Na–Mara - Sisters & Brothers

Review by Colin Hynson

Na MaraSisters & Brothers is the fifth album from this guitar and mandolin duo - with occasional guest musicians. They have established a strong reputation within traditional music circles for their interpretations of both British folk songs but also from the French and Spanish–speaking world.

The first piece of music on this album is the title track. It follows the tradition of British folk songs highlighting the exploitation of workers whether in the field or in the factory. The song acknowledges a globalised economic system in which the exploitation sung about in the past has now been exported to the developing world. ‘Sisters and Brothers’ remembers the over 1000 workers who died in Bangladesh in 2013 when the garment factory they were working in collapsed.

‘The Sirens Call’ is another self–penned piece. This time dealing with the issue of addiction. Many folk and rock/pop artists have covered drug and alcohol addiction. In the former there are songs by Spirit of the West and the Levellers. For the latter there’s Ed Sheeran, Any Whitehouse and Nine Inch Nails amongst many others. This is the first time that I’ve heard a heartfelt song about a man’s gambling addiction and the support gets from his wife.

For track number three we are in the familiar territory of a soldier returning home and unsure how  his sweetheart will greet him. It’s a translation of a Québécois song performed by an electrofolk band called Mélisande. So a traditional song made electronic and then translated and turned back into an acoustic piece. It’s worth listening to and, on top of that, it meant that I’d discovered an electrofolk band I’d never heard of.

We stay with a French theme with medley made up of a Breton folk tune to which has been added a self–penned Bourrée (a kind of French dance music) and an arrangement of a Galician Muiñeira (a kind of Spanish dance music that has a faster tempo than a Bourrée).

Up North of the border for with a beautiful arrangement of an old Scottish song ‘Times Wears’ Awa’’. It tells of an old man looking back wistfully but with no regret on his youthful years. It’s also recently been covered by Jean Leslie and Siobhan Miller.

Read more: Na–Mara - Sisters & Brothers

Proper English - A Little Cup of Tea

Review 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.A Little Cup of Tea

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.

There are songs gleaned from the tradition, such as Out in the Green Fields with its very join-in-able chorus and The Lincolnshire Wedding Song, which is clearly and unreconstructedly from another age. There are skilfully executed sets of tunes interspersed throughout the album, but there is also space for some delightful music hall-style pieces, such a Don’t ‘ang my ‘arry, with its mock melodrama (which reminded me of Cream’s A Mother’s Lament), The Old Armchair, or Father went to Yarmouth, a rollicking one-man holiday trip spoiled by many mishaps and too much beer. Other songs express more downbeat moods, such as the sadness of Sam Larner’s The Drowned Sailor or the pathos of Last Long Mile - And When I Die. Two thoroughly enjoyable songs I recognised from elsewhere were As I Came Home, a version of which I know as Seven Drunken Nights, and The Man Who Waters the Workers’ Beer, which appeared on the first ever Topic recording.

The presentation and artwork of the CD are rather understated, as you’d expect from an album entitled “A Little Cup of Tea”, but the liner notes are very informative as regards the originals of the songs and tunes.

To sum up, having listened to “A Little Cup of Tea”, I’m looking forward to being able to catch Proper English live, as is quite proper.

Facebook: @Cainesnealsimpson

Twitter: @Properenglish3

Vicki Swan & Jonny Dyer CD

Vicki Swan & Jonny Dyer  “Twelve Months & A Day “

by Mike Rudge

Vicki Swan & Jonny Dyer blend traditional material with contemporary sounds. Their performances showcase new interpretations of old songs alongside original self-penned tunes and new contemporary songs that are entirely at home in the tradition.

Be entranced by the haunting nyckelharpa, amazed at the cow horn (one of the worlds earliest communication devices) and meet some of the bagpipes that didn’t come from Scotland.

