Thursday, 29 November 2012

CD Review: Bella Hardy


Bright Morning Star
Bright Morning Star is out now on Noe Records

Review by Carys

The first thing that struck me about this album was how odd it was to title it after a festive song that isn't actually included. The second thing was that it has one of the most poorly-selected opening tracks I have encountered in a very long time.

Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree demands Brenda Lee or a similarly loud, raucous voice belting it out. It simply doesn't work with a pure sweet voice like Bella's and it's a weak opener to start this album, particularly given that it is almost note-for-note the same as the original. The guitar accompaniment is mostly enjoyable, but even here there are a couple of occasions where the music stops and starts. I think it's meant to sound like a syncopated beat. It doesn't. It made me check whether iTunes was playing up.

However, things improve with The Holly And The Ivy and I was delighted that it doesn't use either of the two most familiar tunes. If you're going to do a Christmas album then please make it original. In the last half minute it does jump into the more familiar folky tune which I think was a mistake, because it feels like she's trying to fit in too many things.

This album is rather Eva-Cassidy-esque: well-sung, well-performed, but not in any way groundbreaking. Even a song with the promising title of Joy Shall Be Yours (Carol Of The Field Mice) fails to excite. Sadly, it isn't a song about fieldmice, or indeed by fieldmice, which would have been marvellous – possibly with a guest appearance by Bagpuss.

Bella Hardy in twinkly mood
However, the real surprise is Merry Christmas Everyone. Yes, this is the Shakin' Stevens song, and I am hugely relieved to report that, unlike the opening track, she hasn't tried to emulate the original. As for whether it works... well, if you've never heard the original, it probably would, but frankly I can't quite get that version out of my head long enough to decide.

Love it or loath it though, it's certainly an impressive attempt to do something different with a very familiar song and I wouldn't be surprised to hear John Lewis using this for their 2013 Christmas advertising!

Overall I was fairly underwhelmed by this CD. It does have its high points, but you have to wade through a lot of very similar-sounding Christmas songs to get to them, some of which fall horribly wide of the mark.

Despite this, it's great to hear some less well-known songs such as Sons Of Men, Sing Ovy Sing Ivy. The Coventry Carol, which I have never particularly liked, suits Bella's voice perfectly and this is probably the best version of this song that I've ever heard. 

I did save my personal favourite until last, though. Footprints, originally by The Barenaked Ladies, feels more like a wintry love song in that it would fit on any album rather than just a Christmas special. On this occasion Bella surpasses the original. I'm happily listening to this one on repeat with the shade of a tear in my eye.

And I have to say, I feel rather festive now I've listened to it a few more times. Pass the mistletoe, someone!
www.bellahardy.com

Hear samples of tracks and buy through Amazon:




Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Shrewsbury 2013 – tickets on sale now


Tickets for the 2013 Shrewsbury Folk Festival have gone on sale with organisers promising an eclectic line-up for one of the country’s leading folk events.

Several performances will be exclusive to the four-day festival over the August Bank Holiday including the only UK appearance for American band The Carolina Chocolate Drops.
Carolina Chocolate Drops
Bellowhead frontman Jon Boden will present 'Bright Pheobus sings Tom Waits'. A tribute to the singer, it will feature a house band of Jon Boden, Martin Simpson, Sam Sweeney, Andy Cutting and Andy Seward along with Fay Hield, Roy Bailey, Neil McSweeney, Rowan Rheingans, Jess Arrowsmith, James Fagan, Nancy Kerr, Sharon Krauss and Rob Harbron.

Another exclusive will be the event’s two patrons Oysterband’s John Jones and Steve Knightley from Show of Hands will perform together in a one-off.

Also booked so far are: Oysterband, Capercaillie, Nic Jones, Heidi Talbot & special guests, Fay Hield & The Hurricane Party, Martyn Joseph, Nancy Kerr & James Fagan, Jez Lowe, ColvinQuarmby, Melrose Quartet, Something Nasty In The Woodshed, Keith Donnelly, Jess  & Richard Arrowsmith, The Wilsons, and Elbow Jane.
Jim Moray will lead a band of performers, including a special guest, in the 2013 Folk Slam finale in Marquee 2.

