Harry's Seagull - Georgia Shackleton CD

Review by Colin Hynson

Harrys SeagullAfter a career playing with various groups such as Addison’s Uncle, Cobbler Bob, the Shackleton Trio and, most recently, Kitewing (a merging of the Shackleton Trio with the Alden and Patterson duo) this is the first solo album by Norfolk–based singer and fiddle player Georgia Shackleton.

Harry’s Seagull is a celebration of the often over–looked Norfolk tradition of folk music and song. It draws heavily on the performers and collectors of traditional songs of the county such as Lucy Broadwood, Walter Pardon and most of all Harry Cox. 

The album kicks off with ‘Twenty, Eighteen’, a song collected by Lucy Broadwood, a folk–song collector of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. She was different from many other collectors of the time simply because she was a woman. This meant that whilst her male counterparts were collecting songs from men in male–dominated spaces such as dockyards or the local pub, Broadwood collected songs from women by stepping into their worlds. ‘Twenty, Eighteen’ tells the story of a man attempting to court a woman with promises of wealth. She turns him down by saying that all she wants is “a handsome man”. Georgia performs this song with just her voice and a plucking (pizzicato if you want to get technical) on the fiddle.

Then we come to a couple of songs that also come from East Anglian singers and song collectors. ‘Come, Little Leaves’ was originally performed by Walter Pardon. The lyrics are by a poem by George Cooper and it tells the story of the changing seasons from summer to winter. ‘Rambling Robin’ is an adaptation of a song by Peter Bellamy (a Norfolk man and founder member of ‘The Young Tradition’).

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The New Strung Harp - Máire Ní Chathasaigh

Review by Colin Hynson

New Strung HarpWhen it come to the playing of the Irish harp then the name of Máire Ní Chathasaigh will almost certainly be just about the first to jump into peoples’ minds (maybe Derek Bell will pip her at the post here). She’s won armfuls of traditional Irish music awards and has been a stalwart of the folk music concert and festival for some years. I saw her with Chris Newman at the Cambridge Folk Festival back in the late 1980s and it was a performance that nobody who was there was likely to forget in a hurry.

This is a re–release of the album that started it all. Back in 1985 The New Strung Harp (a title inspired by the motto of the 18th century Society of United Irishmen) was the first ever album focussing on traditional Irish dance music for the harp. Before The New Strung Harp harp music tended to be a slower, more meditative affair and was perhaps more associated with new–age music. With this album more energetic jigs, hornpipes and reels came to the fore.

The album starts with ‘Charles O’Conor/Father Hanly’. This is the first of four tracks on the album composed by Turlough O'Carolan (better known as just Carolan), an 18th century harpist and composer. I first heard his music on Derek Bell’s sublime album Carolan's Receipt. It’s a lively beginning and puts down a marker for the rest of the album. 

The next track slows down a little bit and sees us skip across to the Irish Sea to the Western Isles of Scotland and the island of South Uist. ‘Ó Ho Nighean, É Ho Nighean’ is a traditional Hebridean song of, you’ve guessed it, lost love. Backing vocals are provided by Máire’s two sisters who also play fiddle and whistle. Alongside the harp Máire also plays (and purists may want to close their eyes at this point) a synthesiser. 

Back to a Carolan–composed piece with the third track ‘Madam Maxwell’ (which also features on Derek Bell’s Carolan's Receipt)A couple of quick reels (‘The Pullet’ and ‘The Volunteer’) before we arrive at what I think is one of the highlights of this album. ‘An Spéic Seoigheach’ was first published in the 18th century and it really shows off the technical and virtuosic skills of the artist. 

Next there’s the well–known Irish jig ‘The Humours of Ballyloughlin’, This piece has been covered by several musicians including the flautist Matt Molloy. Coming next are two songs ‘Hinderó Hóró’ (sung in a West Cork dialect of Irish Gaelic) and ‘The Bantry Girl’s Lament’. Máire’s sisters and her brother join her singing harmony.

