Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Green Man - Dyn Gwyrdd 2015 - Part 1

Did it rain?
Well yes, quite a lot to be honest. It was also a wonderful festival and that is certainly no lie. So how does one square this circle? A great deal of this was down to the way that the festival is organised. It is not possible to prevent it raining but there are things that can be done, and importantly were pre-emptively done, to minimize the problems it causes. It was a triumph.

That doesn't help me with where to start my commentary on the music or indeed anything else! What I have decided to do is start with two very different Welsh solo artists (who both performed the most part of their sets in the Welsh language) that are very different, indeed of different generations, but both of which I very much wanted to see live for the first time.
The first, and the younger generation, was represented by Gwenno who played songs from her recent LP 'Y Dydd Olaf' (The Final Day), which is a concept album based on a 1970's Welsh-language science fiction novel of the same title, about a dystopia ruled by patriarchs. 
Her comments about the songs were suitably political...  It hardly sounds like a trendsetting theme but, particularly if you are from outside the UK in 2015, you might easily underestimate the sentiment.

It took place in the Stygian gloom of the tented Far Out Stage on Thursday afternoon as a heavy and relentless drizzle fell outside.

In recent years I have been trying to catch up with what I see as the greats of the UK (and wider) folk scene from the 1960s onwards. Some are no longer with us of course, but otherwise I'm doing well and this is someone that I had somehow failed to notice, or had and then forgotten, in the releases before the event. I hot-footed it to the Mountain Stage, just as the rain was abating early Sunday afternoon, to catch this. It was worth it and then some.
Meic Stevens - Mountain Stage - Green Man Festival 2015.

New Music 2014 - Part 64 - Free The Honey - Fine Bloom

I mentioned this forthcoming release here back in April and on Monday, following my return from Green Man Festival, it was waiting for me in my mailbox.

'Fine Bloom', the début album by Free The Honey, is officially released, independently by the artists, on 12 September and I'm hoping that good record shops here in the UK will see fit to stock the physical release too, because it most definitely deserves that. If I had to suggest a likely candidate then that would be Union Records, Lewes, Sussex.
The original trio of Katherine Taylor, Jenny Hill, Lizzy Plotkin, later joined by Andrew Cameron, weave a seam through Americana - from bluegrass to alt- country via blues and gospel - that makes the whole sound seem quite astonishingly natural.
The track listing is below and the CD comes with an insert that details the lyric to each song, which I think is always a nice touch:

Fine Bloom - Free The Honey:

  • take me home
  • high peaks
  • honey blues
  • crooked child
  • a beautiful life
  • hymn for renewal
  • dark and muddy
  • wabbit time
  • vultures
  • waiting for fergal
  • go with the light
  • jenny caught a catfish
  • come up to the mountain

Monday, August 17, 2015

New Music 2015 - Part 63 - Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn - Banjo Banjo EP

I was making preparations for my trip to Green Man Festival 2015 whilst idly listening to this-and- that and just simply trying to keep up with music. I didn't have plans to post anything between now and the start of next week.
It only takes one track to totally derail a train and it doesn't matter which one.

Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn - Banjo Banjo EP.

It ranges from a Chinese song, Abigail speaks mandarin, to a cover of Europe's 'The Final Countdown' as a purely instrumental tune. What more could you ask? Except that possibly that you could stream it all, free and legally?
Well, courtesy of The Bluegrass Situation you can do exactly that and there is plenty more goodness to be found there, across all sorts of genres, to be discovered.
If you still want more clawhammer banjo from these two artists then here it is...

On the other hand this is exactly why I'm doing this. It is why I'm going to Green Man and then a couple of weeks later to End of The Road. It is why I'll try and stay out for fourteen hours a day, for three days in a row, listening to live music and trying to take photos of it. I want to do that.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

New Music 2015 - Part 62 - Joni Fuller - Letters From The West Coast EP

Having heard her song 'The Penny' several times in passing and, given my self-imposed New Year resolution to listen to more new music and music that is new to me, I naturally felt compelled to investigate further. The result only served to confirm why I decided to do this.
It is one of four songs on Joni Fuller's self-released 'Songs From The West Coast' EP.