Some of the leading lights in the young folk movement will also appear at the West Mid Showground from August 23 to 26. Sam Carter, Lady Maisery, Lucy Ward, Blue Rose Code, Luke Jackson, Ursula Holden Gill, Moore Moss & Rutter, James Riley and Lori Watson and the Rule of Three are just some of the names lined up.

Nidi d’Arac, a group from Southern Italy who blend rural tradition with rock, electronica and beats, lead the list of international performers. Randolph Matthews & Byron Johnston will bring their fusion of Spanish acoustic guitar and African soul to the festival.

American singer songwriter Mark Erelli, who featured in the festival’s Darwin Song Project in 2009, makes a welcome return and perform solo and with his bluegrass band Barnstar. A first for the UK will be an appearance by a unique Nashville based act Doyle & Debbie who offer a very special late night show.

More artists including headliners will be announced in 2013.
This year’s event saw a record early sell-out of weekend tickets at the end of April – four months before the event so people are advised to get their tickets as soon as possible. It was the second year in a row that the festival sold out so far in advance.

Festival Director Alan Surtees said: “We are still in negotiation with some very exciting artists to appear at Shrewsbury in 2013, both from the UK and abroad. We will announce more artists early next year but we’re delighted to be able to offer some exclusives including the Carolina Chocolate Drops who will be making Shrewsbury their only UK performance.

“Our festival is recognised for its imaginative and interesting programming, allowing people to see their favourites and discover new artists in the same weekend. We organise a packed programme that can keep you entertained from first thing in the morning to last thing at night.

“We offer a brilliant festival site in a central location so it’s great value for money for less than £30 a day.”
The festival features five music venues, a dance tent, dozens of workshops, a children's festival, Refolkus - a dedicated youth programme for 12 to 25 -year-olds, on-site camping, a craft fair and food village.

Every year, it supports its charity partner Hope House Hospice to fund its music therapy sessions for children with life limiting illnesses and has so far helped raise more than £26,000 for the Morda based centre.

The earlybird offer on tickets lasts until February 28. Adult weekend tickets are £119.50 until then. Day tickets start at £32.50 for adults.

Children under four go free and family tickets are available. On-site camping is available to all weekend ticket holders with prices held to the same as this year at £20 per adult.

Tickets can be booked online through www.shrewsburyfolkfestival.co.uk or direct at www.gigantic.com/shrewsburyfolkfestival.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Great British Folk Festival 2012 - line-up & schedule




Now celebrating its 3rd year, The Great British Folk Festival is now firmly placed on the folk and acoustic festival circuit. Butlin's Skegness is once again presenting The Great British Folk Festival at the Lincolnshire resort between Fri. 30th November to Mon 3rd December.
The Fureys: newly announced

Due to the success of the last year’s event, the organisers have now scheduled a second stage for Saturday & Sunday afternoon and have announced a fantastic line-up to add to an already formidable event with headliners SHOW OF HANDS now joined by DAVEY ARTHUR, who will be making a rare appearance with Irelands’ finest - THE FUREYS

PATSY MATHESON – riding high on the critical success of her new album, ‘Stories of Angels & Guitars’ opens proceedings upstairs on Saturday afternoon, followed by the return of DEBORAH BONHAM who has been receiving great acclaim her recent acoustic sessions in support of her new album, ‘Spirit’. Currently on tour with Show of Hands, North American duo MATT GORDON & LEONARD PODOLAK now open the evening’s proceedings downstairs on Saturday and British Blues Award winners Babjak weave their magic to close the afternoon downstairs, on Saturday. 

Click pic for details
STRING DRIVEN THING are sure to delight, especially as their line-up will feature Chris Adams, Pauline Adams and Grahame Smith (later with Van Der Graf/Peter Hamill) from the original, Charisma Records period band, plus Chris’ son, Robin. Following yet another barnstorming performance at the Acoustic Festival of Great Britain and yet another, massive UK tour, ANIMALS & FRIENDS - ‘Acoustically Unleashed’- will be reminding us that it was no less than Bob Dylan’s interpretation of ‘House of the Rising Sun’ that prompted The Animals iconic recording of that world-wide smash. 

