Tag Archives: guitar fingerpicking

August 2018 – upcoming London folk gigs – Nest Collective’s Campfire Club shows – Kaia Kater and John McGrath (3rd August); Cath & Phil Tyler and Marisa Jack & Davy (3rd August); Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly. and Felix MB (9th August); Fellow Pynins and Jack & The Arrows (10th August)

28 Jul

More in the ongoing string of unamplified outdoor folk gigs in London parks and gardens, courtesy of Nest Collective’s Campfire Club.

* * * * * * * *

There are two simultaneous concerts on 3rd August, the first of which features “African-Canadian roots phenom” Kaia Kater and experimental folk guitarist John McGrath.

Kaia Kater couldn’t have come on the scene at a better time. As a new generation takes the reins, American roots music is needed more than ever to remind us of the troubled pathways of our own history. Born of African-Caribbean descent in Québec, Kaia Kater grew up between two worlds: one her family’s deep ties to Canadian folk music in her Toronto home; the other the years she spent learning and studying Appalachian music in West Virginia. Her acclaimed debut album ‘Sorrow Bound’ (May 2015) touched on this divide, but her sophomore album ‘Nine Pin’ (May 2016) delved even further, and casting an unflinching eye at the realities faced by people of colour in North America every day. Her songs on Nine Pin are fueled by her rich low tenor vocals, jazz-influenced instrumentation, and beautifully understated banjo. They earned her a Canadian Folk Music Award in 2016, and they’ve got as much in common with Kendrick Lamar right now as they do with Pete Seeger.

“As a concept album, ‘Nine Pin’ weaves between hard-hitting songs that touch on modern issues like the Black Lives Matter movement (Rising Down, Paradise Fell) and more personal narratives speaking to life and love in the digital age (Saint Elizabeth). And while these larger stories are deftly crafted, this is really an album of moments. Kater’s a cappella voice speaking to the loneliness of a city in Harlem’s Little Blackbird while solo dance steps echo in the background, the muted hesitancy of Caleb Hamilton’s trumpet breaking the trance of Little Pink, the smoke of electric guitar that cuts through Saint Elizabeth, the wave-like ebb and flow of piano behind the plaintive love poem Viper’s Nest… All of these moments point to an artist wise beyond her years.


 
John McGrath is an Irish guitarist, composer and author based in London. His music explores the boundaries of the ancient and modern as traditional elements meet improvisation and experimental tendencies. Rich harmonics, intricate finger-picking, static drones and glitches combine to glorious effect.”


 
* * * * * * * *

The second of the two 3rd August concerts features some neo-traditionalist groupings in the form of Cath & Phil Tyler and Marisa Jack & Davy.

Cath & Phil Tyler play Anglo-American folk music using guitar, banjo, voice and fiddle. Cath was a member of the band Cordelia’s Dad in the 1990s when she lived in Massachusetts, USA. Phil (from Newcastle-upon-Tyne) has played in various folk, rock and ceilidh bands for many years. Coming together musically through a shared love of traditional narrative song, full voiced sacred harp singing and sparse mountain banjo, they have performed on stages as diverse as the Royal Opera House in London and a dank tower in the old city walls of Newcastle. Taking a more minimal approach to their material than some, they have been described as “one of the most compelling musical partnerships on the scene”, their music being “a highly concentrated and intimate musical experience that penetrates to the very rawest essence of folk tradition.”


 
“Bedford-based folk trio Marisa Jack & Davy formed in 2015 in order to play at the DIY shows and house concerts they were organising. A floor spot for Stick in the Wheel’s folk night on The Golden Hinde encouraged them to further explore British folk music and they were soon seduced by the music of Shirley Collins, The Young Tradition and Nic Jones. Their unconventional interpretation of the tradition is shaped by the harmonic blend of their three unique voices, acoustic guitar styles and their music backgrounds. Marisa Straccia is an illustrator and plaintive finger picking guitarist, Davy Willis a singer and artist from Tonbridge via L.A. and Jack Sharp is best known as the singer for psych rock band Wolf People. They also run a nomadic Bedford acoustic folk night called Mill Race Folk in various locations including an 18th century watermill, a museum, a community boat and a 15th century timber-framed market hall.”


 
* * * * * * * *

The 9th August concert features acousti-pop star Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly. and rising folk-pop sensation Felix MB.

“A veteran at thirty-two, Sam Duckworth has been releasing music under the moniker Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly. for 12 years. His catalogue includes collaborations ranging from Baba Maal, to Shy Fx, Kate Nash to Jehst. It includes four top 40 singles, tow top 40 albums, a German Club Number 1 and a gold-certified plaque for the seminal ‘Chronicles Of A Bohemian Teenager’.

Having spent three recent years working under his own name, Duckworth returned to Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly. work in January 2018 with a new album, ‘Young Adult’, which includes the Shy Fx collaboration “always.” Mastered by T Power, this is Duckworth back as a folk artist, but still keeping parts of the electronic experimentation of his “solo” work. Sam debuted a new band at his recent Village Underground show, hearalded by the Independent as a “triumphant return.”


 
“Growing up in Derbyshire amongst actors and musicians in his parents’ touring theatre company, Felix M-B began gigging in Derby, Nottingham and then across the UK; playing shows with the likes of Lorkin O’Reilly, Alasdair Roberts, Lucy Ward, Josh Wheatley, Daudi Matsiko, Joel Baker, The Slow Show, Monica Heldal, and Georgie. His latest EP ‘The Pipes’ (released on 10th March at a sold-out concert in London) saw Felix co-producing, recording the five-track record with Ben Walker in Brighton in December 2017. It is a particularly raw and intimate record, featuring elements of self-recording and the use of reel-to-reel tape.”

