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PORTICO QUARTET The Mercury prize and beyond

Also in this issue:

Bassekou Kouyate Show Of Hands Steeleye Span Guy Clark Jon Boden on Topic’s 70th Anniversary re-issues Tom Russell Enter our competition to win all of the CDs ECM Jan Garbarek featured in this issue. Gwilym Simcock Nine Below Zero Soundway Records e n o k Netsayi pic day up to Reviews, reviews, reviews.



bearman_properganda_OCT09f.pdf 1 02/10/2009 13:19:58

Serious presents

November 2009 Tour Tue 10 LONDON Barbican

Mon 16 GATESHEAD The Sage Gateshead

Wed 11 BRIGHTON Dome

Tue 17 EDINBURGH Usher Hall

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Thu 12 COVENTRY Warwick Arts Centre Wed 18 BRISTOL Fiddlers 024 7652 4524

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Fri 20 OXFORD O2 Academy 01865 305 305

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Sun 15 MILTON KEYNES Stables Theatre 01908 280800

Trés Trés Fort out now on Crammed Discs









Friday 23 & Saturday 24 October Cadogan Hall 020 7730 4500



Ketil Bjornstad

Tuesday 27 October Southbank Centre /Purcell Room 0871 663 2500


Monday 2 November Koko 08700 600 100 0870 264 3333


Monday 2 November Barbican 020 7638 8891


THE ORCHESTRION TOUR Wednesday 10 February 2010 Barbican 020 7638 8891


Tuesday 30 March 2010 Barbican 020 7638 8891 2

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4 Show Of Hands

5 Ruth Notman – Sharon Shannon

7-10 Portico Quartet 12-13 ECM

15 Gwilym Simcock

16-17 Bassekou Kouyate 18-19 Soundway Records 20 Pama International – Horslips

21 Netsayi

22-23 Steeleye Span 24-25 Topic Records 26 The Darwin Song Project

Hello W

27 Tom Russell – Guy Clark 28 Jones – Jimmy Webb & The Webb Brothers

elcome to the fourth and final Properganda of 2009 and our 14th full issue to date. Our irregular appearances through the year are now starting to become more defined and we are even planning ahead to say the next issue will be out in January 2010. Next year you can also look forward to us following the pattern set this year with issues timed for April, July and October. Hopefully a more defined timetable will make it easier for you to track down each copy as it’s printed. This month’s cover stars the Portico Quartet are a comparatively fresh faced crew for us, but with their second album Isla, have captured a truly beautiful sound that defies easy categorisation. Although to all intents, they have much of the styling of a jazz quartet, their sound leans heavily towards the classical minimalists and even world music. Whatever you want to call it is alright by us, just as long as you buy one and call it your own. Look out for the tour dates too. We can only recommend open minds and open ears and our pick and mix will yield great delights. Basskou Kouyate is also here with his second album and a major UK tour. Having already graced Later With Jools, it’s pleasing to see how well I Speak Fula has been received. Our interview had to be conducted via an interpreter, but even with increased pressure of promotional demands, Bassekou was effusive and gracious in his response. Elsewhere, we continue in our series of anniversaries as ECM hit 40 and celebrate with a raft of important releases. We managed to grab a few moments with one of their stars Jan Garbarek on his recent visit to London. And lest you folk fans think we’ve abandoned you, Steeleye Span also hit the 40 mark - still going strong -the new CD is amongst their best as well. Maddy Prior gives us the low-down on keeping the ship afloat . There’s a new album from Show Of Hands as well – always something to celebrate. But don’t stop there. Read on through. There is just so much great music. Get those Christmas lists together (yes it’s that time already), and well see you again in the new year. The Properganda Team

29 Nine Below Zero 30-31 Folk Reviews 32-33 Country/Americana Reviews 34-35 Jazz Review 36 Blues & Soul reviews 37 World Reviews 38 Review Round Up

Contributors Andy Robson, Cliff White, Colin Irwin, David Kidman, Rick Finlay, Howard Male, Jon Lusk, Ken Smith, Peter Bacon, Nigel Tassell, Simon Holland, Stuart Nicholson, Tony Morley, Neil Pearson, Jon Boden, Ken Hunt,Clive Pownceby, Alison Stokes, Trish Winter, Joan Crump, John L. Walters. Photo Credits All photos provided by the artists and their labels. Editor Simon Holland On-line wizardry Andy Kiang Design and artwork Don Ward at Triple Eight Graphics contact Printed by The Marstan Press. Princes Street, Bexleyheath, Kent DA7 4BJ. 020 8301 5900

Proper Music Distribution The New Powerhouse Gateway Business Park Kangley Bridge Road SE26 5AN England Tel Int +44 (0) 20 8676 5100 Fax +44 (0) 20 8676 5169 Properganda 14



hey’re a folkish group with rockish tendencies. They’re a self-contained cottage industry. They’re a fizz-bang jamboree of vibrant original songs and virtuoso instrumentals. And, in a 15year career that’s seen them sell out the Royal Albert Hall three times while deftly dodging the vagaries of fashion and common concepts of commerciality, they are extraordinarily successful. But if you thought you’d got a firm handle on Show of Hands, think again. All preconceptions turn to dust when you make the acquaintance of their new album Arrogance, Ignorance and Greed, which mines the extremes of human emotion with a series of dark, intense songs delivered with a rawness that’s almost shocking coming from an outfit whose previous work has acquired a reputation for epic grandeur and gleaming polish. From the striking unaccompanied opening of traditional song Lowlands, when singer Steve Knightley’s voice crawls gruffly out of the speakers, you know this is a very different Show of Hands to the good-time pub band sound originally initiated by Knightley and Phil Beer all those years ago. Now essentially a trio with Miranda Sykes on bass and vocals, they’ve augmented the album with telling guest spots from new generation buccaneers like Mawkin:Causley and Jackie Oates (a sumptuous duet on the traditional Keys of Canterbury). “We’re delighted,” says Knightley. “Every one of the songs is quite bleak but there’s like a spirit of the age concept to it - all the tracks seem to be about one of the deadly sins. I think it has a good rootsy, alternative folk sound.” Credit for this radical transformation goes to Stu Hanna, one half of the trailblazing young Teesside duo Megson, who was entrusted with the production after SoH heard his work last year on Benji Kirkpatrick’s album Boomerang. “Seth Lakeman recommended Stu to us He was great. We used to worship the Lexicon Reverb but Stu said if he heard any reverb he’d switch it off. He had an agenda. He’s a young guy with a lot of energy and his generation can use roughness as a choice. He’d seen us work close up and was aware that the preoccupation with us being smooth, polished and slick and wanted to make an album that was in yer face and raw. “He basically said ‘trust me’ and we did - he did all the edits and track running order. I’d never have dreamed of opening the album with Lowlands. People would ask me how the album was coming along and I didn’t have a clue. Stu was quite a tyrant about


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singing. He practically wanted me swallowing the microphone even if it sounded distorted and he’d make me do it again and again. He’d say ‘sing it as if it’s 8.30 in the morning, now sing it angry, now sing it late at night, now sing it sad…” Knightley’s had a traumatic couple of years after son Jack contracted leukaemia around the same time that his mother and younger brother were battling similar illnesses. Amid all the stress, Steve lost the ability to write. And then, on a three-week German tour, he re-discovered it - with a vengeance - and wrote a torrent of songs that are now the backbone of Arrogance, Ignorance and Greed. “It was extraordinary,” he says, “I’ve never had such a fertile period as a writer before.” These songs fearlessly confront the issues affecting his personal turmoil. None more so than IED: Science and Nature, in which he portrays disease as an unexploded bomb - the improvised explosive device of the title - that lays dormant inside until triggered by forces unknown. Cleverly integrating it with ghostly echoes of the traditional song The Trees They Do Grow High, Knightley ponders whether the finger on the detonator belongs to science, nature or deity. “I felt entitled to be a bit angry and I’m really pleased with it. It feels almost like a Snow Patrol song.” Also inspired by his close encounters with medicine, The Worried Well is a full-blooded assault on alternative healing - “You should have heard the original lyric, now that’s really bitter.” An attack on politicians and bankers, the title track is a shameless Springsteen homage, while there are inventive covers of Peter Gabriel’s Secret World and Dylan’s Senor (Tales of Yankee Power). “One of my favourite albums of all time is that last one by Elbow,” he says conspiratorially, “and I like to think of us as a folk Elbow…” Colin Irwin

Show Of Hands Arrogance, Ignorance and Greed Hands On Music HMCD29


0 year old Ruth Notman is fast developing a following for her signature singing style and perceptive interpretation of song, as featured on her new release, The Life of Lilly. But where does that signature sound – East Midlands vowels, but vaguely Hibernian grace notes and trills – actually come from? “I was born in Ireland,” Ruth explains. “We lived on the west coast of Cork, near Skibbereen, until I was about 7. My mother is from the North of Ireland as well, so I think that the Irish influences are definitely there.” It’s a surprising revelation from a singer who is generally perceived to be a hot young English folk talent. But, heritage aside, she reckons that it’s a great time to be on the English folk scene: “There’s a crop of incredibly talented people out there right now,” she says. “We have been able to incorporate a range of musical styles on the album, and each musician brings something completely different. The melodeon playing is a good example, with both Saul Rose and Julian Sutton. They have almost opposing approaches, which brings different textures to the arrangements. Having such a choice of musicians brings versatility – for example, we had Peter Tickell on fiddle and Brian Finnegan on flute. The result is a meatier, more mature sound.” Ruth thinks her approach to singing is changing as she matures as well. “The older I get, my relationship with songs is changing. I begin to see more depth in the lyrics that maybe I didn’t see a few years ago. The meanings develop over time and certain songs become really precious to me.”

One of the songs on The Life of Lilly which really brings this to the fore is Cruel Sister, a starkly haunting piece that was a real labour of love. “Hannah (Edmonds) and I spent hours arranging all the parts. It was really complex with the piano and the cello, but it was so important to get it right. On the other hand, you have to do what comes naturally, and just be honest with your arrangements, and it will be fine.”

Joan Crump


ith her laughing eyes and perennially optimistic buoyancy Sharon Shannon’s career has grown in leaps and bounds since she first hit our ears with The Waterboys during their Room To Roam period. Her music has been responsible for lifting spirits and possesses a childlike charm and sense of artistic devilment.

The Corofin Co. Clare native now domiciled in Galway has assimilated a wider group of ethnic influences within her musical canvas than most traditional musicians. Even in her early days Portuguese, Cajun and Galician tunes mixed with the session reels and jigs and her second album Out The Gap had her working with dub-meister Denis Bovell no less – that’s a long way from sessions in Doolin! Her latest album Saints & Scoundrels continues the musical cross pollination, so much an integral part of her raison d’etre. Here rockabilly, Cajun, Lounge and jug band blues join the fray. The guest list includes new Irish rockabilly hotshot Imelda May, reborn lounge lizard Gerry Fish, Auta Mata’s Carole Keogh and Galway’s hobo chic Cartoon Thieves along with old friends The Waterboys and the inimitable Shane McGowan. From that distance it looks like a fun ride and 99% of the time it’s party down with one notable exception. Complete with her now regular big band including horn section, the sound is to quote the Who-meaty beaty big and bouncy. Stylistic thrills abound with nods to everywhere from West Clare to New Orleans and back again. Here, party is the

Ruth Notman

The Life Of Lilly Mrs Casey Records MCRCD9002

word from the boisterous opening strains of Mama Lou, a shouted Cajun blues stomper, to all out instrumentals, like Howya’ Horse and Hillbilly Benjy & Buffalo Lilly and Imelda May’s frantic Jools Holland like romp Go Tell The Devil. Musically The Wild West Wagon Train emerges as one of her finest efforts, sweet, full bodied and lively. Adding unexpected balance and poignancy, is the one sole moment of reflection. A slow air Cape Clear given a solemn almost hymn-like treatment, the tune culled from a Neil Jordan movie, in which it features in a graveyard scene. Its poignancy is emphasized with the passing of Sharon’s life partner Leo Healy, the instigator of many of the ideas behind Saints & Scoundrels. The CD ends appropriately with Shane Mc Gowan’s Rake At The Gates Of Hell in which Brendan Behan’s ambassador on earth rules the roost in his own characteristic fashion and Sharon’s own The Scoundrel’s Halo nods in acknowledgment adding a suitably raucous coda. Saints & Scoundrels offers cinematic rootsy fun on a grand scale. High energy, vibrant and homey by turns yet knowingly cosmopolitan and possessed of a musicality rarely found elsewhere it is an eclectic yet immensely satisfying collection. John O’Regan

Sharon Shannon Saints & Scoundrels The Daisy Label DLCD 036

Properganda 14


OYSTERBAND “taking the atmosphere up to a breathless level” The Independent

Friday 04 December

Wednesday 09 December

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Saturday 05 December

Friday 11 December





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Sunday 06 December

Saturday 12 December



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Tuesday 08 December

Sunday 13 December

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Season highlights October 09 – January 10 MUSIC

21 October 8pm Dean Friedman in Concert

13 December 8pm Sid Kipper

30 October 8pm Oysterband in Concert

17 December 8pm The Dylan Project

12 November 8pm Richard Digance

14th January 8pm The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain

13 November 8pm Vin Garbutt in Concert 29 November 8pm Karine Polwart 4 December 8pm Steeleye Span 11 December 8pm The Pasadena Roof Orchestra


7 November 6pm The Metropolitan Opera Live: Puccini’s Turandot COMEDY

28 October 8pm Adam Hills

Bridge Square, Farnham, Surrey, GU9 7QR Box office: 01252 745444 Book online:

6 6

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Presented by Mark Howes and Robert Pratt

very so often, a band comes along to re-arrange our preconceptions of music genre or style, while E making a statement that’s strong and individual enough

to communicate with a substantial audience. I’m not talking about the routinely ‘challenging’ or admirably ‘experimental’ outfits we always need (and get) at the edges, but of the ingenious souls who avoid cliché while striking a popular note. Examples that spring to mind include Penguin Cafe Orchestra, Medeski Martin & Wood and 808 State. And Kronos Quartet and Polar Bear, who just about stay within (respectively) contemporary classical and jazz while pushing their definitions in a most skilful and elegant way. (Or even Kraftwerk, who have moved the stylistic and commercial goalposts so far in a three-decade career that they have ended up in the centre of the stadium.) Time to welcome Portico Quartet. Portico Quartet comprises Duncan Bellamy (drums), Milo Fitzpatrick (double bass), Nick Mulvey (hang and percussion) and Jack Wyllie (soprano and tenor saxophones and electronics). Despite the

confidence and maturity of their sound, they are still in their early 20s, at the start of what promises to be an interesting and successful career playing instrumental music that defines its own boundaries and definition. They zoomed into the listening person’s consciousness from (virtually) nowhere to a Mercury Prize nomination in a couple of years. Now, equipped with a new record deal, a producer and a shiny new CD, they are set to expand their horizons (and ours) a little more, with serious media coverage and a substantial touring schedule stretching well into 2010. You don’t have to spend much time with Portico Quartet’s members to realise that this is a band of equals – rather than an alliance of soloists. In the timehonoured tradition of ‘real bands’ (and mythologised in the Beatles’ Help) they share a house in London. When you chat to them they finish each others’ sentences and they have that spirit you always sense in a strong band - that it’s them against the world. There’s an esprit de corps honed through shared experiences good and bad - on the road, in the studio and in promoting and proselytising their recordings and tours.