Also returning this year will be JIGGERYPIPERY who will no doubt cause another musical ruckus with their irresistible menu of reels, pipes and drums. STEEL THREADS open Sunday’s ‘menu’, with KING ARTHUR'S DREAM now preceding The Albion Band on Sunday night. 

The ever-popular open mic sessions at Jaks, hosted by Brian Eastwood will occupy the 5-7pm slots on Saturday and Sunday, whilst Irish Folk/Punk trio Panjenix will entertain the crowds wherever they go. 

The weekend's magnificent line-up:
Fay Hield & The Hurricane Party
  • THEA GILMORE
  • THE FUREYS (Ireland)
  • SHOW OF HANDS
  • JUNE TABOR and THE OYSTERBAND
  • FEAST OF FIDDLES
  • GIGSPANNER (featuring Peter Knight, Steeleye Span)
  • FAY HIELD & The HURRICANE PARTY featuring Jon Boden & Sam Sweeney (Bellowhead) with Andy Cutting, Rob Harbron and Roger Wilson
  • THE ALBION BAND
  • BILLY MITCHELL BAND
  • THE TRAVELLING BAND
  • MOONSHEE
  • SHINJIG
  • PIE
  • HUNTER MUSKETT
  • OH SUSANNA (Canada)
  • MERRY HELL
  • FAKE THACKRAY
  • ASHLEY HUTCHINGS The Godfather of British Folk & MORRIS ON featuring The Belles Of London Morris troupe.
  • HEIDI TALBOT with John McCusker & Ian Carr, Boo Hewerdine, Karine Polwart
  • And also returning this year by very popular demand are GORDON GILTRAP and THE GATHERING (inc Jerry Donahue, Ray Jackson & Doug Morter).

Fantastically received last year for its line-up, sound, organisation and magnificent accommodation by festival goers new and old, the Great British Folk Festival is now well on its way to being firmly established on the festival circuit – and a terrific value for money experience by anyone’s standards. 

Prices for this amazing festival start at just £72 per person for the entire weekend including accommodation based on four sharing a Silver apartment, access to most of the Resort facilities and all live entertainment. To book a Butlin's break call 0845 070 4730 or visit the website.


Great British Folk Festival 2012


Date & Time
Butlin's Skegness Folkfest UK (Downstairs) 2012

Friday 30th  
8.00 – 9.00
9.30 – 10.30
11.00 -12.15

Feast Of Fiddles

Fake Thackray
Pie
Feast of Fiddles



Saturday 1st
7.30 – 8.30
9.00 – 10.30
11.00 -12.15


Matt Gordon & Leonard Podolak
Thea Gilmore
Show of Hands



Sunday 2nd
7.30 – 8.45
9.15 – 10.30
11.00 -12.15


Ashley Hutchings & Morris On featuring The Belles of London City
King Arthurs Dream
The Albion Band




Background Music all weekend
 Ian Blenkinsop – He will provide Folk music for both venues with the correct sort of vibe and liase with crew to make sure all

 
Date & Time
The Great British Folk Festival (Upstairs)

Friday 30th  
7.30 – 8.30
9.15 – 10.30
11.00 -12.15


 Oh Susanna (Canada)
The Fureys with Davey Arthur (Ireland)
The Travelling Band



Saturday 1st
7.30 – 8.45

9.15 – 10.30
11.00 -12.15


Merry Hell
Fay Hield & The Hurricane Party featuring Jon Boden & Sam Sweeney (Bellowhead) with Andy Cutting, Rob Harbron and Roger Wilson
June Tabor and The Oysterband
Merry Hell


Sunday 2nd
7.30 – 8.45
9.15 – 10.30
11.00 -12.15


Gordon Giltrap
The Gathering (ex Lindisfarne – Fairport Convention – Albion Band)
String Driven Thing



Background Music all weekend
Ian Blenkinsop – He will provide Folk music for both venues with the correct sort of vibe and liase with crew to make sure all




Date & Time
Butlin's Skegness Afternoon Upstairs  2012




Saturday 1st
1.00– 2.00
2.30 – 3.30
4.00 - 5.00
Billy Mitchell Band

Patsy Matheson
Deborah Bonham Unplugged
Billy Mitchell Band (Jack The Lad and Lindisfarne Frontman)



