David and Goliath

On Monday we receieved a lovely email from one of the fifteen people who managed to get to the Cabbage Patch for the David Francey gig on Sunday.

Dear TwickFolk

As I said to you last night ˜the world has surely gone mad when people are impeded from getting to your gig by the latest flavour of the month playing nearby. Despite this it was a magical evening made even better by such an appreciative audience.

I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to see David Francey again for nearly a decade since first seeing him at Towersey Festival. His songs have become a massive part of my life and I now have three beautiful children who have been brought up listening to his music. So nothing, not even “Gaga” would have prevented me from being there last night. It was a great pleasure to meet you all and I truly appreciate your commitment to promoting an art form outside the mainstream. It can’t be easy.

Rest assured that ‘our’ music will be touching lives long after the Lady along the road has been forgotten.

Last night will be a memory I will cherish. Thanks again.

Peter Saunders

BBC Folk Awards predictions

We predict that everyone loosely or directly connected to the folk music scene in the UK will all feel the benefit and be effective winners. There will be lots of media coverage, plenty of newspaper reports about the vibrant scene we all love to one extent or another. There’ll be five hours of network radio coverage from the awards starting at 5pm on Radio 2 followed by a special programme about the Dubliners.

Everybody in attendance will have a great time and be delighted for and cheer on the award winners regardless of whether they happen to be their mates.

We also foresee there’ll be plenty of grumbling from a small group of conspiracy theorists and other embittered people who can’t bring themselves to enter this spirit and who think some semi-pro semi-able friend of theirs should be nominated ahead of the highly able professionals at the awards.

In conclusion, if you look at it with an open heart and mind we’ll all be winners.

Review – Ellis Paul and Lizanne Knott – 24th July 2011

Ellis Paul returned to the place where five years ago he made his UK debut to find that the show had been moved ‘upstairs’ i.e. to a larger venue (on the strength of advance ticket sales) that it was packed out with all seats filled and only standing space available. He was jokingly introduced to the audience as ‘a long-haired, waistcoat-favouring American singing MOR acoustic country-folk’, which is how he’d been written up in a London listings magazine!

The long-haired description was right; the waistcoat wearing part wasn’t but that was corrected when he was presented with one to wear (and very natty it was too, patterned with car number plates from each US state), the American part was also right but the reference to MOR acoustic country-folk wasn’t – his music is far from being ‘middle of the road’. One of the leading lights of the Boston school of songwriting he together with the likes of Martin Sexton, Dar Williams, Patty Griffin and Shawn Colvin played no small part in stimulating the folk revival of the 1990’s. An award-winning musician, whose songs have appeared in film and TV soundtracks, he has built up a loyal following, touring extensively in the US so it was wonderful to see him return to the place where he previously, to quote a fellow reviewer ‘lit a flame that is likely to burn this side of the Atlantic for a very long while to come’.

Playing two sets, Paul’s choice of material ranged from 1994’s STORIES with Here She Is right up to the current day with a new song Kick Out The Lights inspired by a story about Johnny Cash being banned from the Grand Ole Opry for kicking out the stage lights, yes all 52 of them!

Paul almost immediately mentioned the passing of his friend and mentor Bill Morrissey, the previous day. Overshadowed in the news by Amy Winehouse’s demise, also on July 23rd, Morrissey’s death was much harder to bear for those like Paul, who grew up in New England and were inspired to followed the path laid out by the critically acclaimed singer, songwriter, poet and author. Morrissey produced Paul’s first commercially released album SAY SOMETHING in 1992 so their association was a long-standing one. In tribute to both Morrissey and Winehouse Paul played two songs this evening Jukebox on my Grave and Martyr’s LoungeIn the former he sings about having a jukebox on his grave instead of a headstone and in the latter he envisages deceased celebrities hanging out at ‘Leo’s – a bar in heaven’ and imagined that Morrissey and Winehouse would be sharing a drink there!

