No extra reviews this time: they're all in the mag. So here's a few from Stirrings 169...
FAIRPORT CONVENTION featuring SANDY DENNY
LIVE AT MY FATHER'S PLACE 1974
Floating World FLOATM6263
First we need to set the chronology straight. This live set was recorded during the American leg of the band's reunion tour in 1974. That means shortly after Sandy Denny had rejoined the band, and shortly before the release of the Rising For The Moon studio album (and Sandy's third solo LP). The first album to come out of this six-piece lineup (Denny, Swarbrick, Donahue, Lucas, Pegg and Mattacks) was the hastily-assembled Fairport Live Convention, which Island cobbled together from dates at the Rainbow and Fairfield Halls during December 1973.
Sandy's status as a fully fledged member of the group was only fully reaffirmed, however, during the ensuing (1974) American leg of the tour; the 2002 two-disc release Before The Moon presented recordings made on that tour at Ebbet's Field, Colorado. Now, here's a recording from a New York date of the same tour (I'm not sure whether this was before or after the Ebbet's Field date): Live At My Father's Place finds Sandy well integrated into the lineup once again, and the whole band is really on fire. The recording quality isn't quite top-drawer, there's some fluffiness, and a measure of hiss at times that comes and goes rather erratically (I believe the recording originated from a radio broadcast) and the sound balance is occasionally wayward (eg. on several tracks Swarb's violin is rather muffled and backward in the overall perspective). But the fire and frenzy of the performance really does come across, whether in the warhorse instrumental medley Dirty Linen or the rock-style venom of Matty Groves (where Sandy sounds uncannily like Grace Slick).
The set-list at My Father's Place is less reliant on "old" Fairport numbers than that of Fairport Live Convention, but there's nothing here from Rising For The Moon, so it might be inferred that the New York gig was earlier on the tour than Ebbet's Field (which included two of the LP's songs). It does, however, contain a blistering take on Fotheringay's The Ballad Of Ned Kelly and no less than five of Sandy's solo-album tracks (It'll Take A Long Time, John The Gun, Down In The Flood, Like An Old-Fashioned Waltz and Solo). Confusingly, The Hexhamshire Lass is announced as "from our new record Nine". Compensation for the confusion is however provided in the sheer force and drive of the performances: especially perhaps Matty Groves, Solo, Dirty Linen and Hexhamshire Lass, but every member of the band acquits him/herself fantastically well on this night.
It's such a shame, then, that the accompanying documentation is woefully inadequate, with only a scant reference to the gig itself in the flimsy, glib booklet essay that tells us nothing we didn't know already. This calibre of performance deserves better presentation than we get here.
DO ME A KINDNESS
Grand Harmonium Records no cat. no.
?An adaptation of a Herman Hesse poem, How Heavy The Days, and nine covers (The Unsigned Painting/Sense of Doubt —Rickie Lee Jones, David Bowie; The Devil— P J Harvey; Every Day is Like Sunday—Morrissey; To Cry About— Mary Margaret O'Hara;, God Is In The House—Nick Cave; I Want You - Bob Dylan; Over— Portishead; Murderer—Low; River Guard —Smog) on offer here from Steve Adey.
Apart from trumpet, percussion, guitars, bass, saxophone, cello, voice and group vocals, Steve sings and does all the rest. According to the accompanying PR his own take on the result is "I think it was (Brian) Eno that said 'In art you can crash a plane and walk away'. (Laughing...)".
Well done Steve, mission accomplished.
ALLAN YN Y FAN
Steam Pie SPCD10185
?Here's a rather neat title for the iconic Welsh band's sixth album—a kind of double-meaning combining the concepts of "change" and "new identity". But it's nowhere near as drastic as that might imply, for although there's been a major change in personnel resulting from the enforced retirement of Meriel Field, the consequent recruitment of two new members (lead singer Catrin O'Neill and fiddler Alan Cooper) hasn't upset the band's distinctive and special instrumental blend, and the ensemble has retained its trademark bustling, attractively rustic ambience for which they've built themselves quite a following over the past two decades. The talents of Chris Jones (accordion, flute, low whistle), Linda Simmons (mandolin, mandola, bodhrán), Kate Strudwick (flute, alto flute, recorders, whistle) and Geoff Cripps (guitar, bass, bouzouki) shine brightly as ever, and the refined arrangements on Newid are as constant and full of interesting detail as on previous albums—and marginally more assured, even. There's a relaxed, comfortable aura to the playing (quite possibly a by-product of recording in Alan Cooper's home studio), and new recruits Alan and Catrin fit the bill perfectly without threatening to dominate proceedings. The tune-sets are absolutely delightful, and unerringly scored with as much of an ear for melody as for well sprung rhythms. The three-tune sandwich of track 9 and the lovingly phrased Tune For Lillian (one of Kate's compositions) provide a good indication of the kind of contrast we find on this expertly sequenced CD.