Sunday 2nd
1.00– 2.00
2.30 – 3.30
4.00 - 5.00

Steel Threads
Hunter Muskett
Gigspanner featuring Peter Knight  from Steeleye Span



  


Date & Time
Butlin's Skegness Downstairs Tbc 2012




Saturday 1st
1.00– 2.00
2.30 – 3.30
4.00 - 5.00

Shinjig
Moonshee
Baba Jack


Sunday 2nd
1.00– 2.00
2.30 – 3.30
4.00 - 5.00
Heidi Talbot

Animals and Friends Acoustically Unleashed
Jiggerypipery
Heidi Talbot with John McCusker, Boo Hewerdine, Phil Cunningham








Date & Time
Butlin's Skegness JACKS OPEN MIKE 2012




Saturday 1st
5.00 – 7.30

Open mic session with Brian Eastwood & Friends


Sunday 2nd
5.00 – 7.30

Open mic session with Brian Eastwood & Friends



  



Date & Time
Butlin's Skyline 2012




Saturday 1st
12.00 – 1.00
5.30 – 7.30

Panjenix folk Irish trio to perform self contained in the bar area when required



Sunday 2nd
12.00 – 1.00
5.30 – 7.30

Panjenix folk Irish trio to perform self contained in the bar area when required



  




Monday, 5 November 2012

Happy Birthday, Peggy!

Mike Bursell writes...


A date fixed in our diary for some time was the 65th birthday of one Dave Pegg, Fairport bassist, lynchpin extraordinaire and all-round top bloke. 

Peggy: top bloke
The venue was Peggy's home ground of Birmingham Town Hall on Friday 2nd November. A capacity crowd attended, though perhaps it should more appropriately be  termed a gathering of friends, both on and off stage.

Proceedings commenced with a rendition of Happy Birthday by Peggy's grandchildren assisted by the assembled multitudes. The evening continued with the birthday boy centre stage accompanied by several musical collaborators including (obviously) current Fairports, PJ Wright, Anthony John Clarke and (less obviously perhaps) James Wood representing the European aspect of Peggy's/Fairport's activities.


The audience was issued with commemorative straws enabling mass participation in the "Strawchestra" during which the punters were taught new things to do with straws and elbows and annA rydeR (the well known typographical anarchist, Ed) led The Crowd through The Blue Danube (or an approximation thereof) to test their newly acquired skills. 


The Fairports: (l-r) Peggy, Simon, Ric, Gerry, Chris
The perennial question "How do you follow that?" was answered by the Dylan Project. PJ Wright was a key ingredient in a successful evening contributing much appreciated helpings of leccy guitar at various points. The Dylans kicked off by nailing their Colours To The Mast,  with singer Steve Gibbons going down a storm on home turf. Peggy was joined by Anthony John Clarke and the first half concluded with further input from annA rydeR including a welcome opportunity to have the author deliver lead vocals on Sailing Boat.

The second half was devoted to the current Fairport line-up plus special guests. In no particular order the set list included Mercy Bay, Around The Wild Cape Horn, Danny Jack's Chase, Celtic Moon, Rising For The Moon, Albert & Ted, Honour & Praise, I'm Already There, and Marie La Cordeliere (from Anne de Bretagne and featuring author James Wood). 

The set rounded off (with no sign of Matty Groves, who was taking the night off dead) with a blistering and crowd pleasing Like A Rolling Stone followed by an encore of Meet On The Ledge


A Dave Pegg impersonator...
Perhaps a further encore of Who Knows Where The Time Goes would have been too obvious (though still sadly missed!). Same time in 2017? 
Peggy (Left) and PJ (Wright)


Sunday, 4 November 2012

REVIEW - Judy Dyble/Tonefloat night (gig)


Review by Carys

Judy Dyble
Sunday October 28th saw the first Tonefloat Records label night at 229 The Venue, Great Portland Street, London, headed by none other than Judy Dyble “and friends”  - which turned out to be Judy and a full band consisting of Alistair Murphy on acoustic guitar and keyboards (not necessarily at the same time), Jeremy Salmon on electric guitar, Mark Fletcher on electric bass, Phil Toms on double bass, Rachel Hall on violin and Tim Bowness on backing vocals and, on one wonderful occasion, singing alone while Judy had a drink and a sit down. 

I admit it, I am biased. I didn't expect I would ever get to see Judy performing a full concert set and I was hugely excited just to watch them setting up (as those of you who saw my facebook updates that evening will testify!) Yes, she looked a little nervous at first, not unexpected when you consider this was her first solo gig for three years. But this wasn't just a Judy Dyble concert, because she had her friends there, and the night would have been a little poorer had any one of them been taken out of the mix.

From the first note of the opening number to the dying away of the final round of applause and cheers, I was mesmerised by this amazing woman, because her voice sounds exactly like it does on the albums. I expected it, and yet hear this perfect, clear voice coming from the middle-aged woman onstage not six feet in front of me was incredible. 

Sometimes I am amazed at a live version of a track that is so stunningly different from the recording it barely seems to be the same song, but here every track was so note-perfect we could have been stepping back three years and witnessing the rebirth of Talking With Strangers, an album which we were privileged to hear in its (almost) entirety. 

This wasn't just a look back at Judy's musical career, we got a taste of what was to come too, with new compositions including Wintersong, Silence and Crow Baby, which is one of those beautiful transitions from minor to thoughtfully understated-major key that she does so well. Not only that, but I discovered what a truly incredible performer Tim Bowness is. I had barely considered his voice on Talking With Strangers, to the extent that when he took the lead on Grey October Day I truly felt as if I was hearing the song for the first time. How could I not have noticed this man's delicious whispery vocals until now? But of course, that is part of the charm, the fact that he blended so perfectly in with the musical landscape that his voice became part of the whole, another instrument in Judy's orchestra. 

But the high point of the night for me was the moment when Judy announced that we were going back 45 years. I was then party to something incredible that I had never hoped to witness -   Judy Dyble and friends performing Fairport Convention's first single release If I Had A Ribbon Bow. I will freely admit to shedding a few tears of joy at this point. When, at the end, she told us in that gentle, understated way “I was eighteen...” - close your eyes and you could see that girl standing there, because her voice is still as pure, as fragile, and as delicate as it has always been. 

All too soon it was time for their last song, “Harpsong...but not the twenty minute version!” No encore tonight, and we were left dreaming of more but knowing that we had witnessed something very special.

Judy, thank you for this concert and I look forward to hearing your new album.

Judy Dyble website.

Friday, 2 November 2012

REVIEW - Denise Black's Loose Screw (CD)


Kiss The Joy

Review by Phil Widdows

A package arrives, containing a CD. This is not an unusual incident at FolkCast HQ, but the nature of the CD certainly is unusual.

It's the new album by Denise Black's Loose Screw. Who? Denise Black - you know (or maybe you don't), she's an actress; played someone also called Denise on Coronation Street. She's currently in the stage production of Sister Act.

She sings, too - doing the kind of not-quite-pop, a bit jazzy, slightly folkie, not quite cabaret numbers that would have won her a regular guest appearance on The Two Ronnies back in the day.

Well with all due respect, that's not really the bag that FolkCast is into. But wait! What's this? Her guitarist/producer is Graeme Taylor! Yes, the Graeme Taylor who in the 70s was in folk-rock band Gryphon, and the Graeme Taylor who is back in full plank-spanking flow with the remarkable, reborn Home Service. However, he's not the Graham Taylor who managed England's football flops from 1990 to 93. "Do I not like that!", that is Graham (not Graeme)'s catchphrase.

Graeme Taylor: restrained
But I digress. Graeme Taylor! Now that is definitely our kind of thing! Add in an appearance from Home Service's drummer, Michael Gregory, on three tracks and it's more interesting still.

However, anyone expecting Loose Screw to be anything like Home Service with a female vocal will be disappointed. In fact, anyone hoping for much of a folk input at all will be disappointed, but the music is entertaining in a middle-of-the-road kind of way that's big on personality and polish, if lacking in immediate impact.

