Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Favourite albums of 2018

Many of the albums on this list have been sent to me by Jane Brace so my thanks to her for her support. These are my 20 recommendations for 2018 in alphabetic order. I hope you have enjoyed listening to some of these too.

To hear tracks from most of these albums have a listen to this selection on Mixcloud

Cardboard Fox - Topspin
Damien O'Kane & Ron Block - Banjophony
Davy Lees - One of Those Days
Gilmore & Roberts - A Problem of Our Kind
Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar - Utopia and Wasteland
Hannah Sanders & Ben Savage - Awake
Hickory Signals - Turn To Fray
Karine Polwart - Laws of Motion
Kelly Oliver - Botany Bay
Kitty MacFarlane - Namer of Clouds
Mike Vass - Notes from the Boat
Ninebarrow - The Waters and the Wild
Salt House - Undersong
Sarah McQuaid - If We Dig Any Deeper It Could Get Dangerous
The Broken-Hearted Few - You Can Never Come Back
The Low Countries - We Weathered the Storm
The Willows - Through The Wild
Will Pound - Through The Seasons
William the Conqueror - Proud Disturber of the Peace 
Yves Lambert Trio - Tentation

Sunday, 16 September 2018

Cara Dillon gig review

Cara Dillon played at The Platform in Morecambe last night (15 Sept), these dates being billed as the Duo Tour. Cara told us that she and husband Sam started doing low-key gigs, just the two of them, around their home in Somerset but found that they were proving more popular than the band shows so they are out on the road together with Cara on vocals and occasional whistle and Sam on piano and guitar. I must say that not having seen them for a few years, Sam's guitar playing has greatly improved. Previously his guitar work seemed to be mainly influenced by his brother Sean, who has quite an aggressive style of playing, but Sam has obviously been working on his finger-picking so there is more variation, which is never a bad thing.

We were treated to most of the songs from her latest "Wanderer" album plus a selection of older material including 'There Were Roses', 'She's Like The Swallow' and 'The Hill of Thieves'. According to Sam, Cara had been reluctant to record 'Blackwater Side' as it is such a classic folk song. This surprised me a bit as she had previously recorded 'She Moved Through The Fair' which I would have said was a more iconic song, especially the Fairport version with Sandy Denny on vocals. Cara's take on 'Blackwater Side' is good enough but the times I've heard her sing ...Fair, it has sent shivers up and down my spine. Sadly we didn't get to hear it last night.

But of the songs from the new album, 'Both Sides of the Tweed' sounded good and Cara's interest in songs about emigration was revisited in her composition 'The Leaving Song' which was written about the living wakes they used to have in Ireland. These were evenings of song and dance, and doubtless a few drinks, to celebrate the life of someone who was leaving for a new life across the ocean. And as Cara said, these people were often never heard from again.

While many of the songs were quite downbeat, in the best folk tradition, there were plenty of laughs from the stories we got from both Cara and Sam with one lovely one concerning their twin boys' first day at big school. Back when I first saw them in the early 2000s, when brother Seth was third member of the group, Sam was the quiet, sombre-looking presence behind his keyboard. But these days he is much more relaxed which makes for a more enjoyable evening out. 

And as the first Xmas card junk mail comes through the door, it seemed timely for Cara to mention her Christmas tour when she and Sam will be joined by other musicians for some seasonal tunes. The tour is coming to Manchester on the 9th of December.

Monday, 26 March 2018

Some words on Wes Martin

I first met Wes Martin when he and Nigel were running the Open Mic night at the Gregson Centre. Wes would play his banjo and as I subsequently discovered, he was equally good on guitar and ukulele among other instruments. Back then he was a member of Nigel and Els’ band, The Low Countries, and contributed to their album, "The Failing of the Strains" which was influenced by the film The Wicker Man. Later on, when he and I co-presented Off The Beaten Tracks on Diversity FM, I played ‘Summerisle’ by The Bailey Sisters and Wes would join in singing the chorus with great gusto.

I can’t remember how it came about that Wes joined me on the radio station but I think it was because I wasn’t happy doing the show on my own and someone suggested that I find a co-presenter. At that time Wes was a full-time house-husband looking after two young sons and I got the impression that family life was, at times, quite stressful. Initially when Wes joined me we were doing live shows and he would often arrive with minutes to spare and then rush off at the end as there was some chore to do or a kid to be collected from school or wherever. But for those hours in the studio on a Friday lunchtime he could relax. To say he messed around would be unfair, as he was knowledgeable about the tracks he brought to the studio, but he certainly lightened the mood and I regained my love of broadcasting thanks to him.

We really were the classic straight man/funny man duo with me driving the desk (sliding faders up and down, playing jingles etc) while Wes brought his unique personality to the show. There was a book lying about in the studio titled something like This Day In History and it became a regular feature of the show with Wes reading bits from the book. He always had to mention who had died on this day in whichever year. He did seem to have something of a preoccupation with death though he never seemed to take it too seriously.

We recorded our final show in March 2012 when the funding ran out for Diversity FM and the YMCA pulled the plug on it. Wes had sometimes sat in with Reza Mills on his show and the three of us did one last live broadcast together on the day Diversity went off air. 

I didn’t see much of Wes after that, apart from one very drunken Xmas night out with Oli joining myself, Wes and Reza and the only other time I saw him was when we saw Mike Harding at the Lancaster Grand Theatre. We went for a drink after the show and Wes had got a real buzz from Mike’s brand of humour. He was a proud Northerner was Wes and I think he had a lot of admiration for Mike, both of them being from the North and having a shared love of folk and roots music.

But now Wes is gone. Inevitably, in these tragic circumstances, all his friends and family will find themselves asking why, and what we could have done to stop Wes from taking his own life. But ultimately it’s a pointless exercise. I, like many others, have been in the very dark places that depression can take you. It doesn’t matter how many people love you or how many friends you have offering you their support - when you are alone and the black cloud envelopes you, death can seem like the only way out and the only solution to your problems.

We will miss you Wes. We have your music, your paintings and I have a few recordings of our radio shows. The final song you selected on Off The Beaten Tracks was 'We’ll Meet Again' by Johnny Cash. I hope we do. So long Wes. It was a real pleasure knowing you.


Listen to our final Diversity FM show on Mixcloud