Thursday, July 05, 2018

Beardy Folk Festival 2018

Back in the cold, dark days of January I started to think about festivals again. Even the wet days of the previous summer's shows somehow seemed less discouraging after four months or so. I had already made a decision that at least one new (at least new to me) festival would have to be included in 2018. That was about as far as my planning had got until near the end of January a brand new festival came to my attention.  I can't really recall how I became to know about it, but it was known as Beardy Folk Festival. The line-up, in so far as it was then available, looked very good indeed and there were super-early-bird tickets on offer. I bought one pretty much on a whim on 30th January. What is more, being in June it was well apart in time from all other festivals that I had ideas about attending.

Just what a fantastic decision that was only revealed itself last weekend. On Friday morning I headed north over the old Severn Bridge in glorious sunshine and then followed the river Wye north, pausing at Tintern and Monmouth, before arriving at the festival site near Cleobury Mortimer at about 12:40. Once was actually there I discovered just what a stunning location this is.  More importantly though is that it soon became obvious the level of attention that had been put into organising this event. If you did not not know that this was the inaugural edition then you would not have guessed that it was the case.
The stage premise was very simple - just two the performances on which never clashed. The smaller, acoustic stage shared a long open sided marquee with the bar at the top end of the walled garden and the Main Stage was at the bottom of the slope at the other end. Approximately 300 yards separated the two. Around the sides of the upper half of the garden arena were the food stalls and the quality on offer was really good.
What had attracted me back in January was the list of acts announced then, and in particular some of those those lower down the running order.  One huge exception to that generality was, from Scotland and the main stage headline act on Saturday - Skerryvore.

Skerryvore, main stage, Beardy Folk Festival, 23 June 2018.

I had never had the chance to take live pictures of bagpipe playing before. Various small pipes yes,  but not the real deal. Then I ended up with two for the price of one! The band's latest LP 'Evo' was released 11 June 2018.
Up at the other end of the garden was another artist that I really wanted to see live and on the back of her two EPs 'Tracks and Trails' (2016) and 'Dandelion' (2017). It could hardly be further from the bombast of the above. Just voice and acoustic guitar, clearly British and she is based in the West Midlands, but quite evidently country-tinged. 

Demi Marriner, acoustic stage, 24 June 2018.

Next is an artist that I have seen live before and that, as a result of which, I was most keen to see live again.

Kitty Macfarlane. Main stage, 24 June 2018.

She played both stages that day and included several new songs. Her début album is scheduled for release this autumn. Her 'Tide & Time EP' was released in 2016

Another artist that played both stages was Kim Lowings and The Greenwood.  Whilst much of the music was from the traditional British folk canon the instruments were not so much so.  In this case Kim Lowings on mountain dulcimer and Andrew Lowings on bodhran.
Many of the songs were taken from the album 'Wild & Wicked Youth' (2017).

Kim Lowings and The Greenwood. Main Stage, 23 June 2018.

That's just a few of my highlights from what was a truly memorable weekend. My thanks to the main organiser, known only to me as Dave, and everyone else that made it such a great occasion.
I have no doubt that I shall be posting more about it very soon. Super-early-bird tickets for Beardy Folk Festival 2019 are available here.

Friday, June 29, 2018

New Music 2018 - Part 19 - I'm All Ears - Let's Eat Grandma

I have taken a month off blogging but that certainly doesn't mean that I haven't been listening; be that recorded or live. I spent a wonderful three days at a brand new folk festival last weekend too. There will be plenty about that here sooner rather than later.

To ease back into writing this seemed an obvious start. It isn't folky at all. It is precipitated by the release of the second full-length album by a band that I saw live last summer.

I'm All Ears - Let's Eat Grandma (Transgressive Records, 29 June 2018).

The twisted pop and psychedelic leanings of their début LP 'I, Gemini' were quite something. It is worth noting that Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth are not twins, indeed they are not even siblings. Both from Norwich they met at the start of primary school education. It was certainly a very adept album release, or at least I thought so. Then I saw Let's Eat Grandma live. That is the point at which I realised this was something very special.