(I’ve had plenty to say about Felix previously…)


 
* * * * * * * *

The 10th August gig features Oregonian folk duoFellow Pynins and Oxford harmony-folk trio Jack & The Arrows.

Fellow Pynins is a tender folk duo birthed out of years of traveling, farming, child-rearing, and touring as part of six-piece folk orchestra Patchy Sanders. Their songs tell of stories old, dreams of death, frolicking through pastures of sheep, and entering the chasms of the human experience. Their repertoire consists of original songs and traditional European ballads collected during their travels. Wielding clawhammer banjo, bouzouki, mandolin and guitar, Ian Van Ornum and Dani Aubert pour their hearts into the sounds of their whimsically-woven folk tales. These two will lift you up with their ridiculous stories and then transcend you into their emotive songs.

 
Jack & The Arrows are a London-and-Oxford based trio with dashes of folk, Americana and blues and strong close-harmonies. Jack Durtnall, Joe Hasell and Edmund Jones met through a capella singing and the band crystallised around their shared musical passions and longstanding friendships. ‘The Oxford Student’ dubbed them “an enthralling blend of impressive vocal harmonies complimented with rich instrumentation”…”

 
* * * * * * * *

Full dates:

  • Campfire Club: Kaia Kater + John McGrath – Spitalfields City Farm, Buxton Street, Shoreditch, London, E1 5AR, England, Friday 3rd August 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Campfire Club: Cath & Phil Tyler + Marisa Jack & Davy – (secret location t.b.c.), London, Friday 3rd August 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Campfire Club: Get Cape Wear Cape Fly (solo unplugged) + Felix M-B – The Calthorpe Project, 258-274 Gray’s Inn Road, St Pancras, London, WC1X 8LH, England, Thursday 9th August 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Campfire Club: Fellow Pynins + Jack & The Arrows – Oasis Nature Garden, Larkhall Lane, Stockwell, London, SW4 6RJ, England, Friday 10th August 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here

More August Campfire Club concerts shortly….
 

July 2016 – upcoming nu-folk gigs in England – Felix M-B on tour with Lorkin O’Reilly and Lewis Barfoot (July 10th to 17th); plus a note on Sylva Kay

9 Jul

Some notes previewing a Tigmus acoustic tour passing through England this coming week…

* * * * * * * *

Still only eighteen, Derby singer-songwriter Felix Mackenzie-Barrow – better known as Felix M-B – is already tipped as a future star of acoustic rock, and it’s not difficult to see why. The Jeff Buckley comparisons have come flocking, as they always do for good-looking young-white-male hopes with an acoustic guitar and a way with a commanding falsetto when they need it.

For me, though, the comparisons are a little off beam. Felix is by no means enslaved to the wail; not another in the line of anxious high-tenor clones aiming for its flaming hoops. If he has to be Jeffified, let it be for his boiling post-Page rhythm guitar with its flint-and-harps tone; for the way he can dance that guitar, like an elegant fencer, around some of the shifting, bullish meters within his songs. As a singer, he’s slightly – and thankfully – short of that assertive, archangelic (and to me, sometimes cold) Buckley edge. Under its smooth edges, it’s warmer and less elevated, closer at times to the incantatory yearnings and yelps of a Mike Scott or Van Morrison, or (whenever a little country seeps in) to Gram Parsons; or to a less pickled take on Chris Thompson of The Bathers. Whenever Felix wraps his melodic threads in a rippling transported melisma, he’s also much more reminiscent of Tim Buckley than of his gilded son.

As for the songs, so far they’re remarkably mature – involved, ruminative and harmonically adventurous explorations of love, connection and conscience rather than the gawky narcissistic three-chord blasts you’d expect from a teenage early starter. As of yet, it’s unclear where this surprising depth comes from. Perhaps it’s self-demurral at play, but Felix’s backstory doesn’t seem much more than “nice boy learns piano for many years, picks up guitar in mid-teens and two years later makes a record”. Perhaps he’s just one of those diffident, delightful natural songwriters, able to pick up on stories and ideas from elsewhere and magically transform them without letting himself get in the way.

Perhaps the answer lies in other background textures. Felix grew up with parents who ran the self-sufficient mobile theatre company Oddsocks (who used to tour Britain on the back of a transforming, swiss-army-knife of a cart which doubled as transport and ever-morphing play set), while he himself is a thoughtfully precocious alumnus of Derby Youth Theatre. It might be this that’s made him such a canny transmuter of tradition and style; such a promising inhabiter of diverse stories.


Felix’s current Tigmus-boosted tour dates are as follows:

As noted above, Felix is teaming up with other young songwriters en route – so here’s some more about them.

22 year old Lorkin O’Reilly released his debut EP, ‘After The Thaw’, last year. Nominally Scottish, with a youth spent on one side or the other of the Borders (with rangings into the Highlands plus a stint down in Brighton), he’s now made a home and a marriage in Poughkeepsie, New York State.

