ISSN 1476-1130







Reviews of CDs, live performances and folk music related literature


Two Score - Blowzabella

Easy Folk Ukulele - Vicki Swan and Johnny Dyer - Book review

Exploring Folk Fiddle - Chris Haigh - Book review

The Shrewsbury Folk Festival - Festival Review

The Big Session - Festival Review

McCALMANS – The Greentrax Years

TIM HART AND FRIENDS – My Very Favourite Nursery Rhyme Record


Sweet Bells Kate Rusby 



'Two Score'



'Two Score'Blowzabella’s latest album is a joy holding a cornucopia of great tunes and songs. Each track is very different to the others reflecting the contrasting musical voices and interests within the band and this keeps the listener on their toes which of course is a great thing for any dance band.

The band’s line-up features world class traditional musicians playing to their strengths with wit, musicality and panache. The price of the album is a small one to spend time in the company of Andy Cutting, Jo Freya, Paul James, Gregory Jolivet, David Shepherd, Barn Stradling and Jon Swayne playing beautifully together throughout proceedings.


Two Score side steps the earlier Blowzabella wall of sound approach, having a much more dynamic approach to arrangements often featuring duets and trios within the music and this really works. The band create lovely dynamics and textures keeping the sound interesting and constantly changing, with different players and instruments taking their turn to come to the fore.


There are four songs on the album and Jo Freya is in fine voice throughout. The pared down instrumentation of ‘Blackberry Fold’ providing a perfect backdrop for her emotive singing. Another favourite is ‘The Uttoxeter Souling Song/Turners’ which features close harmony vocals from Jo Freya and Paul James and which segues seamlessly into Andy Cutting’s big jig ‘Turners’.


One of the stand out tracks is ‘The Lark Descending / Bushes & Briars’. ’The Lark Descending’ originally composed by Paul James as a 'rant step' dance and companion to his tune Falco is played beautifully by Dave Shepherd as a fiddle led intro to set the scene for the song ‘Bushes & Briars’ sung by Paul James.


But what of the dance tunes I hear you ask? Well the album abounds with them from Gregory Jolivet’s tune ‘ a fuzzy pentatonic rock waltz which flips between minor and major in a most balletic way. Jo Freya’s SCCS Polka set is a delight, some future session favourites to be found here. Dave Shepherd’s rearrangement of his father’s tunes for ‘The Grenoside Processional’ will keep the folk dancers and English traditional musicians entertained whilst Conteeta a 3/8 bourree by Paul James dazzles us with its fiery opening and fierce virtuosity. Jon Swayne’s481’ delights the ear with its ease and relaxed musicality whilst ‘Juggler’s Jig’, composed by Barnaby Stradling, was written in memory of the shining star who was Jasper King: Chipolata, entertainer, nutcase and gentle man.


Two Score is a great album by a remarkable band. It really is a joy to listen to from start to finish. I can’t wait to see the band playing the material from the new album live. Blowzabella are immersed in English and European folk traditions and over the years have written much new music to delight audiences and players from all over the world. This album has something for everyone and I’m sure many of the tunes will be played in sessions throughout Europe.


I had the pleasure of listening to the album with the accompanying tune book ‘More Scores’ in front of me which really was fantastic experience. ‘More Scores’ is beautifully laid out book and features the tunes and songs from the albums: Two Score and ‘Strange News’ hats off to Jon Swayne for his sterling work scoring, editing and compiling it. Dance instructions are by Dave Shepherd and songs are also included in the book which at £12.00 or £6.00 for the pdf is a bargain.


You can preview or purchase ‘Two Score’ and ‘More Scores’ direct from the Blowzabella shop on the band website as a download mp3s or pdf or in physical form CD or book here’s the link 


Go on you know you want too! In my opinion the Two Score CD at £10 is probably the best tenner you will spend this year. Maybe this year will see Blowzabella get a well-earned lifetime achievement award. After all it takes a certain bloody mindedness, gritty determination and abundance of talent to artfully champion drone based folk music for two score years whilst adding to and developing the living tradition. 