Let's Eat Grandma, Big Top stage, End Of The Road Festival, 2 September 2017.

Difficult second album syndrome? My inclination is that this is every bit the equal of their first and, if anything, even more surprising. They do eclecticism and see no reason to apologize for that. This album covers a lot of ground in its eleven tracks and 51 minutes. It is all the more likeable for that.

Let's Eat Grandma - I'm All Ears:
  • Whitewater
  • Hot Pink
  • It's Not Just Me
  • Falling Into Me
  • Snakes & Ladders
  • Missed Call (1)
  • I Will Be Waiting
  • The Cat's Pyjamas
  • Cool & Collected
  • Ava
  • Donnie Darko
It is also not the only album that I have that includes a song 'Cat's Pyjamas'; there is another quite different one of that name on the 2003 album 'Amorino' by Isobel Campbell! It is another beautifully off-kilter LP that is worth your attention, as it happens. It is here.

Friday, May 18, 2018

New Music 2018 - Part 18 - Living Room Worktapes EP - Tenille Townes

It's never been rare that I feature artists from Canada performing in the folk, roots and Americana space. This is another one of them - the artist here hails from from Grande Prairie, Alberta. It is an EP as good as I have heard this year but perhaps not something I might have expected to be released on a major label. It is acoustic.

Tenille Townes - Living Room Worktapes EP (Columbia Nashville, 13 April 2018).
  • Where You Are
  • Jersey on the Wall
  • Somebody's Daughter
  • White Horse
Four tracks is all you get but it is a triumph of quality over quantity.  I'm not in the business of making comparisons but I'd say a full album is worth the wait, however long that may be.

I'm minded to take an audio 'road trip' through recent Canadian music sooner rather than later. There's plenty on my mind, several of which I am looking forward to seeing play live at festivals this summer. 

Saturday, May 12, 2018

New Music 2018 - Part 17 - Hawktail - Unless

Acoustic. Bluegrass. Instrumental.

I know that this isn't going to please everyone that happens upon it. I don't care about that. I like this. It is my blog.

Hawktail - Unless (Padiddle Records, 11 May 2018).

What awaits here is no less than forty-something 
minutes of acoustic-string-band music virtuosity, courtesy of Brittany Haas (fiddle), Paul Kowert (upright bass), Dominick Leslie (octave mandolin) and Jordan Tice (guitar). Some of it is actually recorded live with an audience and these pieces are intercut with the studio recordings.
  • Abbzug
  • In the Kitchen
  • Horpe's Reel
  • Unless
  • El Camino Pt. 2
  • Boatwoman
  • Britt Guit
  • Randy
  • Frog and Toad
This is the opening piece:

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Festivals 2018 - must see (Part 2) - Joana Serrat

Next in my 'Spring Homework' series about artists that I have never seen live before and inspired by the artists appearing at festivals that I am attending this summer. This is one from the programme of the all-new festival The Long Road.
In contrast to the largely UK folk theme of my last post we have swapped genres to that of Americana and alt-country but with things never being simple in these matters the artist in question is in fact from Spain but sings in English and is signed to UK label Loose Records; a label that is the home of very many good things. In 2017 she released her latest LP and this is it:

Joana Serrat - Dripping Springs (Loose Records, 29 September 2017).

This latest was recorded in Texas by Israel Nash (see him live if you get the chance - I have and you certainly won't regret it) at his studio near the small town that gives this album its title. He also plays guitar on some tracks. The rest of the band is absolutely top-notch and so is the production. The whole thing is however carried by the lyrics and vocals of its prime creator.
It is her fourth LP within the space of five years, so rest assured that she has no shortage of material from which to choose. This of course meant that my "homework" involved listening to all four albums. I can say that it was not a chore.
I can't wait to see what her live playlist throws up.  As for my personal favourites? I need a few more listens to decide. There will certainly be some from the earlier albums, that much is true.

