Saturday, November 22, 2014

Emma Ballantine, Beth Porter and Wild Mountain - The Green Room, Frome

This is only the third edition of The Green Room but it is showing signs of becoming one of the best new-music showcases this side of anywhere. It is also good value: £8 advance, £10 on the door, with cabaret-style tables and seating.
First to play was London-based, though originally from Salisbury, Emma Ballantine. That she made the gig at all was itself a triumph over adversity. Her car was stolen yesterday and so she and her guitar made it to Frome by rail instead.

She played songs from her self-released 'Flying Machine EP' and other compositions too.
I had never heard her live before and, one thing that I should mention, is that she has none of that awkwardness that solo artists often display when introducing or describing themselves or, particularly, their songs.

Next to play was the flagship project of someone that you may very well already have heard, though are unaware of. Bethany Porter is one on the most sought-after session cellists in the UK but there is a great deal more than that.
Her headline project is Beth Porter and The Availables. The début LP 'Open Doors' will soon be available, on vinyl and download only. It has been a long time in the works due to pressure of other commitments. 'The Availables' are just what the term implies: yesterday that was Emma Hooper (viola) and Ian Vorley (violin and baritone saxophone) with both adding vocals. She plays instruments other than 'cello and not all of them have strings.
The recorder is not the most fashionable of instruments. This is a treble recorder. Then again the even less common tenor recorder features in one of the most remarkable modern folk albums of 2014 - played by Josienne Clarke in that case - so just possibly its time is coming.
Top of the evening's bill was Anglo-Irish duo Winter Mountain. Joe Francis is from St. Agnes, Cornwall and Marty Smyth from the northern tip  of Co. Donegal. They met by chance at Union Station, Chicago and the rest is history.
Winter Mountain is signed to Frome-based Charcoal Records and this set was recorded live in its entirety.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Lotte Mullan, Heg & the Wolf Chorus and The Moulettes - Marnhull Acoustic Sessions

It is fair to say that it has not always proven easy to tempt sufficient numbers to commit their Sunday evening to acoustic music, however exceptional, in an intimate (as in less than 100 seat) venue in rural North Dorset. I wonder, and very much hope, that the well-attended event will be seen as something of a game-changer.
The Moulettes were the big draw and quite rightly so, but something that those drawn in by that possibly appreciated even more was the whole package. I knew what to expect in that sense but I too had never seen either of the support acts live before. I don't worry about that too much; once I have the measure of some event or other  I'm happy to take it on trust and buy a ticket. A few misses are part of the rough-and-tumble and have, taken over time, been far overshadowed by the surprise hits.
First to play was Lotte Mullan - and I have an admission here: not only had I never heard her play live I had never even heard of her at all.

Her songs are pretty intense and personal.
She released 'Claw Marks EP' earlier this year and an LP will follow in Spring 2015 by the looks of things. I did think about asking what the title might be but I never quite summoned up the courage before it was too late and things had moved on.
The next to play was Heg and the Wolf Chorus in a diminished line-up as a three-piece (they should be five) owing to the winter lurgies. I was at least aware of them and some of their music but again had never seen them play live. I  managed a pretty poor job of photography too. Please believe me that this band sounded a whole lot better than this looks! I need to see them live again
Dramatic it most certainly is - the songs and the arrangements both.

This also tuned out to be the perfect bridge between Mullan's introspection and The Moulettes decidedly cosmic perspective - from the title track from LP 'Constellations' to a brand new track pondering the secret life of nematode worms.

So new was it that the rest of the band left Hannah Miller to play it all by herself, on Ruth Skipper's auto-harp!
That, and the real possibility that the set would dissolve in fits of giggles at any moment, only made it seem even more surreal and wonderful. It was a long set but still it was over far too soon. That despite the fact that they played two encores, one of which was Songbird.
This is the whole band in action.
There is much more that I could add and in time I probably will. The above is probably sufficient to explain why I think that events such as this matter very much indeed.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

New Music 2014 - Part 41 - French For Rabbits - Spirits

It is one of those late autumn days where it is raining outside and the best bet, if one is able to do that, is to stay in and try to keep it all at bay. Thus I find myself in front of the fire, with a bowl of home-made leek and potato soup, listening to this LP. It is just about perfect for days such as this and I'm a sucker for this kind of dream-pop anyway. Where they come from it is, however, spring.

