The Sea is My Brother - Harbottle and Jonas

Review by Les Ray

The Sea is My Brother Harbottle JonasOn my radio show “Strummers & Dreamers” I chose this sea-themed album as one of my favourites of 2019. The title of the album (and of one of its tracks) is taken from the name of a novel by Jack Kerouac. The album has delightful harmonies from the duo David Harbottle and Freya Jonas, along with lovely instrument arrangements for the songs, with the double bass, cello and violin particularly worthy of note.

As mentioned, this is very much an album of songs of the sea, more particularly, its heroes (A Lady Awake), victims (Lost to the Sea, Saved Alone) and both (Fr. Thomas Byles), in four of its standout tracks. My favourite song on the album is A Lady Awake, the story of the heroism of Grace Darling, the lighthouse keeper's daughter who rescued the survivors from the wrecked steamship Forfarshire in 1838, which to me brings to mind the music of Seth Lakeman. Lovely guitar work by Harbottle and upbeat melody line and vocals despite the dramatic theme in this traditional-style ballad.

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The Fell - The Brothers Gillespie

Review by Les Ray

The FellI selected this fine album by Northumbrian duo The Brothers Gillespie as one of my favourites of 2019 (although technically it was released at the end of 2018). It is an absolute joy, particularly on account of what Sam Lee refers to as “the glorious tones of their blood harmony”: sibling voices totally in synch, singing passionately.

Their words and music are very much rooted in the land, the mystical borderlands of their native Northumberland, as is particularly evident in the tracks Golden OneCoventina’s Daughter and Wilderness & Wild, with its Yeatsian resonances (“Come back child...”).  As the brothers themselves say: “The album is inspired by the still wild soul of the land in which we live, a land alive with presences, not owned by anyone”. 

As if their moving harmony vocals were not enough, the musicianship of brothers James and Sam is consummate, always enhancing and never cluttered. There is also some exquisite clàrsach harp playing by Siannie Moodie on Golden One and Northumberland (which also has fine percussion by Tim Lane).

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Cheer Up A Bit Longer - Maggie Moore & Stan Bloor

Review by Graham Schofield

cheerupabitlongerExcellent! Excellent! Excellent!

Here you will find stalwarts of our region’s folk scene Maggie Moore and Stan Bloor who, for quite a few years now, have entertained and given pleasure with their engaging stage presence. Known for performances delivered with gusto, humour and consummate skill. 

With a total of 16 tracks, this CD is a generous serving of songs and tunes from their wide repetoire. Although drawing on the Victorian and Edwardian music hall, this offering is expertly seasoned with a sprinkling of traditional material from Stan’s beloved north west. The chosen pieces open our eyes, and our sentiments, to the historical and social mores of those times and places.

Included with the songs and tunes there is a monologue or two delivered with panache and faultless comic timing.  There are old favourites to savour such as:- Did your first wife ever do that?,  Grace Darling and of course I live in Trafalgar Square. Alongside these are many pieces, perhaps less familiar, but equally entertaining.

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A Little Cup of Tea - Proper English

A Little Cup of TeaReview by Les Ray

I must start with a small confession: I’m not a huge fan of traditional folk, as I’m more passionate about singer-songwriters, being a songwriter myself. Having said that, I have no hesitation in saying that I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this CD.

Based in Suffolk, Proper English are Ed Caines, Rob Neal and Derek Simpson, who play a number of instruments and all sing, taking lead in turns and providing nice harmonies. Their website calls the album “a mix of songs and tunes we have performed over the last 40 years”, while the liner notes say the band “have always been more interested in performing live”. Listening to the CD, both statements make complete sense: the huge scope and depth of the material included (no less than 21 tracks) make it clear that the band have truly immersed themselves in local folk music over the last 40 years, and the recording itself has a real live feel, taking the listener through a range of emotions as a live gig would, with performances that are entertaining and enthusiastic, if occasionally a bit rough around the edges. 