Keep On Fallin'

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Festivals 2018 - must-see (Part 1) - Kim Lowings and The Greenwood

Right. It is time to jump in and mention the artists and acts that I want to see at the festivals that I am attending this summer.
This post is just one from the first of those festivals. The rule of engagement is that it must be one that I have never seen live before. It's not going to be difficult, apart for the choices between candidates that simply need to be made. I shall start with some folk, much but possibly not all of it, traditional. In any case, what exactly qualifies as traditional?

Kim Lowings and The Greenwood - Wild & Wicked Youth (self-released, 2017).

Other versions of several of the songs on this record have appeared recently; 'The Cuckoo', it appears courtesy of Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker on their 2017 LP 'The Bird', is one.

More remarkable, at least in contrast between versions, is 'Oh The Wind and Rain', Kim Lowings and The Greenwood and 'Bows' as it appears on the LP 'From Here' by Stick In The Wheel (2015). Both are versions of the same macabre tale of sibling murder and mysterious retribution. The source is Child Ballad 10 and the UK version of the song is likely of Northumbrian origin. 'The Twa Sisters' is yet another, more local name for it. The similar stories in other Northern European folklore traditions (see preceding link) are interesting in that, amongst other differences, the drowned sibling is
 as often as not brought back to life, but the means to this end vary considerably.

There is plenty more from this band and indeed this LP alone is quite sufficient to justify its inclusion in this list. She is not averse to covering Anglo-Scottish-Irish songs either. This, a lyric from which the title of the album comes, is the well known song 'The Newry Highwayman':

Kim Lowings and The Greenwood play Beardy Folk Festival main stage on Saturday 23 June at around 4:30pm.

You might like to check out the rest of the line-up too. I have seen quite a few of them before and there isn't one amongst them that I wouldn't see again. As for those that I have never seen live it is open season.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

My spring homework --- Thoughts on music

In previous years I have been rather lax about doing pre-festival homework aimed at investigating acts and artists about which I have little or no existing knowledge. There are plenty.
Whilst I regard absolute spontaneity as one of the greatest luxuries of attending a festival as an individual I am also acutely aware that this has caused me not to see bands which hindsight has revealed that I ought to have seen.

I made much more effort in this direction last year, by starting my homework earlier at the very least, but this year I feel I should try harder again and that is something I'm now doing and, furthermore, thoroughly enjoying
That's fine and I have done so, but this is a two-edged sword as it is now clear that at all the festivals I attend it will be quite impossible to see all the things that I
already know that I want to. I'm quite sure that I will, as always, make spur of the moment decisions some of which I might regret.  On the other hand such decisions have taken me in new, uncharted directions on many occasions too. Sometimes the deciding factor had been as simple as deciding to remain in a tented stage rather than leave it to see a band on an outdoor stage when it is teeming with rain. On some others it was a combination of incompetence and serendipity: this is how I came to see (at that point utterly unknown to me) Vukovi at Truck Festival last July; I headed off at the right time but to the wrong stage!  That actually worked out very well indeed; the band I failed to see then was Goat Girl and I got to see them play at End Of The Road Festival some weeks later.

If all of the above wasn't enough of a problem what I have discovered is tending to reinforce an impression that I have had for a long while. This is that as I get older I am actually getting to seek out and enjoy a wider variety of music. This seems to run against the grain of many studies and articles thereon that suggest that one's taste in music is largely guided by, if not defined by, that which one liked in late teens and early twenties.

I only started writing this on a whim this evening. I didn't really expect to get beyond the preamble. An hour or so later what has happened however is slightly different. My thoughts have crystallised rather rapidly. This is something of a 'Thoughts on music' version of the State of The Union. It has also rekindled my enthusiasm for writing more often. I go through phases when that doesn't happen. I also tends to coincide with times when I listen to the most music.
I'm fascinated by what I am discovering. I'm not yet sure how to present this but possibly an act that I have never seen before from each of the five festivals that I'm booked to attend. The only hard part of that is likely to be choosing which one from each.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

New Music 2018 - Part 16 - Bryde - Like An Island

I had wanted to see Paper Aeroplanes live for some time but before I took the chance that project had ended. Thereafter Sarah Howells and her guitar started a new adventure, Bryde (with occasional help from others). I wasn't aware of the connection until, at Green Man Festival 2016, our paths crossed.