Spirits is the début LP by New Zealand duo French For Rabbits. I don't know enough about music from New Zealand, nevertheless that which I do find I tend to like. This next might be a myth but I don't want it spoiled now, thank-you: the band-name apparently came during a discussion as to whether lapins, presumably a possible band name, was indeed the French word for rabbits.
'French For Rabbits' was, in any case, a far better choice.

Originally from Christchurch, but relocated to Wellington, the duo of (nominatively-determined) Brooke Singer on voice and keyboards and John Fitzgerald on guitar do a fine job of evoking the subtle wisps of autumn that try to sneak in wherever there is a chink in the defences. I believe that Brooke is also the principal songwriter too.
The album is very much a thing to be listened to in toto. I purchased it as a download but it will soon be released on vinyl too. I'm now more than tempted to upgrade to real.
See what you think. Have a listen:

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Moulettes - Marnhull Acoustic Sessions - 9 November 2014.

This is your final warning.
You will most probably never be able to see this again. One of the UK's finest bands, The Moulettes - a seven-piece, live in a 90-seat venue.
Sunday 9 November from 7pm, Marnhull Acoustic Sessions for tickets.  If you miss this then you will be asking yourself why before very long.

It is not folk music like you ever knew it. Moulettes is supporting Bellowhead for many dates on the the latter's UK autumn tour and taking a day off to visit Marnhull. Bellowhead is playing Birmingham Symphony Hall that same evening and you can't now sneak off to that instead as it is sold out!

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

New Music 2014 - Part 40 - Lynne Hanson - River of Sand

'River of Sand', released in September 2014, is actually the fourth LP from Canadian folk-roots artist Lynne Hanson but the first that I became aware of. What took me so long is the obvious question. My weak excuse is that is the first she has released in four years.

Back in 2010 I was nowhere as inquisitive about new music as now I am - no doubt about that - but also with that change the range of music that I like and, at least to some extent understand, has burgeoned. I have not yet listened to this LP enough times to make stable comments on individual tracks but my inclination is that I never will. It is certainly not the polished 'Nashville product' and quite deliberately so. Suffice to say that if you like an album with a lot of meaning and a good dose of darkness and light then this as good as any I have found this year.

Hope is a just four-letter word when the feeling just ain't there.
'This Too Shall Pass'.

These are songs lived-in; well worn through good and bad, scruffy in places and threadbare in others, therefore now totally comfortable. This is music for the season, as winter approaches, to be appreciated seated near a real fire and with a glass raised to the passing of such times.
'This Too Shall Pass'. The Guitar Bar, Nottingham, September 2014.

Friday, October 31, 2014

The challenge for this weekend.

Is to not see any live music at all.
I can do that, probably.

Also to listen, by any legal means, to as many of the albums of 2014 that I have intended to listen to but still haven't. My focus just now is those by artists that I have seen live in 2014. I think I'm going to keep Spotify busy...

Without rhyme or reason I started with The Voyager - Jenny Lewis. Here she is.
Woods Stage, End Of The Road Festival 2014.

I'm having my Saturday lunch while listening to Fear In Bliss - Horse Thief. Lead vocalist Cameron Neal chatting to fans after the set on the Tipi Stage, End Of The Road Festival 2014.

This next is a bit worse as admissions go. I saw Samantha Crain live twice this summer and I still don't have the album 'Kid Face' to call my own. This mistake will shortly be rectified.
Again this the Tipi Stage at End Of The Road Festival 2014. I promise to choose another location soon.

