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:

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.

Read more: Dwelling by the Weir - Ellie Gowers

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.

Read more: Mossy Christian & Megan Wisdom

The Squire’s Thingumbob and Kitty’s What You May Call It - Maggie Moore & Stan Bloor

Review by Graham Schofield

MaggieStanThe title of Stan & Maggie’s new CD could lead you to suspect that this might not be a collection of erudite and sensitively artistic folk song offerings. Indeed this is a rumbustious romp through a collection of the type of song upon which the later Music Hall entertainments of the Victorian and Edwardian eras are rooted. More suited as the musical accompaniment to a convivial evening of Beer and Sandwiches, not so much the Vicarage Tea Party.

Maggie and Stan are well known for their love of entertaining audiences. The musical arrangements and song delivery are of the highest quality and are perfectly tailored to the style and genre of the material. The songs on this CD are well researched and there are ample sleeve-notes to satisfy even the most demanding. 

The songs have been taken from books published by William West (1834 -38), such as “The Delicious Chanter And Exciting Warbler. A Capital Collection of Randy, Roaring, Rousing, Tear-up, Flare-up songs,” or “The Little Icky-Wickey Songster.”

The lyrics are unashamedly non-pc reflecting a culture and moral climate very far removed from our own, sometimes over-sanitised, times. In them there is a delightful sauciness, unsubtle innuendo and sometimes downright smut. All delivered by the duo with a forthright clarity. In all there are 17 tracks, some with a sing-a-long chorus and known tunes. Such as “The Wedding Secret” to the tune of “White Cockade”, “Colin and Susan (or No! No! No!)” to the tune of “Lincolnshire Poacher,” and even “The Landladies Count” to the tune of “Derry Down.”

This is a delightfully quirky CD, well presented and performed, definitely not high-art rather something that, in an earlier age, might have been delivered under a plain-cover. A naughty pleasure!

Available directly from Maggie Moore 01449 722615 or 07913087691 


'Maim' by Whyte

Review by Colin Hynson

MaimThe two musicians that make up Whyte, Alasdair and Ross MacllleBàin, are making a name for themselves within the Gaelic music tradition. Some of that is due to their fusing traditional song forms with electronic music. Gaelic/Celtic music and electronica - especially the more minimalist sort - seem to be a good match for each other. Maim is an album that is both lush and forbidding at the same time with the ethereal sound of the Icelandic band Sigur Ros throughout.

This is an album that emerged because of the lockdown of 2020. Whyte were working with a theatre company putting together a show featuring drama, music, video and dance. The show explored the decline of Gaelic culture in the face of the forces of profound economic and cultural change and made worse by the climate crisis. The touring show ground to a jarring halt as lockdown began. The lockdown forced many people in the creative world to explore new ways of presenting their work. This album is one of those ways.

The first track, ‘Oml’ starts with a melancholic piano with a gentle pulsating electronic sound in the background. It’s reminiscent of some dark folk or the musical scores to a horror movie. It’s a song using the words to a 19th century Gaelic song called (in English) ‘Goodnight to You All’.

The second track is the title track. It’s an instrumental piece that leans heavily on the circularity and repetitiveness of much of folk music. Again it has a film–like quality to it and to my ears at least some influence from the start of Mike Oldfield’s ‘Tubular Bells’.

Track number three, ‘Maim-Slé’, is a spoken word piece with fluctuating music that beautifully follows the rhythm of the words. You don’t need to understand any Gaelic to know what is being said. This is a lament for all that is gone and all that may go soon.

‘Creach’ is the next track. It has a slightly unsettling start before morphing into a gentle guitar piece with a keyboard background. This quiet–ness continues with an original Gaelic song called ‘àill’. 

For those who hanker after a piece of traditional music then the next track ‘gur fad ’am thàmh mi gu tostach sàmhach’, will more than satisfy. It’s another 19th century song. It starts with just an unaccompanied voice and then with a slow build–up of keyboard and strings emerges from below. There’s a short piano solo, which almost seems like some kind of interval, and then we’re back with the second part of the song.

The album finishes with ‘Mharbhrann’ which seems to bring together all of the themes and styles explored in the album. Voices, strings and synthesiser music weave and dance around each other. 

There’s a strange paradox in an album that laments the demise of something that it may actually help to revive. Traditional forms of music the world over go through waves of decline before rising again. Much of that revival is down to a readiness to change and adapt with the times. Maim does just that.

Bandcamp link: