwriter Suzanne Vega, concluding the Planets Stage headline performances on Sunday night.  All three headliners performed memorable sets, treating their respective audiences to a host of familiar songs, each of them audibly and visually appreciated, demonstrated in their eager applause.

Underneath the Stars can never be accused of the ‘same old same old’, as they continue to programme a varied mixture of genres, this year including such outstanding British folk combos as Sam Kelly and the Lost Boys, The Young’uns, The Trials of Cato and Kinnaris Quintet, as well as visitors from as far away as Sydney, Australia, namely the sparkling Azure Ryder, to the colourful trio from LA, Trousdale whose delicious three-part harmonies delighted the audience both inside and outside of the Little Lights Stage marquee.  For sheer musicianship, the Guinea-born balafon wizard N’Famady Kouyaté brought a taste of West Africa to the festival, delivering songs in his native tongue and also the language of his new home in Wales.  Damien O’Kane and Union Station’s Ron Block traded banjo licks, while Michael McGoldrick guested on both whistles and sticks.  For further adventure, experimentation and musical texture, there was an appearance by Penguin Cafe, whose “Music for a Found Harmonium” resounded around the festival site as folks relaxed after their early evening tea on Saturday.  Many acts slip this challenging tune into their set these days, but it never sounds quite as authentic than it does under the supervision of Arthur Jeffes and his busily bellowing harmonium.  

If your preference is for a bellowing voice however, then you would be hard stretched to find better tonsils than those of Davina, along with her band the Vagabonds, whose late night appearance on Friday night was both thrilling and entertaining, something almost mirrored in a later set by Hannah Williams and the Affirmations, whose soul-drenched performance turned the surrounding haystacks into something more like hey-Stax.  Alternatively, Iona Lane provided a more soothing Sunday morning set on the Little Lights Stage, performing songs from her acclaimed debut album Hallival, a few copies of which were dutifully signed shortly afterwards.

Then there’s always the fun element, something key to any great Underneath the Stars weekend and this year there was at least two familiar faces arriving on stage for a chat. The comedian Jason Manford, whose onstage Audience with Jason Manford gave us all an insight to the life of this very funny comic, whilst Adrian Edmondson provided further insights into the world of a comic genius, reading from his engaging memoir.  The humour continued on Saturday afternoon with the return to the stage of festival favourites the Bar Steward Sons of Val Doonican, whose hilarious antics continued to be enjoyed by fans of all ages, knitted and kitted out for the event, Greggs bags ever at the ready.

Perhaps the highlight of any Underneath the Stars festival though, is the appearances by Kate Rusby herself on stage, certainly during her own Saturday night headline set, but also during one or two cameos here and there, notably her appearance with Jason Manford during his onstage interview, for an impromptu performance of Glen Hansard’s beautiful “Falling Slowly”, Jason reminding himself of the lyrics via his mobile phone, and certainly during Sally Smith’s This is Your Life-ish Thingy, where in time honoured Eamonn Andrews/Michael Aspel tradition, Kate’s life was dissected, examined, probed and poked as her old friend read from the familiar red book. There was a handful of surprise guest appearances, as familiar faces entered through a white stage door, including friends and family, each of who go back further than those thirty years. 

Happy 30th Kate, and many more to follow.