'The Hum', the third LP by O'Hooley and Tidow, is yet another case in point. Booked for the subsequently cancelled Frome Folk Festival 2013, this was another act that I had never seen live before. I was rushing between stages at this point, and so I didn't take as many pictures as I might have liked, but being there just to listen was very well worth the effort.
Walled Garden Stage, Green Man Festival 2014.
They have just finished a year also involved in supporting Lucy Ward as part of her touring band and are now focussing attention on their fourth album as O'Hooley and Tidow. Lucy Ward is another whom I have never yet seem live and, as it happens, she was also booked to appear at Frome Folk Festival 2013... I do however have both albums, 'Adelphi Has To Fly' (2011) and 'Single Flame' (2013) and I recommend both very highly. Seeing Lucy Ward play live is one of my ambitions for 2015.

You might gather that my thread here is there is just so much available that simply to keep abreast of it, just treading water if you will, is quite some exercise in memory if nothing else.

Then I found something new - a 2014 album by a Canadian artist that I had never ever heard of before. This needs to have a new post of its own...
'New Music 2014 - Part 40 - ...'.

The last in this post therefore will, as promised, be from a different stage and indeed a different festival.  A different artist too; one that, particularly outside the UK, is far less well known than the above.
Mary Epworth. Veterans and Virgins Stage. Truck Festival 2014.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Black Feathers - live and on video.

Watching the video below seems to me weird in an undefinable way. I find the juxtaposition of images from live performance and recorded video slightly curious but I don't really understand why that should be so.
This is The Black Feathers playing live at the Cheese and Grain last Friday evening and I took the picture.

This the official video for the same song, recorded in Nashville TN just a few weeks back.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Old Music. New Music. - Photos. Fires. Fables.

I know that, as Emily Barker and The Red Clay Halo embark on their tour and it is likely to be the last for a little while as the various members pursue their many other projects, Photos. Fires. Fables (2005) is soon to be re-released on CD and this news will please many people. It is in no way a curiosity simply because it was her first release as a solo artist. It still stands as an incredible record.
I am one of the lucky ones: I snapped up the very last copy at the Rough Trade pop-up shop at End Of The Road Festival back in 2009 - and I knew absolutely nothing at all about the artist until this point - about ten minutes after I heard her play live. When music does that to me then it really matters; it is history in the making.
Emily Barker and The Red Clay Halo headlined North Dorset Folk Festival in 2013.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

New Music 2014 - Part 39 - Caitlin Rose - Cold Answer

There are a few for whom one always needs to keep an eye open and a ready ear. This is one of them.

Cold Answer was co-written with Matthew Perryman Jones in 2013 and recorded in early 2014.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

North Dorset Folk Festival 2014

I'm back home from the above mentioned. Was it good? Don't even get me started!
This was the third edition and the second at its current venue of Marnhull Village Hall. I think I have said each time that the latest will be hard to better. Take it as read that it applies here too.
The word bijou applies to this festival more than any other that I can think of. A jewel is usually very small but perfect and, for some reason, in English we borrowed the French word when used as an adjective. 
As a demonstration of the intimacy of the setting I took this picture from the back row of the seating and without zoom of any kind. The sound desk was perhaps 2 metres behind me and the back wall of the hall immediately behind that.
This is headline artists Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin and I shall return to them.
I'm a big fan of seeing opening acts and as it happens in this case he was the only one on the bill that I had never seen live before. This just shows the strength-in-depth on offer here. 
It was Gavin Davenport and he is hardly unknown, as the link will attest. He played a variety of instruments of which the concertina is a favourite of mine.
The next artist to play may not be known to you unless you were at Behind The Castle Festival in 2014, which is where I first saw her live. That should change very soon and I'm interested to hear how she sounds with backing musicians. Why so? See here.
Lizzyspit releases her first full length recording 'Villains' in January 2015.

I remember the next act, Tinderbox, from my visit to the first North Dorset Folk Festival (NDFF) in 2012. Totally new to me then, seeing them play again yesterday was quite the nostalgia thing.
They were, as in 2012, joined by Bob Burke (right) and he is now the only artist to have played all three editions of NDFF, where he played solo in 2013. Tinderbox release a live album 'Live! At The Cottage' shortly. Indeed, and thanks for the link information, you can now pre-order it here.  I have to say that, while you can take Monique Houraghan out of Dublin you can't take Dublin out of her. Later we were treated, by Hannah Martin, to an apposite Oscar Wilde quote! And that is not to mention the fact that Tinderbox challenged Ninebarrow (see below) to a cover 'duel' - and it seems that both parties freely accepted.