Simply being called Joni might in some ways be seen as a bit of an albatross for someone planning on making a mark in acoustic music. Not so it seems and indeed the title of the EP, which is actually not her first, plays cleverly on that too. The West Coast in question is not that of the USA but that of England - specifically Lancashire - as she is from St. Annes-on-Sea that is one half of an urban area usually known as Lytham St. Annes and famous for its golf links.
What makes this music stand out from the rest, and the Lancashire coast is producing plenty of good artists (Karima Francis, Rae Morris, Little Boots and Låpsley being four others) just at the moment, is her use of live looping to allow her to play solo but sound like a band. What marks her out from those I mention below is that, whilst she loops all of them, her principal instrument is the violin.
I think its popularity in this milieu, it has long been used in hip hop and such, has benefited from its use by Ed Sheeran and I have also mentioned Bristol-based Daisy Chapman's use of it several times in the past. It makes for compulsive live performance as it is something fascinating to observe, as well as hear, and so Joni Fuller is added to my list of ones to see live as a matter of urgency.

Here is 'The Penny':

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Cambridge Folk Festival 2015 - Part 4 - all sorts of folk

This post doesn't have a specific theme, in part simply because I can't think of one, other than to add how good it all was in its variety. There is however a mild sense of urgency I suppose: I was at Cambridge a fortnight ago and I am still processing that; this time next week I shall be in Wales and about half way through experiencing Green Man 2015.

It is right, particularly in these politically heightened times, to start with a legend. She played the first ever Cambridge Folk Festival in 1965 (the year that I was born, I was about seven weeks old then). Here she is performing solo again fifty years to the day later. And also being nothing if not political...

Peggy Seeger, Stage 2, Friday evening.

She was an artist that I had never seen live before. The next two I have, the former more recently than the latter. The word iconic is possibly over-used but this is one time that I feel it is totally justified.
Show of Hands - Stage 1 - early Saturday afternoon.
As they often are, Steve Knightley and Phil Beer were accompanied by Miranda Sykes on double bass for a romp through their observations on the eccentricities of England and Englishness.
In some ways this artist does that too, but perhaps less stridently. It is over three years, and therefore far too long, since I have seen her play live. Three years in which she has produced so much music too.

Bella Hardy - Stage 1 - early Sunday afternoon.
The emphasis is less on her amazing fiddle playing, and when she does it is often finger-picked, because it really doesn't have to be. She chose to play songs from her latest LP 'With The Dawn'. She played a new song too - she is nothing if not prolific, even excluding collaborations. It does however appear that the forthcoming, second Carthy Farrell Hardy Young LP and the follow-up to Laylam (2013), will be without Bella Hardy. On the other hand, not all news is bad; I believe that Jackie Oates is to take her place. To be honest this is about as amazing as discovering that a square can have five corners, despite all you had been taught.
I shall end this with an Old Etonian, but not one that turned out quite like the current Mayor of London, or indeed the current Prime Minister.
After a degree at LSE (History) he was with punk band Million Dead for a few years. When that dissolved, rather than a career in merchant banking, he took the acoustic route to fame, if not so much fortune. We can be very thankful for that.
Frank Turner - Stage 1 - Friday evening.
This, of course, included songs from his newly released album 'Positive Songs for Negative People'. He had us round his little finger, but he was very nice about it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Cambridge Folk Festival 2015 - Part 3 - down at The Den (with an exception)

You might have spotted that my previous post consisted entirely of acts that played the main stage and that this is uncharacteristic. You are right --- this therefore is almost all about The Den, the smallest of the four stages. It is situated in the Cherry Hinton camp site that is adjacent to the Arena and it is Indian-themed, sort of. It is also very red and translucent, which makes photography something of a challenge. I'm not making excuses here, it is for you to judge how I coped with that but it was certainly an issue; an interesting one, however. The music, even if the artists were lesser known, was uniformly awesome.
Here are a few of my highlights; I missed several acts that I would like to have seen, because of clashes, but that is only to be expected.

This first one was someone that I first thought was totally unknown to me. When he started playing I realised that this was not so - simply that I didn't know or had somehow forgotten his name.

Jake Isaac - remember him. I will now. 
His 2014 War Child EP might be a good place to start.

The advertised acts on Saturday evening (there are open slots thereafter) were rounded out by Hampshire-based eight-piece Threepenny Bit, which just about fitted on the stage. Here is just a quarter of part of it, caught between playing their parts.

From one rowdy band to another...
I have also swapped days and stages, for this is now Sunday evening in The Club Tent.

From Canterbury, Kent  ---  CoCo and The Butterfields.

Finally, returning to The Den again, this is London artist Flo Morrissey (no relation of the other Morrissey, as she mentioned, and tinged with regret I think, whilst introducing a cover of one of his songs). Most of what she played was from her recent début album 'Tomorrow Will Be Beautiful'.
I have mentioned this LP before. Seen and heard live and close it is almost surreal.
Flo Morrissey also plays End Of The Road 2015.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Cambridge Folk Festival 2015 - Part 2 - The American connection

One thing that very much appealed to me, as the line-up was announced incrementally, is that Cambridge Folk Festival does not define its sense of 'folk music' too parochially. That was particularly noticeable in the choice of artists from North America. Here are five such that I saw perform full sets. They all played Stage 1 and each was wonderful in its own special way.