With many facing challenging times across the world, Paul dedicated Mark Erelli’s The Only Way to the people of Norway recognizing the pain and suffering inflicted by the Oslo bombing and Utoya shootings, and Hurricane Angel (originally written in response to ‘Katrina’) to the victims of natural disasters across the globe this year – hurricanes, tsunamis and earthquakes. He lightened the mood considerably when encouraging the crowd to sing along on a sequence of songs Kick Out the Lights, Lights of Vegas, Dragonfly and Alice’s Champagne PalaceThe first set ended with Annalee unplugged and in the audience, much to the surprise of a young couple from Devon sitting in the front row. He repaid them later encoring the evening with The Speed of Trees and dedicating it to them.

An assured performance, mostly originally penned material with just a few covers, he had the full room wanting more and much applause greeted his comments about promising to come back ‘now that his daughters are old enough to look after themselves – they are seven and four years old’!

The opener during Paul’s short UK tour was Lizanne Knott, a singer/songwriter who has headlined shows on both sides of the Atlantic. A particular favourite with BBC’s Bob Harris she played a six-song set to warm appreciation. Opening with Holiday, her vocal style is intimate, gentle and delicate; she writes from the heart viz. Too Much Love and has a new album in the works. We got a taster of what is to come when she played Miss You. Knott will be returning in the spring to tour behind its release. In recent years she has become well known to UK audiences through radio airplay and has garnered many fans here.

Jela Webb

Review – Chuck Brodsky – 19th June 2011

American folk-singer Chuck Brodsky, so very well received at last year’s Shrewsbury Folk Festival, opened the first night of his first full UK tour at Twickenham Folk Club, an ideal setting for a man whose literate style just demands the listener’s ear.

Brodsky has built up a reputation for writing about ordinary people who doextraordinary things. He gives credence to the belief that once you start to peelaway at the layers, there is no such thing as ‘ordinary’ in the human condition.

The first set of eight songs was slanted towards his humorous, satirical tunes and included five from his just released album SUBTOTAL ECLIPSE. He commenced by pairing Out of Time and Place with The World As You Once Knew It both of which allude to being out of step with the modern world. Amusement and nods of acknowledgement were evident as the audience perhaps recognised traits within themselves that were being reflected in Brodsky’s words.

Engaging the audience in laughter, both through his lyrics and the stories he told between songs, he created a relaxed and informal setting for a cleverly paced performance. One might say it was an evening of two halves – the first was light, jokey and full of humour, the second serious and at times, emotionally charged.

His gentle delivery is what gives his songs such impact – the soothing voice delivering a barbed comment make his lyrics all the more powerful and affecting. To move an audience almost seamlessly from laughter to tears is a real skill and tonight there was no doubt that Brodsky is a master at doing just that.

The back-to-back coupling of Lili’s Braids with Gerta, songs whose settings are firmly rooted in the horrors of the Holocaust, were genuinely heart wrenching. There were quite a few in the audience, me included, who were taken aback by the emotional intensity wrought not just by the stories of Lili Hirsch and Eva Modval Haimovitz but the coincidence of finding that after taking a few days break from recording the new CD due to a cold, Brodsky resumed and recorded these two songs on what turned out to be Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Writing about Brodsky means that one can’t omit reference to his trademark baseball songs and again he showed his contrasting approaches to these with the humour of The Bellyache Heard ‘Round the World and the sorrow of Roberto. The former a light-hearted tale about Babe Ruth’s state of health and the latter, a sombre memorial to Roberto Clemente one of the first Latin-American players who lost his life during a humanitarian flight delivering aid to Nicaraguan earthquake victims.

Many of his songs contain specific American references, not surprisingly you might add, but they nevertheless travel well. That’s testament to his skill as a wordsmith; he paints pictures and draws you in to a world full of unlikely characters that by dint of a little exploration become flesh and bone. Brodsky has in the past spent time finding some of those protagonists again and given them a copy of the CD containing their story – what a wonderful way to show appreciation to those (no longer) unsung heroes.

