Reviews

SWARBAID CEILIDH at Ripley Town Hall. 5th February 2005.

Ray Black wrote in Tykes News:

The evening was a stunning success in terms of both money raised and enjoyment by all who attended. The event was sold out before the doors opened and I would like to apologise to those we had to turn away, I'm afraid this was unavoidable. The enthusiastic dancing was proof that not everyone on the planet eats pizzas and chips and lives the life of a couch potato! The energy and stamina shown throughout the evening suggests there were some very fit people in that hall.

Lyn Geddes and Kevin Loughran provided two very professional sounding song spots and Betty Lupton's Ladle Lakers (a perfectly wonderful female morris team) added a splash of colour, as well as both elegance and precision. Throughout the evening the dancing was accompanied by the mighty Konfusalem who also entertained with some between dance instrumental music.

I have sent a cheque for £622 to the charity fund which was all raised by this one event. I would like to extend a warm thanks to everyone involved. A special thank you is also due to Andy Herrington who let us have free use of the wonderful venue.

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Martin Carthy at Friday 13th Folk Club, Harrogate. 9th and 10th December 2004.

Ray Black wrote in Tykes News:

This boy will go far! Martin's gig on Friday, December 10th, sold out so quickly that an extra gig was arranged for Thursday 9th. On the Thursday he was excellent, but then he is never less than that. His performance on the Friday however was a tour-de-force worthy of his legendary status. Apart from four songs to promote the new CD there were no repeats from the previous evening. How does he do it? He not only has a vast solo repertoire, but when he left Harrogate he was on his way to rehearse a Steeleye Span Christmas reunion show with an entirely different repertoire to remember. Then there is one each for Waterson/Carthy, Brass Monkey, his various one-off projects and odd duo involvements, all stored away in that famous memory of his. The strength of that memory showed itself to advantage in his live performance of 'The Famous Flower of Serving Men' on the Friday, I've never heard him try this live and he pulled it off to stunning effect. It was inspiring to see such a relaxed delivery belie such a sense of control. His engaging way with the audience throughout the performance communicated so much pleasure in what he was doing: clearly the reason he still plays small clubs when he no longer needs to. The folk club world should consider him a national treasure. To point out other highlights in the performance would be as difficult as it would be pointless - it was all highlight!

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Emily Smith, Jamie McClennan and Steve Byrne at Friday 13th Folk Club, Harrogate. 18th March 2005.

Debbie Koritsas wrote in Living Tradition:

There are some Scottish musicians whose names consistently crop up on gig listings throughout the UK, and Emily Smith, (along with compatriots such as Karine Polwart and Dick Gaughan), seems to relish taking her music out to small regional audiences.  The Empress is an intimate venue (upstairs in a Harrogate pub) that always guarantees an appreciative, listening audience.

I arrived in time to hear Tom Bliss (of Bliss & Napper fame) performing a short set of his own compositions – really beautiful songs, including The Silverlode of Sark, Flotsam and Jetsom, and Godspeed.  He’s a very fine song-craftsman and wordsmith, and the folk club regulars very soon joined in with the words to every chorus.
 
Emily Smith is an engaging musician who has a quiet, friendly rapport with her audience – her voice never seems to fail her, and she sang beautifully tonight in her customary direct, natural way.  She enjoys telling the story behind the song (sentiments that Tom Bliss had echoed just a few moments before) – and does so successfully, with gentle humour and warmth.  Instrumentally, the performances were fluid and expressive - Smith on piano accordion and keyboard, Jamie McClennan on fiddle and flute (he jazzes up his flute playing very nicely), and Malinky’s Steve Byrne, always a sensitive and intuitive guitar/bouzouki accompanist.  A little of the interplay potential between flute and fiddle was perhaps missing in the trio format (Grada’s Alan Doherty and Jamie McClennan interacted magnificently in the quartet format), but it didn’t detract at all from the overall enjoyment.  There were a few standout instrumentals – some excellent reel sets, including Donald Shaw’s Macleod’s Farewell, and Martinmas – McClennan’s percussive, jazzy flute playing was superb on these two.  Elsewhere, The Salt Necklace was interspersed with a lively Galician tune, and Tressle Bridge led into The Cidada (a great tune) with great panache.

Smith’s voice was graceful and assured, and I doubt there were many in the audience who were not moved by the disarming beauty of Time Wears Awa, Always A Smile, Strong Winds For Autumn, Far O’er the Forth, and the sublime Fair Helen of Kirkconnel.  Smith’s own compositions have an honesty and power all of their own, but she seems to select all of her material with care.  The audience joined in with lovely songs such as When We Go To Town and The Lochmaben Harper, and the entire set gave you that ‘warm glow’ of a typical Kate Rusby gig – an apt comparison in the circumstances, since Joe Rusby was doing the sound.  This was a lovely evening, and Smith is a fine ambassador for live Scottish traditional music.

It was good to learn during the interval how upbeat Steve Byrne is feeling about the new Malinky line up – it looks as though the band will completely re-launch itself now that Fiona Hunter and Ewen Macpherson have joined the line up – I imagine that many Living Tradition readers will be ‘watching this space’ eagerly for news of the “New Malinky’s” inaugural gigs!