It’s difficult not to notice how Lorkin’s peripatetic shifting life (partly brought on by an unsettled and shifting adolescence) has fed into his music, which is partly inspired by that of John Martyn (another songwriter divided between Scotland and England to traumatic effect and artistic impact). His song Alba explores his ambivalence about the recent deepening schism between the two countries: he describes and delivers it more as an abstract “storm warning” than a rallying call or hand-wringing tract. Nick Drake, Phil Cook, American country-blues and British folk also inform his work, in which his softly mesmeric voice and lone guitar move through slow, Scottish moodclouds at a slithering, sliding pace, sometimes gently gilded by slide and resonator.



 
Despite her own Irish/English background, there don’t appear to be similar complexities in the work of Lewis Barfoot. On spec and on evidence, her debut EP ‘Catch Me’ is singer-songwriter fare pitched at an assured soft and wholesome level – not bland as such, but undeniably comfortable in itself. She works with an uncomplicated loveliness of sound that’s smoothly crafted, waxed and finished, and which follows an unruffled mood (lightly decorated by its Irish roots and, on one occasion by some throw-rug drapings of Maori choir). As edgeless as a high-street cafe-latte, it also makes the ideal soundtrack to one. There’s an underlying murmur of stability in these songs, whether they’re dealing with love or landscape,


 
A little more delving reveals that Lewis is more substantial than these songs suggests. A busy polymath, she’s self-propelled and organised enough to have her own “summer of Sundays” tour dovetailing into this one. Before going solo three years ago, she was a member of Gaelic a cappella quintet Rún; and like Felix, she’s also got a theatrical background, maintaining a parallel career as an actress on film, television and fringe theatre (using the latter to fertilise her theatrical writing and conceptualising). With all of this behind her, it seems a shame that what she’s currently offering is lovely but cosy acoustic-evening entertainment with a high-boutique gloss to it: certainly these initial songs lack the playful wit and sense of enquiry which goes into her original stage work.


 
For now, go along for the sleek craft and gently-cupped warmth, and hope that more of Lewis unfolds into her music over time. Here are her remaining summer dates beyond this tour:

  • The Horniman Museum, 100 London Road, Forest Hill, London, SE23 3PQ, England, Sunday 10th July 2016, 12.00 pm (noontime show, following which she’ll sprint to Bristol to catch up with Felix and Lorkin for the evening gig)
  • The Bicycle Shop, 17 St Benedicts Street, Norwich, NR2 4PE, England, Sunday 17th July 2016
  • The Blue Man, 8 Queens Road, Brighton, BN1 3WA, England, Sunday 24th July 2016

* * * * * * * *

It was a shame to see that Silva Kay has had to pull out of the tour… but it would also be a shame to waste what I wrote about her before she dropped off the billing.

A singer, guitarist, looper and occasional drummer, Sylva has been creating songs since childhood, growing up as she did in the bosom of an artistic family (and being encouraged by writers, photographer and crafters of all stripes). A self-taught self-producer and a youthful veteran of several bands on both sides of the Atlantic and on both coasts of America (including Ra Ra Rabbit, IC and American City), she performs songs which touch on the territories of Joanna Newsom, Ash Ra Tempel, Dayna Kurtz and the dream-permeable moods of My Bloody Valentine. Often performing while surrounded by an arc of miscellaneous percussion, pedals, sound sources and electronics, her music remains centred around her voice and guitar, changing the moods and patterns within its dreamy folktronic format, using cunning loop-pedal work to establish a folk chorale of spontaneous backing vocals and to shift back and forth into trance-like psychedelic moods, moments of skipping indie-pop and stretches of acoustic soul/r’n’b grooves.

Unusually for a latterday loop musician, there’s plenty of space in the performance. The looped parts sound as if they’ve been thought out architecturally on the fly; a semi-spontaneous foundation on which Silva can mount wandering explorations of situations, reflections and reaction. Within the space of a single song, she can sound both independent and love-lorn, interiorised and reaching out, mysterious and readable.

The good news is that, like Lewis, Sylva is determinedly self-propelled, touring out in monthly ripples from her Oxford base: so despite her having withdrawn from this tour, it won’t be too long before there’s an opportunity to see her again.


 

June-July 2016 – upcoming gigs – Sharron Kraus and Gillian Chadwick’s psych-folk duo Rusalnaia on tour in England with Nick Jonah Davis, Arianne Churchman, Fuzzy Hell, Sproatly Smith and Frances Chang making showings (20th June – 10th July)

18 Jun


 

Fresh off their appearance at the remarkable Sin Eater Festival (which I’ll really have to pay some better attention to, next year), psychedelic folk duo
Rusalnaia embark on a short English tour this coming week.

A sisterly alliance of acclaimed Anglo-American dark-folkster Sharron Kraus and prog/neopsych-influenced American folkie Gillian Chadwick (of Ex Reverie and Woodwose), the duo originally took shape while both women were neighbours in Fishtown, Philadelphia. Named after a placatory festival for mischievous, tickling and murderous Slavic water-nymphs, citing such touchstones as Comus, Trees, Mellow Candle, Ingar Bergman and Jefferson Airplane as influences, and self-described as “a luminously pagan witches brew”, the project is a close-bound duet of voices and (mostly) acoustic guitars. Softly-sung, it limns its lovely and carefully-crafted songs with a halo of harmonies and a mood of anticipation (and, on record at least, dashes of electric acid lead guitar, dulcimer, penny whistles and goat’s-nail shakers).