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ROBERT BURNS: TUNE UNKNOWN - Katherine Campbell

Review by George Monger

BurnsMany of the poems of Robert Burns are obviously written with a tune in mind, usually a traditional tune, and many Scottish artists, such as Dougie Maclean, Dick Gaughan and Nigel Denver, have recorded familiar Burns songs. Katherine Campbell, who comes from a family of traditional musicians, is well steeped in the tradition of Scots songs which she has brought to the study of Burns’ songs and poems (with Dr Emily Lyle of Edinburgh University – their work is being published in a book Robert Burns and the Discovery and Re-creation of Scottish Song).  

Katherine has taken ten Burns poems which have been identified as being originally written as songs, but for which the melody has been lost, and composed new melodies with a piano accompaniment. This is the reversal of Burns’ usual practice of writing words to extant melodies apart from one known example of Burns composing an air ‘in the old Scotch style’ for the poem O, Raging Fortune’s Withering Blast. However, he was unable to write the tune down properly so it was never performed and the imperfect notation lost; Burns apparently was not unhappy about the loss, writing in his journal “….and perhaps ‘tis no great matter, but the following were the verses I composed to suit it.”

Here we have a set of songs with new settings, performed beautifully and with obvious affection by Katherine Campbell with quite an understated and sympathetic piano accompaniment. Most of these poems will probably be unfamiliar to someone who is not a Burns aficionado and it may take a little time for non-Scots to understand the dialect words (although there is a good glossary in the accompanying booklet). I enjoyed this album and Katherine’s lovely performances, but I think it is one to dip into, there are few contrasting tempos and I did occasionally find my concentration mind wavering. One for the Burns enthusiast I think.

INNES WATSON’S GUITAR COLLOQUIUM

Review by George Monger

CollinsonIt was with some trepidation that I played this CD not knowing Innes Watson’s work let alone his guitarcolloquium project. I was concerned that I wouldn’t like it and I hate being negative about an artist's work. However, I need not have been concerned, from the very start the collaboration of Glasgow based musicians, led by Innes Watson, sound very tight; the quality, style and performance of the music is, to me, characteristic of musical collaborations I have heard in Scotland

The fourteen tracks are all original with all but two written by Innes; several have definite roots in traditional music but with a completely contemporary feel and attack.

The largely solo track Mando Endo shows off Innes’ sensitive solo playing but I loved the way he is joined towards the end of the track by Barry Reid using the electric guitar to provide a background sound-scape and the way the track seamlessly segues into an upbeat ensemble track Udon Noodle. Several of the tracks merge one to another contrasting tempos and feel but going together really well.

The Album is well put together with some surprises and quirky music but there is too a wonderful sense of fun and joy in the playing exemplified in the last track Glasgow Guitar Colloquium.

I’m not sure if this would be filed under folk music but I loved this album from the first few notes right to the end.

THE “HAVARD” TAPES DICK GAUGHAN: Definitive Gaughan concert from 1982.

Review by George Monger

GaughanDick Gaughan has been off the road for the last three or so years after an MRI scan in October 2016 showed that he had suffered a stroke several months earlier. Recently tapes of a Dick Gaughan in concert in Cambridge Massachusetts in 1982 have come to light. Hearing the tapes Ian Green and Ian McCalman of Greentrax Records, Edinburgh agreed that they were vintage Gaughan performances and decided to release the recordings on CD to help raise money to support Dick in his recovery.

 And what a great CD it is, it is indeed Dick on top form with a great setlist, beginning with Erin Go Bragh and finishing with a unique performance of Hamish Henderson’s classic The Freedom Come All Ye with fiddle accompaniment form the late great Johnny Cunningham – the first and, as far as I know, only time they shared a stage, making this a truly unique album.

The album is rounded off with two tracks recorded at Milingavie Folk Club in 2010/12 and a final track from the Greentrax archives.

Although recorded 37 years ago the tracks sound fresh and are a reminder of the characteristic passion and humour that Dick brought to any performance and still in evidence when he played at the John Peel Centre a few years ago, before news of his illness. Indeed the recordings from Milingavie Folk Club are proof that a Gaughan performance suffered no deterioration over the 28/30 years between the recordings.

This album is a great and fitting tribute to a unique and great man and if you’ve ever appreciated his work then buy the album to help support Dick and his family at this difficult time for them.

Greentrax Recordings CDTRAX406

Suffolk Folk

Norfolk Folk Association

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