Dedicated followers of Allan Yn Y Fan have responded positively to the band's progressive transformation from a strictly-tunes-only outfit to one just as proudly embracing traditional Welsh song, now consolidating their role as enthusiastic all-round ambassadors for traditional Welsh music. As you can hear on Newid too, the use of the Welsh language forms no barrier for the listener, and the disc's non-instrumental tracks are especially persuasively rendered, whether sung by Catrin solo (Y Gaseg Felen, the workers' protest song Gorthrwm Y Gweithiwr and the spellbinding a cappella Dafydd Y Garreg Wen) or with characterful vocal backing from the rest of the band, or indeed (as in Cân Merthyr) by a combination of singers. Yes, the band's sense of fun extends from the music to the booklet notes and back again...
It's so refreshing to encounter an album stuffed full of tunes and songs that are largely unheard outside of Wales (or even by diehard Welsh trad music fans) yet fully deserve wider exposure. Go get stuck in!
WAITING FOR A ROSE TO BLOOM
Dreaming element Records DER07
?Singer/songwriter/pianist Andy Smythe wrote all thirteen songs on offer here. He's a fine pianist, "with a classical touch and a highly emotive voice" says the PR, and I'm not going to argue with that, although you could substitute "very light, occasionally falsetto" for "highly emotive" in some instances.
He writes good tunes and his lyrics cover a variety of subjects of which English Gentleman was my favourite—a song in praise of the late Sir George Martin was long overdue. Elsewhere he gets really serious with 7th Symphony (Shostakovitch presumably —any man who can stay sane, let alone write such beautiful, terrifying music, knowing that Stalin is quite likely to have him transported to the Kremlin in the middle of the night for a little chat deserves our undying respect), and No Pasaran—the battle of Cable Street.
Unfortunately the lyrics do not always do the music justice, the purple prose of Sweet England in particular had me expecting the imminent arrival of the questing vole, plashing through the fen, and The Way She Loved Me and I'm a Man are well OTT—subtlety and restraint seem sadly lacking nowadays and sometimes do a better job when making a point.
own label, no cat. no.
India McKellar is very singer/songwriterly. From the four track titles—On And On, Home Town, The Harbour, It's Easy In The Dark—you can pretty much guess the songs lyrical intent, but you will be pleasantly surprised.
She has a beautiful, crystal-clear voice, plays guitar and piano, and did the arrangements together with Martin Gregory Smith, who as well as producing and engineering the CD also plays guitar and supplies backing vocals when called on.
The whole thing is very well crafted—the right fill, on the right instrument (Liz Hanks on cello, Piero Tucci on piano), in the right place—and the writing good enough to make you pay close attention. Recommended.
PETE SEEGER IN ENGLAND
Fellside Recordings FECD273
?These are two very important historic recordings. Pete Seeger was born in 1919 and died aged 94 in January 2014. He grew up in a significant family of folklorists and became political and dropped out of college as a young man and became a singer and was in The Weavers in the early 1950s. Their version of Leadbelly's song Goodnight Irene became a worldwide hit. Over the years The Kingston Trio, The Byrds and Peter, Paul and Mary covered his songs and he was a campaigner for civil rights, nuclear disarmament and environmental causes. In 1985 he recorded an LP in support of our Miners' Strike. Go on Wikipedia to see his amazing life story. Joe Stead wrote the excellent booklet essay. He was in the audience at the St Pancras concert.
Here's a double CD for the price of one. Two classic recordings with forty five tracks in total, produced and mastered by Paul Adams from the original LPs. The first recording is from St Pancras Town Hall, London 4 October 1959 (by John R T Davies of the Temperance Seven) That concert had been put on by jazzmen Humphrey Lyttelton and Ken Colyer who had kicked off the skiffle craze in the early '50s. They worked with Ewan MacColl and A.L.Lloyd to promote the concert which was a sellout. His sister Peggy settled in England as the wife of Ewan MacColl and contributed to the direction of the revival. She can be heard joining in on the first CD.
The Free Trade Hall concert was recorded by Tony Adkins in Manchester in February 1964 when Pete was on a world tour. The folk revival had just begun in the '50s but was well established by '64. The first recording was issued on the Folklore label in issues of ninety nine copies, out of Doug Dobell's record shop on Charing Cross Road which was noted for jazz records. The Manchester concert has never been heard before. The concerts give a great picture of how Pete Seeger interacted with and encouraged the audience to join in, which they did with gusto.
I remember when we started Sheffield University Folk Club (Sheffield's first) in 1961 we met in a coffee bar in the old redbrick Graves Hall and sang songs from all over the world with no worries about regional or national provenance and accent. It was just a burgeoning scene and anything went and it was a real mix. Pete Seeger records were a popular source of songs for inexperienced young singers for a few years. In 1964 I drove on my motorbike from Sheffield, where I was at University, on a cold February afternoon to my home town of Manchester and was part of the enthusiastic audience at the Free Trade Hall (where incidentally I later saw Bob Dylan in 1966 when he went electric with the Hawks in the second half and was called "Judas"). That night Seeger sang A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall, written by Dylan in 1962. It showed Seeger's open nature after he had first criticised Dylan for going electric at Newport. I still remember him bringing a log on stage and chopping at it while singing a work song. His way of introducing songs, passing on words and harmonies and telling stories while working an audience and creating empathy was amazing at the time, although later I began to question the didactic nature of his introductions and rather earnest manner but always likeable manner, as young people do. His instrumentals on the long necked banjo were an eye and ear opener and stimulated many to take up the instrument.
The legendary singer's career had been seriously knocked off course by the McCarthy witch-hunts into "un-American Activities", which attacked many in the arts and was used to smear many progressive artists and citizens. Seeger was brought before the Supreme Court in March 1961 and chose the First Amendment and faced a lengthy prison sentence. He was condemned to ten years but eventually released on bail of $2,000 and later the verdict was dismissed in May 1962. After cancelled engagements and other cold war rejections he continued to pour out up to six LPs a year and had a worldwide influence. He eventually received The National Medal of Arts and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
By the Manchester concert Seeger was on a worldwide tour and he was a household name and his songs were spreading at the grassroots if not always in the charts. As he said, he had learned the songs from old people, books and recordings and as the son of a folk music collector was immersed in them from a very early age. The songs come from American tradition: Cumberland Bear Hunt, Go Tell Aunt Rhody, Old Joe Clark. From the British tradition: The House Carpenter, Pretty Polly, John Riley. Union songs such as I Am a Union Woman and Ely Branch from Aunt Molly Jackson and Which Side Are You On by Florence Reece of Harlan County, Kentucky and Talking Union Blues. These recordings have a wide variety of sources: Guantanamera from Cuba, and songs from Indonesia, South Africa and Spain. The Bells Of Rhymney was from a poem written by Welsh ex-miner and poet Idris Davies in 1938 and put loosely to the tune Oranges and Lemons. There are composed songs of social comment by such as Woody Guthrie's Pastures Of Plenty and The Reuben James; Malvina Reynolds was 62 when she wrote Little Boxes in 1962; it elicited lots of laughter and there was a feeling of self-identification with the students and "business executives" being moulded for the consumer society of the 1960s. It quickly caught on. Dylan's Hard Rain is here and Seeger's own songs such as Where Have All the Flowers Gone, based on a Ukrainian song quoted in And Quiet Flows The Don. Tom Paxton, then 23 years old, wrote What Did You Learn In School Today. The Vietnam war was taking young Americans to fight and the anti-nuclear nuclear movement was still a strong force in the folk revival. Ed McCurdy's song last Night I Had the Strangest Dream was an antiwar song of the time and sung by the Peace Corps and CND marchers. If You Miss Me At the Back of the Bus was another from the Civil Rights movement. Songs such as this stimulated the Civil Rights movement in Northern Ireland at the same time as Dylan's protest songs, which inspired many youngsters and changed the direction of popular music at the time.
The last track is We Shall Overcome from an earlier gospel song with roots going back to 1901 and published in 1948. It was sung at the Martin Luther King "I have a dream!" rally in 1963 by Joan Baez. Seeger said, "This is a good time to learn it." On that cold night in Manchester in February 1964 it felt that the feeling would prevail and the whole audience was full of optimism and a feeling that the civil rights movement was a unifying force worldwide. I don't know what Pete Seeger would make of the Trump triumph and the state of the world today but I reckon he would be making his voice heard and urging us all on to better things.