Bryde, Rising stage, Green Man Festival, 20 August 2016.

A pair of EPs, both showcasing this from-the-heart brand of songwriting, followed. It is more direct than her work with Paper Aeroplanes but certainly none the worse for that. The recently released LP takes it to another dimension; raw, uncompromising and yet both compelling and relatable.

Bryde - Like An Island (self-released, 13 April 2018).

It is right up there with the best releases of 2018 that I have had the pleasure to hear and of those there is no shortage. I can't wait to see Bryde live once again.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Why festivals matter - a photo gallery.

I have been thinking about 2018 festivals of late and that has, in part, been responsible for reminding me about all the artists that I saw in 2017 that, at least in some cases, I have never mentioned before. This is a case of 'Live With No Comment'. I have added the act/artist and the stage to each photo but that is as much as you get.  
All of them were taken by me at End Of The Road Festival 2017 and I own the copyright in these pictures. Feel free to share away but please give credit to the artists. These pictures are in no particular order, by date or any other criterion. I flicked through the photos I took in an haphazard way and simply chose the ones I wanted as and when I found them.

Even more importantly please listen to artists, buy their music, go and see them live.

Julia Jacklin, Garden stage, 3 September.

Goat Girl, Big Top stage, 1 September.

Lisa O'Neill, Tipi stage, 1 September.

Shovels & Rope, Woods stage, 1 September 2017.

Tasseomancy, Tipi stage, 2 September.

Jens Lekman, Garden stage, 1 September.

Girl Ray, Tipi stage, 3 September.

Monday, April 02, 2018

New Music 2018 - Part 15 - Beelzebub Jones - A Good Day To Be A Bad Guy

Not many artists choose midnight at the end of Easter Sunday to drop a new release. I guess if they do then there are not that many people just waiting to discover it and listen there and then. As it happens I was and not because I had any prior knowledge. I'd been out doing something completely different and got home in no mood to turn in. I needed some wind-down time first and needless to say this immediately caught my attention. Some things are just meant to happen and this collaboration between Andrew McClatchie (Half Deaf Clatch) and Richard Wall is, to paraphrase their own description, dirty cinematographic Americana.
It is the soundtrack to a spaghetti Western that you have never seen simply because it doesn't actually exist. You can therefore imagine the plot to suit yourself. The cover art might look rather daunting but do you judge everything by its cover? Music is as much about your imagination as it is about the people who make it.

Beelzebub Jones - A Good Day To Be A Bad Guy (Speak Up Recordings, 2 April 2018).

It is based on a short story by Richard Wall and that accompanies the limited edition of the physical release (CD, 100 copies) as part of the 26-page A5 booklet. Here's the play list to contemplate:
Nicotine, Liquor & Blasphemy
Whiskey For Breakfast
Dry, Dry Bones
Rattlesnake Interlude
The Heist
Death Of The Teller 
Never Take Me Alive
Sinners Last Request
The Crossing Place 
Working For The Devil
Revenge Is My Only Friend 

I can only presume that title 'Beelzebub Jones' is taken from a comic strip, with a Wild Western theme, that ran in the Daily Mail from December 1938 - December 1945. If that is true then it is quite something, if not it is an astonishing coincidence. The clapperboard is all yours.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

New Music 2018 - Part 14 - Darrin Bradbury - Elmwood Park: A Slightly Melodic Songbook

I didn't find this. Someone, that I have never met and quite possibly never will, just saw fit to recommended it to me. That this is how it works is amazing in itself.  I struggle to find many male artists that I really like listening to when compared to female ones. That is just the way it works for me. This is one of those exceptions.
The music here is awesome. I'm quite wary of musical monikers such as 'outlaw country' but be-that-as-it-may this is pretty close to what I imagine it might involve should it indeed exist. It is cynical to a fault, but given a perspective that suggests both a longing-for and respect-of the faults that it reveals. That includes a dose of self-deprecation.
In that sense it makes me think of when I discovered the 2016 album 'Rockingham' by BJ Barham.