The imminent second Rusalnaia album ‘Time Takes Away’ is a rockier affair than the debut. In order to perform it live, Gill and Sharron will be backed by Sheffield drummer Guy Whittaker (Magpies, Big Eyes Family Players, Sarah Smout) and by Nottingham acoustic/electric guitarist Nick Jonah Davis (an acclaimed modal player in a mingled Bert Jansch/Nick Drake/John Fahey tradition, who usually plays either solo or as a member of the Fains duo alongside violinist Jo Cormack). Between them, Sharron and Nick will also be covering most of the tour’s support slots as solo performers.




 

Tour dates are as follows:

There will also be two further Rusalnaia festival appearances – at the free Leigh Folk Festival, Leigh-on-Sea, on Saturday 25th June; and at the SoL Party event near Hawkhurst in Kent (some time between Friday 8th and Sunday 10th July, during which time Sharron will be performing another solo set).

* * * * * * * *

En route, Rusalnaia will be linking up with some other, fascinating folk performers. The Hereford show features (in addition to a DJ set by Jus-Jay) Sproatly Smith, a self-propelled Welsh Borders institution led by guitarist and sonic visionary Ian Smith and multi-instrumentalist Matt King. This acoustic/electric collective create enthralling music inspired by rural life, ancient landscape, sundry traditional piecings (they draw on all manner of British Isles folk), Anglican metaphysics (they’ve written a whole album of Thomas Traherne poetry settings) and transitional psychedelic experiences.

The Sproatly sound is that of hilltop trips, in either sense – they sound like wide-open rural receivers, drawing in feelings, events and memories across multiple times and from multiple simultaneous perspectives. They spin out booming resonant instrumentals; hums and fragments and drones; tangles of spidery guitar and banjo; drifting childlike backward-reverbed vocals, nursery rhymes and field recordings, while still touching the earth with one toe (via singer Sarah’s anchoring of words and melody). Sitting at the heart of a growing Hereford scene of exploratory traditional musicians; they’ve redubbed their home country “Weirdshire”. When you listen to what their surroundings have inspired in their music, you can entirely empathize.


At the Sheffield show – dedicated to the summer solstice – one of the event organisers, Rob Lee, will be adding a DJ set drawing on “ethnographic recordings, velvet-clad Canterbury scenesters, private-press vanity folk, analogue madrigals and pagan jazz.” The folk remit is expanded even further with the addition of performance artist Arianne Churchman, who explores British folk traditions and rituals and reinterprets the same into modern life. Not a musician per se, she uses film, sound sculpture and costumed dancing in her works; so expect something a little immersive which won’t necessarily stay on the stage. Here are a couple of videos – one dealing with her Metal Harvest project and one recording a previous collaboration with Sharron Kraus.



 

Possibly encouraged by promoters Tor Press (who’ve already got a reputation for presenting and championing interesting music in and around their Yorkshire fastness) the Todmorden show teams up the travelling Rusalnaia circus with a couple of artists from New York State’s DIY label Life On An Island.

I’m not sure of the identity of the woman who travels under the name of Fuzzy Hell, nor of where she parks her guitar: the information which I can pick up suggests Long Island beginnings but a possible self-chosen, on/off exile in rural Ireland. All I can go on are the songs, which are wonderful. Sharply observant, witty, detached and sometimes sad; their spare, precise fingerpicking seasoned with sonic reversals, sound-aura or tape warble, their tone lies somewhere between Liz Phair and Dorothy Parker, dipping into classical legend, contemporary barlife and timeless personal complications with an equal and universal aplomb and without floundering self-indulgence. The kind of bird-bright-eyed songwriter whom you’d yearn to meet, but would be terrified of making a fool of yourself in front of.





 

Frances Chang is currently best known as the co-fronter of New York neo-shoegaze band Giant Peach, whose insouciant guitar-fuzzed alt.rock songs have garnered them plenty of praise in recent years. Her work as songwriter, however, started around a decade ago with her own bedroom solo project Neato Fleets (which apparently informs this current solo outing). Sonically, these songs can travel quite a distance from traditional or even psychedelic folk – electric from the off, the technique often a lo-fi indie scrub, the presentation sometimes undergoing casual, almost unconscious intensifications into deafening distortion. But the underpinnings are folk, and are evidence of the sensibilities of a born singer-songwriter – melodic, open lyrical examinations and sharings of intense, expanding feelings, and of making sense of the inrush of sensation when you seem to be missing a thicker skin. It’d be interesting to see what she makes of this different live setting – a thousand miles from home, in an English market town, in a mostly acoustic milieu.



 

February 2016 – upcoming gigs – interlocking British tours by Yorkston Thorne Khan, Toby Hay/Jim Ghedi and Laura Moody offer Anglo-Indian crossover folk, fingerstyle guitar, folk baroque and cello bewitchment.

10 Feb

I didn’t catch up with this next tour until a couple of its January dates had gone by, but it’s still worth catching up with the rest of it:

Yorkston Thorne Khan, 2015

Yorkston/Thorne/Khan are an experimental group that includes James Yorkston (hailed as one of the most “influential singer/songwriters on the Scottish folk scene”), Suhail Yusuf Khan (award winning sarangi player and classical singer from New Delhi) and Jon Thorne (best known as jazz double bass player with electro outfit Lamb). The trio are currently touring to support their collaborative debut album ‘Everything Sacred’, which was released in mid-January 2016.