Copyright © Quentin Budworth 2018



Easy Folk Ukulele

Vicki Swan and Johnny Dyer

Publisher – Schott


This book is ideal for anyone who has learned a few chords and played some of the standard ukulele repertoire of 50's and 60's pop music and now wants to develop their skills into a new dimension.

The A4 sized book contains 29 tunes from around the world in easy arrangements, clearly printed in both standard music notation and tablature along with chords for guitar (or another ukulele) to play along. The accompanying CD was a great help to me as I didn't know quite a few of the tunes. They are played rather more quickly than I could manage at first, but not so quickly as to be completely daunting. My one criticism is that some of the tunes have a very nice piano accompaniment which I found distracting.

The tunes are aimed at players from about grades 1 to 3, but could equally be a way in to playing the tunes regularly heard in sessions around the country or to a discovery of more music from much further afield.

The authors, Vicki Swan and Johnny Dyer are both multi-instrumentalists who have an infectious enthusiasm and a desire to make the music fun. Their introduction to the tunes gives great advice, to " take them in your own direction and make them your own. Give the tunes life, make them dance".

Looking forward to hearing a whole new style of ukulele playing on festival campsites and in folk clubs everywhere!

Copyright © Sue Dewsbury 2016



Exploring Folk Fiddle:

Author - Chris Haigh:

Publisher – Schott:

Price £16.99




This book is not for beginners, it is aimed at classically taught violinists who are interested in folk music and people who have learned fiddle in a folk setting but want to deepen their understanding.

Although it focusses mainly on Irish and Scottish music it contains discussions and examples of other traditions, particularly English, Scandinavian, North American and Eastern European music.

Most of the book is very practical with sections on the interpretation of tunes, phrasing, bowing, and even the use of unconventional tunings. All of these are illustrated with examples in musical notation and to get the most from the book you need some degree of musical literacy, although the notation is supported by tracks on the accompanying CD. There is one possible problem with this: some tracks play on a CD player but the solo demo tracks are in MP3 format so you need a computer or MP3 player to hear them. The book tells you how to do this but the technically challenged might need help.

Parts of the book contain detailed discussions of the history of the various styles and there are some technical and theoretical sections dealing with scales, modes and tuning which; depending on your musical background, education and interests; will either fascinate or bemuse you. Don't worry if you're bemused, they're not essential.

There is an excellent bibliography if you want to read more on some of the topics covered, a discography if you want more inspiration and a list of useful websites.

If you buy this book will you absorb and make use of everything in it? Almost certainly not, any more than you will have learned every tune in that copy of O'Neill's Music of Ireland you bought in 19-whenever-it-was. Is it worth the 17 quid for the bits (whichever they are) that you will use? Absolutely!

Copyright © Geoff Convery 2014







It was my first year at The Shrewsbury Folk Festival. I had heard great things, I expected great things, and I was not disappointed!

The programme for this year's festival was so jammed-packed with music, dance and other events that I was no alone in having to choose carefully what I was going to do. I chose to concentrate on music so I didn't get to any of the dance events, which this year were mainly ceilidh, and I only heard good things about them from other festival goers.

The festival was host to some interesting bands, such as Barnstar - a modern bluegrass band, Colvin Quarmby - a Midlands-based folk band and Bright Pheobus, the much-anticipated project led by Jon Boden involving people such as Roy Bailey, Martin Simpson, Sam Sweeney and Fay Hield singing songs by Tom Waits. For me, the stand-out performance of this mele was Nancy Kerr's duet with Jon Boden, Whistle Down The Wind. Kerr's voice soared and we heard yet another facet of Jon Boden, this time on the guitar.

As always, the Oysterband charmed the crowd and played popular tracks, from their feminist The Oxford Girl to songs of friendship, If You Can't Be Good Be Lucky and Meet You There. Of course we miss Ray Cooper, aka Chopper, but the Oysterband have always evolved. A sign of their longevity, John Jones jumped down from the stage and climbed over a barrier to sing in the 'mosh pit', only to find he couldn't do the same in reverse. On his way backstage, the frontman ran past me saying, "I can't get back up!"