Set list:

Bonny Labouring Boy
Martinmas 
The Lowlands Of Holland
Reels - including Donald's MacLeod's Farewell 
Time Wears Awa
Edward of Morton
Always A Smile
Strathspeys/Reels
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Far O'Er The Forth 
Molly Lovely Molly
The Lochmaben Harper (a song from the 1500's)
Tressle Bridge/Aidan's Jig/The Cicada
Strong Winds For Autumn
When We Go To Town
Fair Helen Of Kirkconnel 
Reels - The Salt Necklace/Galician Tune
The Nutting Song

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Martin Simpson live at Friday 13th Folk Club, Harrogate. April 22nd, 2005

Ray Black wrote in Tykes News:

Now that Martin Simpson is finally recognised for his great talent, he is usually only found performing in large halls. I remember with fondness the warmth and intimacy of his performances in the days when folk clubs were his natural environment. I often wished it could be that way again; then, in a moment of inspiration, I realised it still could be and I booked him to play our small folk club. This proved to be a masterstroke as once again Martin wove his magic and charmed us into believing he was addressing each of us individually.

Martin is a guitar virtuoso, but not of the flashy "display without substance" variety. Subtlety is the hallmark of his style. The sound he gets from his Stefan Sobell guitar is beautiful and his precision is as legendary as his tastefulness. Stefan once remarked that, in sport, a ball appears to slow down for some people and allows them superhuman accuracy. He light-heartedly suggested that Martin is a musical version of this phenomenon and he might be right!

There was no support as Martin likes to develop the mood and structure of the evening as a unified whole, a process which needs time and space if he is to succeed. He finished his first set with a blues of almost overwhelming intensity. This was the culmination of his mood shaping. Martin excels in this. It is extraordinary that someone who can play a raw American blues with such aching passion and conviction can deliver such an informed and idiomatic account of a British traditional ballad. He is also an excellent interpreter of contemporary songs. When he sang a Dylan song it was in a way Dylan could never have contemplated, yet it was so "right" it sounded as convincing as if Martin had written it himself. The absence of any support act did not leave us short-changed on time; two sets of over an hour each is generous by anyone's standards.

The programme was endlessly varied, giving us light and shade, hope and despair, joy and sorrow, all woven together with warm, humorous and informative introductions. I made a list of all the songs he sang, complete with notes, so that I could fill this review with detail. In the end, I decided not to bother, there were so many highs that it would have taken forever to write about them.

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Ben Harker and Emily Weygang. The Bacca Pipes, Keighley. 11th, July. 2003

Ray Black wrote in the Living Tradition:

Having watched this duo develop with something akin to the eyes of a proud father it was so gratifying to witness this gig. As a performance it marked a new level in accomplishment, as if having served their apprentiship they are now fully qualified. Their delivery was relaxed and confident, the material and instrumentation varied and the presentation was informative without being pedantic. They are clearly in love with what they are doing - as well as with each other and it all comes together as a unified whole.
Brigg Fair was learnt it from its source: Joseph Taylor but this is no slavish copy, Emily has given it something of herself and made it very much her own in the time honoured way of all traditional singers. They even brought this to bear on a Paul Weller song from his days with The Jam. English Rose sounded as much like a folk song as many examples of the real thing.
Their version of The Cockfight was collected in Leeds and caught all the excitement of such an event. Of the subject matter - as Emily herself remarked: "It might seem an odd choice for two squeamish vegetarians". The unaccompanied Green Bed was a Wild Rover variant, but an infinitely superior one and the audience were really taken with it. The Butcher Boy was truly atmospheric with a soaring and expressive vocal line, mournfully wailing fiddle and tidy rhythmic guitar work. Ben has a way of wrapping his accompaniments around the songs with complete sensitivity to the needs of both the song and the singer. Their second set opened very effectively, no introduction just "bang" and they were off, two unaccompanied voices urging everyone to "Come and be a Soldier" with all the vigour of a recruiting party at work.
In conclusion I must mention the club. The Bacca Pipes has an audience par excellence, they know and appreciate what's good and exude a warm generous enthusiasm for what they like. A rewarding evening for all concerned.

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Napper and Bliss, Friday 13th Folk Club, Harrogate "Live", June 2003

This duo has emerged from nowhere as a fully formed unit. The pooling of their respective experience has enabled them to create a sense of ensemble of a standard normally apparent only after years of playing together. Tom Bliss writes songs that should become classics: the strong
tunes are matched by wide ranging subjects drawn from a wonderful mixture of experience and imagination. The ultimate example of this is The Violin: from an incident where a violin is bought by a man for a young relative (Tom Bliss being the young man in question) he has constructed a
beautifully imaginative history of that instrument told in the first person by the instrument. If this song doesn't move you don't tell your next partner that you have romantic side as he or she will soon realise it's not true. Tom has an excellent voice, and can convey the emotional content of a song with that ring of conviction that really holds your attention. He also plays such an array of different instruments that he can never fit them all in on any one gig!

'What of the other Tom'? I hear you ask. Just a bloomin' banjo player! You know all the jokes, but then so does he, with a sense of humour like his they can't hurt him. The banter between these two musicians makes for a very relaxed and entertaining stage show, where humour has its place but never compromises the integrity of the songs. Tom Napper's musical prowess makes a really powerful contribution to the duo's sound. By this I am not talking about his instrumental virtuosity despite it being clearly evident. This aspect of his playing is entirely subservient to the musicality of the arrangements. He knows the value of the songs and every note he plays both supports and enhances them. He sings well, plays several instruments, produces excellent arrangements of great subtlety. Subtlety? Banjo player? This is where the joke stereotype really takes a day off.

Buy the CD by all means, but for goodness sake don't miss out on seeing them live. They are a class act, make no mistake about it.

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