Even Fitzpatrick, the least talkative Portico member, has plenty to say once the opportunity presents itself. There’s a certain exasperation now within Portico Quartet’s camp (management and record company) that they are labelled a jazz group. Stick your copy of Isla into iTunes and the genre displays ‘jazz’ rather than ‘World’, ‘ambient’ or ‘uncategorisable’. I feel their pain. Writing for the The Guardian, I have been in the privileged position of hearing lots of new jazz from all over the world, and Portico Quartet are something quite different from most of the bands I’ve encountered over the past decade. And they are a band who will appeal to many people who don’t ‘get’ jazz, or even want to. But the ‘j’ word is unavoidable in certain contexts - after all they look like three-quarters of a regular saxophone-andrhythm-section quartet, and they play tunes and improvisations over a steady pulse. Yet it would be unfair to Portico Quartet, and perhaps to jazz, too, to make too much of that connection, since they promise and deliver something quite different, which rewards their listeners in different ways.


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I doubt that Portico Quartet’s early followers worried much about categories. The fans who first encountered their impromptu busking sessions at London’s Southbank took them at face (or ear) value – a few video clips of these sunny and good-humoured events can be found on YouTube. I remember hearing about them from a little group of women who had just heard them outside the Hayward Gallery on the weekend of the Southbank reopening, in 2007. ‘Ooh they’re very good,’ they gushed. ‘And very young!’ Later, inside the Festival Hall foyer, I watched, fascinated, as a large audience gathered around the band, drawn by their captivating sounds, and charmed by the likeable personalities of the four musicians. The band also went down a storm at small clubs like the Vortex, the London jazz club whose own label released Portico Quartet’s first album, Knee Deep In The North Sea. Sure, the Vortex is a highly credible jazz club, but its music policy extends to World artists such as Monica Vasconcelos and Vinicius Cantuaria, and cult Australian band The Necks. However when I saw Portico Quartet supporting the Maria Schneider Orchestra at Barbican Hall a year later, I had

mixed feelings. On the one hand the band responded well to the challenge of Barbican’s bigger spaces, both stage and auditorium, and demonstrated how much they had developed, as a serious concert act, since their Southbank jamming stage. At the same time, they didn’t have the chance to create their own atmosphere, and draw the audience into their soundworld. This was also a time between albums, when they had added a marimba to their line-up, intending to extend the harmonic and timbral range beyond the limitations of the hang. They wisely dispensed with the marimba while making Isla, their latest album. ‘With the marimba, there’s so many ways you can go terribly wrong,’ says Nick Mulvey, ‘it’s another kettle of fish. You realise there’s so much bad music that uses marimba synths!’ A clear strength of the hang is its lack of cultural baggage. Take nearly any other instrument – kora, cello, steel drums, accordian – and its sound will immediately conjure up endless associations. By contrast, it’s the hang’s unfamiliarity that forces you to listen with fresh ears – it’s like hearing World Music from another planet. Mulvey and Bellamy, who met at a Cambridge sixth form college, first encountered the hang at Womad, where it was one of several exotic-looking instruments on sale at a temporary music shop. Bellamy, flush with some recent birthday money, bought one on the spot. Mulvey ordered another hang by phone several days later, making sure it was in a sympathetic key. Soon, they started to make music with the dimpled, dome-shaped tuned percussion instrument, which looks like two woks welded together. The hang was invented and first manufactured in 2000 by Felix Rohner and Sabina Schaerer of PANArt in Bern. Though they are intended to be held in the lap and played by hand, Bellamy and Mulvey play theirs with beaters – a practice the purist inventors don’t endorse, as they discovered when they took their instruments back to Switzerland for tuning! The sound is reminiscent of the mbira (thumb piano) and the steel drum, but the hang has a tunefulness and resonance that derives from its significantly different overtones. Originally a well kept secret, the instrument has become a quiet success story, employed extensively in Cliff Martinez’s score for the remake of Solaris (2002) and turning up in recordings such as Hang Around on Eberhard

Weber’s birthday album Stages Of A Long Journey (ECM). When I ask bassist Milo Fitzpatrick whether he found the hang’s sound and harmonic simplicity limiting, he thinks for a while, and replies at length: ‘No - some people prefer to work in some keys because of the tone of the instrument. And you know, the limitations of the hang are just the same as the those of a musician inside themselves. Even if you have a piano, with all the keys and all the notes, it doesn’t make any difference, it’s all about how you express yourself inside. It doesn’t really matter.’ Mulvey concurs, saying how much he appreciates the ‘less is more’ aspect of the hang. This reminds one that another label applied to Portico Quartet is ‘minimalist’, and you don’t have to spend much time with them before names such as Philip Glass and Steve Reich turn up. Pieces such as Line (on the new album Isla) have echoes of early Reich works such as Drumming And Music For 18 Musicians in the way that rhythmic patterns become melodies and vice versa. Bellamy says: ‘The hang is the first pitched instrument I’ve played, and that’s probably part of the reason it appealed – you can play it with rhythm.’ Wyllie notes, ‘All of our pieces have a great rhymicality,’ and Mulvey continues: ‘Yeah, you play it like a drummer, but your drum kit is alive with harmony and notes and stuff.’ Mulvey studied at SOAS, where he studied ethnomusicology, and did ‘all Lucy Duran’s courses on African music, including African guitar playing.’ (In a parallel life Mulvey, whom I heard at the terrific Hoxton Squared event in London’s Shoreditch, is an impressive solo performer on vocals and Congolese-style acoustic guitar.) Bellamy studied art at Central Saint Martins, while Fitzpatrick studied popular music and learned on the job playing bass with all kinds of bands. Wyllie, who has known Fitzpatrick since they were infants, read musicology and development at SOAS, which is how the two groups of schoolfriends came to form a band together. Talk to Portico Quartet about their favourite music and several iPods’ worth of names tumble out. They love Cuban, Brazilian and African music, namechecking Toumani Diabate, Ali Farka Toure, Buena Vista and many of their Real World labelmates. When I asked them (halfway through the band’s Autumn tour of West Country village halls) about their current listening, out tumbled an eclectic playlist: Sky And Country by FLY – ‘amazing American drums / bass / sax trio’; Search For The New Land

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by Lee Morgan; Music For Airports by Brian Eno; Darkest Light by Jono McCleery; and a collection of piano works by Thomas Adès. Plus ‘a bit of Vaughan Williams, A Tribe Called Quest, John Martyn and Bob Dylan not forgetting the Necks’ Drive By!’ Seemingly every aspect of music enters the collective Portico consciousness, without their feeling any need to replicate the music of other cultures and styles and genres. When I asked them whether they saw a big distinction between instrumental music and song-based music, they answered: ‘With the more hardcore elements of classical and improvised jazz there is a real gap, a kind of liberation of form, that is a long way from song-based music. But then there are bands such as ourselves, Polar Bear and EST [Esbjorn Svensson Trio], etc., who tap into song structure and use it in a different way.’ So where will this next stage in their career take them, now that they have got the ‘difficult second album’ out of the way with such a flourish? Bellamy: ‘We’re playing Koko in the Autumn and I think that will be really good, and then there’s talk of doing the Barbican in spring. But we did a great gig in our last tour in Coventry, a tiny little club called Tailor John’s House and that was great, too.’ They are also very taken with their recent eight-day ‘Village Hall tour, put together by an arts organisation called Take Arts who programme dance / music / performance / theatre in the Somerset area, with the aim of taking culture to rural areas. A recent Portico Quartet blog ‘Charming 80 year olds’ talks of their initial shock, and eventual satisfaction, at playing to a largely octogenarian audience at their gig in Wootton Courtenay. But what of the challenge of playing in bigger, rock-oriented auditoriums? Mulvey says: ‘There’s lots of non-sonic elements to playing a bigger stage. Visuals. The ways you fill out a stage


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and fill the space that we are more and more aware of.’ Their admiration for the ‘late, great Esbjorn Svensson’ comes up several times in our conversation, not just for his musical achievements but for the way EST presented their music in concert. Mulvey notes: ‘They really tapped into that very early on. The way they used lighting. They knew about the whole experience, and how it gets more dynamic – less of a cerebral intellectual approach and more of a show.’ Their new album Isla (Real World Records, out October 2009) will change the minds of anyone tempted to dismiss them as the ‘token jazzers’ from last year’s Mercury shortlist. Recorded by inspirational producer John Leckie (Radiohead, Papa Wemba, XTC) at Abbey Road studios, most of it was recorded live, with the band adding a few overdubs as extra brushstrokes to their richly textured sound. The music is ambitious, expansive and beautifully recorded: grandiose without being pompous, atmospheric without being vague. See these charming men live and you’ll be completely hooked.. John L. Walters John Walters writes about music for the Guardian and is the editor of Eye, the international review of graphic design. In a previous life he was a record producer, jazz composer and the founder of Landscape.

Portico Quartet Isla Real World Records CDRW174

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an we really have known each other that long? Not quite 40 years, admittedly, as it was in the early 1970s that a friend sat me down, took the first LP of three from the box of Keith Jarrett’s Solo Concerts: Bremen/Lausanne, laid it on the turntable, and turned my world around. And though I refer to us knowing “each other”, of course, an inanimate record label can’t know me, even if those neatly sleeved CD cases that have built up over the years feel like good friends. Somehow, with ECM, it just feels personal. The saxophonist Jan Garbarek, who first recorded for ECM near its beginning and has an exciting new album out as part of its 40th birthday celebrations, goes a long way to explaining why I feel that way.

ECM’s visionary Manfred Eicher

Jan Garbarek on… How he found his sound “There were a few years when I was living in a suburb, in a condominium, and I had to insulate one small room. I covered everything with thick foam. There was no reflection; there was nothing ‘for free’ in there. So I had to work hard to make the sound come alive.” How he met Manfred Eicher “We were playing in Bologna. We had made a tape before we went down, because we heard there were some emerging labels that might be interested in the quite avant-garde stuff that we did. I asked one German musician if he knew of any, and he pointed to a guy with a striking moustache, who was sitting in a corner. I introduced myself to Manfred Eicher, and he said he was not interested in that tape, but he might consider doing his own recording with us. And I thought this was a “don’t call us, we’ll call you” situation. But two months later I got a letter. He said: ‘Choose a studio and find the technicians that you trust and get some music together and I will come, and we will have three days – two for recording, one for mixing.’ And he came, by train, from Munich – a long trip, 25 hours – and he went back with the master tapes on his lap – 25 hours again– holding on to this tape like it was a treasure. And that was our first ECM album (Afric Pepperbird).” How the Jan Garbarek Group has changed “This young Brazilian musician who lives in Portugal, Yuri Daniel, was recommended to me. He brings a very fundamental approach to the bass playing. Eberhard (Weber, who is suffering from ill-health) contributed much in the sense of orchestration and atmosphere, but Yuri is a more basic player in that he knows a lot about rhythms and about the place for the bass in the rhythms. I have had the pleasure of playing with Manu Katché off and on over the last 25 years and he has been on a few of my albums. This time he was able to tour for much of the year, so I just cherished the possibility of playing with him. He has a wonderful sense of styling the pieces and contributing just the right thing.” Both can be heard along with Rainer Brüninghaus on the new live album, Dresden.


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He tells me: “Well, to me it’s all about individuals. It’s a company, but it’s a one-man outfit really. It’s Manfred Eicher. He is involved in everything – and intensely so. It’s his personal vision. That is the foundation of the whole label. It was from the beginning; it still is. “He is even intensely preoccupied with the sizes and placement of font of the text on the cover and the leaflet inside the cover. He is into every aspect of the album. It is such a strong business because of that. It’s one vision, and that is what has created the whole personality of the label.” Now this all makes sense. We, as listeners, get intimately involved in the music, as if it is speaking specifically to us, and Manfred Eicher and the musicians who have been recording for his label over the last 40 years understand that. We have a lot in common. Primarily because, like its listeners, ECM does not recognise the labels the media and convention give to music – jazz, classical, world, folk – and has over the years managed to replace them with just one identifying mark: its own.

From Garbarek comes Dresden (ECM 270 9572), the first ever live recording from his touring band. It marks a new high point for the Garbarek Group, sparking with energy. The Guardian review awarded it a rare five stars – and to think, it was not specifically recorded for release but just as a documentation of the night! Italian pianist Stefano Bollani’s Stone In The Water (ECM 179 4161), is a trio album with two young Danes, which invites comparison with the finest piano trios around. Look out Brad Mehldau! Bollani has a four day residency (November 1821) at the London Jazz festival. Norwegian pianist and composer Tord Gustavsen’s Restored, Returned (ECM 179 8987), not a trio but a quartet plus guest. The clear, lyrical lines that have always been there in his music are now given voice by a saxophonist and guest singer, and some are settings of W H Auden poems. The Tord Gustavsen Ensemble tour here from October 16-25. From Tunisian oud-player Anouar Brahem we have The Astounding Eyes of Rita (ECM 179 8628), featuring a new line-up, the low strings of the oud intertwining magically with bass clarinet.

Rising star Stafano Bollani Garbarek agrees: “It’s true, because if something resonates with Manfred, it resonates with the image of ECM. It could be the Art Ensemble of Chicago or it could be Arvo Pärt, or anything in between, but there are certain aspects of these composers, these performers, that form the basis for a collaboration.” And just as you wouldn’t want your old friends marking your long-standing relationship by reminiscing at length about the past, so you don’t want a record label to mark a momentous anniversary by looking backwards. So, to celebrate the big four-oh, we have a whole pile of new releases that mark all manner of changes and new ways of moving the music forward. Peter Bacon GET A FREE ECM SAMPLER when you join ECM’s email list! For news about new releases, artist dates and special offers, the ECM email newsletter is the easiest way to keep yourself informed. Simply send your name and email address - and if you want to receive a free sampler, also include your postal details - to:

John Abercrombie, the US guitarist, delivers Wait Till You See Her (ECM 179 8630), which adds an exciting new bass player to his longstanding quartet. Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko’s Dark Eyes (ECM 271 1266), featuring an all-new band that includes pianist Alexi Tuomarila. The Stanko Quintet is touring the UK in mid November. Keith Jarrett releases a truly extraordinary three-disc set of his solo concerts late last year, Paris/ London Testament (ECM 270 9583). It’s a portrait of a man exposed, alone and in mourning for a lost relationship, and yet transcending it all with almost superhuman strength and brilliance. It is also a vital reminder for me of where it all started those four decades ago. Properganda 14


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lthough still a jazz student at the Royal Academy of Music when he first emerged on the London jazz scene, pianist Gwilym Simcock immediately captured the attention of critics and public alike. Here was a pianist of great promise, underlined by Perception, his eagerly awaited debut album in 2007. With Phil Donkin on bass and Martin France on drums, The Guardian raved, “If this is just the beginning, the coming years defy imagining.” Ever since, Simcock has seemed like a man in a hurry, a work in progress eager to get to the next destination. The breathless pace of his fast developing career continues with his latest album Blues Vignette. Building on the enormous promise of his sophomore effort, it is a two CD set rich in diversity, moods and textures. “This is music that interests and stimulates me,” he enthuses. “What I feel is important is to create an overall sense of connection with the listener, and lyricism, subtlety and harmonic and rhythmic movement all have a part to play in this.” In what is a wide ranging musical programme, Blues Vignette opens with a series of eight solo improvisations, all spontaneously conceived, including a re-imagining of the pop song On Broadway and a fantasy based on the second movement of Greig’s Piano Concerto. “Ever since I started playing as a child I have always improvised, and Greig’s Piano Concerto has always been one of my absolute favourites” he says. “I recorded several solo improvisations and chose those which I felt had the best shape and form. Improvising alone is something I have always done and here I try and share the joy it gives me.”

