Reviews of CDs, live performances and folk music related literature
English Folk Tunes For Flute - Vicki Swann - Book Review
Jiggery Pokerwork – The John Spiers Tune Book
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
A Star In The East CHERISH THE LADIES
Sweet Bells Kate Rusby
Songs From The Derbyshire Coast - Keith Kendrick
Silks and Spices - Finest Kind
Wingin' - Steamchicken
The Old Tyne Bridge - Pauline Cato
This is a nicely produced book, just over A4 size, with a CD included.
There is an introductory page with some notes on playing style (particularly
the use of grace notes), a few notes on some of the different types of
tune and, probably most importantly, reminders that folk music is more
than the notes written on the page. At the back of the book there is a
short descripton of the author and an acknowledgement paragraph which
includes the hope that the book will encourage more flute players to join
Geoff Convery © 2017
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.
Copyright © Sue Dewsbury 2016
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!
Hume Copyright © 2013
"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 youtube.com or have a look at her website www.lucywardsings.com/
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
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!
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. www.parkrecords.com
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 www.cherishtheladies.com
PETE FYFE Copyright © 2009
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!" www.katerusby.com
PETE FYFE Copyright
Finest Kind have been playing and singing together for over ten years, but Silks and Spices, though their third group recording, was my first encounter with them. And it’s absolutely superb – indeed, it has given me so much continued listening pleasure over the past month that I just hadn’t got round to reviewing it immediately ’cos I didn’t feel I could do it justice! Oh well, here goes… The trio, who comprise founder Ian Robb (vocals, concertina), Ann Downey (vocals, banjo) and Shelley Posen (vocals, guitar), mostly sing unaccompanied – here, as on around two-thirds of this CD – although they enlist album producer James Stephens for occasional fiddle, viola or mandolin duties here. Oh, and each one of the trio’s a darned fine solo/lead singer in his/her own right. The group’s based over in Canada, although Ian comes originally from England and Ann from North America (only Shelley being truly Canadian), so you’d be forgiven for wondering what kind of music (and style of performance) to expect. There’s a ready-made quote on the booklet, in fact: “Finest Kind’s repertoire has so many sources, our musical closet so many skeletons, and our performances so many opposing elements, there’s no neat summing up. ‘Folk Music’ serves as a point of departure, but in our case obscures as much as it explains.” Perhaps this makes you none the wiser, but to my mind it conveys precisely the dilemma of pigeonholing. Yes this is a folk album, in that the intrinsic styling of the performances is primarily English folk close-harmony. Direct reference to the Copper Family is probably pertinent here since Finest Kind cover at least two Copper-bottomed traditional classics here, but therein lies the contradiction – the Coppers may sing a harmony but aren’t necessarily as harmonious (in the strict sense of the word), if you hear what I mean. As I feel sure you will… for the Finest Kind of harmony singing is expressive yet at the same time light-textured and yes, genuinely harmonious. It’s crafted and rehearsed yet somehow spontaneous-sounding, easy on the ear with no attention-seeking tricksy vocal acrobatics. Finest Kind acknowledge that there are bound to be elements of other vocal traditions (Sacred Harp, sibling country duos, barbershop, doo-wop) in their delivery, tempered no doubt by the international mix of their voices, but by and large the English traditional style serves to produce what I hear as well nigh exemplary versions of these songs. Melodies are clearly enunciated, and not allowed to get submerged by the harmonies (intelligent and listenable though these always prove), while tempos are well judged, with no hint of either the rushing or dragging that can seriously ruin so-called traditional renditions. The CD’s 15 tracks run the whole gamut, from magnificently rousing hunting song (Bright Shining Morning), classic balladry (The Painful Plough, Fair Maid Walking, John Barleycorn), plaintive old-time (Blackest Crow) and ancient carol (Shepherds Arise), to Dylan (The Times They Are A-Changin’) and even the Shirelles, to some sincerely heartbreaking country done in a laudably unsentimental way (Marty Robbins’ At The End Of A Long, Lonely Day). Finest Kind are real professionals, accomplished performers who undoubtedly possess the knack (not as easy as it sounds!) of assembling a perfectly balanced, sensibly varied programme that cannot fail to attract and engage the listener who appreciates true quality. The Finest Kind of CD, in fact; just my kind of CD – and yes, unmissable. Catch them LIVE on their first British Tour 3-18 June – see www.prpromotions.org.uk for details.
Dave Kidman Copyright © 2006
A quick glance at the track list for this CD might give you the idea
that you've heard it all a hundred times before. There's New Rigged Ship,
Jenny Lind, Drops of Brandy and so on, but don't be fooled. You've heard
a lot of the tunes but never quite like this!
Copyright © Geoff Convery 2006
|Copyright Jim Hancock © 2014|