Vicki studied at the Royal College of Music on the double bass. She also plays the various types of bagpipes, flute, recorder, piano and nyckelharpa (Swedish keyed-fiddle).  On leaving music college Vicki started down the long path of folk music and was only seen on rare glimpses back in classical orchestras.

Read more: Vicki Swan & Jonny Dyer CD

Rogues & Rovers

Rogues & Rovers: Tyburn Road - Ian Giles and Dave Townsend

review by Bill Johnston

Tyburn Road is a project which unites two of Oxfordshire’s best known folk performers and has given rise to this CD of songs and tunes arranged in three sections, Rakes, Sailors,and Country Pursuits. Accompaniment is provided, where needed, with Ian playing melodeon and Dave playing an assortment of English style concertinas. A chorus is provided by The Eynsham Crew.

I first came across Dave when I bought his books of ‘English Dance Music’ in original, spiralbound format, and Ian as a member of Magpie Lane. Dave has also led workshops at Suffolk Folk Day. Their musical style has been serious and consistent. I have enjoyed listening, but generally with a feeling that the music is worked to a perfection which may be distracting in itself.

Read more: Rogues & Rovers

Alastair Savage

When Barley Reaches the Shore  (SAV005CD Woodland Records 2018)

by Bill Johnson

Alastair is a classically trained violinist who combines his seat in the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra with an active participation in the heritage music of Scotland. Alastair’s respect for the tunes within the Gow, Skinner and Marshall collections is showcased here together with some of his own compositions.

The CD comprises instrumental music of the highest quality throughout. Alastair is joined by long time colleagues, Iain Crawford, Co-Principal Bass of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and a player within the ‘tradition’, and Euan Drysdale on piano and guitar, a trained and experienced musician with a broad CV. The music is organised by reference to the source for the tunes presented, and expertly arranged in a disciplined Scottish style which may be distinct from the general approach to folk music in other British traditions, allowing for exceptions. Some of the tunes presented are familiar in a social and session context, for example, Farewell to Whisky and Hector the Hero. I discovered that a hitherto anonymous tune which I have played for many years is a Gow composition, Highland Whisky. Alastair’s own compositions sit easily with the older tunes. I thoroughly enjoyed his two sets of Islay Wedding Music, and The Soldier’s Prayer. My favourite piece on the CD is Chapel Keithack from the William Marshall collection.

Read more: Alastair Savage

All Our Own Work - The Occasional Ceilidh Band

This 15-track CD from the Occasional Ceilidh Band, who hail from Norfolk, comprises 13 instrumentals – all suitable for including in an English ceilidh – and two songs.

The title of the recording, All Our Own Work, gives the game away: the tracks were all composed by members of the band – in some cases these are great first attempts at composing - and the recording itself was made in various domestic locations and a church hall, rather than in an expensive studio. This means that the overall production is not studio quality – a plus for me because what you hear is what the band played - there’s no hint of shenanigans by clever engineers. The Occasional Ceilidh Band will sound like this if you find yourself dancing to their music.

Read more: All Our Own Work - The Occasional Ceilidh Band

Never Enough - John Meed

Review by Les Ray

Although I’ve been a fan of Cambridge-based John Meed’s music for several years now, in my view his seventh album ‘Never Enough’ is possibly his finest work, finding him totally in control of his palette of words and ideas. John is a consummate wordsmith whose stories from today’s cityscapes are in turn punchily political and deeply personal and existential. Oh, and he writes great choruses too.

As regards the political, a luscious yet moody introduction sets the tone for the opening track ‘Side by side’, a plea for tolerance and understanding amid the Brexit-fuelled madness of these times. “When she returns dripping sunshine and wine, will whatever makes them different make them shine, side by side?” A beautiful, sadly necessary song.

Perhaps reflecting our sense of rootlessness today - Brexit again - John’s are songs of journeys, written in stations, constantly travelling. As in the mysterious La Fayette, which was written at the Gare du Nord amid businessmen coming and going.

Read more: Never Enough - John Meed

Suffolk Folk

Norfolk Folk Association