The first set closes with the wonderful Suite For Cello And Piano with Carra Berridge, “The suite for cello and quartet seemed the right way to end the first CD, and lead naturally into the trio performances on the second,” continues Simcock. “It was a piece I wrote for the opening of King’s Place, the new Arts Centre near Kings Cross station in the centre of London.” The trio performances on the second CD present a brand new line-up, “I really enjoyed playing with my first trio, the one that appeared on Perception,” Simcock says. “But I think the duty of an artist is to challenge themselves and find new paths to follow and with my new trio I think I have found two wonderful musicians who can help me realise my new musical ambitions.” Simcock is quick to praise the contributions of bassist Yuri Goloubev and drummer James Maddren. “I feel you can only progress by finding fellow conspirators, working off their ideas, that’s the thrill,” he says. “For example, I love Yuri’s amazing arco [or bowed] technique, he sounds like a cello and then he produces chords that seem to underline what I am doing while his bass lines follow a more melodic path rather than the ‘vertical’ approach most bassists use. He and I both have classical backgrounds and we both have perfect pitch, so he is able to follow me wherever my more free improvisation takes me.” It is this love of both jazz and classical music that creates the freshness and newly minted sound of the trio, with James Maddern colouring the music with the skill of percussionist as well as providing its time-keeping energy. “James brings clarity to his role as ‘drummer’ and attention to detail which is so exciting to work off,” enthuses Simcock. “He has such a mature approach for someone of such tender years.” What emerges on Blues Vignette is a rounded statement of the artist as a young man. At ease with his classical background – he had an impressive formal education – the strands of jazz and classical that flow through his playing mix and blur into his own personal musical language, nowhere more impressive than his trio’s version of Longing To Be. As Simcock himself says, “Blues Vignette marks the beginning of a new trio and a documentation of a specific moment in time during my continuing quest to develop an individual voice as an artist.” Stuart Nicholson

Gwilym Simcock Blues Vignette Basho SRCD322

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Bassekou Kouyate B

assekou Kouyate returns to the UK for an 8-date tour in late October, in support of his newly released sophomore album I Speak Fula. Having bagged a slew of awards and more ecstatic press than just about any other African artist in the two years since his spectacularly successful debut Segu Blue, Mali’s man of the moment needs little introduction. I Speak Fula follows a similar format, being a largely acoustic recording, again with his unique group Ngoni ba, who use the ancient ngoni in place of guitars. Once again, Bassekou gets his wife Amy Sacko to perform the lion’s share of the vocals, and he even uses some of the same guest musicians. These include the singer Kasse Mady Diabate and the gruffervoiced Zoumana Tereta, who also decorates the group’s ngoni grooves with his haunting soku (one-stringed fiddle) on Amy, Bassekou’s tribute to his beloved. Among the newcomers are Vieux Farka Toure, who adds a touch of electricity on the very same guitar that his father used, and Toumani Diabate, whose tinkling kora lights up Jamana Be Diya and Tineni. The new album is more a upbeat affair, thus coming closer to capturing the group’s famously dynamic live performances, as Bassekou explains: “On the first album, remember that we were introducing the ngoni to a world audience, taking it nice and gently, and making it easy for people to listen to. Now that they have become accustomed to the ngoni, the second album accelerates the rhythm, and even introduces a wah wah pedal to emphasise the fact that the ngoni can create a party atmosphere and get everyone to dance.” Aside from being an ‘ambassador of the ngoni’, Bassekou has played an important role as a standard bearer for his

own Bamana culture. Bamana music is pentatonic, unlike the heptatonic Maninka music more familiar to international audiences through the work of artists such as Salif Keita and Toumani Diabate. Bamana is Bassekou’s first language and many of his songs relate to the history of the Bamana Empire, which ruled much of the area now known as Mali from the early 18th century until it was fatally weakened by Fula attackers in 1818. The title of the new record may seem odd, then, but as Lucy Duran’s sleeve notes explain, it is an expression of ‘openness and tolerance’ and of ‘building bridges between people’. “The name comes from a funny story about a Bamana friend who fell for a beautiful Fula girl, but they had no language in common,” says Bassekou. “She managed to get him to understand that she didn’t think much of him because he didn’t speak her language, but he replied that when you’re in love, language is never a barrier: he felt able to speak Fula already! So the message is that if you really want to get on with other people, there are no barriers to friendship and simple human relations.” Although Bassekou still relies heavily on traditional tunes, there are some ‘new compositions’ on I Speak Fula. So, how are the processes of adapting traditional tunes and composing new ones the same and different? “I adapt a lot of traditional music, but this was always played according to the style and rules of our parents, and my style is different, so although all griots compose music, my adaptations are actually closer to new composition than if I was just repeating the way my family has always produced songs. So when I come to compose my own songs, the process is not really very different.” Although he acknowledges it’s possible that he might run out of traditional tunes, he points out that it’s possible to adapt a song in more than one way. “So there is almost no end to the ways of treating traditional songs in Mali!”


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The album closes with a stark and spooky bonus track featuring a vocal by Dramane Ze Konate and booming bass notes of his mpolon. “I met Dramane Ze through the Opera du Sahel… a marvellous company of artists from across the Sahel. I was the leader of the orchestra, and was immediately impressed by his mastery of a rare instrument. The mpolon is best known in the Senufo area, on the borders of Mali, Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire. But it is known outside as a ritual instrument, called out for great occasions: the funeral of a great man, or a major national event. It was Dramane with his mpolon who came out to salute the first President of Mali, Modibo Keita, when he paid his first visit to [Dramane’s home town of] Kolondiéba, immediately after Mali gained its independence.” Apart from the guests on his album, Bassekou has been working with several other artists from outside Mali in the last year, including the Colombian-Spanish classical guitarist Juan-Mario Cuellar, and Eliades Ochoa of the Buena Vista Social Club. He’s also taken part in the experimental Africa Express project, which, as anyone who has witnessed a show will know, is sometimes a fairly hit-and-miss affair. Nevertheless, Bassekou prefers to emphasize its positive aspects. “Africa Express is a wonderful and very generous project that is also very ambitious. It has provided a number of musicians with an opportunity to play together in an exciting and stimulating environment. However, it has sometimes taken place in a space that is too small for everyone to show what they can do, and there are even some musicians who don’t get an opportunity to play, so understandably they feel unhappy. Perhaps it will be possible in future to have a smaller line-up so that everyone gets to play, and where the timing avoids ... undefined fusions.” As for his own group, expect more of the ravishing colourful clothes that have become their onstage trademark. “I have my own ideas about designs for clothing. I get a designer to produce drawings following my ideas and then we give everything to a tailor. There is a new set being produced now that is not likely to be ready for the October/November tour, but come and see us for our tours in 2010!” Jon Lusk

Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni ba I Speak Fula Out Here OH013CD

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something that’s done purely for profit.”

hey say ‘every cloud has a silver lining’, and if there’s one ray of light in the gloom currently T hanging over the music industry, it’s the continuing

growth of the re-issue market. Founded in the early noughties by Brighton-based DJ and vinyl sleuth Miles Cleret, Soundway Records has emerged as one of the leading labels in this niche, with a well-earned reputation for tastefully assembled compilations of rare or ‘undiscovered’ vintage music from Africa and Latin America. As downloads take an ever-increasing share of the music market, the ‘value’ or ‘worth’ of the physical product has declined conversely. But, with their meticulously researched and detailed sleeve notes, which feature authentic ‘period’ visuals, as well as plenty of information on the artists, Soundway’s lavishly presented CDs and LPs are increasingly seen as ‘desirable objects’. “I think it’s important these days that you try and give something a little bit more,” says Cleret. “That combined with the fact that there’s usually quite a big story to tell, which is impossible to do on 2 or 4 pages. And it pays back – the more work you put in, the more attention the thing gets, so hopefully that translates into more people being willing to put their hands in their pockets rather than just downloading it for free. That, and wanting to just put a bit more love and passion into it rather than

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A fine example of what he means is the newly-issued Ghana Special. Subtitled Modern Highlife, Afro-Sounds & Ghanaian Blues – 196881, it’s a double CD hardback case-bound book that includes ‘44 pages of history, photographs and original record scans’. A real labour of love, it’s a ‘sister release’ to Soundway’s equally colourful 2007 release Nigeria Special: Modern Highlife, Afro-sounds & Nigerian Blues 1970-6, and complements their two previous Ghana Soundz albums, from the label’s earliest days. “I was travelling with my wife – then girlfriend – in Ghana for a month in 2001, and I managed to persuade her to spend a couple of days reading a book while I went off looking for old records,” recalls Cleret. His adventure took him to the home of highlife veteran Dr. K. Gyasi, whose DJ son spun him a succession of mind-boggling discs. “All of which I knew were pretty much definitely unheard of by anyone who wasn’t Ghanaian. That’s when I decided I wanted to do a compilation of the stuff.” On returning to England, he bandied the idea around a few record companies, but came to the conclusion that he’d be better off starting his own label. “I realised it was going to be a very long process, and I wanted control over how it was done, and what was included. I was 27, I’d been doing shitty job after shitty job, going away travelling and coming back and doing another crap job. I suddenly thought: ‘If ever there was a time to try and start something, now is it. And I just went for it.” Soundway’s catalogue now also includes impressively consistent collections of vintage Colombian, Panamanian, and French Antillean music, as well as pioneering profiles of Nigeria’s Victor Uwaifo and Benin’s T.P. Orchestre PolyRhythmo. After many years in the doldrums, the latter are now touring again largely as a result of the Soundway re-issue, and subsequent ones on

the German label Analog Africa. “It feels good to have somehow contributed to that,” Cleret admits . In all his travels – often to places many would consider dangerous – he has never got into any ‘hairy situations’, finding instead that trusting in peoples’ good nature reaps rewards. “When people realise what you are there for and you are turning up to appreciate something they did thirty years ago, you are very much amongst friends. Most people take you round and look after you.” Of course, things are never straightforward, and releases usually involve multiple visits to chaotic, crumbling cities, digging around for master tapes and old vinyl in dark, dirty warehouses and getting bitten by mosquitoes. “Licensing can be a minefield sometimes, especially when the label or the guy who ran the label doesn’t exist [any more]. Number one always is finding the source. In West Africa, unless you are lucky, quite often the tapes have just been binned.” Or worse, in the case of EMI in Nigeria, who had wound up their business long before Cleret arrived, and sold their premises to a local business. “They piled up all the tapes outside in a skip, poured petrol on it and burnt the lot!” he laughs. “So finding a sound source

is usually the hardest thing. Most of the time there’s hardly any record shops left any more, people just don’t have any value for the records, they’ve thrown them away, so it’s real detective work, schlepping round town over and over, knocking on peoples doors. Then occasionally you’ll find the record you’re looking for but it’s scratched to hell and you need a cleaner one to master from.” Mastering from vinyl – as long as it’s been cut and pressed well, and the grooves aren’t too close together, as on many over-long 45s – is often a satisfactory alternative to master tapes. But even with records in mint condition, Cleret insists on top quality mastering. “You can cut corners quite easily with cheap mastering, or have someone do it on a cheap programme, but the best money you’ll spend, really, is to take it to people who understand the process thoroughly,” he says, without revealing exactly where he takes his discs. Cleret has a busy schedule in the forthcoming year, with more releases from Nigeria, Colombia, Panama and the Caribbean planned, as well as ones representing Trinidad, the Dominican Republic and Angola. Ironically, for all its negative effects, the internet has made running such a business easier, as Cleret observes: “People who really are passionate about music and do it for more than a quick return have the ability to run record labels, which, before the internet, 10 or 15 years ago, was much harder to do …[although] the hand that gives takes away at the same time!”

Jon Lusk

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he minimalist design of the cover of this intriguing looking CD features nothing but the title and the bold red, yellow, and green stripes which - to the seasoned roots music fan – might hint at what’s inside. Slightly confusingly the band are actually called Pama International, which doesn’t apper on the from sleeve, but sure enough they are absolutely steeped in the music of Jamaica. Many bands have tried to recapture the seductive grooves and sounds of 1970s soul and reggae with varying degrees of success, but few have realised that it comes down to something a lot simpler than immaculately programmed rhythms or shrewdly lifted samples from treasured pieces of old vinyl. The secret to getting it right is to just play those grooves until they become a part of you.

the music without simply falling back on getting a computer to do all the hard work or becoming a covers band. And it mainly pays off because they have some good songwriters in their midst. There are some neat aphoristic lyrics such as the simple yet profound, “ask the question, and question the answer” of Question The Answer. And while we’re still on the subject of lyrics, the hynotic, time-travelling aspect of the whole project became most apparent when I found myself jaulted back to the present day by the words “credit crunch” in the jaunty rocksteady number Trade It All For More. But one of my favourite tracks actually moves things into a slightly different area. What You Do Now is more like Al Green at his most seductive with its cool brass interjections bringing to mind Willi Mitchell’s classic arrangments for that living legend. But once again, this is no mere pastiche; the Green template has been augmented by some subtle reggae guitar and the song drifts into dubbier territory towards the end. And by the way, anyone who wants to further enhance the notion that they are still in the age of Angel Delight and power cuts, might like to know this album is also available on LP – dig that extra warmth and depth, man! Howard Male

Pama International

This impressive collective of seasoned musicians, which includes Lynval Golding and Sir Horace Panter from The Specials and Fun Boy 3, Fuzz Townsend of Bently Rhythm Ace and Pop Will Eat Itself, and Gary Alesbrook of Kasabian, clearly love these genres so much that they tried to recapture the very essence of


part from Thin Lizzy, U2 and Skid Row, Horslips were the most important and influential home grown Irish rock band of the 70s and 80s. Horslips distilled Irish traditional music, folklore, myth and legends with 70s rock. Founded in Dublin in 1969 Charles O’Connor (Fiddle/ Mandolin/Concertina), Jim Lockheart (Keyboards/Whistles/ Pipes), Johnny Fean (Guitars/Banjo), Barry Devlin (Bass) and Eamon Carr (Drums/Bodhran) were traditional musicians, poets, rockers, and bilingual multi-instrumentalists fuelled by ingenious creativity. What set Horslips apart from their Celtic Rock brethren was their audacity to translate Irish mythological epics into modern day morality tales. The Tain from 1972 their second album takes the legend of The Tain Bo Cuailgne where a myriad of characters tackle Robin Hood type heroisms against a backdrop of greed, land wars, blood thirst and sexual jealousy. Traditional melodies provide the basis for potent rockers like Dearg Doom (where the riff comes from O’Neill’s March), More than You Can Chew and Time to Kill. The narrative strains are reinforced clearly articulated devoid of overkill. Possessed of an infectious joie de vivre and creative impulse The Tain remains their first conceptual masterwork. The Book Of Invasions - A Celtic Symphony from 1977 is based on the major Irish ethnic historical narrative The Book of Invasions. An epic conceptual album split into three movements representing the bardic moods of Geantrai, Goltrai and Suantrai, the story is related clearly –lyrically astute and concise. Showing considerable artistic development –powerful rockers like Trouble With A Capital T and Ride To Hell possess narrative menace and melodic gems like The 20

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Pama Outernational Rockers Revolt RRHIT9