Two short pieces (‘The Gander in the Praitie Hole’ and ‘The Queen of the Rushes’) that have a drone–like quality that suggests that they were written for the uilleann pipes and then onto ‘Carolan’s Farwell to Music’ (again this features on Carolan's Receipt). This was written by Carolan at the end of his life and is very much his swan song. It’s slower and more quiet than Derek Bell’s interpretation but perhaps that better fits with the circumstances under which it was written.

A couple of short jigs and reels later and we arrive at the last track. ‘Planxty Sudley’ was written by Carolan as a wedding gift to his daughter. Interestingly he apparently didn’t wholly approve of the marriage as Captain Sudley was in the British army and Carolan was very much an Irish nationalist. Anyway, it’s a warm and gentle ending to the album with the synthesiser making a subtle return and one of Máire’s sisters on fiddle.

You can buy the album from the artist’s website either as a CD or as a digital download at: https://www.oldbridgemusic.com/maire_chris_cds.htm

Cormorant - Nat Brookes

Review by Colin Hynson

Album Cover hi res Nat Brookes Cormorant 1I have to admit that folk dance is not really something that I’ve ever got into in any serious way. I’ve been to more than my fair share of ceilidhs. I seem to remember having a shot at Swedish clog dancing at Towersey many years ago. That’s about it. Consequently I’ve never felt the need to fully understand the different musical sequences that accompany folk dances. So I’d be hard pressed to tell you the difference between a polka, a hornpipe, a jig, a mazurka etc. However, this first album by the excellent accordion player Nat Brookes has helped me to appreciate the music for folk dance better.

A little unusually Suffolk born and raised Nat came to folk music after training as a classical musician/composer at York University. It was at York that her love of folk music first blossomed and it sat alongside a continuing interest in classical forms. Nat wanted to weave together folk and classical in a sort of reverse Vaughan Williams, Parry or Delius. She has drawn on her knowledge and training in classical music to write folk tunes. 

All but three of the tracks on this album at written by Nat herself. Two are arrangements of traditional Manx and Irish tunes and there’s one tune written by Jon Swayne (best known as a bagpipe-maker and member of Blozabella).

It kicks off with ‘Mushroom Vent’ (mushrooms will feature again later on in the album) and the title track ‘Cormorant’. This track starts off with a solo accordion and with the other instruments slowly joining in. The track celebrates the diving of the cormorant and the fact that it’s nearly impossible to predict where it will resurface. As someone who lives near the Norfolk Broads I can testify to watching these fine birds plunge into the water and then scanning the water’s surface waiting for it to suddenly pop up. The tune playfully mimics that by moving in unexpected directions.

This playfulness continues with ‘Painted Cuboracle/Bicycle Hunt’. A Cuboracle is a portmanteau word to describe a wooden accordian case owed by Nat that apparently could have doubled up as a coracle. ‘Bicycle Hunt’ is a tribute to the family Golden Retriever. ‘Nat’s Groovy Tune’ is an opportunity for a long guitar solo before the instruments join in.

Jumping across a couple of tracks we have ‘The Abbey/Motorway Mazurka’ which is the first of two mazurkas on the album. Between this track and the second mazurka (‘Bootleg Mazrka’) is ‘Steam Powered Sponge’ which is a slower polka tune.

Mushrooms now make their second appearance with ‘Mushroom Interval/The Round Jig’ The title refers to an incident where Nat forgot to include mushrooms in a cooked breakfast so they become an elevenses instead. Something potentially melancholy becomes joyful instead.

We’ve now entered the last of the tracks on this album. ‘The Good Old Way/Ultra Breath’. The ‘Good Old Way’ may be familiar to some of you as the Watersons did a version way back in the heady days of 1975. ‘Ultra Breath’ is a hornpipe to finish things off.

