Thursday, 27 September 2012

REVIEW - Kathryn Tickell

Out now on Park Records
 Northumbrian Voices (CD)

Review by Mike Bursell

First of all, I must declare an interest in so far as I have enjoyed Kathryn Tickell's music for many a year and am firmly in the "National Treasure" camp. That said, I shall endeavour to give you an objective and informative review of her latest release, the double album 'Northumbrian Voices'.

Now in case you are not aware, unlike previous Kathryn Tickell works which are by and large instrumental, there is (as it says on the tin) a significant vocal contribution on this album, which was recorded before a live audience at Cecil Sharp House. A wise move I think since the CD both captures and is enriched by the live atmosphere. 

KT = Northumbrian pipes
But what of the content? Those less familiar with the breadth of Kathryn's work may be thinking: KT = Northumbrian Pipes. Well, whilst the pipes do get an airing or two this is not a showcase for the instrument, nor is it predominantly instrumental. The content is defined by, as the title implies, Northumbrian Voices. Sometimes in song, sometimes in readings, sometimes just in the banter between the tunes. 

The voices transport us to a world of fells and burns, of shepherds and of village dances in times gone by. They tell tales of hard times and hard winters, touched my moments of joy, of tragedy and of laughter. 

The idea behind the album grew from Kathryn's collection of tapes recording fiddle tunes played by her early mentors when she was in her teens and they were in their 70s and 80s. The music was the original reason for the recordings, but the exchanges in between the tunes provided the inspiration for and much of the material for Northumbrian Voices. 

Kathryn is joined by
several fine musicians
So does it work? I have to report that yes it does. Kathryn is joined by several fine musicians some of which we have encountered previously in Kathryn Tickell band incarnations - including Amy Thatcher, Kit Haigh and the irreplaceable 'Melodeon Criminal' - Julian Sutton. 

However, most noteworthy is the appearance of Kathryn's dad, Mike Tickell, who takes a leading role and whose distinctive voice (reminiscent of a Northumbrian Richard Burton) permeates the album. I'm sure the Cheviots can also be "Starless and bible black.....". 
Dad and lass: Mike and Kathryn Tickell

We hear the words of those fiddle players who shaped Kathryn's early musical years and then we hear their tunes. She tells us that when we hear her play a Willie Taylor tune, as Kathryn plays to us she feels in the music her mentor Willie playing along with her. So although we are listening to Kathryn Tickell, we are also listening to Willie Taylor. "And so it goes on......". 

I would recommend you buy Northumbrian Voices but even more so that you go to a live performance (dates). Kathryn's playing has always been rooted in the Northumbrian landscape and this memorable work captures the essence of the landscape and its people. 

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

REVIEW - Gilmore & Roberts

The Innocent Left (CD)
(Navigator Records. Released: October 29th 2012) 

Review by Babba

Fans of Katriona Gilmore and Jamie Roberts who already have the duo's first two albums will surely buy this third one, so any review of “The Innocent Left” has to be aimed at people who have not heard them before. Or for nervous fans who don't like to spend money until they're reassured that there's been no drop in quality. 

For them, then ... stop worrying and get your money out!

For anyone new to Kat and Jamie's music, expect strong rhythms on tracks like the opening “Scarecrow” and “Seven Left For Dead”, top harmonies on slower, more reflective songs such as “Shuffle And Deal” and “Silver Screen”, and trademark insightful lyrics throughout – especially on Kat's “Letters”, possibly the most emotionally powerful song on the CD. 

Jamie and Kat: quality assured
As for the instrumentation, Kat plays fluid violin and mandolin, while Jamie plays more of his guitar than anyone I've ever seen. Slapping, knocking, both hands on the fingerboard adding ornamentation... if you ever see them live, try to get close to the front and have someone support your jaw.

“The Innocent Left” deserves repeated play, just to appreciate what's happening in the background. Where the fiddle takes the lead, there'll be some sensitive guitar work behind it. On guitar-based songs, there's some great mandolin going on, or fiddle, or both.

There are songs of tender observation here, like Jamie's “Louis Was A Boxer”, and strong story songs like “Doctor James” and “The Stealing Arm”, the first a tale of a surgeon with a secret, the second a warning about botched transplants. There's traditional folk, with an interesting version of “False Knight On The Road”, echoes of bluegrass on the instrumental “Over Snake Pass”, and even what amounts to a love song to an in-car sat-nav!

Katriona Gilmore and Jamie Roberts are so talented I'd hate them if they weren't such nice people. Find out for yourself. See them in person, then buy this album from them afterwards. Or just buy a copy of “The Innocent Left”. I promise you'll thank me.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

The Lock In - a scintillating, grin-inducing triumph!