Next was the UK based but bluegrass-influenced and all-round inventiveness of three-piece Jaywalkers - from left to right: Mike, Lucy and Jay. They are working on their third LP.
The old-time Appalachian style, whether the tracks are new or traditional, was just the ticket at this point in the day.
After these four acts there was a longer interval before the next three sets. This was to allow for food, drink and also reconfiguring the stage set-up for what was to come. On the subject of food I'll say only this: Cake was clearly pretty much the only food that the artists coveted.
The music resumed with Dorset duo Ninebarrow that also play a mixture of traditional and new compositions, the latter mostly inspired by history and landscape.
I think that perhaps the most incisive comment in the link above is provided by the duo that were headlining. There is something about their take on music that really matters. They played some new songs and that really mattered too. This was taken during one of those new songs. It is astonishing to remember that their first released recording, 'Kingdom EP', was released in 2013 and début LP 'While The Blackthorn Burns' as recently as April 2014.

First support was an artist who played at the first NDFF in 2012 and that was also the first time I saw Megan Henwood play live although I was well aware of the 2011 album 'Making Waves' before that. I have seen her play solo, as a four-piece and, as here, a three-piece.
Any which way it is an experience.
The vicissitudes on the path of a musician are many and as such have delayed the release of her second LP 'Head Heart Hand'. It is now happening in March 2015 and all the omens are good.

That only leaves me to mention the headline artists - Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin. To be honest they did exactly that which I have come to expect.
They came, they played, they conquered but they are no conquistadors for they do it with guileless style rather than with fire and sword. If there were any present that hadn't seen this live and remain unconverted then I have to say its a bit like cooking mussels - if they haven't opened up after a few minutes then they were probably already dead.
Their latest studio LP 'Mynd' (2013) is excellent but, and it is relevant here, equally so is their 2014 release 'Live In Calstock' and it was recorded at another venue about as small as this. One of the best live acts in the UK today; it is as simple as that.
One more thing is that you can see another of the very best at the same venue on 9 November! Marnhull Acoustic Sessions presents The Moulettes. All seven of them accompanied by even more instruments, often large ones, on that same small stage. You can see them supporting Bellowhead too, and you should do that, but I guarantee that it won't be an atmosphere quite like this and you may never be able to see them in a venue as small as this again. Tickets are £11 (including £1 booking fee).

Friday, October 24, 2014

Live and Local - The Green Room, Frome

I mentioned this new monthly event here four weeks ago. I was impressed then but this instalment only served to underline that. It featured four acts this time, all excellent, and was a fundraiser for local charity Positive Action on Cancer Frome. It was good to see some familiar faces on stage and in the audience and also to see two acts that I had never seen live before.
The event was largely put together and compèred by Griff Daniels and his friends (known as 'The Valleys', apparently) and they opened with a set to get the ball rolling. Here they are:

Next to play was Lauren Castle. She released her début EP 'Vintage Dress' in June 2014. She accompanies herself on either acoustic guitar or keys and at least I was already familiar with the EP.

Wildwood Kin are a trio from Exeter comprising Beth Key, Emillie Key and Meghann Loney. Their original songs, and they played several that are very recently written, are interesting in a number of ways and not least for the use of cajón on many; it is often quite dominant - and I can't decide which best sums my thoughts up - military marching band or tribal - but either way it works and so do the vocal harmonies
They are recording their début EP in Brighton this coming week. The release is end of 2014 (I suspect that is really rather optimistic) or early 2015. Any which way it is certainly one that I shall be waiting for with bated breath.

The Black Feathers topped the bill tonight and I stand by everything that I wrote after I saw them live, just six months ago but seems like an age, also in The Cheese and Grain.