Every track on Cormorant is a tight arrangement between Nat on accordion; Deb Chalmers (from the high-energy dance band Steplings) on violin and viola; Tom Evans (who plays with the folk trio Understory) on guitar and bass and Sam Partridge (a member of Pons Aelius, one of my favourite bands at the moment) on flute. Along with their technical virtuosity the playfulness and sense of humour of this debut album draws you in.

You can listen to and order Cormorant on Bandcamp at:


Grey Eyed Dandy - the Woolverstones

Review by Colin Hynson

Grey Eyed DandyThere was an article in the Guardian a little while ago about people getting together in social media groups to reminisce about the ‘good old days’, how everything just seemed better in the past and contemporary life somehow just isn’t up to the job. If any of you feel like looking back to the early 1970s (even if you weren’t actually there) then you couldn’t do much better than listen to the debut album from a duo known as The Woolverstones.

The sound of early 1970s music weaves in and out of ‘Grey Eyed Dandy’ from start to finish. It’s a mixture of psychedelia, the dark folk of bands like Comus, the pastoral sounds of Vashti Bunyan or Nick Cave, the folk-rock sounds of Fresh Maggots and with the musical jumping-about of the Incredible String Band (although this album sounds nothing like them).

The album kicks off with ‘Tabanidae’, a short flute and keyboard instrumental of less than a minute. It felt like a deceleration of what to expect throughout the rest of the album. 

The next three tracks ‘Parted Ways’, ‘Emerald Train’ and ‘Somebody’s Fool’ will appeal to any of you who like the dark pastoral corners of England that were explored by the acid folk underground of the late 1960s and early 1970s. ‘Emerald Train’ reminded me of the whimsy of some of the early prog rock bands of the time (e.g. the Wilde Flowers or Soft Machine) that came out of Canterbury.

‘Holden Farragat’ is a little bit of a departure from the tracks mentioned above in that it’s much more rock-inspired but again with the jangly guitars and close harmonies that characterised 1970s rock music. This is followed by a rather charming short song about the imminent demise of a house mouse called, perhaps not surprisingly, ‘Mouse’.

The seventh track ‘Foie Gras Tin Tapping’ is another move in a different direction. A piano is introduced to give this a far more jazz-inspired feel to it. Things get back onto familiar territory with the next few tracks. I’d like to give a special mention to the penultimate track ‘Three Smiles in the Mirror’ which immediately put me in mind of the gentler sounds of Nick Drake or Donavan. 

The last track is ‘Tabanidae II’. Perhaps this is a way of telling us all that the journey is complete. It was only when I listened to this last track that I googled the word tabanidae. It’s the latin name for horse fly. Make of that what you will.

It’s a great debut album and has the songs have a freshness about them from being well but not over-produced. Given that the producer is John Wood who produced Nick Drake’s Pink Moon and John Martyn’s Solid Air this isn’t surprising.

You can listen to and order the album through their Bandcamp page at: https://thewoolverstones.bandcamp.com/album/grey-eyed-dandy

Dwelling by the Weir - Ellie Gowers

Review by Colin Hynson

Dwelling by the WeirFor me one of the great joys of folk music is the sense of place that is evoked by performers and their music. There are songs that, whilst having a universal appeal, belong to one location and that by listening to them listeners are transported there. The pipes of Kathryn Tickell take us all straight to the wild landscapes of Northumbria. Hearing the songs of the Copper Family create a vision of rural Sussex.

Joining this list of locally–rooted folk musicians is this first album by Warwickshire–based songwriter Ellie Gowers. All of the songs on Dwelling by the Weir explore the history, folklore and the natural world of a part of the Midlands that may not have been celebrated as much as other parts of the country (at least in the world of folk music).

Dwelling by the Weir has a gentle pastoral feel that reminded me of Vashti Bunyan, Kate Rusby and a little bit of Nick Drake’s Five Leaves Left. Ellie Gowers plays guitar, piano and has a strong and clear and at times wistful singing voice. With the exception of one track all of the pieces are self–penned so she clearly has a strong song–writing talent too.