Rocks Remain retain a poignant romanticism. Daybreak and Fantasia eloquently blend traditional nuances with powerful rock elements. Their most successful UK chart album The Book Of Invasions -A Celtic Symphony is Horslips achieving their creative zenith. 1978’s The Man Who Built America chronicles migration, isolation and nostalgia. Produced by ex Blood Sweat and Tears musician Steve Katz it combines the Celtic rock swagger with a pronounced American AOR slant. Traditional motifs are punctuated with crunchy rock guitars and domineering choruses. Loneliness and Tonight (You’re With Me) balance the melancholia of I’ll Be Waiting and the Beatlesesue Long Time Ago. The story songs remain their ace suit as in the poignant title track. With The Man Who Built America Horslips created a powerful contemporary song cycle. All three albums are punctuated with fascinating period live bonus tracks displaying their live alchemy intact. Horslips’s unique approach ensued that no band before them married Irish myths and legends in contemporary fashion so convincingly. John O’Regan

Horslips all on Talking Elephant The Tain MOOCCD005

The Book of Invasions –A Celtic Symphony MOOCCD012

The Man Who Built America MOOCCD017

Netsayi Congo. I’d think ‘these guys are going to war and we just see bits on the news but have no real idea of what’s going on.’ That song is about the confusion the media creates. Current affairs is obscured, not made clearer, by commentators.” Recorded with celebrated production duo Kevin Bacon and Jonathan Quarmby, Monkeys’ Wedding is a beautifully intimate showcase for Netsayi’s sharp song writing and warm, versatile voice, but has so many different textures and colours it does no favours to those desperately seeking an appropriate box in which to file her. She was born in London (where her family came as refugees during what was then Rhodesia’s struggle against apartheid) but grew up in Harare, capital of the newly independent Zimbabwe. Consequently her cultural influences run far and wide and she’s always frustrated by the eternal attempts to pigeonhole her in world music, jazz, soul, etc.

got into terrible trouble,“ laughs Netsayi, sounding only a bit repentant. “I got this letter saying they were really shocked by my swearing and I had to write a letter apologising…” She’s talking about her set at the Mayor of London’s St George’s Day concert at Trafalgar Square in April when she stopped the show, in more ways than one, with Weaves And Magazines, her hilarious - and foul-mouthed - revenge on a “friend” who’d taken great delight in relaying the thoughts of a mutual acquaintance who thought she was rubbish. It may not have impressed Boris Johnson and it will undoubtedly struggle for airplay, but it’s one of the stand-out tracks on Netsayi’s splendid second album Monkeys’ Wedding. “A lot of people say I sound really angry, but that wasn’t the spirit it was written in - I just thought it was funny.” A gorgeous version of the old Zimbabwean national anthem Ishe Komborera Africa (God Bless Africa) - “a universal folk song” - sits alongside vivid recollections of youth in Teenagers, ruminations on bad love in Georgie, a cover of Gilberto Gil’s Queremos Saba, more buoyant humour in Top Cop and, perhaps more impressive still, the deeply affecting closer, Jacarandas, broodingly delivered by Netsayi over a stark piano and smoky jazz sax. “I’d go for walks in Harare and see these massive crocodile trucks going off to fight the war in the

“It always annoys me that people expect you to fit into a certain genre. It’s a fine line when you’re trying to do something original - you’re always having to adjust things to make sense, but that’s part of the challenge to do something different. If I wasn’t a black African there wouldn’t be the same expectations. It’s tough for African musicians in England to get a break as compared to France where they’re used to hearing indigenous music from the French colonies and you can get on mainstream radio. Here you can’t do that. “What people often don’t realise is that Africans have always been exposed to the western world. We’ve been used to seeing American stuff on TV and hearing reggae music and whatever. My dad was in a band playing for crooners - a swing band. My dad’s generation all played swing or skiffle. Thomas Mapfumo started off in an Elvis covers band! So what I want to do is to tour this record, build a solid fan base and transcend the issue of genre.” Netsayi called her first album Chimurenga Soul in an attempt to emphasise her individuality. “I was actually trying to make a contemporary folk album. It didn’t quite work so with this one I tried to make a… contemporary folk album.” She laughs. “Again it didn’t quite come out the way I imagined.” For now she’ll answer to ‘singer songwriter’ although, working with multi-cultural musicians and drawing on such a colourful diversity of influences, she also blows that particularly genre spectacularly apart. “I write story motivated songs which aren’t fashion led. I also listen to a lot of traditional music from Zimbabwe and South Africa so what I do doesn’t seem odd or disparate at all. It feels perfectly natural. I aspire to be Oliver Mtukudzi. His song writing is exquisite and his songs are so sublimely arranged. He’s a great mentor.” Colin Irwin

Netsayi Monkeys’ Wedding WC43083 World Connection Properganda 14



t was 40 years ago today (or something) when Steeleye Span first assembled to explore the then revolutionary notion of dressing traditional folk songs in rock attire, subsequently emerging with the debut LP Hark! The Village Wait. Who knew then the long-term ramifications for both band and genre? As refreshingly original and buoyant as it was, the record hardly set the world on fire and that first line-up of the band (including Gay and Terry Woods, Ashley Hutchings and Tim Hart) swiftly disintegrated almost before the record had even been released without even playing a gig. And that might have been the end of the matter… Happily, it wasn’t. Martin Carthy (who originally suggested the band name from a character in the song Horkstow Grange) and fiddle maestro Peter Knight (who is still with them) joined as replacements for the departed Mr and Mrs Woods and Steeleye Span embarked on their momentous, ongoing journey involving hit singles, international tours and best-selling albums which came to define them as the epitome of the folk-rock genre they’d been so instrumental in establishing. “To be honest, it’s all a bit of a blur – where did all the years go?” laughs Maddy Prior, the face and voice of Steeleye all these decades and the only member of that original Hark! The Village Wait line-up still in the band. Yet there’s plenty more petrol in the tank as they round off their 40th anniversary year with a major UK tour (opening at the Mick Jagger Centre, Dartford on Nov 13 and closing at Buxton Opera House on Dec 21) and release their… deep breath… 21st studio album, Cogs, Wheels & Lovers. “In many ways the new one reflects that first album with its lyrical ballads, though that wasn’t deliberate,” says Maddy. “There are a lot of classic songs from the early folk revival which you couldn’t sing for a while because they became over-familiar, but we are now far enough down the line to approach them again. Most of those songs I hadn’t heard for 10 or 20 years when we decided to record them…you forget what good songs they are, but they all have such strong tunes and great stories.” She’s talking of songs like the sumptuous Just As The Tide Was Flowing and the spooky ballad The Unquiet Grave, while the new album also features an ingenious arrangement of the popular old shanty Ranzo and a beautifully understated version of Locks & Bolts, the story of a girl chained up by her uncle to prevent her seeing her lover. “I’ve always loved traditional music and I still find it very moving and relevant, even Locks & Bolts. That sort of thing doesn’t happen too often now but the Victorians would have known it very well and I take great delight in the sheer detail you get in that song.” She has a similar affection for Creeping Jane, which celebrates the unlikely triumph of an unfancied racehorse and was famously recorded by Joseph Taylor in 1908 on 22

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an early cylinder recording. “It’s such a classic story of the underdog – it’s like when Susan Boyle went on that TV show and everyone was very dismissive because of the way she looked. Until she started to sing…” With assorted personnel changes along the way, Steeleye have experienced many ups and downs in their 40 years – Maddy balancing band duties with her solo career - but they have their tails up again. “It was certainly a relief to come out of the ‘90s when we were about as far from fashion as you can get. The folk scene ignored us and the rock scene ignored us, but there’s an orneriness about us and we just stuck to our guns. We always had a lot of energy and people kept coming to see us because we’re essentially a live band. Now there are a lot of youngsters coming to the music and it’s slightly cool again.” In fact, she draws parallels between the new folk acts of today and the early Steeleye. “It’s great that so many young artists are doing something different with the music. There’s a gang of them bringing in new audiences and that’s exactly what we did. Martin Carthy said a great thing once – the only thing you can do to damage the music is not to perform it and that’s so true. I love seeing the youngsters doing their own thing with it. Like Jim Moray. He’s extraordinary…so inventive. He’s not a great singer but he has a very individual approach. It’s when different styles collide that

music becomes really exciting… Jim does that with the music around him now and we did it with folk and rock. The songs are so great that people will always be drawn to do something fabulous with them.” Asked what has sustained Steeleye all these years and maintains their celebrated energy levels on stage, Maddy says “sheer terror” before pointing to the organic inspiration of their chosen music. “I’ve come to the conclusion that traditional music is at its strongest when it reflects a community’s concerns. If a song is too personal it doesn’t fit but if it reflects something everyone can believe then it is very powerful.” How do you look back on your career? “I just think how incredibly lucky I’ve been to have discovered traditional songs. It was all because early on (American folk act) Sandy and Jeanie Darlington said to me ‘Stop singing those American songs – you’re crap at it. So I went and found English songs instead. I did have to work at it – it’s not something I grew up with and you have to listen hard to get all the nuances and subtleties and it takes time to become accustomed to it. But I’ve always been a bit cavalier and I fell into it and it’s been fantastic. It always feels so satisfying because those songs include everything you could possibly want to sing about. “I’ve had a brilliant career and met some great characters. Even when we were managed by Tony Secunda and Jo Lustig – who were both lunatics – it was still a great time. I sometimes see old footage of us and think ‘Did we really do that?’ It’s funny looking back, but I wouldn’t have missed any of it…” Colin Irwin

Steeleye Span Cogs, Wheels And Lovers Park Records PRKCD106

Steeleye Span 40th Year Anniversary AUTUMN TOUR DATES NOVEMBER 13 15 16 17 18 19 20 22 23 26 27 29

Mick Jagger Centre Dartford Swan Theatre Worcester Concert Hall Reading Playhouse Theatre Weston Super Mare Corn Exchange Exeter City Hall Salisbury Assembly Hall Theatre Tunbridge Wells Marina Theatre Lowestoft Corn Exchange Ipswich Medina Theatre Newport Town Hall Birmingham New Theatre Oxford


Playhouse Epsom

01322 291100 01905 611427 01189 606060 01934 645544 01392 665866 01722 434434 01892 530613 01502 533200 01473 433100 01983 527020 01217 803333 08448 471585 01372 742555

DECEMBER 1& 2 3 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 14 15 16 17 19 20 21

Stables Milton Keynes 01908 280800 Regent Centre Christchurch 01202 499199 Maltings Farnham 01252 745444 Festival Theatre Chichester 01243 781312 Barbican Centre London 02076 388891 Grand Theatre Swansea 01792 475715 Borough Theatre Abergavenny 01873 850805 Roses Theatre Tewkesbury 01684 295074 De Montfort Hall Leicester 01162 333111 St George’s Hall Bradford 01274 432000 Parr Hall Warrington 01925 442345 The Sage Gateshead 01914 434661 Guildhall Preston 08453 442012 The Hove Centre Hove 08448 471515 Warwick Arts Centre Coventry 02476 524524 Opera House Buxton

08451 272190

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he Topic Records’ 70th anniversary celebrations have gathered pace and the seven CD Three Score & Ten set is in the shops now in all of its magnificence. The South Bank centre has also played host to a series of concerts, featuring the label’s long term and current stars, June Tabor, The Watersons, Eliza Carthy and Martin Simpson. The latter’s new True Stories is in many people’s reckoning for album of the year following 2007’s multi-award winning Prodigal Son. His concert stood out, with one Properganda correspondent praising “the diversity of his arranging skills, over the course of the evening introducing his all star band by increments, finishing with the full ensemble,” a special night was had by all. One member of said band was Jon Boden, who has very kindly agreed to offer a personal and highly knowledgeable perspective on the next phase of Topic’s 70th celebrations, as seven significant titles are plucked from the archives and given a sonic dusting for first time CD release. Louis Killen Ballads And Broadsides This was his only album for Topic as Jon explains, “His relative obscurity today is perhaps as much to do with his abandonment of the UK scene in favour of fame and fortune State-side as part of the Clancy brothers as the uncompromising approach of his recordings.” He may have left these shores not long after making this typically unadorned record, but as Jon says, “The very sparsity of the arrangements allow Killen’s voice to shine - mellow, warm, intimate yet powerful.” He concludes, “If there is any justice the re-issue of this faultless collection will go some way to re-establishing Killen’s reputation.” TSCD126

Jon’s pick The Flying Cloud. “A tour-de-force and a bench-mark setter for performing long ballads.”

Peter Bellamy Both Sides Then Compared with Killen’s solo power, this recording benefits from some carefully considered accompaniment. Jon points out, “Any Watersons completists will relish this for the four glorious Waterson/Bellamy collaborations, but there’s also vintage Swarbrick fiddle accompaniment and a fabulous duet for the aforementioned Mr Killen. Bellamy’s voice has mellowed from its Young Tradition days, but the new warmth and intimacy doesn’t compromise his power and technical panache. Many would call this Bellamy’s greatest solo album. It is certainly his most accessible and most dazzling and an excellent way in for anyone as yet unfamiliar with his genius.” TSCD582

Jon’s pick The Lord Will Provide. “Exuberant, spiritual, haunting. Vintage Watersons. Vintage Bellamy.”

The McPeake Family Wild Mountain Thyme Even someone as immersed in folk as Jon can find surprises in this series. “I have to own up to complete ignorance when it comes to the McPeakes, but listening to this was a revelation. To call them a Northern Irish version of the Coppers sounds unforgivably trite but the casual, timeless harmonising and the familial warmth really does invite the comparison. It reminded me why I fell in love with Irish music as a teenager.”


Jon’s pick - Eileen Aroon. “A beautiful solo rendition by Kathleen McPeake illustrating the musical links between Irish sean-nos singing and middle Eastern, even far Eastern vocal styles. There is also the finest version of Wild Mountain Thyme I’ve yet heard.”