This is Scottish-Irish-Indian-English music in the raw – Yorkston’s familiar steel guitar strings pulled, pushed and bent into more unfamiliar acoustic drones, the bass dropping anchors through the floor. Rather than world music per se, this sounds more idiosyncratic, a temporary structure bivouacking by the side of the indie-folk, art music tradition, while its widening horizons extend back to the Sixties heyday of the Incredible String Band, and forward to this singular album’s satellite orbit over the folk music, Indian classical and indie music of today – all these musical ley lines threaded into a new kind of eclectic, domestic setting.

James: “Playing together as Yorkston/Thorne/Khan, we tackle a wide array of different sounds and songs. Alongside pieces of our own, there’s a fair chunk of improvisation, plus covers of Ivor Cutler’s Little Black Buzzer and Lal Waterson’s Song For Thirza. Jon’s jazz background definitely comes to the fore, as does Suhail’s devotional singing and outstanding sarangi playing. I just do my best to keep up…”


 

Dates:

  • The Bicycle Shop, 17 St Benedicts Street, Norwich, NR2 4PE, England, Tuesday 16th February 2016more information
  • The Junction 2, Clifton Way, Cambridge CB1 7GX, England, Wednesday 17th February 2016 (with Laura Moody)more information
  • Eat your Own Ears @ Warwick Arts Centre (Studio), University of Warwick, Gibbet Hill Road, Coventry, CV4 7AL, England, Thursday 18th February 2016 (with Laura Moody)more information
  • Irregular Folk @ St Barnabas Church, 15 St Barnabas Street, Oxford, OX2 6BG, England, Friday 19th February 2016 (with Laura Moody)more information
  • Fruit, 62-63 Humber Street, Hull, HU1 1TU, England, Saturday 20th February 2016 (with Laura Moody)more information
  • Opus presents Gadabout @ Yellow Arch Studios, 30-26 Burton Road, Sheffield, S3 8BX, England, Sunday 21st February 2016 (with Laura Moody + Toby Hay/Jim Ghedi)more information
  • Belgrave Music Hall, 1A Cross Belgrave Street, Leeds, LS2 8JP, England, Tuesday 23rd February 2016 (with Laura Moody)more information
  • The Deaf Institute, 135 Grosvenor Street, Manchester, M1 7HE, England, Wednesday 24th February 2016 (with Laura Moody)more information
  • The Old Queen’s Head, 44 Essex Road, Islington, London, N1 8LN, England, Thursday 25th February 2016 (with Laura Moody)more information
  • Canton St John Music @ St John the Evangelist Church, St John’s Crescent, Canton, Cardiff, CF5 1NX, Wales, Saturday 27th February 2016 (with Laura Moody + Toby Hay/Jim Ghedi)more information
  • Komedia, 22-23 Westgate Street, Bath, BA1 1EP, England, Saturday 28th February 2016 (with Laura Moody)more information
  • Exeter Phoenix, Bradninch Place, Gandy Street, Exeter, EX4 3LS, England, Sunday 29th February 2016 (with Laura Moody)more information
  •  

    Playing support on all of the dates apart from Norwich (and joining in for a few songs in the headlining set) is singer-songwriter and cellist extraordinaire Laura Moody, whose songs sometimes touch on the same areas of kinetic fantasy as Kate Bush, Tori Amos or Joanna Newsom, sometimes dip into the cool small details of a Julia Holter or Anja Garbarek, and sometimes summon up the haunting folk-contralto reveries of Kathleen Ferrier. Just before the tour starts, Laura will be playing her own London solo show, as follows:

    Tina Edwards presents:
    Laura Moody
    Pizza Express Jazz Club, 10 Dean Street, Soho, London, W1D 3RW, England
    Tuesday 16th February 2016
    more information

    Laura: “I’ve seen so many amazing performers at Pizza Express Jazz over the years – Kurt Elling, Ian Shaw, Gwyneth Herbert (and just one jazz/rock gig that I went to in terrible error and possibly may have feigned illness at so I could leave) – so I’m both excited and honoured to have been invited by music journalist and broadcaster Tina Edwards to play my music on that stage. It’s my first truly central London gig for a little while and as well as playing a load of tunes I will also be having an onstage chat with Tina, so you can get to hear some hilarious anecdotes about how some of these songs came about. But most importantly you can listen to a woman hitting herself with her own cello bow while you eat an American Romana with extra mozzarella.”


     

    * * * * * * * *

    In addition, the Sheffield and Cardiff gigs on the Yorkston Thorne Khan tour (21st and 27th February respectively) features extra support by Toby Hay and Jim Ghedi, following their appearance at Daylight Music earlier in the month. These shows, and more, dovetail into a Hay and Ghedi tour over the whole of February and the beginning of March.

    From Sheffield and Rhayader respectively, Jim and Toby are young (yet assured and accomplished) masters of both fingerstyle acoustic guitar and the resurgent, omnivorous stylings of folk baroque. Both are seasoned performers and collaborators. During years of travelling, Jim has appeared on bills or in ensembles with James Blackshaw, Richard Dawson, Dead Rat Orchestra, Cam Deas, C Joynes, Stephanie Hladowski, Alasdair Roberts, Alex Nelson’s Death Shanties, The Big Eyes Family Players and Trembling Bells. While less widely travelled than Jim, Toby is rapidly becoming a British folk festival veteran and has taken support slots to Ryley Walker, Songhoy Blues and Marika Hackman.

    Playing as a duo, they collectively draw sonic and compositional inspiration from African music (particularly kora music), Bert Jansch, jazz, Indian ragas, ancient Welsh harp music, Eastern European folklore, the Beat writers and John Fahey’s American Primitivism. For more details on how some of this turns out, there’s a ‘Misfit City’ review of Toby’s first EP here, plus a couple of videos below.