I shall write more about all of this in due time but I'm off to North Dorset Folk Festival all day Saturday. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

New Music 2014 - Part 38 - Elise Yuill and Hattie Briggs

As I know that I shall be busy listening to live music this coming weekend and I shall write about that in due course. I thought that I would try and sneak this post in before then.
This really is new music; two unconnected artists that don't have a released LP between them - yet.

Hattie Briggs, based in Gloucestershire, released EP 'My Shepherd's Hut' all the way back in 2013. It does I strongly suspect suggest the angle that her début LP 'Red and Gold', which is to be released in 2015, will take. Don't fear if you read that that one of the album's producers is Peter Waterman - he is not the same as Pete Waterman, the maestro of pre-millennial UK pop and preserved railways! The other producer is Dan Cassidy and he is, truth be told, brother of the late lamented Eva Cassidy.
For some reason I am in a mood for watching songs with video this evening. So, while it totally recommend the above mentioned EP this is a track that is not on it!

Elise Yuill is based in Plymouth but originally from Somerset. Her music is folk/roots but, as it is in the following song sometimes firmly lodged in the Americana mould. I can find no trace of released recordings but if this, a song called ' The Five Regrets', is anything on which to base judgement that should change if only by popular demand.
Five Regrets from Elise Yuill on Vimeo.
I have spent much of the evening listening and watching these.

Friday, October 17, 2014

How humans attempt to label and list music (and enjoy arguing about it)...

This became a topic, off-line, yesterday evening.
How are 'folk', 'roots' 'bluegrass' and others actually defined? Indeed are there any clear boundaries at all, when it comes to what may, or may not be included? This is a topic that I just know could run forever.
It came back to mind just now as I am thinking about, and  listening to, the 2014 recorded music I have acquired. Here's a picture of the first tranche (and yes, that is an Island 'pink label' on a 2014 vinyl release)...

It has also made me consider that which I wish to listen to or more problematically regret having missed live, which is a matter of self-questioning.
Above all this, however, it throws up a wider metaphysical question. Why do we tend to favour the process of 'classification' and why is such comfort gained by associating the very diversity (which we also tend to like) of things with a rather small number of 'boxes' in which we aim to 'put' them?
Digital devices are all very good for making and storing lists, assuming we are organised enough to store the stuff on them. Digital devices don't argue about the lists we chose to inflict on them and as an example I can find no reliable report of a digital device that has unilaterally declared that it can't abide U2.
Amazon's algorithm is quite good at suggesting things that I might like but not because it knows me and how I think. It simply knows about other people and what they have purchased or browsed and therefore, indirectly, how they think. 
What digital networks are not yet any good at is what humans are innately good at. That is spotting apparently curious connections or comparisons that are not within any logically associated domain but which very often our fellow humans can relate to. We humans do so endlessly, much to our mutual delight and annoyance.

This is where we get to the arguing part of it. Folk/roots music does not work by rules - it evolves and it does so unpredictably. That is important because if that were not so then it would be a dinosaur. There would be nothing new, original and incisive about it.
When Bob Dylan was pilloried for going electric others such as Fairport Convention took the idea and ran with it. It was ever thus. One other important point is that until quite recently folk/roots music was seen at best to be a minor genre managing decline as best it could.
In a few years, and due to changing technology as much as changing taste, that concept has altered quite remarkably. It is now possible to record and release music without the expenditure, in equipment, facilities or even travel and other sundries such as it recently was. It is true that many fine labels - Topic Records and Fellside Recordings being just two that spring to mind - had continued to release such music and while it is most certainly still not easy to make even a modest living from it, the balance of power has shifted and also in another very important way - the traffic in folk/roots/Americana has also become fully fledged two-way traffic as the often perceived insularity has broken down.