I finally found out why Van Morrison calls James McNally of The Afro Celt Sound System 'The Master'. Throughout the Afro Celts' set the camera focussed mainly on McNally, so I watched the big screen as the multi-musician moved between his sound system to playing the Irish flute, to a whistle, to a guitar, to a bodhran, to singing and back to operating the sound system while playing the flute one-handed! McNally was mesmorising to watch, working hard non-stop throughout the set to produce great music.

My 'find of the festival' and recommendation is Lady Maisery. These three young ladies have been performing for several years under different guises, but this was the first time I have seen them together. The venue experienced a power cut and so Hannah James, Rowan Rheingans and Hazel Askew performed mainly acappella, with Rheinghans occasionally playing the fiddle and Askew a harp. Hannah James is known as one of the best clog dancers in the UK and was astounding to watch when she danced out the beat of two songs. Lady Maisery sound a little like Medieval Baebes with sweeping, dreamlike vocals, yet are unique, blending traditional folk styles with their own modern twist. They received a standing ovation from the entire audience. Their new album, Mayday, is out now.

This friendly festival was well-organised, with specified areas for camper vans and motor homes, as well as a designated area close to the main venues for disabled people, complete with suitable toilets and showers. There was plenty of seating for eating meals, reading, chatting, or for groups to get together and play instruments. With a capacity of 6000, most of the pathways tarmac'd, the good conditions of the toilets and the fact that all the venues were seated venues, this was a comfortable festival to attend.

This was my first year at The Shrewsbury Folk Festival and it won't be my last!

Catherine Hume Copyright © 2013


The Big Session 2012

Festival Review




"I've had my blood pressure tablets. I've had my cholesteral tablets. I'm ready!"

This wasn't what I expected to hear at a festival, but the Oysterband do attract an audience of all ages. The Big Session Festival 2012, run by the Oysterband, did not disappoint fans. Rather, it surprised.

The first year at its new location, Catton Hall, situatued between the River Trent and the National Forest, The Big Session Festival was a small but intimate affair. A small market place with a good book stall selling what would normally fall under the radar and a stall selling sheet music and instruments occupied the centre of the grounds. Mini melodeons had a good airing at The Big Session, with sales of the instrument and a popular mini melodeon workshop.

Friday night of the festival featured Chumbawamba and the Oysterband. Chumbawamba played a fantastic set on the Friday evening, and as always were political as well as very funny. Singing acapella as well as with acoustic accompaniment, they sang songs of local heroes and a Mexican soldier who survived a firing squad.

The Oysterband closed the Friday night with twenty songs from a list as voted by fans. They were joined on stage by former drummer Lee Partis in one of his obligatory kilts, as well as piper and whistle-player James O'Grady who has performed with the Oysterband for ten years. Old favourites such as The Oxford Girl were played as well as more modern well-loved tracks like Dancing As Fast As I Can and the audience participation song Everywhere I Go. Festival goers were well satisfied and looked forward to the following day.

For me, the stand-out acts on the Saturday were Magic Tombolinos, Abandoman and Treacherous Orchestra. The Magic Tombolinos are an energetic Spanish-led band who take their influences from jazz, pop and Gypsy music. I didn't have a clue what they were singing about, but it was a terrific flavour they were dishing out!

Abandoman are an Irish improv-rap duo, which may sound a bit dubious to many, but I was actually blown away by these two men and their sheer talent and ability to look at any object or hear any audience member's hobbies or favourite food and instantaneously incorporate them into a humorous rap.

As someone said to me as Treacherous Orchestra were tuning up, "What is the definition of a gentleman? A man who knows how to play the bagpipes but doesn't!" Well, I cannot say that is true in the case of Treacherous Orchestra. Following the likes of Lau and The Peatbog Faeries, Treacherous Orchestra take old jigs and re-invigorate them for a modern audience.

Sunday afternoon was led into the evening by Jon Boden and The Remnant Kings. This band, although featuring Paul Sartin and Sam Sweeney, had a very different sound and pace from Bellowhead. This new venture of Boden & Co look at what could happen if civilisation as we know it crumbles, and so the songs have a more thoughtful aura about them. With the aid of 'Edith' the Edison phonograph, Jon Boden and The Remnant Kings finished their set with a track reminiscent of 1940s crooning, exposing the delicacies of Jon Boden's voice with the brilliant musicianship we have come to expect from him and his associates.

Playing the song list from their tour of the USA and Canada two decades ago, the Oysterband and June Tabor brought us tales of politics and social need and gave them a human face. Along with the high standard of musicianship, there was something very powerful about seeing June Tabor in the flesh as she sang the stories of human struggle and triumph.

Show of Hands played a great set of old songs and new, from Arrogance, Ignorance and Greed to Country Life and Cousin Jack. They joined the Oysterband and June Tabor for the festival finale where they all sang acapella The New Jerusalem, sealing the festival with hope, and then finished with the festival's usual closing song and message, Put Out The Lights.

There were many acts at The Big Session that were unknown to me, but the one that stood out to me was Lucy Ward. Lucy Ward is local to the Derbyshire area, and known around the local folk clubs and smaller festivals in that part of the country. On the traditional side of folk, Lucy has a beautiful and mature voice that silenced the entire main arena. I had the pleasure of spending some time with Lucy, a positive young woman who has her feet firmly on the ground. My advice is Lucy Ward is someone to watch out for in the future. Lucy is playing at a number of festivals this summer but if you can't make any of them, I suggest you listen to her on or have a look at her website

There was advice on The Big Session website to bring a chair. Many people - including myself and my mother did bring fold-up chairs because of our disabilities. A lot of provision was made for seated audience members, whose numbers swelled to around 400 in the main tent arena.

The Catton Hall site is very flat which was advantageous for people in self-propelled wheelchairs. However, the downside to a flat site is that the camping areas got a bit soggy with the rainfall. Several local hotels were linked in with the festival and a shuttle bus system took people to and from the hotels and the festival site.

I would be interested in returning to The Big Session Festival next year to see how it grows. Moving from an indoor venue to an outdoor festival seems to have paid off. Well done, Oysterband!

Catherine Hume Copyright © 2012



The Greentrax Years

Greentrax Recordings CDTRAX350


My first encounter with The Macs was around thirty years ago at the Cambridge Folk Festival. I remember being mightily impressed by their vocal wall of sound and still am to this day. These were strident vocals employing a passion overlooked by so many artists these days (even though I still have a bit of difficulty understanding some of the more heavy Scottish dialect) and were/are the band’s trademark to this day. Never sounding happier than when it came to presenting bawdy drinking songs such as Andy M Stewart’s wonderful “Ramblin’ Rover” they certainly know how to engage and most importantly entertain their audience. Whether it be roaring out shanties (”Highland Laddie/Roll The Woodpile Down/A hundred Years Ago”), dipping into established favourites including “Both Sides The Tweed” and “Yankee Boots” or on a more reflective note utilising the band’s own finely crafted songs such as Ian McCalman’s “From Greenland” and you have a well rounded package. As a snapshot (46 songs on a double disk) this is a veritable smorgasbord of the band’s involvement with Greentrax Recordings and I hope will be a collaboration that continues for while longer. Stop Press: I’ve just discovered that the band will finally retire at the end of 2010 so, all the more reason for purchashing a real slice of ‘folk’ history!