    One of the main follows up to that Daylight Music appearance is a west Yorkshire show alongside two other formidable local talents:

    Toby Hay/Jim Ghedi Duo + Dean McPhee + Saif Mode @ Fuse Arts Space, Bradford, 17th February 2016

    Toby Hay/Jim Ghedi Duo + Dean McPhee + Saif Mode
    Fuse Art Space, 5-7 Rawson Place, Bradford, BD1 3QQ, England
    Wednesday 17th February 2016
    more information

    You’ve already read about Jim and Toby, so here’s the information on the other two performers:

    Dean McPhee is a West Yorkshire-based solo electric guitarist who plays a Fender Telecaster through a valve amp and effects pedals. Dean is a self-taught guitarist and has developed a unique style of playing over years of improvisation and experimentation. His influences include British folk, dub, Krautrock, post-rock, Moroccan trance and modal jazz. “The hallmark of McPhee’s style is a picked bassline and free-ranging variations on melodic ideas via a mesmerising progression of harmonics, cleanly picked notes, full chords and string-bending arabesques.” (‘The Wire’)

    Saif Mode is the moniker of Ben Hunter. He improvises with modular synths to create dense sonic landscapes that are unique to each performance “marry(ing) meditative drones and techno improvisations, recalling the utopian dreams of the Atomic Age and the simple piety of the early church… equally at home on bills with improvised analogue electronica and raw black metal…” (Sheffield Anti Fascist Network).


     

    The remaining dates of the Hay & Ghedi tour (including the Daylight Music appearance and their Yorkston Thorn Khan support slots) are below:

     
    Toby and Jim will also be joining forces in Sheffield during late February for this theatre show:

    The Death Curiosities

    The Travelling Shadow Theatre presents:
    “The Death Curiosities”
    Moor Theatre Delicatessen, 17 The Moor, Sheffield, S1 4PF, England
    Thursday 25th & Friday 26th February 2016
    more information

    “Come on a journey inside an old cabinet to discover what forgotten objects remain….Stories unravel to reveal a beautifully vulgar and woeful celebration of the macabre…. Told through live shadow puppetry and music, ‘The Death Curiosities’ is a beautiful and mesmerising story exploring the unquestionable trimmings of death. Live musical accompaniment by Jim Ghedi, Toby Hay and Josh Kelson.”

     

    Still from 'The Death Curiosities'
     

    More gig news shortly, including William D. Drake in Italy and a look at various upcoming classical music events…
     

REVIEW – Toby Hay: ‘Guitar I (The Stairwell Sessions)’ EP, 2012 (“a sense of placement and location”)

12 Jan
Toby Hay: 'Guitar I (The Stairwell Sessions)' EP

Toby Hay: ‘Guitar I (The Stairwell Sessions)’ EP

In a faithless world (in my own faithless world, anyway) one of the few things that can substitute for a religious experience is finding a place where sound can be transfigured. This could be as simple as a random encounter with a naturally-shaped space that has a whisper, or as calculated as deliberately finding somewhere in a newer concrete structure where the right note in a scale suddenly booms like amplified doo-wop. It might explain why there’s a primal pleasure about singing in the shower – that embrace of the feeling that you’re in the right location for the ritual of sound to run its course.

Toby Hay (the brother of Tomorrow We Sail’s Tim Hay) made full use of this feeling when recording this debut EP of acoustic guitar. It helped that Tim’s own stairwell, at home in Leeds, provided the ideal sound. One evening – while Tim, all ears, manned the console – Toby sat down on the stairs and recorded then and there. Still only 21, his guitar technique is already fully formed and his playing strikingly visual (it’s hardly surprising to find that he also works as a filmmaker). That sense of placement and location stretches further than his choice of where to sit down and hear the natural reverb, and into the fabric of his music.

The inspirations are immediately recognisable. A fingerstyle player, Toby’s music is firmly in the ornate British folk-baroque approach, continuing a line begun by Davy Graham, Bert Jansch and Martin Carthy in the ’60s and continued, over the years, by players including Michael Hedges and Martin Simpson. The EP aligns Toby’s own compositions alongside his variations on and extrapolations of standards, to the point where only the familiarity of a tune separates them.

For Variations On O’Carolans’ Dream, Toby immerses himself in the world of Irish baroque harp music, reworked through the guitar. While here he’s following in the footsteps of the likes of Duck Baker, his performance is confident, revelling in the guitar sonorities which add spice to the transposition. His thumbwork in the bass is strong – especially in the second section, where he chops toothily into the bassline – and the riffling harp-like flourishes which he brings to his fingerwork offer something back to the original. By the third section, the baroque structures have melded seamlessly with an Indian-inflected pulsealong.

As you might have guessed from the title, And We’ll Take A Cup Of Kindness Yet is Toby’s extrapolation of Auld Lang Syne. In some respects it’s the most straightforward piece on the EP, travelling from a sleepy, breezy statement of the original melody before running away into double-time. From its start as a song of sitting down, drinking and remembering, it’s transmuted into a fast-flowing travelling piece, heavy on the double-stopping and the thumbing of bass notes, before slowing again into a classical inspired study which doesn’t so much recapitulate the original tune as revive it.