There are some instruments that have evolved to belong, even though until quite recently they did not. Bouzouki is an instrument from Asia Minor. By the early 20th century it had migrated and evolved and was found in music of the Balkans, Bulgaria, Romania and Greece. One of the first, and the best known to introduce it to Celtic folk music was Dónal Lunny of Planxty. The band spent time behind the Iron Curtain in the early 1970s and this is reflected in several tracks on the 1974 album 'Cold Blow and The Rainy Night', to which I am listening as I write. Also on the album are several other songs that do not come directly from the UK or Irish folk canon - The Lakes of Pontchartrain and The Green Fields of Canada being two of them.
There are several others that are not native to UK folk but I'd find to argue that they are no longer assimilated, to all intents and purposes.
Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin are at the top of their game, winning best duo at the BBC Folk Awards 2014, and they headline North Dorset Folk Festival this coming Saturday. They extensively play two instruments that do not feature in the traditional folk canon. Hannah, as well as playing awesome fiddle, is a mean banjo player. Quite when it arrived in UK folk I don't know but it is an essential of bluegrass and also Appalachian 'old time' music, especially when played clawhammer (that is with the back of the fingernails rather than traditionally plucked) in the latter case. Phillip is an amazing resonator guitar player and this instrument although probably of Hawaiian origin entered popular music in the early 1920s via Jazz as it was loud enough to compete (unamplified) with the brass section. Often simply known as dobro this is a brand - it is exactly like calling all generic vacuum cleaners hoovers. Any which way the instrument
 quickly became a feature of both blues and bluegrass too, as they spread north up the Mississippi. Another Hawaiian instrument to gain traction, because of its general versatility is the ukulele. In all cases these instruments were readily adopted because they were very usable within the existing structure but also bought with them new possibilities. Not everyone welcomed these developments, that much is certain, but this is what a living tradition needs to do to flourish. The fast changing USA absorbed and developed all these influences, including those that came from Africa, whether via the Carribean, south and central America or simply directly and new dimensions took shape.
Inevitably the result was exported once again. There would have been no British blues, in the mould of Free and early Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac, had that not happened. An interesting corollary to this is 'Black Magic Woman' - the Carlos Santana version (1970) is so well known that it is often forgotten that it is a cover of a 1968 Peter Green original (but only a single and then only released in the UK). It appeared on the Santana album 'Abraxas' by which time it had acquired new parts influenced by traditional eastern European Roma music and also Latin american rhythm. Plenty of the eastern European tradition had also made its way west across the Atlantic and that is evident in much bluegrass and Appalachian fiddle music.

So where does this find us? In a whirlpool that none of us had imagined, I rather think!
I shall continue in a new post if only because Blogger tells me that I can't add any more 'labels' to this one!
What is more, come this weekend I will also have a whole lot of live music to write about and, if I have my way, plenty of photos to go with that. I can't wait.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

New Music 2014 - Part 37 - Nothing Can Bring Back The Time

The best way I can start this is to confess that every EP and album that Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker have released is, at least in my opinion, rather wonderful. 
 The latest release 'Nothing Can Bring Back The Hour' is equally so.

I think that, having listened all the way through a fair few times now, it marks a change of sorts. This is not a shock rather some kind of revelation. The familiar themes and the virtuosity remain intact, indeed enhanced. The music is not quite the same and perhaps the title of the LP is a reflection of that. Some of it sounds older and some of it sounds more modern yet still the resonance of the music is intact, albeit that the influences are wider. Released by independent Folkroom Records, 'Nothing Can Bring Back The Hour' is beyond good.

I haven't mentioned any songs specifically and that is for a good reason - I can't decide on a favourite and there certainly aren't any that I would rule out of consideration. 
It has a far wider range of backing musicians, including Josienne on recorders, saxophone and flute (I have to admit that I previously failed to recognise her instrumental contribution), Ben on most things with strings and on some tracks Jim Moray (piano). Also appearing are Anna Jenkins (violin) and Jo Silverston (viola and 'cello) [both long time members of The Red Clay Halo] amongst many others equally noteworthy. It does not fall into the trap of orchestral folk - the instruments that are deployed at any given time are economical and for a very good reason.
I for one would not wish to predict the future. Their first release that came to my attention was this in 2012:
It is still available on CD. Some examples have the printing in black or in white instead.