Elmwood Park: A Slightly Melodic Audiobook - Darrin Bradbury (Café Rooster Records, 2016).

If I could find it on vinyl at a half-sensible price then I would have already ordered it. I can't. At least (here in the UK) you can enjoy it on Spotify here.

Elmwood Park: A Slightly Melodic Audiobook - Darrin Bradbury:
  • True Love
  • Life Is Hard
  • Joey
  • The Almost Great Lakes
  • The Roadkill Song
  • Junkie Love
  • Swordfish
  • Elmwood Park
  • I Knew Him as Sam
  • The Blue Highway

I have listened to it three times right through this evening and that was certainly not part of my game plan three hours ago. On the other hand nothing even half as interesting as this actually was.  It is actually a 2016 release but I had never heard about the artist, let alone the record. Its time is now.

This is 'True Love'.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

New Music 2018 - Part 13 - Ryley Walker - Deafman Glance

Once upon a time almost all artists that I saw at festivals were totally new to me live, if not entirely new to me. Eleven years later and, while I'm still first in line to see new acts live, the situation has changed somewhat. I tend to have a much better knowledge and perspective on what I wish to see, be that new to me or not.
I also have the great pleasure of having seen artists live over multiple years and often at several different festivals. That has turned out to be a pleasure that I had never really anticipated. This post is about one such.

Ryley Walker, Garden stage, End Of The Road Festival, 1 September 2017.

I first saw him play live when he was touring the album 'Primrose Green' in 2015; before that I had not really come across his music and if I had certainly not paid much attention to it. Seeing him live made me take notice.
I saw him play live again this last summer and then he introduced some new songs that have gone on to become part of his forthcoming release 'Deafman Glance', the track-listing of which is as follows:

Ryley Walker - Deafman Glance:
  • In Castle Dome
  • 22 Days
  • Accommodations
  • Can't Ask Why
  • Opposite Mind
  • Telluride Speed
  • Expired
  • Rocks on Rainbow
  • Spoil with the Rest

Ryley Walker - Deafman Glance (Dead Oceans, 18 May 2018).

The lead release take from it is the track 'Telluride Speed' and this is the official audio of it.

It is also available to stream on Spotify here.

It is also a good example of a phenomenon that I have mentioned previously; that of labels that I am confident will release material that in all probability I'm going to like. In this case that label is Dead Oceans, which is based in Bloomington, IN.
I have just been looking at its current roster of artists and, as well as quite a few that I have already seen live, there are many more whose music, recorded or live, I now feel that I should listen to as a matter of some urgency.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

New Music 2018 - Part 12 - The Orielles - Silver Dollar Moment

As I have started listening to bands on the increasing wave of acts that I do not know much about and announced for festivals that I am attending in 2018, of which more later, it has caused me to reflect on some that I became acquainted with last summer. One thing that comes to mind here is that, despite all claims to the contrary, indie guitar rock is not dead and neither does it consist only of bands that made their reputations "back in the day", whenever that was.
There seem to be plenty of young bands willing and able to seek out nooks and crannies of the genre that they feel deserving of some attention.  This is the début LP from one of them that I saw at Green Man Festival 2017.

The Orielles - Silver Dollar Moment (Heavenly Recordings, 16 February 2018).

A three-piece from Halifax, Yorkshire the band consists of sisters Esmé D Hand-Halford (lead vocals, bass), Sidonie B Hand-Halford (percussion) and Henry Carlyle Wade (guitar, vocals) and on one level the songs are mirrored by the album artwork: fascinating but difficult to define exactly what it is or what it means. The band cites cinema, and Tarantino in particular, as an influence and that might have a bearing on all this.
What I will say is that although I am no aficionado of cinema I find this album fascinating. Not only do I like it but it works for me either as something to concentrate on to the exclusion of almost everything else but it also works as background music too. Indeed I have been doing both while thinking about, composing and then writing this post. I wonder if the band had and eye on and ear to the possibility that their music might attract cinematic attention. It would certainly be a good commercial move if it were to come off.