Of the three Hay originals, Platform 16 is another travelling song. Its intro bounces and rings out on high harmonics: as the music wheels onwards, Toby’s sliding, percussive attack on the notes as they’re made out is so sharp that it sounds like pickwork. Night Terror Blues is another demonstration of quiet excellence. Winding up out of hushed beginnings, it becomes a strong-stepping baroque blues. Stabbing in the treble, there’s a slithering in the bass range – like a slipping foot on the run.

The remaining original – Where The River’s All Rain And Roses – takes its title from Jack Kerouac. More explicitly, it comes from a dusktime description of swishing across the Mississippi river on the bridge at Port Allen, Louisiana in “a misty pinpoint darkness.” Kerouac’s original passage is an undulant swirl of description – a journey through foglight and dropping evening captured in smudged yellows and purples, in the swings of a sharply curving drive. Yet Toby’s own piece has none of the arresting jazz stimulus which one might expect from a Kerouac tribute. Nor does it try to recapture that American freeway motion; of driving through the astonishing scenery and through the liberty of the rolling roads into revelation.

Instead, Toby seems to be taking his cue not from the motion or the self-absorption, but from Kerouac’s descriptions of what he passes through en route – the textures of the mists, the way he hails the Mississippi as “a washed clod in the rainy night… a dissolving, a riding of the tide down the eternal waterbed, a contribution to brown foams, a voyaging past endless vales and trees and levees…” For once, the music hovers rather than drives. Over a billowing airblown shruti box drone (the EP’s lone overdub), Toby picks out an elegant Gymnopedie-via-Ralph Towner progression, its melody carried in the bass and midrange. Stepping back and forth, it maintains its chords via high, clipped double-stopping. When a new sequence emerges midway and, chord by chord, rides up to a sparse and ecstatic point of grace, it does so with the same pointillistic pacing. Droplets in the fog, light snagged in vapour, or moments of eternity seen through movement – whatever this brings to the mind, it captures a position in time and in space that’s mystifying. For a moment, just like that moment when the sound in the stairwell deepens to a subtle boom.

Toby Hay: ‘Guitar I (the stairwell sessions)’
Toby Hay (self-released, no catalogue number or barcode)
CD/download EP
Released: 13th December 2012

Buy it from:
Bandcamp

Toby Hay online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Bandcamp YouTube

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Mark Mulholland & Craig Ward: “Waiting For The Storm”

REVIEW – Mark Mulholland & Craig Ward: ‘Waiting For The Storm’ album, 2012 (“tin roofs, heat and restlessness”)

9 Oct

Mark Mulholland & Craig Ward: 'Waiting For The Storm'

Mark Mulholland & Craig Ward: ‘Waiting For The Storm’


Two guitars, two hushed voices, a looming double bass and a room that moves. That’s all that’s needed.

Mark Mulholland and Craig Ward go way back. In the 1980s, both were ungrizzled Scottish freshmen; teenaged guitarists coming up through roots music gigs in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Their paths have intersected many a time since then, while both clocked up the years and the experience – Mark with a brace of projects including the Berlin Americana band Two Dollar Bash, Craig most famously with dEUS (and spinoffs like The Love Substitutes), While this fuller collaboration was mooted in 2007, it wasn’t recorded until 2010 and 2011, and then went unreleased for a further year. In the meantime the intent hasn’t gone stale. If anything, it’s aged like a good whisky. This album might have been a while in coming, but it’s happily unstuck from the demands of time – just like any long friendship of the kind where a phone call and a kept date in a bar wipes away the years of separation.

Mark and Craig are upfront about their intentions. They’re reviving that strand of British “folk baroque” as played solo in the ’60s by Davy Graham and Bert Jansch, developed by John Renbourn and Danny Thompson in Pentangle, and performed in a shroud of mystique and withdrawal by Nick Drake. ‘Waiting For The Storm’ utterly recaptures that Witchseason glimmer – timeless, intimate and immediate, with the air listening in and the feeling that the songs are at the forefront of a push of story and message.

As guitarists and as singers, Craig and Mark are perfectly matched. Acoustic fingerpicking styles knit together in a generous skein of give-and-take, with each man providing varied electric textures as and where needed. Their quiet, rough-finished voices blur and separate in sighed harmonies, tinged with weariness, a little foreboding and some scarred-knuckle gentleness. Between them, Hannes d’Hoine plays double bass as if it were a straining mast, conjuring up deep thrums, solid gutsy plucking and ghostly bowed atmospherics. It’s very much a three-cornered exchange – almost telepathic in the players’ instinct to play just what is needed and no more.

As for the roots of the record, they drift – and no wonder. Though Mark and Craig are Scottish by origin, they’re wanderers by nature. The stoic discomfort blues of A Strange Place traces lightly over the angst of this lifestyle; the menacing weightlessness of its temporary, torn-up settlings. “Anyone entering this place they might say, / a strange place in which we belong…/ It’s a strange place we do run to, / a strange place to which we do run.” The slithering folk riffs and Simon & Garfunkel harmonies of Something On The Breeze raise up something more of home, via a Lowlands song of roaming and departure. (“Blowing through the open door that I have just walked through, / blowing me along to something new… / Looking forward to looking back on the things I’ve left behind, / somewhere a little further down the line.”)