The Stray Birds, from Lancaster, PA, serve to show that the old-time art of singing around a single microphone stand is far from dead. That is with good reason and the latest LP is 'Best Medicine' (2014).

This next is something a little closer to country - but not the increasingly derided bro-country. Indeed, had I not been in Cambridge (she played on Saturday) I could have seen her play Frome Cheese & Grain the previous evening. It was billed as a warm-up for Cambridge, so here is the result of that.
Gretchen Peters in support of her latest LP 'Blackbirds' (2015).

Although well known, not least to me for her work with old-time, jug band-influenced compatriots Carolina Chocolate Drops, this is that first time that I have ever actually seen Rhiannon Giddens live.
She is touring in support of her début solo LP 'Tomorrow Is My Turn' (2015), which is interesting in that it contains none of her original compositions. It takes a soul, roots trip through a variety of covers and traditional material.

Another band that has been garnering attention here in the UK recently is Brooklyn-based three-piece The Lone Bellow.
This is on the back of the band's second LP 'Then Came The Morning' (2015). It is even more difficult to assign a genre, whatever that means, to this than to the foregoing but suffice it to say that it has been gathering plaudits in its home country too and it is not hard to understand why.

To me perhaps the biggest surprise from Stateside to be announced for Cambridge Folk Festival 2015 is the last of the five that I have chosen to mention. As one of US alt-country trio The Pistol Annies, along with Ashley Monroe and Miranda Lambert, Angaleena Presley was the last to release a solo album by a country mile.
Some things are worth waiting for. 'American Middle Class' was most definitely one of them. It was a late entry into my list of Best Albums of 2014 and this set, had I had any doubt at the time, just proved to me why it was included there.
In case you are wondering about the letters on the fret of her guitar, rather obscured by the microphone stand, it is 'HOLLER' - she was 'Holler Annie' in the Pistol Annies. Miranda Lambert was 'Lonestar Annie' and Ashley Monroe 'Hippy Annie'.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Cambridge Folk Festival 2015 - Part 1 - Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker

I have to start somewhere with what turned out to be a very memorable long weekend. It was my first visit to this long-running festival and the first time that I have visited Cambridge that has been attended by good weather.
I haven't really decided how to group all the various highlights and so having mentioned Orkney five-piece Fara, who opened proceedings on the stages on Thursday evening, I thought I'd go with this, also from Stage 2 on Thursday evening.
It is a couple of years since I have seen Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker live and that was at The Bell in Bath. Nominated for the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 'Best Duo' in 2014, they lost out to Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin.
They triumphed at the same, in the same category, in 2015 and here they are.

Ben Walker and his guitar. Only a few I have seen live play guitar in such a mystifying way.

Josienne Clarke on vocals.
We learnt a couple of other things too; Ben has a lovely singing voice but refuses to use it in public performance, and that the secret to being an award-winning duo is to have more than two members. In the picture above is Jo Silverston on 'cello and out of shot to the right Anna Jenkins on viola (both formerly members of Emily Barker and The Red Clay Halo).

Josienne played guitar as well as confessing to a miserabilist song-writing tendency.

Friday, August 07, 2015

New Music 2015 - Part 61 - The Mynabirds - Lovers Know

If you are wondering what has happened to my commentary on Cambridge Folk Festival last weekend, fear not. It takes time to sort through the photographs (500+), thoughts and all the related links. In any case I need a change - I'm all folked-out just at the moment.

It is time for something new, the sort of listening that sits well with the chilled end of a BBQ party when everyone left is just hanging and chatting over another glass of whatever takes their fancy. This - Lovers Know from The Mynabirds - is one such LP.
It was released in the UK today by Saddle Creek Records.
I'm not saying for a moment that it is world changing in some way; that indeed is part of the charm of it. Neither is it inane but it is certainly summery in an indefinable way. It is fronted by principal singer, songwriter, and also keyboard player, Laura Burhenn. The rest of the band is just what is needed - nothing more, nothing less.
To sum it up, possibly rather brutally, this is what Lana Del Rey might sound like if she were less in thrall to the melodramatic lifestyle that she portrays in her songs. The Mynabirds' 'Lovers Know' is far from alternately euphoric then miserable; more knowingly resigned contentment. It is certainly none the worse for that.