Alistair Anderson Steel Skies Jon finds something more familiar with Alastairs CD, noting, “the composed musical folk soundscapes, which seek to evoke the spirit of a particular area. This was one of the first attempts to do this and it remains one of the most successful. For me its greatness lies in its lack of sentimentality and avoidance of slow descriptive pieces, concentrating instead on lively, quirky dance tunes. The tunes are largely unaccompanied in the conventional contemporary sense of strumming guitars or vamping piano or accordian, but solo instruments weave their polyphonic magic managing to be both evocative and invigorating. ” TSCD427


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Scan Tester I Never Play To Many Posh Dances The title speaks volumes and Jon is quick to champion Topic’s commitment to heritage. “One of the great achievements of Topic Records in the last decade was the production of the Voice Of The People series - an eminently uncommercial venture which managed to totally revitalise the place of source singers and source players in the contemporary folk scene. In releasing this double album of recordings of the East Sussex concertina maestro Scan Tester, Topic reaffirm their commitment to that cause. There is a great sense of fun and joyfulness in Tester’s playing but also great knowledge and skill in how to make genuine dance music.” TSCD581D Ewan MacColl Ballads


The great traditional ballads are storytelling at its dark, urgent best and the greatest exponent of this folk art was Ewan MacColl. Jon relishes the contrasting tales on offer as, “Each disc is themed which makes for a somewhat intense listening experience. In the case of Ballads Of Murder And Intrigue the unrelenting death and violence of Scottish aristocrats is declaimed with the uncompromising grandeur and assurance of a man who was himself lord of his own creative demesne. The second CD Ballads Of Love And Discord is a far more tender affair and MacColl’s voice naturally adjusts to the yearning pathos of the characters. This is very much an album of Scottish traditional songs, and MacColl sticks rigidly to Scots dialect and pronunciation throughout. Fortunately an accompanying glossary renders the more obscure content intelligible to monoglot Sassenachs such as myself. Jon’s pick The Beggar Laddie. A beautiful fairy tale story

Jacky Daly Music From Sliabh Luachra


Acknowledged as the finest accordion player in Ireland, this debut album for Topic has long been regarded as a landmark recording. Jon sees it as occupying a special place in the Topic catalogue. “If the Scan Tester and McPeakes CDs represent Topic’s commitment to keeping old source players in musical circulation and the Anderson and Bellamy recordings the more commercial/revivalist interests, the Jack Daly CD is a bridge between the two ends of the spectrum. Presented much like a source recording with purely unaccompanied performances these are, however, recordings made in a professional studio by a professional player who worked with bands like De Danann and Patrick Street. T he mixture of Daly’s punchy accordion style and more fluid concertina makes this a compelling listen.” Jon’s pick Keefe’s / The Clog

Topics’ final act of this momentous year is a return to Martin Simpson’s award winning Prodigal Son for a live DVD. Recorded at the Union Chapel in London this looks great and captures Martin at his fluid best, his prodigious technique beautifully captured. Joined for some songs by familiar musical allies in Andy Cutting, Andy Seward and Kellie While, the set naturally covers the album pretty much end to end, but Martin cannot resist the temptation to embellish every tune with a flurry of guitar. Frankly when you’re as good a player as he is why not? Even his tuning techniques will have several of you guitarists out there blushing and humbled, he makes it all seem so easy, as if the instrument is simply a wooden bionic extension. The set is nicely paced and the sound really is first rate, catching every note and finding the emotional weight of the songs and tunes. This is the album that rekindled his belief in his own song writing abilities and roughly a third of the material is from his own pen. The traditional tunes and versions of others’ songs sit nicely in the mix and show his deep appreciation of both US and British sources. Randy Newman’s Louisiana 1927 and Lakes of Champlain sit happily alongside The Granemore Hare and Duncan And Brady. Neatly, The Ballad Of Sammy’s Bar by Cyril Tawney seems to have Anglo-American relations in its sights, with its fateful lust for an American Car. The whole evening seems relaxed and unhurried and when the band join him you get a real sense of kindred spirits attentively playing off each other. It seems so natural. This is music being made for the love of it. There can be no stronger recommendations for paying the price of admission. Simon Holland



Seven Days In The Darwin Song House Polwart keeps a diary as she gets together with Chris Wood, Jez Lowe, Emily Smith, Megson’s Stu Hanna, Bellowhead’s Rachael McShane and American songwriters Krista Detor and Mark Erelli for The Darwin Song Project. Karine

Day 1

Day 4

Eight slightly nervous folkies arrive at a remote Shropshire house armed with accordions, laptops, multiple bent and annotated copies of The Beagle Diaries (hmm … and markedly less well read copies of The Origin of Species). Charles Darwin’s great, great nephew and biographer Randal Keynes joins us for chicken chow mein and offers an intimate, fascinating take on Darwin’s life and ideas, drawn from his extensive research of family and scientific archives. He stresses the human story behind the science and leaves us with a quote from a letter Darwin wrote to a bereaved friend - “none dispute the desert of a life lived without love”.

Krista plays me a lullaby she’s written overnight from Emma to Charles after the death of their 10 year-old daughter Annie. It’s quietly devastating, both because of its raw emotion and my sense of slightly envious panic that there’s nothing I can say to match it.

Day 2 I reveal a geekish aptitude for maths after breakfast and we make a plan to split into bundles so we all get to co-write with each other. By lunchtime, the spare bedroom resounds to the bluegrass swell of a song documenting the parasitic flesh eating propensities of the ichneumon wasp. It ought to be an inauspicious subject matter but Mark, with his Masters in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, transforms it into an anthemic musing upon cruelty, faith and natural selection. In the living room meantime, Jez recounts the tale of a young Tierra Del Fuegan patronisingly nicknamed Jemmy Button. Forcibly shipped to London, dandified and then returned home on The Beagle, Jemmy’s imagined Tierra del Fuegan wife narrates a tender love story. By evening, we have a clutch of new songlings and there’s a palpable collective sigh of relief that we’re not heading for public humiliation in a week.

Day 3 I’m in the eaves where Emily is vamping a melody line over a riff that Rachael has set up. We weave in a fragment of one of Darwin’s favourite Wordsworth poems (“Nature never did betray the heart that loves her”) to what’s an anxious address to Darwin from his wife Emma. Then we take to the back roads in search of elusive missing words. In the garden later, Stu introduces Krista and Rachael to a google-unearthed Norwegian poem. They fashion from it the lovely Mother Of My Soul, perhaps the most visually vibrant and musically hypnotic song of the week.

Most of the day is a whirl of press and radio. But after the storm, I stay up with Rachel, Stu, Jez and a few bottles of rioja until, at some witchy hour, Stu mentions in passing that Ralph Vaughan Williams was Darwin’s nephew. Within a half hour we’ve twisted his Wassail Song into the show opening song Trust In The Rolling Ocean. Who says alcohol is the enemy of creativity eh?

Day5 Chris takes off for a walk with his dog again, during which time his reflections on the lush imagery of The Beagle Diaries and the remarkable youth of Darwin and ship’s captain Robert Fitzroy yield the wonderful wide-eyed stoner shanty Turtle Soup. After supper, Krista raises a wry smile with the sassy madam’s riposte to Darwin From Miss Emma Brawley, who contends that, “there’s no man who’ll make a monkey outta me”, a sentiment echoed in Jez’s equally witty creationist outlaw ballad We’ll Hunt Him Down.

Day 6 It’s time to haul in the washing. The pressure of not only performing so many new songs the following day, but committing them to posterity on CD galvanises the house into a frenzy of snatched arranging and rehearsing in every available corner. We’re astounded to note that nearly twenty new songs have made it.

Day 7 Theatre Severn in Shrewsbury is so new that neither the PA nor lighting systems has been used before and we are, to be honest, an engineering nightmare. But despite myriad possible musical and technical ambushes, we’ve created more than just music during the week, and a collective sense of camaraderie lifts our performance as much as our delight in the songs themselves. We finish a capella with Chris Wood’s hymn of reconciliation You May Stand Mute, and a final line that has rippled through the week just as Randal Keynes left us, with the thought that “none dispute the desert of a life lived without love.” Karine Polwart

Darwin Song Project Various SFFCD01 26

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om Russell (arguably America’s greatest living storyteller in song) has been marked by a series of highly influential albums that exude quintessential Americana from T every pore, running the musical gamut from country to folk and all points in between and beyond.

Tom kinda drew a line under what he regarded as the first phase of his career with last year’s all-embracing anthology Veteran’s Day, and now he launches into its second phase in style with a captivating new collection of songs on which he’s backed by borderlands band Calexico, who impart to much of the set a sensuous tex-mex flavour while not diluting the impact of Tom’s distinctive novelistic writing. For Tom still derives his core inspiration from America’s landscape and history (Santa Ana Wind, American Rivers), while his own singing voice remains absolutely distinctive, his signature rich Texan drawl defining his compellingly literate stories of the country’s outsiders, the lost souls and the obscure byways they inhabit. Crosses Of San Carlos, Darkness Visible and The Most Dangerous Woman In America, taking the form of border ballads, are typically painstaking and sympathetically observed portraits of such characters. Typically too, American (and Native American) culture is frequently referenced, while Ol’ Man River is used as a springboard for the soulful (Band-like) swamp-gospel of Mississippi River Runnin’ Backwards and Ain’t No Cane prefaces the panoramic American Rivers. Additionally, there’s a strong autobiographical thread running through Criminology and the almost Pacheco-esque East Of Woodstock, West Of Viet Nam, while Tom later draws on deeply personal memories of individuals he has known: on Nina Simone he recalls the initial impact that singer made on him, whereas Finding You is a touching love-song to his wife. A handful of the album’s songs also bring in the spellbinding vocals of Gretchen Peters. These include a revisit of Guadalupe (whose sixth verse provides the new record’s title), premièred on Gretchen’s Tom Russell own recent album with Tom; now yielding the vocal lead to the song’s writer, Blood And it becomes the present disc’s world-weary standout. Candle Smoke Blood And Candle Smoke definitely represents one of Tom’s finest hours Proper Records thus far. Tom will be over in the UK for a string of dates in January check out PRPCD049 for full details. David Kidman

Texan troubadour wears the elder statesman’s clothes Theso well.

Some musicians seem destined to be a figure of inspiration rather than a name on the lips of the nation’s households. Guy Clark, whose songs have been borrowed by everyone in the country music firmament from Johnny Cash to Brad Paisley, is one such person. Despite his stature on the Texan musical landscape – hero and mentor to the likes of Steve Earle, Rodney Crowell and Michelle Shocked and best pal of Townes Van Zandt – Clark’s often lingered a step or two back from the limelight, a man partially obscured by shadow and mystery. Somedays The Song Writes You finds Clark, at the age of 67, perfectly at ease with the position of elder statesman and sage. This is a record that could only have been made by a man of these senior years, such is the depth and profundity of its author’s observations, all seasoned by experience. Both in his writing and his singing, Clark is imbued with a quality that, if not world-weary, is certainly a little battle-scarred. His slightly ragged voice, as dust-dry as a West Texan prairie, is a fabulously evocative narrator,

especially when he upholds that key tenet of the Texan country singer – the ability to spin a riveting yarn that’s often populated by colourful characters. See here The Guitar which recalls an encounter in a tatty pawn shop with a beat-up instrument and a disbelieving shopkeeper. Despite the advancement of years, Clark also remains a fabulous picker, one who, with the slightest caress of his fingers, can make his guitar smile or frown without an ounce of effort – and very effectively echoed by plenty of immaculate mandolin. And the old chap still knows his way around a couplet – “Everybody’s got some baggage,” he announces on All She Wants Is You, “But she knows how to travel light.” With a career shot through with high artistry, modesty and a reluctance to play the fame game, it’s artistic and spiritual rewards that matter most, the respect of his peers seemingly the most valuable bounty of all. And with this graceful, humane record, Guy Clark just earned a few more nods of acknowledgement from his sizeable band of admirers and acolytes. Nigel Tassell

Guy Clark Somedays The Song Writes You Dualtone DTM1471 Properganda 14


irstly, Jones is one, F abbreviated

half of Miracle Mile, his given Christian name deemed superfluous. Anyone familiar with their work probably need read no further, as this is already marked as an essential purchase. Anyone else, please read on, perhaps a few words will persuade you of the truth that some already know, this gorgeous collection is easily as good as anything you’ll hear this year. There is a frisson to the opener Speloncato, as a soft muted piano offers minimal support to Jones’ spoken words, bold in their stark delivery. A scene unfolds, a snapshot as vivid as a masterpiece, a vignette of life and death in the Corsican village to which Trevor Jones retreated to write and realign the compass of his soul. Then as the piano continues a stately procession of chords the first hints of an unfolding melody are gently etched by a pedal steel. But he continues to speak, briefly offering, “See, what happens is this…” before his trembling voice wraps itself around the gentle cascade of the first song, Realer Than Real. In this transition the scene is set for an hour’s worth of alternating song and poetry that is quietly astonishing. When tethered by his yearning vocal style to gorgeous melody, Jones’ gift for finding the profound in the minutiae of the common place and the little details of life has served Miracle

Mile well over several albums. Marcus Cliffe, his sparring partner in that combo is, in fairness, a significant presence here too both as an instrumentalist and producer. But the distinction that marks this as a solo record, rather than another Miracle Mile release, is captured in the poetic interludes between tracks. Jones’ Corsican retreat has clearly uncorked a bottle or two, literally as well as metaphorically (by the looks of the sleeve) and this all feels very personal. The songs and poems have real depth of feeling and therein lies the paradox: it’s easy for the listener to wander into the same pictures and wallow in the waves of emotions. Jones is our curator, our host, and this is art that we can all be a part of, as he himself offers in Something Resembling Love, “I connect to a world that’s connected to me.” His words, both spoken and sung have uncanny ability to touch tender aches. If the backing is a little rawer than Miracle Mile’s usual lush palate, it’s perfectly judged to give weight where it’s needed, also emphasising an underlying melancholy and fragility that comes with this detailed an examination of the human spirit. An hour of such contemplation is a curiously life affirming experience and one not to be missed. Let Jones be your guide. Simon Holland

Jones Hopeland Meme CDMM14

As such, it’s the audio equivalent of a family photo album, each generation reflecting different times and circumstances, from the chirpy indie-pop of the Webb Brothers’ Bad Things Happen To Good People to patriarch Bob’s charming reprise Red Sails In The Sunset, a song he used to sing while toddler Jimmy perched on his knee.

family gathering of three generations of the Webb Thedynasty.

“Even though I didn’t know it at the time, this album is the reason that I wrote this piece of music.” Jimmy Webb – the author of those supremely crafted pop classics By The Time I Get To Phoenix, MacArthur Park and Wichita Lineman – has taken 30-odd years to finally properly record his epic song Cottonwood Farm. Three decades on, the pieces seem to him to be finally dropping into place. This is the album he’s always been destined to make. He simply took a long, long time to realise it. That sprawling, 12-minute title track, a paean to the changing fortunes of the Webb family homestead, is the bedrock of a record that pulls together three generations of the Webb dynasty – Jimmy the celebrated songwriter, four of his sons, his daughter and his 86-year-old former Baptist minister father Bob. 28

Properganda 14

Yet, despite the stylistic gear shifts, this is far from a disparate, incoherent record. Everything fans out from that extraordinary title track which acts as both glue and context-setter. As a biography of a family, the song’s many passages and movements introduce the album’s varied voices, while also establishing the themes of love and loss that drift in and out of the entire record. At the centre of it all is Jimmy Webb, the sixtysomething father and son trying to analyse the legacy of several lifetimes, to calculate mortality, to quantify the shifting sands. And, unsurprisingly, he does so rather poetically. On If These Walls Could Speak, he reflects on everything absorbed by the fabric of the family home – “Each little tear and sigh and footfall/And every dream we came to seek”. As a place, Cottonwood Farm is revealed as a much-missed haven and idyll. As a record, Cottonwood Farm is a work of art never overwhelmed by its grand ambition. Jimmy Webb finally got to scratch that 30-year itch. The family band will be in the UK for five dates in November. Nige Tassell

Jimmy Webb & The Webb Brothers Cottonwood Farm Proper Records PRCD050

uitarist Dennis Greaves and harmonica player Mark Feltham have been slamming out upbeat, high tensioned G blues and blues-based, bopping rock for over thirty years ever since they formed Stan’s Blues Band in 1977. ‘Stan’s’ is remembered as a tight little outfit that charged around London’s pub circuit gaining a reputation for its energised interpretations of records by Sam The Sham, Roy Head, Rufus Thomas, Big Walter Price, Otis Rush, Freddie King and, of course, Sonny Boy Williamson whose classic Nine Below Zero was eventually adopted as the band’s new name.