Under even the dreamier-sounding songs, there’s a Scottish feel of hard lines: an undercurrent of poverty and menace dealt with stoically (“I see the cops on every corner, / people waiting ready to run. / Blue lights flashing out a warning – / someone’ll get hurt before the morning comes.”) Yet most of the underpinnings of the record come from one particular location: Mark’s current home of Port-au-Prince, in Haiti. Throughout ‘Waiting For The Storm’, Haiti breathes itself steamily into the mood and the music – mountains and stagnant creeks; tin roofs, heat and restlessness. There’s an occult foreboding here too, perhaps brought in by the business of living under the threat of capricious flooding, of drumming rain, or of violent passions swelling out of control. The answers flicker through the songs, half-seen, or viewed full in the face for an uneasy moment.

Some of it’s more relaxed; simply sketches and shadings of place and time. The winding sea currents of All The Doors Are Open (with Hannes’ grasping bass anchoring the surges of meter) invoke summer-struck stupor and an urge for motion. “All the doors are open, cars go past outside. / Won’t you take me with you, take me for a ride?… / I gulp down the icy water, drowning in the heat. / Hills lean over the hazy sea, wheels turning to the beat.” The instrumental Black Sail travels in a wave-roll and a dark minor key, telling a wordless story: moods shift weather-wise like bands of sunset and lowering clouds, the accelerations and slowings of the guitars tracked point-by-point by Hanne’s bowed bass.

With the title track, however, more threatening moods gather. “See the vinyl spinning its strange pattern in my head / and I can’t help thinking about something somebody said…” Like a brooding canvas, Waiting For The Storm uses the old expressionist motif of threatening weather to illustrate roils in the spirit, but leaves us hanging and expectant. “The sky is getting darker and the glass begins to fall. / The flicker of the candle’s throwing shadows on the wall… / Siren in the distance, the evening air is cool. / The bottle’s almost empty and the ashtray’s nearly full. / Waiting for a moment when it all begins to spin – / voices in the darkness, waiting for the storm to begin.”

Although the Haitian setting offers ravaged scenery and wild elements aplenty, Mark and Craig are ultimately too subtle just to use it as an exotic stage. In their lean words, they imply that most of the trouble a nomad might find in places like these might actually have been brought along in his own baggage. Secret Places, certainly, is caught up in its own space – one of obsessive passion, affirming “there’s no after, no before, /each time we pass through this door. / Nothing matters anymore – / each moment burns more fiercely than the last.”

Haiti gets to speak for itself as well. Amid arco bass rumbles and a stew of electric guitar atmospherics and acoustic webbing, Les Belles Promesses sees Mark, Craig and Hanne take a step back so that Haitian laureate Frankétienne can take centre stage. Working in smouldering wreathes of text from his own ‘Voix Marassa’, the old man recites and declaims in an impassioned, mesmeric French Creole like a voudoun Baudelaire, calling out razors and toadstones, sickness and fire, rocks and struck matches. “L’acidite de l’ombre… l’obsession des long voyage impermanences au bout du sexe, la passion du danger dans le sang, la fascination de riske… au-dessus du desastre.” Even at its height it remains honest, clear about the swings of raw fraught instinct.

So it is that the remaining two songs are left to their own devices. Icy Shivers comes from the armpit of a bad night – a circling lick; scribbling, edgy double bass harmonics; and moonlight-drop electric guitar, both ominous and omen-ous. “Things that crawl and things that bite / my thoughts as black as the sky tonight – / oh, it’s a long, long time until the dawn… / Dead of night the city sleeps – / waters still, a bargain deep.” Elsewhere, in Watching You Sleep, the devils are scratching away at a hard-won peace. Mark sings, as soft as anything, the pillow talk of a devoted lover – “you, your head lying on my shoulder, hear you breathing soft and clear. / I don’t care about tomorrow just as long as you are here,” – but hints at darker things abandoned in order to find and keep this haven. Even if they’re not stalking after him, there’s still a haunting. “I put the key in my pocket / and walked away from what came before. / A tune was running through my head / a song I can’t remember anymore. / I heard the sounds that go round the valley / hints of something far behind. / Something I wasn’t aware of losing / now I keep on trying to find.”

As other people’s violence stirs in the street, Mark’s narrator feels the pull of it and with a quiet, heartbreaking determination he asserts his love over rage. “I don’t want to go and get in a fight / I just want to stay with you tonight… / Don’t want to make nobody cry, / I just want to watch you where you lie.” The words are simple or even banal on the surface. The sentiments behind them, as sung, are subtly devastating. A reedy fuzz of electric guitar solo, one of the only ones on the record, seals the deal with hulking, sweating fingers.

There is an eventual respite from this darkness. Full of chuckling mandolins, The Six O’Clock Whistle is a jaunty folk instrumental with a hint of a reel (plus a nod and a wink to the childhood innocence of ‘Chigley‘). Sitting at the end of the record, it lifts the pressing atmosphere of the rest of the songs, drawing you away from the mesmeric night of memories, fancies, booze and shadows. Still, it’s the latter that remains with you: a baroque spell of sketchy lines, disquiet and stirred emotions, with some lines flapping free and others coiled too tight. A magical listen.

Mark Mulholland & Craig Ward: ‘Waiting For The Storm’
Cannery Row Records, CRR 1217(826863121627)
Jezus Factory Records JF034 (826863121627)
CD/download album
Released: 3rd September 2012

Buy it from:
Cannery Row Records (CD only), Jezus Factory Records (CD only) or Bandcamp (download only).

Mark Mulholland & Craig Ward online:
Facebook Bandcamp

Mark Mulholland online:
Homepage Facebook MySpace Bandcamp

Craig Ward online:
MySpace Last FM

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