Monday, 31 March 2014

Playlist 31st March

Coming up on tonight's show on Acoustic Spectrum radio at 9pm you can hear two tracks from the new album, 'Domino Girls', by Patsy Matheson which is released today.

Bob Dylan - Subterranean Homesick Blues
Patsy Matheson - The Hollies
Roberto Cassani - I Like To Get Drunk and So Does My Beer
Blackbeard's Tea Party - Bulgine
Lady Maisery - This Woman's Work
The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain - Psycho Killer
Ross Ainslie - Morning After
Karine Polwart - Cover Your Eyes
Suzy Thompson - In The Pines
Phillip Henry & Hannah Martin - The Nailmaker's Strike PTI & II
Patsy Matheson - Red For Danger
Morrissey and Marshall - We Are One
Crosby, Stills and Nash - 49 Bye-Byes

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Thursday, 27 March 2014

This Way Madness Lies, The Gregson, Lancaster

It's not often you see a performer stripping off and standing naked before an audience. But this is what Augustus Stephens, or Gus to use his less formal name, does three times during this show.

On the first occasion he stands wearing a short-sleeved white shirt and black trousers, these being his work clothes. He gives a voice to the shirt which complains about how it does not appreciate being associated purely with his work which Gus obviously does not enjoy. His job as a computer programmer is full of deadlines which seem impossible to meet and when his girlfriend leaves him, he walks out of his workplace and heads to a stream where he rips the shirt open sending buttons flying through the air. After burying the shirt he heads to a beach where his trousers and underpants are discarded and he sings about how refreshing it is to feel the air and sea water on his naked body. He then finds some clothes and enjoys the simple pleasure of eating an ice cream.

On the second occasion however, we find that his nudity has been observed and brought to the attention of the local constabulary. Fortunately he escapes with a warning but all is not well and his mental health deteriorates to the point where he is admitted to a psychiatric hospital. Any sharp objects are taken from him as he has developed an interest in self harm and he becomes convinced that his reflection in the mirror is telling him what to do.

You really felt his confusion, frustration and despair with all the different medics he encountered along with their rules and regulations but while many people would want to forget about such experiences, and certainly not talk to a room full of strangers about them, Gus seems to almost relish reliving what must have been pretty desperate times. It is perhaps his own way of reminding himself that despite a number of relapses resulting in more stays in hospital, he finally got back to some sort of normality and realised that he needed to make some profound changes in his life in order to take control and not descend once more into madness.

His performance is a powerful one with the small but appreciative audience at the Gregson in no hurry to leave at the end. Gus tweeted the next day that there had been “lovely comments from people afterwards”. Speaking for myself I was certainly affected by the show as I have faced similar demons in the past and it reminds us all of how important is it for society to provide secure hospital accommodation for those who suffer mental breakdowns and become a danger to themselves.

Gus is doing three nights at the Oxford fringe in June and is then taking a slightly shortened version of this show to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August. It is a serious subject but there are laughs in the show plus little ditties he sings while accompanying himself on the guitar. There is also some audience participation which should go down well in Edinburgh.

Colin Bertram

Monday, 24 March 2014

Playlist 24 March

The featured album on this week's show is the new self-titled album by Robby Hecht which is released today, March the 24th. The full running order at (hopefully) 9pm tonight is...

Steve Knightley - Transported
Robby Hecht - New York City
Eddi Reader - Winter It Is Past
The Deadly Winters - Sixteen Days
Melissa Greener - My Country Home in Summer Glow
Led Zeppelin - Gallows Pole
Augustus Stephens - My Baby (She Split on Me)
Kenny Young & The Eggplants - Help Me Rhonda
Pauline Alexander - Imagine
Robby Hecht - The Sea and The Shore
John Mellencamp - Johnny Hart
Kate Rusby - The Blind Harper
Patsy Matheson - Domino Girls
Calum Stewart & Lauren MacColl - Alzen

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Monday, 17 March 2014

Playlist 17 March

Tonight's show is dedicated to the memory of Tony Benn (1925 – 2014).

Tony Benn - Intro
Billy Bragg - There Is Power in a Union
Richard Thompson & Danny Thompson - Sweetheart on the Barricade
The Unthanks - The Testimony of Patience Kershaw
The Imagined Village - Washing Song
Graham Nash - Southbound Train
Megson - Working Town
Martha Wainwright - Factory
Dick Gaughan - Whatever Happened
The Bad Shepherds - London Calling
Jez Lowe & The Bad Pennies - The Judas Bus
Kelly Oliver - Grandpa Was A Stoker
Roy Bailey - The World Turned Upside Down
Paul Anderson - The Rev Gibbon

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Friday, 14 March 2014

Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin, Garstang Unplugged

This was my first visit to Garstang Unplugged and it has to be one of the strangest locations of any pub I've ever been to sandwiched, as it is, between the west coast main line and the M6 motorway. The gig was a sell-out and on arrival we found that extra chairs were being brought in and set up near the stage. So despite arriving close to the advertised start time, my wife and I had seats down the front.

First on was local band Hence the Tortoise. Strange name for a band but they entertained us with songs about setting up a profile on a dating web site, the fizzy drink Creamola Foam and a moving number written for friends of the singer whose only child had died at the age of 18. If the gig hadn't finished quite so late I may well have bought a copy of the singer's cd released under his own, rather than the band's, name.

After a shortish break Phil and Hannah took to the stage. Songs from their latest album Mynd benefited, I felt, from the stripped down arrangements of their live performance. Hearing songs such as 'The Nailmaker's Strike', 'Song for Caroline Herschal' and 'Thirty Miles' have made me want to give their cd another listen.