Their set at Green Man Festival 2017 was unenviable in one way - the band opened the lovely Walled Garden stage at mid-day Saturday. Opening a stage is never easy after the night before, even if that only applies to the audience, and inevitable nerves. The band showed no sign of the latter and the audience was significant and appreciative; however I found the atmosphere harder to catch on camera!

The Orielles - Walled Garden stage, Green Man Festival, 19 August 2017.

I won't single-out any tracks from the LP but I will mention their first single, which is not on the album, because the eight-minutes-plus of 'Sugar Tastes Like Salt' had already done more than enough to pique my interest and ensure that I was going to be there to discover more. The fact that it was released on Heavenly Recordings helped too; I have rediscovered the concept of "trusted" labels and this is one of them.

Here it is:

The Orielles are confirmed to play End Of The Road Festival 2018.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Seafaring tales... and two contrasting albums.

Wildwood Jack - Liberty Ship (self-released, 1 March 2018)

The first, and the most recently released, deserves my attention. It is a work of entirely original songwriting and the theme is nautical to a fault. It is in great part the work of a duo based in Kent, UK; Jayne Freeman (vocals, ukulele) and Adam Piggott (acoustic guitar) but of course there is judicious use of additional artists when greater depth or diversity is required. Liam Genocky plays percussion throughout.
The songs on it are as follows:

Widwood Jack - Liberty Ship:
  • An Ordinary Day
  • The Captain and Me
  • The Lost Gypsy
  • Morning Star
  • Just a Dreamer
  • Man Overboard
  • By the Light of This Lantern
  • Unsinkable Sam
  • Liberty Ship
  • Bluegrass Boy
  • Montgomery Canal
It is nevertheless a fairly stripped back affair and that works very well here in my opinion. It is solid throughout but one of the highlights is the story of a ship's cat 'Unsinkable Sam'; in fact one cat, capital ships sunk by both sides, in a war and the survivor of three sinkings.
The last track is a trip far from the storm-tossed briny waters. It has reminded me that, now that I think about it, I can't recall many songs about canals and other inland waterways. This is one that comes to mind because I mentioned it last year.

The second LP in this post is quite a different affair. For a start all the songs are traditional or, if not exactly however that may be defined, are certainly not original to the band. Many of them may be familiar to you from bands such as The Dubliners as well as many more.  Some of it is bawdy. A particular mention here must go to the song 'Blow The Man Down' which is explicitly about the dangers to a feckless man of attempting to take advantage of a Plymouth girl!

Admirals Hard - Upon A Painted Ocean (Genepool Records/Believers Roast BR018, 22 July 2016).

Admirals Hard - Upon A Painted Ocean
  • Boney Was a Warrior
  • Spanish Ladies
  • Hullabaloo Belay
  • South Australia
  • Blow the Man Down
  • The Broadside Man
  • The Eddystone Light
  • The Random Jig / I'll Get Wedded in My Auld Claes
  • Whip Jamboree / Let the Bulgine Run
  • Leave Her, Johnny, Leave Her
  • Rounding the Horn
  • All for Me Grog
  • Martin Said to His Man
This is an almost acoustic seven-piece band but is actually a side project of musicians,  from Devon and Cornwall, that mostly ply their daily trade in the left-field electronic music scene of London. It is what happened when they decided to get together and do something completely different with their many and varied talents. There are certainly some progressive flourishes herein but then folk music was never intended to be set in stone.
I wouldn't wish to venture my favourites here, because they keep changing, except to say that Whip Jamboree/Let the Bulgine Run will always be on it. This may be because, unlike most of the other songs and tunes here, they were totally new to me when I first heard them on this recording. I must seek other versions of them but I have not got around to so doing yet.