Back to Top


TIM HART AND FRIENDS – My Very Favourite Nursery Rhyme Record

Park Records PRKCD108


Christmas Eve 2009 sadly saw the passing of Tim Hart who will probably best be remembered as a founding member of Steeleye Span or as part of his sublime duo with Maddy Prior. In fact it is the unusual pairing of Maddy’s vocals along with one of Hart’s “friends” B J Cole on pedal steel guitar on “Sing A Song Of Sixpence” that makes this a must buy for all completists of the folk-rock genre. Casting his net outside of the Steeleye framework (Maddy, Peter Knight, Bob Johnson and Rick Kemp) other musicians involved in the project include John Kirkpatrick, Davy Spillane (seriously!) and Melanie Harrold. As Tim mentions in his sleeve-notes these albums (originally released as two separate recordings) were basically an antidote to the numerous rubbish releases of a similar ilk foisted on a gullible public that didn’t know any better. Of course the seam of songs (featuring deceptively ‘catchy’ melodies) such as “Lavender’s Blue”, “Oranges And Lemons” and “London Bridge Is Falling Down” have a far darker significance if you care to dig a little into their history and unravelling these gems was always a feature of any Steeleye album at the time. John Dagnall and all at Park Records should be justifiably proud in re-releasing (on double disk) what was a labour of love for its protagonist and a fitting tribute to one of the enduring legends of the folk scene.

Back to Top



A Star In The East

(Big Mammy Records 0004)


Is it really that time of year? Well, it must be as Cherish The Ladies release another seasonal album. And what better way than a bright and breezy opening set of tunes “A Dash For The Presents/Joy To The World/Parnell’s March”. You can just picture the girls sitting round an open fire and a Christmas tree much like a scene from “It’s A Wonderful Life” enjoying a good old fashioned session. Now joined by relative newcomer Michelle Burke who’s blessed with a gently lilting Irish brogue for a beautiful rendition of Robbie O’Connell’s “All On A Christmas Morning” and a sublime “First Noel” they certainly know how to weave a web of interlinking melodies led by the sparking whistle playing of Joannie Madden. Also bringing their instrumental talents to the banquet are Mary Coogan (guitar, mandolin & banjo), Roisin Dillon (fiddle), Mirella Murray (Accordion) and Kathleen Boyle on piano plus some special guests. The ladies revitalise many standards including “Greensleeves”, “Deck The Halls” and that perennial favourite “Jingle Bells” and there’s even a couple of Country hoe-down tracks “Home On Time For Christmas” and “Rise Up Shepherd And Follow” (featuring Joannie on lead vocals) that surprisingly don’t sound out of place. So, an album that is full of bonhomie and one that I’m sure will prove popular with the whole family and not just those of a ‘folk music’ persuasion. Further information from

PETE FYFE Copyright © 2009

Back to Top


Kate Rusby

Sweet Bells
Pure Records PRCD33


The distinctive, almost waif-like vocals of Kate Rusby opens this seasonal recording (now re-packaged using a suitably Christmas themed painting by Marie Mills) with a bright and breezy Here We Come A-Wassailing, featuring the rhythmic/lead interplay between Anna Massie's cittern and Ian Carr's guitar, joined by squeezebox maestro Andy Cutting and the gently pulsating bass of Andy Seward. It's gorgeous stuff particularly the precision of the cleanly picked high notes Carr infuses leaving the listener with an almost visual image of gently falling snow. Clever and imaginative re-workings of predominantly traditional songs incorporating that oh, so Yorkshire sound of brass bands (I'm thinking Peter Skellern here for those old enough to remember) provides the recording with some real "meat" although not too heavy as to distract or offend delicate ears. If you hadn't guessed it already, I'm totally smitten with this wonderful addition to my favourite time of year and I just wish I could transport this sound along with a church choir to regale a residential home or two. The inclusion of standards such as Hark The Herald and "The Holly And The Ivy" nestle snugly amongst new songs (to me anyway) and have re-awakened my interest in carols. On a production shared between Kate and brother Joe the crisp sound and energy is to be applauded, as is the digital dexterity of all the musicians involved. This is a recording that should be savoured much like the dinner I'll be playing it at on Christmas Day. As Scrooge might have said "God bless us everyone!"

PETE FYFE Copyright © 2009

Back to Top



Copyright Jim Hancock © 2017