As a vocalist, Denise is also big in personality and pizzazz, although not so strong on subtlety or sweetness. On anything approaching a quiet ballad her voice becomes stretched and unattractive. She's at her best on big, loud production numbers and the album (she and Taylor co-write most of the numbers here) at times sounds like the soundtrack to Loose Women: The Musical;  funny, bold and brassy - although without a brass section. 

Like a middle aged Lady Gaga she sings of her desire for men on the half-jokey "Blokes" in which a catalogue of lovers (Gorgeous Greg, Angina Alan etc) is testament to her claim that: "Ah me, I just love men (Love their attention)/Never could settle for just one bloke" and concludes by rhyming "bloke" with "fancy a poke?", which must be a comfort to her husband, the composer and musician Paul Sand, who contributes a couple of songs to the project.

Eyes down for a full house...
The Black-Sand relationship is examined on the opening song, Never Marry A Musician, which bemoans the muso's promise-breaking, last minute "gig in Widnes", while the problems of marrying an actress are laid bare in verse four: "You just don't know where you stand/Tonight is she Juliet/ Or a temptress that you'll regret?"

There's plenty of acoustic guitar from Taylor throughout, and he occasionally plugs in, too, but this is very much the singer's showcase, and the guitarist keeps himself to himself, which is a shame. I longed for one of his sizzling, classy electric guitar solos to soar away and let the album really fly. There's the odd hint of it, especially on the otherwise dreary closing song, Parting Shot, but sadly he never really gets out of second gear.

So, what's the verdict? Kiss The Joy is a mature but often fun collection of songs performed with swing and sass by a singer who may not be in the premier league of technicians but who has strong performance skills to make up for any sheer lack of vocal quality. And behind her is a super talented string-slinger clearly having fun in a genre somewhat removed from "the day job".

Buy this if you are a curious, completist Home Service fan or someone with broad musical tastes who likes amusing, sassy girl singers. Click here to preview the tracks.


Thursday, 1 November 2012

A folk single!

Currently in the middle of their extensive Autumn UK tour, chamber folk duo (Belinda) O’Hooley & (Heidi) Tidow are releasing a double A side single on Monday 5th November.  
Heidi: "Hey, Belinda, I think the studio's flooded"
The two tracks ‘Gentleman Jack’ and ‘The Last Polar Bear’ feature on their  album ‘The Fragile’ which was released in February.

Gentleman Jack’ a song about 19th Century rural gentlewoman, entrepreneur and serial diarist Anne Lister of Halifax’s Shibden Hall.



The Last Polar Bear’ is an unconventional love song between the last polar bear and a small patch of snow.  A chilling look at what could happen if the polar ice caps were to melt due to global warming. Heidi explains “We think it’s important as songwriters to not just cover love and relationships but sometimes write about uncomfortable topics such as the fragility of the planet, the vulnerability of others and what we are doing to our world.”



‘Gentleman Jack & The Last Polar Bear’ is released on Monday 5th November as a download only double A side single. Available here.

O’Hooley & Tidow The Fragile Tour continues...

NOVEMBER
02  ISLE OF MAN Three Legs Festival
05  SKIPTON Folk Club
09 TORRINGTON Plough Arts Centre
10  ST AUSTELL Eden Project Cafe
15  LEICESTER Musician
19  CAMBRIDGE Junction

DECEMBER
04    MONTROSE Folk Club
06    FALKIRK Folk Club
07    EDINBURGH Royal Park Terrace House Concerts

JAN 2013

23 LEWES Union Music
24  BROADMAYNE Sunray Folk Club
25  STRATFORD UPON AVON Folk Club


FEB
01  TROWBRIDGE Village Pump Folk Club
02  BRISTOL Folk House
03  LEE MILL Folk on The Moor
04 LONDON Green Note
05  OXFORD Unicorn
09 NEWCASTLE Cluny 2 
13  SOWERBY BRIDGE The Works
15 BASINGSTOKE The Forge 
16  FROME Folk Festival
23 BROSELEY Birchmeadow Centre
24 PRESTON New Continental

MARCH
01 CARLISLE Folk & Blues Club
06  EASTBOURNE Lamb Folk Club
08 WICKFORD The Running Well
13  DUNFERMLINE Folk Club
15  ABERDEEN Stonehaven Folk Club
21 LIVERPOOL Philharmonic Hall 
29 WHITBY Famous Flower Folk Club