If you want me to review one truly despondent LP just let me know. Today I discovered an Americana album, one of the best I have heard so far this year. In fact it makes most others look at worst very depressing.
It is that good.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

New Music 2015 - Part 60 - Chantel McGregor - Lose Control

I have mentioned Chantel McGregor here before and have been waiting for the release of her second LP with much anticipation. 'Lose Control' is released on 9 October 2015 and you can pre-order it here (signed copies, PayPal payment available worldwide). She is once again nominated for the British Blues Awards in the category 'Best Guitarist'.

Here is the track list for 'Lose Control':

  • Take The Power
  • Your Fever
  • Burn Your Anger
  • Anaesthetize
  • Southern Belle
  • Lose Control
  • Home
  • Killing Time
  • Eternal Dream
  • Walk On Land

This is 'Walk On Land', recorded live in The Netherlands in 2014.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

New Music 2015 - Part 59 - Fara

Although not titled as such, here begin my thoughts on Cambridge Folk Festival 2015: it was first held in 1965 and, as this run is unbroken, this was its 51st edition. It was my first, however, despite the fact that we are the same age to within a matter of six weeks!
The music started 6pm on Sunday, using just Stage 2, for the early birds. That is not to say that the quality was in any way compromised. The opening act of the festival was a recently constituted five-piece hailing from Orkney and that is Fara.

Four of the members play fiddle, Jennifer Austin plays piano.
Jeana Leslie takes most of the lead vocals.

Their début release is the self-titled mini-album, released 20 December 2014. I don't usually buy music on impulse at festivals and suchlike. This was an exception. Listen below, then buy it.
It did cross my mind that this standard could be hard to sustain across four stages over the next three days. I soon forgot all about that, and almost everything else beyond my immediate surroundings. That is the hallmark of a really good festival.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

New Music 2015 - Part 58 - Fiddle & Banjo - Tunes from The North, Songs from The South

It will soon be time for me to head off into the fields of folk for four nights and three days. It seems therefore a good idea to get attuned to the idea that certain instruments will be far more prevalent than is usual at a more general music festival.

This little gem from Canada is doing just that for me right now all thanks to the folk at FATEA for bringing it to my attention.

Daniel Koulack (banjo) and Karrnnel Sawitsky (fiddle) as Fiddle & Banjo, and guests Joey Landreth and Amy Matysio (vocals on the five tracks that are not tunes).
Their stated aim is to marry the Northern (Canadian) tunes played on these two instruments with the Southern (Appalachian) songs that use the same - and do so very well. In fact, historically it goes back longer and further than that. The part of Saskatchewan that Sawitsky comes from still has a strong musical influence originally brought to Canada from immigrants from what is now Ukraine in particular, as well as from o
ther parts of northern and eastern Europe. The history of Appalachian and bluegrass music has stronger ties with far western Europe, particularly the British and Irish tradition but with definite French and Spanish influences. I suspect that, if you listen to it all a few times that you will spot plenty more.

There is no reason why the concept should not work; this LP serves to show just how spectacularly well it was done. It was released by Kos Green Music on 10 March 2015. I am unaware of any physical availability as yet - I have been too intent listening to be honest - but it is available on d/l from Amazon and to stream on Spotify and Rdio (and doubtless others too).

Friday, July 24, 2015

Truck Festival 2015 - Part 5

One last post about Truck Festival 2015 and of course that will feature the Saloon Stage again. It was expertly curated by At The Helm Records on Friday and Clubhouse Records on Saturday except that they swapped one act each between the days.

The watching and the watched are not so far apart. About 10 seconds and 3 metres in this case.

Ags Connolly. His 2014 LP 'How About Now' is quite some statement of intent.

On Saturday the At The Helm act to play was Porchlight Smoker.
Porchlight Smoker's latest LP is 'Water Into Sand', released in January 2015.

If you have been wondering about the owners of the drum-kit that has appeared in several pictures, it of course belongs to The Rosellys but had seen service as-and-when-required on this stage. The Rosellys' forthcoming LP 'The Barn Sessions' will be their third but the first recorded with a full band and also their first for Clubhouse Records, to which they recently signed.
This is The Rosellys, live at Truck Festival 2015.

All of this is what makes the 'Saloon Stage' at Truck Festival unique.

It is time to start anticipating Cambridge Folk Festival now and that is something new for me. One big problem I have is that whenever I go to Cambridge it always rains and it is usually unseasonably cold.