Nine Below Zero recorded their first LP for A&M Records in 1980 and Live At The Marquee was an instant success with its sizzling stack of hard hitting blues and rockin’ R&B. During the next couple of years they played hundreds of gigs, toured the country as support to The Kinks and The Who, issued two more dynamite albums (Don’t Point Your Finger and Third Degree) and really came to popular attention when they performed a blistering live version of Eleven Plus Eleven on the first ever episode of the comedy hit TV show The Young Ones. In spite of being dangerously near hitting the big-time, the group went their separate ways soon after and it wasn’t until being persuaded to do an anniversary show in 1990 that the spirit moved Greaves and Feltham to form a re-vamped Nine Below Zero with bassist Gerry McAvoy and drummer Brendan O’Neill who had just left the Rory Gallagher Band. Just like the old times, Nine Below Zero were soon firing on all four cylinders and the sparks were flying again. Since then, despite a few hiccups and temporary personnel changes, this classic band has put out several critically acclaimed albums and continued to rock out at their adrenalin filled gigs. Their latest CD, It’s Never Too Late, is full of bluesy originals written by Greaves and Feltham and the whole thing shudders with the weight of Greaves’s pulverising guitar work and the big battery of sounds that Feltham wrenches out of his Hohner Marine Band, Dannecker and Lee Oskar harmonicas. You’re The Man is wailed out over a rock steady rhythm that has O’Neill slamming the skins with all the authority of Al Jackson, Gerry McAvoy weaving in and out of the melody like

he’s playing on Revolver or something and Feltham proving once again why he’s one of the UK’s best harp players. Hit The Spot provides another showcase for his outrageous harp. This one’s a straight ahead rocker laid out over Greaves’s gritty guitar licks and O’Neill’s thundering backbeat but the song takes on a life of it’s own when Feltham appears with some of the most bodacious runs I’ve heard in a while. I’m So Alone is not only a cracking song crammed with wry lyrics of desperation that are much too clever (is this the first time the Docklands Light Railway has appeared in a song?) but it’s a stunning little rocker that gives plenty of room for Greaves to show off his guitar technique. Not content to pepper the whole thing with sharp stabbing notes and startling sorties with the slide, he slams in now and then with bursts of high octane runs on the bottom strings that damn near catch fire before Feltham’s harmonica slides in with its dirty filthy tone just in time to add the right amount of funk to the whole thing. Old friend Glen Tillbrook of Squeeze helps out with some luscious harmonies on a few of the tracks and his funky banjo plonking gives a music-from-big-pink feel to the country tinged The Story To Nathan John. In fact, there’s a whole slew of funkiness on this CD, especially on title track It’s Never Too Late where the band get the rhythm percolating in a style reminiscent of Little Feat or Sly Stone except with Nine Below Zero, there’s the added surge of individuality picked up over the years in smokily atmospheric, sweaty and raucously noisy London dives where this music was honed to perfection. Ken Smith

Nine Below Zero

It’s Never Too Late Zed records ZCD1009

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FOLK reviews Michelle Burke

Belshazzar’s Feast

Pulling Threads

Frost Bites

Kilcronat Records KLC001CD

WildGoose WGS366CD



The grand all-female American Irish band Cherish The Ladies has for many years provided a fertile base for outstanding talents to flourish, from fiddle icons Winifred Horan and Eileen Ivers to singers Cathie Ryan and Heidi Talbot. Now we can add current lead vocalist Michelle Burke to that list.

The duo of Pauls Sartin and Hutchinson has become rather legendary – or should that be notorious(?) – on the live folk scene for their subversive and hilarious take on everything from Playford to Vivaldi to morris tunes.

On this beautifully delicate, debut solo album her village roots are unmistakeable in the strong Cork accent and her alluringly intimate approach while - now living in Edinburgh she calls on some high grade Scottish-based accompanists, among them Karine Polwart and all three members of Lau (it is produced by Aidan O’Rourke). The mood is melancholy but whether she’s tackling the traditional ballad Molly Bawn, the old parlour room standard I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen or more contemporary material like Dylan’s I Shall Be Released and Tom Waits’ Broken Bicycles, she puts her own distinctively personal stamp on it all.

The Queensberry Rules Take Your Own Roads Fellside FECD227

DK This vital threesome continues to engage by boxing clever. Though once dubbed “Staffordshire’s Show Of Hands”, the QR resolutely continue taking their own road in creating believable contemporary British folk songs. Anyone responding to the songs of Jez Lowe or Martyn Joseph, say, is likely to appreciate these guys’ keen awareness of the impact of history and tradition on these difficult times and their melancholically reflective, if often critical appraisal of current developments. Alongside stories of inspirational local heroes, specific concerns include the demise of canal and railway networks and the world’s penchant for self-destruction; but although these may seem obvious targets the relevant arguments are always examined perceptively and in simple imagery that tellingly references folk memory and tradition. The disc’s uncluttered production emphasises both the QRs’ closely empathic musicianship and their trademark tight vocal harmonies, also introducing selective but effective contributions from guests including Nancy Kerr and Brian Peters.


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With Frost Bites, they mine the rich seam of winter songs from the folk tradition, and there are some greats here: for example, Walter Pardon’s tragicomic tale of (short-lived) love and loss, One Cold Morning In December, gets a welcome airing. The Cherry Tree Carol and Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day are two more wonderful songs that are given the perfect tone and arrangement. In fact, Belshazzar’s Feast have the ideal combination of instrumentation and vocal technique to make this winter collection work really well: something about the combination of oboe, fiddle, accordion and Paul Sartin’s voice make you want to huddle closer to the fire and start counting the sleeps till Christmas morning.

Shooglenifty Murmichan Shoogle 09010

JC With a reputation as one of the most exciting live acts on the UK folk scene, it would be easy to assume that Shooglenifty might not be quite so compelling while sitting at home on your sofa. Happily their new double CD, Murmichan, offers a freshness of approach that is clever, fun and very listenable. On CD1, tunes are adeptly arranged to give a flavour of the live Shoogles experience: from the soft house and funky bass of the Road To Bled through the tense, stringy, Celtic-Indian fusion vibe of The Dotteral to the more reflective and soulful Glenfinnan Dawn, the fullness of the Shoogles repertoire is showcased. CD2, on the other hand, is a departure: deft production fills out, enhances and sometimes even subverts their own sound. Far from feeling gimmicky, the loops and sampling incorporated in the studio are perfectly at home alongside the signature trippy, trancey vibe the Shoogles have developed over the years. A definite winner.

Robb Johnson & The Irregulars The Ghost Of Love Irregular IRR076

KH Were you to place the carcass of the London Borough of Hounslow on the figurative butcher’s slab and cleave it down its Isleworth spine, you’d get a fine flank of Osterley and Chiswick on one side and a dodgier flitch of Hounslow and Feltham on the other. The Ghost Of Love is a twelve-song, seasonal sequence from the borough’s underbelly. Being Hounslow, we celebrate Yule, Diwali and Houghmagandy (not Hogmanay) here. Fairytales In Feltham, Jubilee Gardens, Father Christmas Down Hounslow High St., say, may be familiar (here marbled with new spot-colour instrumentation). Most, however, are new. Long augured, The Ghost Of Love is a song cycle with a collective gestation longer than a serial Feltham brood. By taking time to focus on the local, Johnson gives us his most cohesive – and universal – album in a good decade. Hogarthian-strength satire and social observation.

Ray Hearne The Wrong Sunshine NoMasters Cooperative NMCD31

DK In the words of the admirable John Tams: “The promise is kept. The masterwork is made. Beautifully produced and magnificently sung befitting the writing of this genuine master craftsman. The best album I’ve heard in years.” No idle boast, for Ray Hearne, our national treasure and quintessential Broad Street Balladeer, at long last delivers a new collection of Things To Say: thought-provoking songs that get right to the heart of our experience, whether affectionately celebrating, reflecting on or grittily railing against familiar social/political concerns (war, loss, industrial change), from a universalcum-local viewpoint and with an appealingly expressive, directly personal delivery. Ray’s a born communicator: he genuinely relishes language, but he’s not precious about his gift for linguistic prestidigitation. The sunshine may usually be wrong, but you can still harvest the Grapes Of Wath, since Ray’s songs easily endure the folk process; some adapt or paraphrase time-honoured folk melodies, but with no sense of plagiarism. The songs’ subtle and gently engineered backings, involving the whole Co-operative, enhance but never subsume Ray’s very special personality… Me, I’m with Mr. T: “Buy it – it will make you better”!



Donald Grant


Fiddlers’ Bid

The Way Home

Hurry Home

All Dresssed In Yellow

Glen Roy Records GRRCD01

Lucky Smile LKSMCD 01

Hairst Blinks Music HBM001




Donald, one of Scotland’s finest young violinist/ fiddlers, had an early immersion in folk music supplemented with formal classical training, then gaining awards in both fields. The Way Home, Donald’s debut CD, showcases the impressive maturity of expression in his lithe, richly-toned and exuberant playing while skilfully weaving inventive arrangements around a sequence of (mostly) his own compositions which impress through an assured grasp of idiom and an uncontrived sense of internal balance.

Hurry Home offers a collection of intelligent and beautifully crafted songs that capture the mundane and the magic in everyday life. A resonant meditation on home, nostalgia and the little things, Jinski’s songs take you on a journey that is uplifting, thought provoking and sometimes exhilarating. From the ordinary beauty of the opener In My Backyard to the instant classic King Of The Radio, these songs gently persuade you to listen harder, to think and to feel.

Eighteen years playing together has given the four fiddlers at the forefront of Fiddlers’ Bid a harmonious understanding that would make calling them the Beach Boys of Shetland fiddling entirely reasonable.

Donald also complements his well-attuned folk and classical sensibilities (seriously scintillating energy alternating with beautifully relaxed lyricism) with some musical inspirations out with the purely Scottish. Donald’s support crew includes Catriona MacKay, Fionán De Barra, James Mackintosh and producer Seamus Egan; string ensemble Red Skies adds a lustrous sheen to several tracks, and singers Sally Doherty and Karen Matheson making cameo appearances. The Way Home is an accurate and delightfully fresh-sounding representation of the “parallel roads” of Donald’s musical travels

Hannah James And Sam Sweeney Catches And Glees Rootbeat RBRCD07

JC As the driving force behind rising folk stars Kerfuffle, Sam and Hannah have been playing together since their early teens. Their musical affinity seems obvious, but Catches And Glees, their debut release as a duo, allows them to explore a more song-based repertoire, showcasing Hannah’s bell-like pixie voice. But anyone expecting a more sparse sound than the full band lineup will be surprised: there is a depth that comes from the droning bass of Hannah’s accordion, while Sam’s light, assured playing style is not only a good contrast, it confirms him as one of the best folk fiddlers of his generation. His piping (learned almost overnight when he joined Bellowhead) also adds to the richness of sound. The choice of songs and tunes is solidly traditional, and nicely varied in tone and pace. All in all, a really enjoyable and promising debut.

Based in the North-east of England, Jinski features singer songwriter Steve Jinski and guitar player Dave Kennedy, and occupies a musical territory spanning acoustic roots, contemporary song and rugged country blues. With guest backing vocals from Wendy Smith, formerly of Prefab Sprout, Steve Jinski’s powerful and fluid vocals are always engaging, and the arrangements and production do ample justice to these fine songs.

It isn’t just Shetland fiddling either. Tunes from Quebec, Sweden, Estonia and mainland Scotland, bluegrass guitar licks and flamencolike harp attack are gathered seamlessly here into six medleys, some of them lengthy epics (All Dressed In Yellow tops 15 minutes), that variously shimmer with trick-of-the-light atmospheres and dance with joie de vivre. Those four fiddles of Andrew Gifford, Chris Stout and Maurice and Kevin Henderson and rhythm section, provided by Catriona McKay on clarsach and piano, Jonathan Ritch’s bass and Fiona de Barra’s guitar, marry the carefree spirit of a pub session with concert-hall performance polish and brilliantly orchestrated arrangements. The result is an album rich in tradition and yet belonging emphatically in the here and now; a magnificent, joyous achievement.

Gwenan Gibbard Sidan Glas

Gina LeFaux

Sain SCD2581

In My Life


Le Faux Music LFM006

This charismatic Welsh harpist and singer triumphs on this finely tuned follow up to her acclaimed 2006 debut. Gwenan’s limpid harpistry, though immaculately judged and executed, also exhibits a delightful rhythmic flair, while the gently robust tonal quality and character of her singing voice precisely complements her playing.


She can move from playful to lyrical with consummate ease, and her inherently musical way with a song’s melodic and expressive contours is most persuasive, notably on the charming Trafaeliais Y Byd. Instrumentally, Gwenan scores especially on the beautiful air Yr Hafren and the ensuing fleet-footed set of jigs. Throughout the disc, Gwenan again enjoys the collaborative input of “kindred spirit” Maartin Allcock and a select few other musicians. This is a refreshing and wholly stylish collection of songs and tunes mostly drawn directly from Welsh tradition, and its abundant charms lift it out of the oft-perceived-esoteric niche market of that indigenous culture.

On her latest album, one of the folk scene’s most respected fiddle players shows that she has more strings to her proverbial bow, by releasing a proudly song-based collection which reveals her to also be a singer/interpreter and songwriter of some stature. Gina’s own finely judged chansons, though undoubtedly springing from deeply personal experiences, are expressed with an honesty reflecting their direct and often delicate intimacy, and in simple and universal language that avoids any charge of undue insularity. Gina’s completely natural, gently expressive singing voice also proves a significant asset on the disc’s three covers (which include one traditional song). Setting the seal on Gina’s own unpretentiously effective musical accompaniment are magnificent contributions from Martin Simpson, Andy Cutting, Hugh Bradley and Keith Angel. In My Life is a quiet gem of an album confirming Gina to be a lady of no mean accomplishment who’s well worth getting to know. Win every CD featured in this issue enter our competition at Sign up for the Properganda newsletter for regular updates between issues.

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COUNTRY AMERICANA reviews Megafaun Gather, Form & Fly Crammed CRAM152

SH Where to begin? How about Pink Floyd’s Bike? The bit where Syd sings, “I know a room full of musical tunes, Some rhyme, Some ching, Most of them are clockwork, Let’s go into the other room and make them work.” It’s like these former band mates of Bon Iver took the invitation and ran with it, to quite stunning effect. It’s the only way I can think of to get close to Impressions Of The Past that layers idea over idea in overlapping themes like a fan of cards. But if that sounds a little scary, then fear not. It creates its own internal logic, especially when sandwiched between The Fade (The Beach Boys Holland via the Dbs – Chris Stamey mixes this CD) and Worried Mind (gentle and soothing pastoral folk.) This trio are clearly open, free thinking restless minds but this CD works wonderfully as a whole. Some of it is wonderfully psychedelic, not all of it is comfortable, but some of it is genuinely beautiful and every twist is worth the journey, just to see where you can get to.

Catie Curtis Hello, Stranger

Adam Steffy

After All This Time (The Best Of…)

One More For The Road

Darden Music 700261282207

Sugar Hill Records SHCD4057



Handsomely, yet simply packaged in the now default plastic free card sleeve, this excellent CD gives us a pretty much chronological overview that starts in 86, distilling what Darden himself refers to as, “a mystic, magical process.”

As a member of the Dan Tyminski Band and as a one time member of Union Station, when Adam Steffy decided to record a solo album a veritable who’s who of bluegrass royalty stepped forward to contribute including Barry Bales, Ron Block, Alison Krauss, Stuart Duncan and Randy Kohrs to name but a few.

Almost half of these tracks are licenced back from major labels and the sound, has that bigger budget, more studio time feel. Midnight Train has the massed backing vocals, while Frankie And Sue benefits from its top-notchjaunty bass line and more of those backing singers, and has some of fellow Texan Lyle Lovett’s jazzy swing. But with or without the big arrangements Darden is never less than a compelling singer. Even the smoothly pop-ish Loving Arms is a noggin away from perfect. For my money, however, he’s an artist who has definitely got better and the second half of this disc is where the treasure is, kicking off with Broken Branch. Producer Stewart Lerman seems to have brought the best from Darden a slightly more authentically rootsy sound delivers gem after gem.