Jela Webb

Review – Greg Trooper – 8th May 2011

Touring the UK for the first time in six years, Greg Trooper with ten albums to his credit, one acoustic guitar in hand and an abundance of ready wit, opened tonight’s show with ‘the hits’ (his words, not mine) before moving into songs from the new album UPSIDE DOWN TOWN which is of course the catalyst for his long awaited return visit.Starting off with the hook-laden This I’d Do he followed up with Green Eyed Girl – ‘it’s called Green Eyed Girl because Brown Eyed Girl was taken!’ he said causing ripples of laughter throughout and endearing himself to the audience. It’s worth mentioning that on the basis of advance ticket sales and anticipated payers at the door, seats were set out but in the event, and pleasingly so, it was necessary to rearrange the room to accommodate larger than expected numbers!

He played We Won’t Dance but not before regaling us with the story of how it came to be recorded by Vince Gill on his WHEN I CALL YOUR NAME album in 1989. Trooper, when first approached about the cover, thought ‘who the (expletive deleted) is Vince Gill? Okay let him cover it, I might be able to help his career’ Needless to say Trooper subsequently found out just who Vince Gill was!

Only two songs from the new album featured in the first set, these were They Call Me Hank (which one highly respected critic is suggesting is a contender for ‘Song of the Year’) and a ballad, Second Wind. One of the older songs performed was When I Think Of You My Friends which includes the lines:

‘Sleepers, weepers, faithless leapers
Up to ten, 12-inch speakers,
Send them in to Karl, they’ll need an overhaul’

The ‘Karl’ of the song was in the audience, having travelled from Spain for the show. He and Trooper go back a long way and it is moments like this that give you the measure of the man – loyal, fun and inspiring huge affection. That song, a tribute to all travelling musicians closed out the first set.Returning after a short break, Trooper said that he’d received so many requests during the interval that he had to change his planned set list. Six requests therefore followed (Those Sunday Nights, Lucky That Way, I Love It When She Lies, Little Sister, Hummingbird and Muhammad Ali (The Meaning of Christmas) after which he ‘got back to the new album’ with three more offerings and then going right back in time with Ireland from his 1992 debut EVERYWHERE.

He wasn’t going to get away without an encore from the highly appreciative audience so returning with a ‘you okay with country?’ he yodelled his way into Hank Williams’ Long Gone Lonesome Blues and then completed the show with one of his own songs because ‘people only remember the last song you play’ – Hannah’s Dreams.

This audience will remember much, much more than the last song. Without doubt Trooper is one of the most under appreciated singer/songwriters on the circuit. The two varied sets were testament to his versatility as both a writer and performer. He tackles alt-country, roots, Americana, folk, blues and soul all with equal aplomb. He deserves much greater success and as he left the stage with a message for the audience – ‘keep on dreamin’ everybody’ you only hope that his own dreams come true. They certainly deserve to.

Jela Webb

Review – Carrie Elkin – 17th April 2011

My long weekend enjoying the music of Austin, TX based Carrie Elkin started by listening to the session recorded with Bob Harris, broadcast on his BBC Radio 2 Country show on Thursday, April 14th. Chatting animatedly about the recording of the new album CALL IT MY GARDEN Elkin confirmed that it had been recorded over a four-day period, at Sam Baker’s house in Austin, with the assistance of her ‘folk family’. The latter refers to a host of friends who were in Texas for the Kerrville Folk Festival and who lent their services during the recording process.

Harris drew out some wonderfully warm anecdotes from Elkin as he explored her willingness to remain open to whatever circumstances she found herself in and how a seemingly chance meeting can have a major impact. For example, the story about the Medicine Man in Santa Fe, New Mexico telling her to travel sixty miles further to Taos where she would be happier. She followed his advice and settling in Taos, made friends with Colin Brooks (now in The Band of Heathens) who has worked with her for a number of years and is co-producer of her last two albums.