New Music 2015 - Part 57 - Sofia Talvik - Big Sky Country

When it comes to listening to new music (and also music that is new to me), both live and recorded, I am on something of a roll at moment. This is more Americana it is true, and this LP was released only a month or two back, but Sofia Talvik is not new to the scene as 'Big Sky Country' is her sixth full-length studio release. She isn't American either - she is from Sweden although, when not touring, she is currently resident in Berlin.
I'm only really just getting the measure of this album but I can see it will be around for a long time. Much of it comes from observations she made during a 16-month, 38-state road trip touring her earlier songs around the US. It is full of the kind of observations that someone new to somewhere recognises as special in some way but that those local either simply take for granted or don't even notice at all.
You see it put very simply in the title track and her response to Idaho, but the more I listen the more I am starting to notice the subtleties - not just in the lyrics but in the way that they are played out. Once I've got my head around this I shall be delving into her back catalogue, which also includes the 2013 LP 'Drivin' and Dreaming LIVE'.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Truck Festival 2015 - Part 4

This is no secret; I've been working up to it all week. The real reason that I go to Truck Festival time and again is the Saloon Bar stage. It is a microcosm of a festival in its own right; and all in a space of about 8 x 16 metres. This is what it looks like from outside.

That fuzzy blob is a rain drop on the lens filter, not some alien thing...

This is the view from the front porch, with the Market Stage on the left. Let's go inside.

You will find an audience of all ages and the music will be Americana or some such in its many guises.

I'm not sure what Paul McClure (who hails from the back-woods of Rutland) would make of this but, as previously at Truck, he was wonderful. He played solo and also played a few songs with band backing - mostly members of other acts performing that day.

This is very much a trend on this stage and is definitely to be applauded.

Don Gallardo does hail from the USA, and he has his latest and very arresting LP 'Hickory' in tow.
Don Gallardo and friends.  Just the drummer and bassist for company here. As it turned out that didn't last long...

In almost no time this swelled to six-piece backing. OMG this was good.

That folks is probably not even the half of the goodness on this little stage last weekend. You have been warned.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

New Music 2015 - Part 56 - Della Mae - Della Mae

You never know where the next thing will come from... This time it was a tip from a locally based band that have something of a bluegrass thing going on. Della Mae is an all female four-piece from Nashville, TN and while not entirely bluegrass there's plenty of that in the mix. The rest is traditional country and roots. This is actually their third LP and the band is on tour in the UK and mainland Europe at the moment too.

It was released by Rounder Records (distributed by Decca Records in some countries) on 10 July 2015.

The original compositions are quite on point but as it so happens it also includes a cover of 'To Ohio', which is one of my favourite tracks by The Low Anthem and from the 2008 LP 'Oh My God, Charlie Darwin'. It is pure speculation but I do wonder if this is something inspired by how Jocie Adams might have liked it to sound. Just thought that I'd mention that.
Overall things can't get much better, except to say that now I need to see Della Mae live!

Truck Festival 2015 - Part 3

I wrote on Monday, in the first instalment, that I wasn't going to do this by stage. So far I haven't but now I shall. The "new stage" at Truck 2015 was the Palm City Stage but its greatest attraction was that from start until early evening on both days it was home to Gorwelion - Horizons, a joint project by The Arts Council and BBC6 Music, that seeks to promote music of all genres that comes from Wales. It is nothing specifically about traditional music, although that can of course be included, and although I didn't hear all of it the variety on offer was wide. I have a soft spot for music from Wales and therefore I have mentioned plenty of it over the years in these posts.
This first artist I mentioned recently and was therefore delighted to see that, when the line-up was revealed, she was part of it.

Hannah Grace, who hails from Cardiff.

Her powerful voice makes me think of North Wales' Casi Wyn, although the latter predominantly writes songs in Welsh. I'm not quite sure where she is with new music other than to say that she played the Gorwelion-Horizons stage at Brighton's Great Escape 2015 back in May.
This next artist, with his acoustic Americana, would not have been at all out of place at the nearby Saloon Bar stage (of which much more soon!).
Dan Bettridge, described here in the words of Gorwelion-Horizons.

These next two acts are as different to each other as they are to either of the aforementioned. That was the big appeal of this stage but also one that makes it difficult to write about. Saturday saw Haula perform a very well attended set, complete with enthusiastic audience participation. 
That is far from being something that can be taken for granted for it requires a almost indefinable empathy between artist and audience. Very well known artists can have epic fails with this kind of thing and yet she made it seem natural therefore oh-so-easy. Her heritage is Ugandan but Wales is now where she calls home.

Finally although it is actually from late Friday come the small, for it is a trio, but very determined crew of HMS Morris.
Heledd Watkins on guitar and lead vocals.

This is pop music, but not quite as you expected it. Another of the wonderful discoveries of last weekend. Some of this was sung in Welsh. 
The best discovery since the weekend is that Gwenno is indeed playing Green Man 2015. Result!