Of the twelve featured tracks we hear three original compositions from Adam including opener Deep Rough, an instrumental highlighting Adam’s mastery of the mandolin and the fiddle led What Gives You The Right, with said fiddle courtesy of Stuart Duncan. When it comes to bluegrass vocals, one name always comes to mind, that of Alison Krauss, her haunting delivery perfect for the Ronald R Simmons composition Warm Kentucky Sunshine, the song also featuring Dan Tyminski on harmony vocal. One More For The Road is an album for fans of both traditional and contemporary bluegrass shown here at its very best.

Ricky Skaggs

Chris Smither Time Stands Still

Solo -Songs My Dad Loved

Signature Sounds SIG2024

Skaggs Family Records 6989010092

Catie Curtis was one of the artists at the centre of the American acoustic singer/songwriter revival in the mid 90s, and since then has become one of the most established and celebrated artists in the genre, right through to performing at the Obama inauguration in Washington D.C. But this marks a high watermark with an all-star group of backing musicians, beautifully recorded.



Chris may be the quintessential countrybluesman, yet his plaintive, world-weary drawl and trademark deft’n’easy guitar picking is both unmistakable and highly individual. These elements again weave their serious spell on Time Stands Still, which contains eight fine new originals and three well-chosen covers.

Ricky Skaggs needs no introduction and on his first solo recording where he plays every instrument and supplies all of the vocals we hear him paying tribute to his father’s musical influences that would help shape Ricky Skaggs musical career.

The eleven songs here are a mixture of her own material and an inspired and unusual group of covers that include Richard Thompson’s Walking On A Wire and John Martyn’s Don’t Want To Know.

Chris’s uniquely compelling and melody-rich portrayal of hard-won experience is keenly observed, while rhythm (invariably Chris’s own tapping foot!) is a vital element too, here especially on the title track’s insistent tickingclock, I Don’t Know’s skittering quasi-calypso and the Jimmy Reed-style riff of Surprise Surprise, with the more downbeat Old Man Down resting at the disc’s emotional epicentre.

Compass COM45172


Some of Nashville’s finest musicians (Alison Brown, Stuart Duncan, Todd Phillips, Darrell Scott, Mary Gauthier) create a sound that’s a little looser, organic and less produced than her previous releases. This new found intimacy works perfectly and highlights include the stunning reading of Walking On A Wire, an unlikely duet with Gauthier on the Carter Family’s Hello Stranger, and a beautiful version of her own co-write with Mark Erelli Passing Through. An absolute joy from start to finish.


Darden Smith

Properganda 14

For this latest set, Chris has secured the production skills of David Goodrich, who conveys the uniquely intimate essence of his music, with no note or inflection wasted in the sparse textures (just Chris, Goody and drummer Zak Trojano). This classy collection must rank as Mr. Smither’s best yet.

On the album we get to hear thirteen of his father Hobert’s favourite songs and instrumentals, music and song that would inspire the young Skaggs to pick up the mandolin at age five and start practising, by the age of six he had already shared the stage with the legendary Bill Monroe. Choice of songs includes Foggy River penned by Fred Rose, Little Maggie by Ralph Stanley and a superb rendition of the Roy Acuff penned Branded Wherever I Go. This release is a true and heartfelt testament to Hobert Skaggs from his son Ricky by way of saying thanks for helping him achieve his goal in music. Win every CD featured in this issue enter our competition at Sign up for the Properganda newsletter for regular updates between issues.



Rob Lutes

Sam Bush

Heather Myles

Truth And Fiction

Circles Around Me

In The Wind

Me & My Americana MMACD1037

Sugar Hill SHCD4055

Me & My Records MMACD1042




Some of you will have already had the pleasure of being introduced to Mr. Lutes, as the Montreal native has been over for a series of UK dates. With Truth & Fiction he has a very fine calling card indeed, simply but very well played and sung and filled with literate tales of ordinary folk in all of their complexity. Their joys, failings, foibles are meat and drink to the poetic Lutes and he catalogues it all with a sympathetic eye and a sharp pen.

Multi-instrumentalist Sam’s a legend in his own lifetime, and at 57 his musical creativity’s evidently running circles around him as he unleashes his latest solo album. After decades as an in-demand musician (notably on mandolin, but a fiddle champion too!) playing with his musical heroes and then helping to expand the horizons of bluegrass, Sam’s latest offering sees him living up to his name as King Of Newgrass.

Long-time favourite amongst the belt-huggin’ line dancing crowd, West coast country gal Heather Myles draws her inspiration from the likes of Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn to forge her own brand of old-time flavoured country. On In The Wind, which features an ebullient mix of self-penned originals and insightful covers, she underlines why many consider her to be the honky tonkiest gal in country music.

Folk-ish, Dylan-ish, Waits-ish in parts (the comparisions don’t do this justice) the simple acoustic backing, although Rob is one hell of a picker, and Annabelle Chvostek’s neat harmonies are all it takes to bring these songs to vivid life. And it’s hard to pick one to highlight above the rest as they are all from the top drawer. Those who have seem are privileged, the rest have some catching up to do. Start with this CD.

It’s a scintillating, inspiring hour-long set that includes a batch of titles recorded with his ultra-talented regular band (Byron House, Chris Brown, Scott Vestal, Stephen Mougin) alongside “specials” involving guests Del McCoury and Jerry Douglas.

A top drawer house band (including the likes of Greg Leisz and Bobby Flores) keep those feet moving whilst Myles’ accustomed southern drawl harks back to a time when country music was pure, gritty, and straight from the heart. Standouts include the south of the border flavoured Don’t Call Me, on which Willie Nelson duets, the full-on grits ‘n all certain dancefloor hit Smokin’, Drinkin’, Dancin’ Again and Myles’ wonderful soulful rendition of the classic Vaya Con Dios. Crack open another Lonestar and get those spurs shined, Ms Myles is back in town and ready to party.

Standouts are lovely Bill Monroe-style waltz The Old North Woods, on which Sam’s joined by the Heard-Meyer Family Strings (Edgar Meyer, wife Cornelia and son George) and Junior Heywood (with just Edgar and Jerry). The set’s completed by Sam’s livin’, breathin’ updates of some old bluegrass favourites. Ace!

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JAZZ reviews Gerald Wilson Orchestra Detroit Mack Avenue MAC1049

AR Wilson may be 91 one years young, but there’s no flagging in energy, commitment or invention from this big band master. From Blues On Belle Isle’s opening overdrive you’ll be blown away by the muscular scope of Wilson’s writing and Orchestra. Detroit is a love song in six parts to the Motor City, and as such evokes the vigour, raw edge and sense of community Wilson finds in that bustling metropolis. A project that big needs big stars, so stellar trumpeters like Jon Faddis link with Renee Rosnes’ lyrical piano to create a vibe as modern as it is classically jazz. Songs like Cass Tech honour the schools where the composer drank in the jazz tradition, while his love of all things Latin enlivens Before Motown. Although Wilson may summon spirits of Detroit past, there’s nothing old school about his band or writing. Indeed, if you’ve never been blasted by a big band, start right here, right now.

Derek Nash Snapshot Jazzizit JITCD 0951

BS Some of the best things in life happen by chance, as is the case with this album. Derek Nash, that exuberant, animated man of many saxophones, mainstay of the Jools Holland Orchestra and leader of the scintillating Sax Appeal, finished engineering a vocal album with Trudy Kerr in record time due, largely, to the brilliance of her musicians. Not a man to miss an opportunity, Derek co-opted Trudy’s trio - Jan Lundgren (piano), Geoff Gascoyne (bass) and Steve Brown (drums) producing Snapshot in only 3 hours – no rehearsals, just spontaneous music full of the joy of creation by this quartet of master musicians who had never played together before. Containing some much-loved standards and a glorious obscure Ellington piece My Love from one of Duke’s sacred concerts, this relaxed gem of a CD features Mr Nash’s full arsenal of four saxophones in what he describes as “The best gig I’ve done in years”.

Abram Wilson

Ian Shaw

Somewhere Towards Love

Life Paintings Dune Records DUNECD017

Splashpoint SPR008CD



On his last album, Ride!, The New Orleansborn, London-resident trumpeter told a kind of personal history of jazz as he saw and felt it. This one has a straight quartet line-up and is fully instrumental, but it still feels like stories are being told. Maybe it’s that quality that puts me in mind of that other New Orleans-born trumpeter, Wynton Marsalis. Wilson creates pieces – the opener From Dusk ‘Til Dawn is a classic example – that have a beginning, a middle and an end, and blend improvisational freedom and written structure most subtly. He also makes music – try Rainbows And Fantasies with its swing-waltz rhythm and catchy melody – that feels timeless, locking into the tradition while also thoroughly contemporary. There is strong support from Peter Edwards (piano), Karl Rasheed-Abel (bass) and Graham Godfrey (drums), but this really is a showcase for Abram Wilson the trumpeter. And an exceptionally fine trumpeter he is.

Shaw is an unapologetic Joni Mitchell fan (his Drawn To All Things is a gorgeous set of Mitchell covers) and this new solo outing is his Blue. Like that classic, this is a set of personal songs, delivered in an intimate, smokily romantic style, best heard at 2am in the company of a favourite vodka. Don’t expect easy listening crooning: Shaw’s never been one for the Sinatra style; instead he draws from writers like Nick Cave, Rickie Lee Jones and his own all too rare songs to explore love’s many faces. Although shadows hover around some performances that’s the least you’d expect from an artist who wants to stretch you as much as he stretches himself. But Shaw started showbiz on the comedy circuit, and a smile is never far away, notably as he romps through Just Having Fun. So pour yourself a stiff one, kick off the shoes, and relish Ian Shaw’s world: it’s much like yours.

Geoff Gascoyne Pop Bop

Count Basie Orchestra

Jazzizit JITCD 0952

Swinging, Singing, Playing


Mack Avenue MAC1048

A new album by bass virtuoso Geoff Gascoyne is always an excuse for celebration. This album is a collection of some of Geoff’s favourite pop songs, arranged for a top-drawer jazz quartet. The ironic pastiche cover art echoing the cheesy 1970’s Top Of The Pops albums disguises the fact that this is real jazz by real jazz musicians.

AR It’s 25 years since Basie went to the great gig in the sky, but the orchestra remains safe in Dennis Wilson’s hands. Wilson spent a decade with the original orchestra, so his 11 arrangements of classics like Too Close For Comfort and his own four songs are steeped in the Basie tradition. That means plenty of that supple, swinging, rich toned band to enjoy. But there’s also a nod toward contemporary sounds, with more vocals than you’d expect on a Basie recording. Nnenna Freelon and Janis Siegel stand out, while Jamie Cullum lends his touch to a coy Blame It On My Youth. The strongest songs, though, are blues-based: Wilson himself, with long time Basie member Curtis Fuller put down growling trombones on Blues On Mack Avenue, while Rufus Reid’s soulful bass steals the show on Naiomi’s Blues. So Basie for generations new and old; beat that…

Geoff’s regular rhythm partner with Jamie Cullum, Sebastiaan de Krom shows what sensitive jazz drumming is all about – this man listens! Jim Mullen has been for many years a superb jazz guitarist, as this album confirms. On the only vocal track Geoff’s wife, singer Trudy Kerr, breathes new life into the poignant Gladys Knight ballad Seconds. The major revelation for me is saxophonist Graeme Blevins. If your reaction is “Who He?” I urge you to listen to his gorgeous soprano tone and biting alto throughout this joyous album.

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Properganda 14

reviews Gretchen Parlato In A Dream ObliqSound OS107


Tomasz Stanko Quintet

Gennett Jazz Various

Dark Eyes


ECM 2711266



One of the hallmarks of good singers – think Michael McDonald, for example - is that their singing should sound as natural as their speaking. Gretchen Parlato has that quality. Her debut disc finds her working as a fifth instrument along with guitarist Lionel Loueke, pianist Aaron Parks, bassist Derrrick Hodge and drummer Kendrick Scott. Like all of them she is attracting attention on the New York scene and from heavyweights like Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. Track two, Within Me, is an ideal introduction, Parlato singing in a just-above-a-whisper, bossatinged tone against a skittish snare pattern and lovely cushioning piano chords. She is particularly adept at the odd timings and nuanced harmonic changes found in this very cool, very contemporary jazz. Catch her at Pizza Express as part of the London Jazz Festival in November, but in the meantime, try prizing this out of the CD player.


Tomasz Stanko’s smouldering Slavic soul music and grainy-toned trumpet finds a new context on Dark Eyes. Like his hero Miles Davis, the Polish jazz master also has an impressive record as talent scout and mentor, and his latest ensemble pools young players from the North of Europe. Part of Edward Vesala’s creative circle in the early 1970s, he now welcomes two prodigiously gifted Finns into his group, pianist Alexi Tuomarila and drummer Olavi Louhivuori, both expressive and imaginative players. The young guitarist Jakob Bro is cast most often in the role of subtle colourist, while fellow Dane Anders Christensen, on electric bass throughout, provides the band’s throbbing pulse. The programme features new Stanko compositions, including The Dark Eyes Of Martha Hirsch, inspired by an Oskar Kokoschka canvas, a new version of Last Song from his ECM debut Balladyna, as well as Dirge For Europe and Etiuda Baletowa Nr. 3 from the pen of Krzysztof Komeda.

Public perception is of the indie record industry bursting to life in the U.S.A. in the years following the Second World War. But there were a small number of pioneering and highly influential indie labels in the 20’s and 30’s. Most of them specialised in Jazz, Blues and early Country/Old Time Music. The most famous was Paramount which has been comprehensively covered by a superb series of box sets on JSP. Now JSP have set their attention on a contemporary and equally interesting label, Gennett. Gennett Records started in 1917 but somehow it’s their output from the 20’s that defined the musical decade. This 4 CD set has been taken entirely from rare originals in the Joe Bussard collection and has been meticulously re-mastered. The amazing sides have never been heard in such splendid quality since the day they were recorded. Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver are there but also the superb but until now forgotten acts such as the Beale Street Ramblers, Vicksburg Blowers, California Vagabonds and many more. A veritable treausure trove.

Xxxxx Xxxxx 

Wed 18 Nov 7.30pm

The Blind Boys of Alabama/ Allen Toussaint Double-bill from producer/pianist Allen Toussaint and legendary gospel group The Blind Boys of Alabama

                              ğ                       

‘A superweapon of roots-music uplift.’ Rolling Stone FreeStage 6pm Jack Pescod & The Barcode Trio

Tickets from £10 0844 848 8434

                        



BLUES & SOUL reviews Tinsley Ellis Speak No Evil Alligator ALCD4932

KS Tinsley Ellis has been a major guitarist on the blues circuit since the early 1980s when he entered the scene to stratospheric acclaim Atlanta Magazine declaring that he was ‘the most significant blues artist to emerge from Atlanta since Blind Willie McTell’. Thirty years on and he’s still riding high delighting fans at his gigs with passionately powerful, soul-baring guitar work that is regarded as superior to most of his contemporaries. Speak No Evil is crammed with his own lived-in songs that reflect his years in the business – soulful ballads, hard driving heartbreakers and confident blues anthems driven by some mighty feral guitar that utilises the screaming war cry of the wah-wah pedal, tried and tested blues riffs and runs, as well as the stuttering, squealing, spiralling technique that is Tinsley’s trade mark. This is glorious soaring electric blues guitar at its best!