Playing live, accompanied by Paul Cataldo, she chose Lift Up The Anchor and Jesse Likes Birds and then as is customary on the show, Harris asked her which track he should play from the CD to which her response was Edge of The World, the last track on the CD. Finishing the interview Harris gave out the remaining dates of her tour schedule and I found myself thinking ‘I hope that this session results in lots of people coming out to her shows’. She just enthuses warmth, talent, graciousness and you just want hard working independent musicians such as she is, to succeed.

Friday 15th driving to and from ‘my day job’ I slotted the CALL IT MY GARDEN CD into my car’s player and as is my habit, listened to the music that I knew I would be hearing live over the succeeding days. I did hear Elkin perform a few of the songs live during my Texan sojourn last year and have particularly affectionate memories of seeing her at a house concert she curated in Austin. Her own performance showcased a selection of the new material and a couple of the songs Lift Up The Anchor and Dear Sam moved her, others and me to tears. The lyrics are written from a very personal perspective and were made even more touching by the presence, that day, of the songs’ protagonists – Danny Schmidt and Sam Baker respectively.

Saturday 16th and celebrations for Record Store Day were taking place all over the country. The initiative, which started in the USA in 2007, celebrates independent record retailers. 2011 is the third year the UK has participated and the stores together with artists, celebrate with quizzes, signings, giveaways and live performances. Elkin appeared at the Union Music Store, Lewes, East Sussex as part of their festivities. Accompanied by Cataldo (dobro and guitar) she sang six songs including ‘one for the kids’ Jessie Likes Birds in her afternoon set and finished with a Dylan cover A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall with audience participation on the chorus. Clearly converting new fans, she sold not only CDs but also tickets for her evening show in Brighton.

The show in Brighton at The Basement, attracted a nicely sized audience including an American couple, from Dallas, who were on holiday in London. They have been Elkin supporters for a good number of years and she was clearly delighted by their surprise attendance. Opening the two-set show with Obadiah from 2007’s THE JEOPARDY OF CIRCUMSTANCE Elkin (again accompanied by Cataldo) captivated everyone with the beauty of her singing voice – when she sings she seemingly uses every sinew in her body to create such a pure sound and such is her range that she doesn’t need a microphone at all! Her petite build belies stunning and powerful vocals.

Alternating between songs from the last two albums she then led into the interval break with her partner Danny Schmidt’s song Company of Friends dedicating it to the American couple, much to their delight.

Returning after the break during which she made herself available to sign CDs she played a shorter set, six songs as curfew time 11pm placed a restriction on anything longer. Five songs from the new CD, four originals and a cover of Dar Williams’ Iowa completed the evening’s performance……….save for a quick return for one encore, just Elkin with voice on Amazing Grace. Preceding it she said that she wasn’t originally planning to sing it but it had been requested and it always reminds her of family of whom she thinks about a great deal as she tours. A heartfelt performance for sure, it left me looking forward to more the following evening.

Sunday 17th and a headline show at Twickenham Folk Club (Twickfolk). The beauty for artists about playing a club like this, which has been running for more than twenty-five years, is the regular following it attracts, a number of whom are musicians in their own right. From that you might correctly gauge that this is an audience who really appreciate good music. The venue is very much a ‘listening room’ and as Elkin and Cataldo took the stage, to warm applause, the audience sat back to enjoy an evening of charm, grace and beauty. A two set show featuring a couple of songs that hadn’t been played in the previous shows I’d attended – Roots and Wings and Berlin. The latter is one of her older songs, the only ‘old’ songs she performs live. Berlin initially appearing on her 2001 release LIVE AT THE FRONT ROOM, then on the studio album THE WALTZ in 2004 and was re-recorded for the new CD. It was the first song I ever heard her sing (in 2007) and from that point on I sought out her work and as you might surmise, became a huge fan.

Tonight, it was good to see Cataldo perform one of his own songs Drinking and Sleeping. He is a quiet presence and a good foil for the exuberant Elkin.

Finishing again with Amazing Grace, Elkin’s voice filled the room and I knew that it was the end of my long weekend in the company of a delightful musician whose work and work ethic, I have nothing but admiration for.

Jela Webb