The album starts with a very short introductory piece of music (it’s called ‘Introduction’ in case there’s any doubt) which blends into the first song ‘Dwelling by the Weir’. It’s a celebration of the town of Warwick and of the River Avon that runs through it and gives us all a taste of what’s to come with the rest of the album.

‘Woman of the Waterways’ is the next song. There are plenty of folk songs about the working lives of working–class people in both rural and industrial settings and this song carries on this tradition. What makes it stick out is that this song is about working women (rather than the more familiar songs about working man) on the canals, the tributaries between industrial centres.

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Nic Zuppardi - North Cape

Review by Colin Hynson

North CapeMy earliest memory of hearing a mandolin was when Vivien Stanshall said the word ‘mandolin’ towards of the end of side 1 of Tubular Bells and then Mike Oldfield played one. Since then, as I moved away from prog rock and concept albums and towards folk and acoustic, I found myself hearing and appreciating the mandolin more and more.

Local boy - at least he’s local if you’re in East Anglia - Nic Zuppardi is seen by many as one of the finest mandolin players playing and touring on the folk circuit. He’s currently one–third of the increasingly well–regarded Shackleton Trio and occasionally accompanies the banjo player Dan Walsh and other bands on the Norwich folk scene.

North Cape is his debut album. It brings him together with Adam Clark on guitar, Calum McKemmie on bass and the Norwich–based folk duo Alex Patterson on fiddle and Christina Alden on guitar. They are all musicians who know each other well and that familiarity has clearly made it easier for their playing to blend and weave with each other.  All but two of the tracks on this album are self–penned (and one of those two he has co–written with the Nashville–based mandolin player Caleb Christopher Edwards) and both the local and transatlantic influences are clear throughout.

The album starts with two tracks The River and Silver Haven which are tributes to Norwich – the city that Nic Zupppardi is lucky enough to call home. Those of you who’ve heard the Shackleton Trio’s last album Mousehold will realise how important local landscapes and traditions are to Nic Zuppardi. 

Halfway Pond is a cover version of a track written by the American fiddle player Jim Childress. It’s a nod to the influence of American folk music on his music. That influence is also clear in the later track Del Rio which was co–written with Caleb Christopher Edwards. 

After Halfway Pond is a jaunty little piece called Alpardi McPatterzup - a sort of portmanteau cobbled together from the names of all of the musicians on the album. The tempo then slows down a bit with a slow solo piece called Madeleine

The album finishes with Alexandra Road; there’s an Alexandra Road in Norwich so I’m guessing that’s got something to with this track, and then the title track North Cape. This was inspired by a trip he took to the Arctic Circle. I was expecting this piece to be Scandinavian–flavoured but instead it’s a rather lovely meditative solo piece.

If you want to listen to a well–crafted album from an accomplished mandolin player musician well-steeped in the traditions of folk music both near and far then I give you North Cape.  

You can listen (and buy) the album on Bandcamp:


Mossy Christian & Megan Wisdom

CD Review    Live Sampler  -  Mossy Christian and Megan Wisdom

Megan Mossy 2


I have recently had the pleasure of listening to a new CD released in April by Mossy Christian and Megan Wisdom.  They have chosen a good selection of traditional songs and tunes from the East of England with an emphasis on humour and storytelling.  They have done the arrangements  themselves with a very successful mix of harmonies for the songs and tunes.  Tracks 1, 3 and 5 are appropriately lively and light-hearted.  Track 2 has a darker theme of betrayal but Megan weaves a delicate ribbon of sound on the whistle around Mossy's storytelling and then takes up a similar theme in a lovely solo version of The Cuckoo.  Track 4 is the only instrumental and Mossy plays Old Joe and Percy Brown's Polka with great skill on the one-row melodeon which certainly set my feet tapping. The two tunes brought the flavour of the seaside and all the fun of a traditional fair to mind. It is no surprise to hear that Mossy emphasises the importance of rhythm and dance in his playing.

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