APRIL
06    DRANOUTER Muziekcentrum
07    BELSELE 'T Ey
27  SHEFFIELD Greystones
28  HITCHIN Folk Club

MAY
17 KENT St Edith's Hall
25 BATH Chapel Arts 
29 LLANTRISANT Folk Club

JUNE
19 ELY Folk Club

For more info visit  www.ohooleyandtidow.com











REVIEW - Blair Dunlop CD




Blight & Blossom

(Rooksmere Records via Proper Distribution)
Out Now
www.blairdunlop.com

Review by Carys, for folkcast.co.uk

I was looking forward to hearing this album. I've heard a lot about Blair Dunlop over the past couple of years (not all positive!) and have seen him perform twice; firstly with The Albion Band at Cromer's Folk on the Pier festival and most recently at the Cropredy festival in August. As a result, I was in no doubt about his musical skills, but I was unsure whether he had either a strong or distinctive enough voice to carry a whole album. Nor was I sure that I'd be able to listen objectively without making the obvious comparison to Ashley Hutchings. 

I'm glad to report that “Blight & Blossom” has me totally convinced, and that was the only reference to “Dad” you're going to see, despite the fact that Ashley does play on one of the tracks (Billy In The Lowground). 

The album begins with “Secret Theatre” — blues-tinged guitar and driving rhythms — and already it's obvious how much Blair's voice has matured even in the last year, though once or twice I couldn't help feeling there's still a little something that's not quite there yet. The guitar playing makes up for that and more though – it's of the kind that makes me think “wish I could do that” - and he manages to make it sounds effortless. Indeed, there's a lazy feel to his playing, as if he's so relaxed with it he doesn't need to try (he has been playing since the age of six, after all). More than that, he knows it sounds good. Not only that, this is wonderfully modern folk; something I could well imagine blasting out of a sixth form common room on a warm summer lunchtime. 

Next up is the interestingly-titled “Less The Pawn” which is one of my favourites. The up tempo slide-guitar (without sleeve notes I cannot be certain, but I think I sense Larkin Poe's presence here (Correct - also on Black Is The Colour and Billy In The Lowground. Ed)) drags you into this song and the lyrics, berating the lack of originality in the current mainstream talent-show culture, still feel fresh and new even if everything has been said elsewhere a hundred times before. My only irritation on a purely personal level is the prominent use of the word "crap", which seems to grate on me far more than it should do. Therefore I'd like to hear this song on a huge festival field, just to see if it still bothers me – or preferably several fields, because Blair certainly deserves it. 

Blair Dunlop: matured
My personal favourite has got to be “Billy In The Lowground”, based on a traditional bluegrass tune. Right from the beginning it leaps up and screams at the listeners to get up and dance; and if you're not feeling deliciously happy, well, you will be by the end of this! Apparently Blair wanted to write a story based on the title of this tune, and he did it proud. I really feel for Billy and his desire to just play, not caring about fame. Who wouldn't admire “the kid that never sold out” and want him to have a song of his own? 

Another stand-out is “Black Is The Colour” (as featured in FolkCast 079), a brilliant example of how to make a trad song sound new and fresh. This duet with Rebecca Lovell of Larkin Poe felt like I was hearing this for the first time, and Blair's voice is at it's best here. 

Blair's sensitive guitar playing enhances his music, which at times seems to lean more towards Americana than British folk, and the lyrics are far more mature than I'd expect from a twenty year old. Often I find myself struggling to relate to younger songwriters but there's no danger of that here. If I could write lyrics half as well as Blair Dunlop I would die happy! It says a lot that the unreleased Richard Thompson track “Seven Brothers” doesn't stand out as a masterpiece here, despite being an excellent song in it's own right – there simply are no weak tracks on this album.  

The digital version of this album reached the top 10 of the iTunes singer/songwriter chart. I can see why. I urge you to listen to “Blight & Blossom”, because it's surely just the first album in a long and exciting recording career. I'm proud that in future years I'll be able to say I was a fan right from the start.