Both Phil and Hannah are multi-instrumentalists with Phil's dobro playing being particularly impressive and Hannah switched with ease between violin, banjo and tenor guitar. Their influences are many and varied with Phil playing some wonderful 'happy blues' harmonica in tribute to the great country bluesman Sonny Terry. He also showed that men are capable of multi-tasking as he has developed a talent for beatboxing while playing his harmonica and keeping time with his foot on a stomp box.

Having seen them before, supporting Show of Hands, I recognised some other songs such as 'The Painter', which Hannah dedicated to her German grandfather, and their versions of 'Death and the Lady' and 'The Boy Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn' went down well with the Garstang crowd. There was quite a relaxed feel to the night as it was something of a homecoming for Phil as he is a Lancashire lad and he told us how he had played gigs nearby when he was starting out.

The only complaint I would have about the gig was the extended break in the middle of their set to draw the raffle, which must have gone on for a good half hour. I can appreciate that folk clubs such as Garstang Unplugged need to raise money but having the raffle half way through the main act's set just destroyed the atmosphere and I'm sure I wasn't the only punter who found themselves looking at their watch wondering just how late the gig was going to finish. Here's a suggestion – why not do the raffle between the support and the main act?

That aside it was a great evening of music. Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin are certainly one of the best duos on the folk circuit. Go see them!

Colin Bertram

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Blazin' Fiddles at The Dukes, Lancaster

I imagine I won't be the first reviewer to describe how Blazin' Fiddles set alight a venue, which is exactly what they did at the Dukes Theatre in Lancaster last night. It is all too easy to use such expressions and describe their performance as illuminating a dull foggy evening but that is because they are a very entertaining and talented bunch of musicians.

Since releasing their latest album, Six, last year there has been a significant line-up change. Gone are fiddlers Allan Henderson and Iain MacFarlane and in have come Rua MacMillan and Kristan Harvey to join founder member Bruce MacGregor and Jenna Reid. The four fiddlers are backed by Angus Lyon on piano with Anna Massie on guitar and occasional fiddle. Both Rua and Kristan have won the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year in recent years so there was no doubting the calibre of these new recruits.

Not having seen the Blazers, as I believe they are known, before I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I am a bit wary of bands with more than a couple of fiddlers as it brings back memories from childhood of watching a fiddle orchestra which I found to be rather overwhelming, and not in a good way. But I needn't have worried. They started their set with all six members on stage but we were soon to discover that their concerts are as much a showcase for the individual musicians as it is for the band as a whole. So the first half featured solo spots by the two new members, with Bruce and Jenna showing off their talents after the break.

Needless to say there were a number of selections from the new album, the highlights for me being 'The Diplodocus' and 'Bulgarian'. But it was not just fireworks on the fingerboards. Anna regaled us with stories from earlier on this, their short spring tour telling us how the title of another number from Six, 'The Shoemaker', is her favourite word when spoken in a Geordie accent and how she was far from happy after losing money in an arcade at Llandudno earlier that day. Bruce also gave us a long but interesting introduction to his solo piece and Rua wasn't shy at joining in with the onstage banter.

One bit of unforeseen drama occurred at the start of one of the pieces in the second half. A string broke on Anna's guitar and I for one was impressed with the speed in which she replaced it and carried on playing. As someone who takes a good five minutes to change a string I was amazed to watch her grab what looked like a set of new strings, select the right one and get it fitted and in tune in what seemed like a matter of seconds. If I'd had a stopwatch I'm sure she would have been a contender for the Guinness Book of Records.

Following the band, as I do, on Twitter I can see that they are a happy crew with one of them tweeting photos of a game of Buckaroo before their sound-check at The Dukes. And they certainly looked like they were enjoying themselves on stage. I'm sure I wasn't the only one of the near-capacity Lancaster crowd who went home with a smile on their face and a spring in their step.

Colin Bertram

Monday, 10 March 2014

Playlist 10 March \ Beyond Radio

If you'd like to hear me more than just once a week then you'll be please to hear that Off The Beaten Tracks is returning to the airwaves thanks to a fortnightly slot I've been offered on Beyond Radio. My first show has been recorded but I've yet to find out the time and day it'll be going out.

In the meantime here's what's coming up on tonight's show at 9pm on Acoustic Spectrum.

Ross Ainslie - Rum
Iain Morrison - Homeward
Sarah MacDougall - Sometimes You Lose, Sometimes You Win
Philip Henry & Hannah Martin - Song For Caroline Herschel
Flook - Asturian Way
Gavin Pennycook - Rondo Alla Turca
Salt House - Strong Dark Souls
Pentangle - Poison
Nick Drake - Three Hours
Sarah McQuaid - Lift You Up And Let you Fly
Rebecca Pronsky - Rise Up
Ross Ainslie - True
Michael Chapman - Just To Keep You

The featured album is "Wide Open" by Ross Ainslie which is released on the 10th of March.

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Monday, 3 March 2014

Playlist 3 March

Tonight's show includes tracks from the new release by The Sweet Lowdown who are an acoustic roots trio from Victoria in Canada and are on Twitter under the name @TweetLowdown. Also two tracks featuring Bella Hardy who won the Folk Singer of the Year Award at the recent BBC Radio Folk Awards.

The Sweet Lowdown - Reuben's Train
The Carrivick Sisters - Garden Girl
Elephant Revival - Lexington
Carthy, Hardy, Farrell & Young - Chickens in the Garden
Bella Hardy - The Ilam Lullaby
Richie Havens - Here Comes The Sun
Kate Reid - In My Life
Ottersgear - Quest For Rest
Indigo Girls - Get Out The Map
King Creosote - So Forlorn
James Yorkston - Steady As She Goes
The Sweet Lowdown - Big Wave
The Jayhawks - Save It For A Rainy Day
Richard Thompson - Dad's Gonna Kill Me
First Aid Kit - King of the World

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