DVD REVIEW by Phil Widdows

The Lock In: featuring The Demon Barbers

The Demon Barbers are one of Britain's most brilliant live acts, blending together a heady mix of folk-rock and dance and delivering it with the knockout punch of a heavyweight boxer. 

The Lock In (or, as it was originally known, Time Gentlemen Please) is their full-on theatrical show, a development from their fabulous Roadshow which brought traditional clogdancing stamping onto music festival stage up and down the land.

Watching The Lock In live is an amazingly visceral, electric experience and now it has been filmed and released in a handly take away format so fans can watch it (again) at home. But does it work? Can you successfully capture on film the vitality and sizzle of the live show? Can you catch lightning in a bottle? You bet you can!

Sure, this doesn't match the sheer sense-tingling exhilaration of experiencing the show live, but it's not really meant to be a competitor – it's meant to be either an introduction or a souvenir. And there are lots of additional goodies packaged into the DVD that make it a very tasty dish in its own right, too.

The "story" of The Lock In is the perhaps improbable idea that a group of hip-hop street dancers find themselves sharing a pub with a folk band, some Morris men and a quartet of female clog dancers, and as the two musical worlds collide in the shape of a dance-off metaphorical sparks fly as the groups attempt to out-do one another in ever more fantastic feats of fancy footwork, all the time under the watchful eye of the fearsome (and frankly frightening) bearded landlady!

But forget the plot, which is as thin as the average rap artist's knowledge of Child Ballads – this show is all about rhythm, skill and no small amount of wit. It's also about great electric folk music and songs.

As the dance battles progress it becomes obvious that there is more that unites the two musical genres than divides them - the styles may appear different but the athleticism, the attitude and audacity is shared.

The flashing feet of the lady cloggers are amazing, the spinning, locking and popping of the hip-hopper is startling, but for me the greatest highlight is the rapper Morris dance performed not with the traditional swords but with pool cues. Also, the strutting, leaping, matador-esque version of Cotswold Morris between two male dancers - hankies flicking and flapping like the plumage of fighting cocks - shows how these traditional dances should be performed: with verve and pure, unashamed sexual energy. Phew!

The cast of dancers and musicians (and often they do double duty in both roles) are all terrific, and the whole is quite simply a joy from beginning to end. Praise must be heaped on the genius behind the Demon Barbers, Mr Damien Barber, who leads the band, the singing, much of the dancing and acts as MC too. Wherever the lad gets his energy, I hope the spring never dries up! 

The Lock In taps into the beating heart of the music and dance traditions of these isles, adds an electrifying beat and a massive dose of fun to produce a scintillating, grin-inducing, magnificent triumph! Indeed, many millions could have been saved at the opening ceremony  of the Olympics by simply booking the Demon Barbers to play the gig.

My advice: get this DVD, get your friends round and announce that you're going to show them a film about folk dancing. If they don't bolt for the door they'll have the time of their lives!

In addition to the live show itself - filmed on stage at the Harrogate Theatre - there is a stack of excellent extras on the disc including "Dancing With Demons", a documentary charting the history of The Demon Barbers and the evolution of The Lock In as a unique dance show. 

Other extras are:

  • Dance Off at the Cumberland Arms
  • Black Swan Rapper at DERT 2002
  • Dogrose Morris - Demon Barbers Roadshow Promo 2004
  • Black Swan Fire Dance at Sidmouth International Folk Arts Festival 2003
  • Katy Cruel - Demon Barbers Roadshow Promo 2004
  • Highlights from the Tynemouth Station Jubilee Performance
  • Two Brothers - Demon Barbers Roadshow Promo 2004
  • Horace Panter and Stewart Lee Interviews

The DVD is released on October 8th, but you can order a copy now. Click the box below.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Going underground

The Brunel Museum in Rotherhithe, South-east London, is perhaps the strangest venue for live music in the UK - and that's against some pretty strong competition!

Their autumn season of gigs is about to get under way, including folk artists The Simon Hopper Band (as featured in FolkCast 032); Welsh trio Cerddcegin, whose members have won the Welsh National Folk Music competition (in a different formation); and singer song-writer Siobhan Wilson, based in Glasgow, whose track La Petite Minette was just selected Track of the Month in the Scotsman.

Of course, the music will be great - but what makes it especially cool is that it all takes place in a Victorian tunnel (the world's first under-river tunnel), 50ft below the Thames, which apparently creates incredible acoustics. Here's a clip of Catherine Feeny playing here recently which shows off the venue:

Catherine Feeny at the Brunel Museum, London from Alexandra Bone on Vimeo.

For more details, see the events page at the Brunel Museum's website.