Michael Olatuja

Things About Comin’ My Way


A Tribute To The Music Of The Mississippi Sheiks

Obliqsound BD005

Various Artists


Black Hen Music BHMCD55

CW Redolent of the 50s/60s era when a campus of white folkies revisited pre-war blues, 15 of the 17 acts contributing to this appreciation of the most influential black country-blues ensemble of 1930-35 are white country/folk artists, including principal producer Steve Dawson, who conceived the admirable project. The exceptions, The Carolina Chocolate Drops and gospel trio The Sojourners are not exactly of the blues mainstream either, but bring their spicy recipes to the table. John Hammond, who reminds us that Stop And Listen became better known as Howlin’ Wolf’s Smokestack Lightning, and Bob Brozman have always been associated with the blues. The whole is an extremely beguiling tribute, mixing ‘authentic’ arrangements with new takes on old themes. Madeleine Peyroux, for instance, convincingly reinvents Please Baby as a smouldering torch song. Bruce Cockburn, Oh Susanna, Kelly Joe Phelps and Geoff Muldaur are among the other contributors. Highly recommended in its own right, if this homage points you to the originators that’s 17 more reasons to be cheerful.

It’s genuinely difficult to know how to categorise this record and on which genre page it belongs. Although essentially groove based and with some very jazzy soul, Olatuja is clearly still in touch with African roots that sprinkle their polyrythms throughout. Ma Foya lays a soul vibe over a pulsating African backdrop and so, perhaps you have to call this truly modern soul music, as it seems to come directly from the soul of the man. It’s a highly personal project which Olatuja, a bass player by default, leads as composer and producer. Eska Mtungwazi, Andrew Roachford, Terri Walker, Onaje Jefferson, Michael’s wife Alicia Olatuja and the late neo-soul artist Lynden David Hall share the vocal duties. In some of the ensemble singing you can definitely find the church that was his beginning learning the Youba Christian songs. But this is never straightforward and the surprise rhythmic shifts have jazz at their very core.


the guitarists of ‘little feat’ NOVEMBER

Fri 20 ST ANDREWS Inn at Lathones


Sat 21 ST ANDREWS Inn at Lathones

Sun 06 NOTTINGHAM The Maze

Sun 22 GLASGOW The Ferry

Tue 08 LONDON The Borderline

01334 840 494 01334 840 494 01698 360 085 DECEMBER

Wed 02 CARDIFF Globe 02920 230 130

Thu 03 LEICESTER Musician 0116 283 5533

Fri 04 KENDAL Brewery Arts Centre 01539 725133

0845 2 500 500 0115 947 5650 020 7534 6970

Wed 09 BRISTOL Colston Hall 2 0117 922 3686

Thu 10 MILTON KEYNES The Stables 01908 280800

Fri 11 SOUTHSEA Cellars at Eastney 023 9282 6249

Sat 12 TOPSHAM Globe Hotel

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Properganda 14

WORLD reviews Zeep

People & Things

Speed Caravan Kalashnik Love

Creammed CRAM148

Real World Records CDRW167



Zeep’s second album is as cheerfully quirky as their debut. Nina Miranda and Chris Frank have been compared to everyone from Led Zeppelin to Joni Mitchell but with the added spice of some Brazilian flavas (as the kids of today would have it.)

Speed Caravan is essentially Mehdi Haddad who is one half of the appropriated named oud duo, DuOud. But that doesn’t mean he can’t make one hell of a noise with the help of a lengthy list of guest collaborators from different parts of the world.

But what I’m most reminded of is the trip-hop pop of Morcheeba at their most commercially successful. The duo have the same interest in taking as many different influences as possible and in an unforced, almost breezy kind of way, having them come out the other end as Zeep music.

Things start quietly enough with a twiddle or two of echoey oud and a distant heartbeat of snare drum, but from then on in we are delivered into a world where chunky wedges of distorted guitar jostle for space with tight curliques of deftly plucked oud, while assorted rappers and singers demand your attention in the foreground.

The high point of this constantly shifting collection of new tunes is a breezy bossa-nova version of the Specials’ Ghost Town which does what every great cover version does. It puts a new spin on the material while simultaniously having the utmost respect for the original. And, like much else here, it also makes you smile.

Think of an unholy (or possibly holy) alliance between Deep Purple, the Prodigy and NWA then stir in some Algerian rai (a cover of the Cure’s Killing an Arab actually features a guest vocal from rai main man Rachid Taha himself) and you’re getting the picture. Blinding stuff.

Orchestre Poly Rhythmo

Echos Hypnotiques Analog Africa AACD 066

JL The previous compilation in the Analog Africa series devoted entirely to Benin’s eclectic big band (The Vodoun Effect) drew on material they recorded while moonlighting for small, obscure labels while their producer Adissa Seidou wasn’t around. This second volume is culled from the many sides they laid down for Seidou’s Albarika Stores label in more state-of-the-art studios owned by EMI in Lagos The beautifully presented 44-page booklet includes plenty of atmospheric shots of the band at their peak and reveals more of their amazing story through extensive interviews with three key members. Once again, there are plenty of choppy, vodoun rhythms percolating through their funk, rock and Afrobeat-influenced grooves, such as on the charging opener Se Ba Ho or the strange, stumbling beats of Agnon Dekpe. Zizi highlights their Latin side, and there’s a spacey, almost psychedelic vibe prevailing.

Rango Sudani Voodoo EP

Boban i Marko Markovic

30IPS HOR1820

Blown Away To Dancefloor Heaven


Piranha CDPIR2339

One of this year’s most memorable live events was a nine-piece apparition called Rango at LSO St. Lukes in London. The descendents of Sudanese migrants who came to Egypt in the 19th century, they play an intoxicating mix of styles, the oldest of which is ceremonial mystic music based around a rare xylophone called a rango.


This 5-track EP kicks off with the warm, plunking notes of the tanbura (an Egyptian lyre), and a call-and-response dialogue between two male singers. Then there’s the higher-pitched scrabbling of the simsimiyya and a battery of drums, shakers and rattles, including the mangoor – a belt made from goat’s hooves. But the star is undoubtedly the resonant, woody tones of Hassan Bergamon El Nagger’s rango. Keyboards and bass on the remix of Sog Allyil offer a ‘pop’ setting, and a short live excerpt gives a taste of the anarchy to be enjoyed at their bonkers shows.

The ‘undisputed King of Balkan brass’, flugel horn maestro Boban Markovic famously declined to continue competing in Serbia’s annual Guca brass festival after winning it for the fifth time in 2001. Since handing over leadership of his Orkestar to his son Marko in 2006, the two have recorded together as Boban i Marko. This latest set mixes often manic compositions by Marko with several other Balkan writers. There’s a smattering of guest vocalists and a ubiquitous horn section that glowers, quacks and chatters behind them. Digital beats augment the group’s hyperactive drummer in places and, as the title suggests, the mood is largely upbeat. Marko scats his way through Devla and toys with Roma hip-hop on Sljivovica, a salute to the Balkans’ plum brandy. Bulgarian diva Sofi Marinova appears on Soske Sul Na Avea and little-known Serbian Gypsy icon Mustafa Abanovic makes a convincing stand-in for the late Saban Bajramovic on Maruska.

Benjamin Biolay La Superb

Naïve NV818612

TM French pop is made from different DNA. It’s there in the epic, brooding, swell that starts with the strings over a hip–hop beat of the opening title track that gives this record its remarkable cinematic sweep. This is a big, big record that creates its own exoticism, but make no mistake, language aside, this is also a very wonderful pop record that will appeal very much to fans of Air, etc. At 36 Biolay is an actor as well as singer, composer and producer who seems fully immersed in the French music scene, working with Francois Hardy as well as other notable icons. But here under his own steam, his low key vocal style drapes Gauloises chic over the complex textures the heady stew of orchestration, electronica and beats . Despite almost decending to a growl at times, Padam is absolutely gorgeous and typical of the way his melodies develop. Miss Catastrophe is spoken, half sung, again suggesting an unselfconscious, open ear to French rappers, but still sounding somehow classic and timeless. Win every CD featured in this issue enter our competition at Sign up for the Properganda newsletter for regular updates between issues.

Properganda 14



ROUNDUP reviews Israel Nash Gripka

The Dodge Brothers

New York Town

Weeping Angel Records DB1002

Louisa & The Devil

Continental Song City CSCCD1058


SH Hailing from the Mid-West, but having adopted the city of the title as his new home, Israel Nash Gripka has clearly not wasted the years leading up to this record. Absorbing a whole bunch of country music from his big-sky heritage, he’s also studied hard at the things that make the songwriter tick. The result is classic Americana.


It’s not hard to spot the Springsteen, Fogerty and Ryan Adams that have gone before in his scorched growl of a voice and arrangements that muster acoustic guitars (and a little electric twang) to the front line, with swirling organ, pedal steel and the occasional banjo and from Real Records harmonica atopWorld a driving rhythm section. But for one thing he does it very well and secondly his songs show great promise.

Dengue Fever Venus On Earth

Opener Evening is dust-bowl dreams turned sour suggesting a suicide note in the last verse. In PrayBigFor Rain, Let MeDaby Down and Don’t Run Blue Ball Touré Big Blue Ball & Skip McDonald there are more personal struggles in love and Call My Name life in the city. The latter in particular with its pedal steel and slide guitar demonstrates big ballad appeal.

“The world’s premier Cambodian psychedelic rock band.” **** Mojo

“A cross-cultural blend – arty Western rock, Eastern textures and African funk – with moments of brilliance…” Daily Mirror

“Extraordinarily progressive, astute and refreshing… a fantastic achievement.”

Mamer Eagle “There are echoes of renegade, occidental neo-country, from Woody Guthrie onwards in these songs...’Eagle’ is terrific.” ****Uncut

Spiro Lightbox

Justin Adams & Juldeh Camara Tell No Lies “The deepest trance-blues this side of Timbuktu. Tougher, louder, edgier and more elemental than ever.” **** Uncut

“It’s folk music of a kind, but not as you’d expect it to sound. An oddly compelling, strangely soulful music of mind and body.” The Independent

Coming Soon

Speed Caravan ‘Kalashnik Love’ Charlie Winston ‘Hobo’ Portico Quartet

Dub Colossus ‘A Town Called Addis’ album ‘Return To Addis’ EP “Dub Colossus get it right, with their dub reggae-Ethiopia clash driven on by rolling bass lines, brass and strong vocals.” The Guardian

Hobo Real World Records CDRW166

Black Swan Effect Black Swan Effect Real World Records

Properganda 14

This group is to music what Zane Grey and Raymond Chandler are to the dime novel – consummate masters of a popular art. If David Lynch had set Blue Velvet in the 1940’s, Louisa & The Devil would be the ideal soundtrack. From its up tempo 12-bar blues and Chuck Berry-esque rockers to its haunting laments and slow ballads, there is a cinematic quality to this classic Americana. Louisa & The Devil vividly conjures images of knife-fights in the stockyard, binges in the graveyard and trains shrieking in the night. That is no accident – when they are not making music, all four Dodge Brothers are professionally involved with film. Aly Hirji’s rhythm guitar, driven by Al Hammond’s washboard and Mark Kermode’s vigorously-slapped double bass, underpin Alabama-born Mike Hammond’s wailing lead guitar and vocals. It’s hard to pigeonhole The Dodge Brothers: rockabilly, skiffle, blues,

rock’n’roll – Louisa & The Devil tilts its hat to all these and more. Died And Gone To Hell (a rollicking song about hangovers) typifies the album’s flavour – striding tempo, wailing harmonica and vigorous guitar work (the track features Billy Lunn of The Subways guesting on dobro and backing vocals.) Setting death, booze and heartbroken love to ‘tunes of proven merit’, Louisa & The Devil is redolent of cheap whisky, noble women and expensive shirts: gangsters, gamblers and gunslingers meet on a railroad trip from the deep south to the old west with a knowing nod to modern sensibilities. Sheer quality shines through the album’s twelve tracks – great songs, great playing and lashings of brio add up to a fine recording debut from The Dodge Brothers.

Real World Records, as unpredictable as always, unleashes two new and very different acts as part of an ongoing revamping of the labels roster.

surreal My Life As A Duck or the indieanthem Generation Spent for further proof that in this case at the least, the French know their musical onions.

Charlie Winston arrives on a fanfare of European success that has seen him rise to superstar status in France especially. Given that he’s no obvious Francophile, this is somewhat unusual perhaps, but anyone fearing the hype needs to think again.

A musical world away are The Black Swan Effect, with their debut four track EP. Formed around the core of ex Reef drummer Dominic Greensmith and guitarist/singer Gareth Hale, who originally joined forces over a film soundtrack project, The Black Swan Effect are the latest surprise in the growing diversity of the Real World roster.

Make no mistake this is a pop soufflé, puffed and proud, with some roots dressing, served by a singer with charisma to burn. In Your Hands has a bounce and depth that is immediately satisfying – this is a soufflé of real flavour. Like A Hobo picks up the pace effortlessly. Both are simply arranged, the rhythm section earn their corn in these first two numbers alone and there are some nice harmonica flourishes. Winston’s voice is strong and a million miles from some of the limp, callow singer-songwiter fare we’ve been asked to swallow of late.

Charlie Wilson


Louisa & The Devil is the first album from longestablished four-piece The Dodge Brothers. A decade of live performance has honed the Hampshire-based band into a tight yet relaxed ensemble and the album reflects this.

Third track in and he’s strating to have fun, his knowing referential lyrics corrupting the quirky, beat boxed rhythms of Kick The Bucket with grab life by the horns as “we all kick the bucket in the end.” It’s smart, funny and downright groovy. We get our fair share of ballads that thankfully avoid vapid or cloying, but I’d rather draw your attention to the charmingly

This is far from being by the numbers, with Gareth’s keening vocals reminiscent of Jeff Buckley or Pablo Honey era Thom Yorke. Musically it’s inventive too, the skittering drums that suddenly enliven Rat In A Cage show how the standard rock format requires just the subtlest shift to offer a compelling, new hook. You can see how the steady build, pull and release of In The City will play to a crowd, but the breakdown is another twist that suggests more than simply stadium ambitions. Winter Sun also has a great urgency, but the tune plays around the driving rhythm over the short course of its sub three minutes time frame. Come Home has a wonderfully mangled, grungy riff and once again that big chorus and finish. They are probably but one decent festival billing away from star status. Simon Holland

November - December 2009

2nd November Steve Earle 3rd November The Nava Rasa Ensemble presents Inner Octaves

11th November Astillero (Argentinean Tango Orchestra) 14th November Three Bonzos and a Piano

3rd December Midge Ure 6th December Ezio 7th December SUNN O)))

5th November Jimmy Webb & The Webb Brothers

16th November Staff Benda Bilili

5th November Daniel Johnston

18th November Spiers and Boden

6th November Jack Rose & The Black Twig Pickers

21st November Ojos de Brujo

10th December Alison Moyet – 25 Years Revisited

6th November Turning Silence into Song: Leon Rosselson and friends

22nd November Madeleine Peyroux

15th December Dougie Maclean

26th November Edward II

16th December Steeleye Span

27th November Martyn Joseph

17th December Thea Gilmore's 'Wintertide'

28th November Vin Garbutt

19th December Spiritualized performing Ladies & Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space

8th November Kiki Dee with Carmelo Luggeri 9th November McIntosh Ross (Lorraine McIntosh & Ricky Ross - Deacon Blue) 10th November 'Hazel O'Connor's Beyond Breaking Glass'

30th November New Model Army

9th December Soul Noel

Photos: Madeleine Peyroux, Astillero (Photo: Alejandro Diez), Spiers and Boden (Photo: Hugo Morris), Soul Noel (Photo: Melvyn Vincent)

0191 443 4661

Properganda 14



Properganda 14

Properganda 14  

Features Portico Quartet, Bassekou Kouyate, Shiow Of Hands, Steeleye Span, Guy Clark, Tom Russell and loads more.