Beating January Blues, Bradford-on-Avon Roots Style

If the last thing you’d expect as the final sound you hear before leaving a festival carpark is of scraping frost off windscreens, notion of festivals as a summer thing is about to be turned on its head. January blues is curable in Wiltshire, The Bradford Roots Music Festival is your prescription.

Devizine is not Time Out, writing about our music scene is a personal voyage of discovery, but until now I’d not reached the core. Because Bradford-on-Avon boasts The Wiltshire Music Centre, a modern, purpose-built hub of music and arts, and I’m happy to confirm it’s a wonderful place.

Andy fondly reviewed their past roots festival, on the strength of this and the stunning line-up, it deserved sending my grumpiest of hibernating reviewers, so here I am, with beanie on.

Situated on a housing estate next to a school, first impressions are school-like, by design and decor. Interesting, a festival in a school, even has a coat rack, and fire doors held open by polite teenagers; imagine! If I get a detention here, I’ll be glad.

I believe it’s part-funded this way. Cause and effect are a wide age demographic; yes, a majority are those elders who can afford to fork out £20 in January, but it notably caters for the youngest too, with a vast craft area and workshops, a dinnertime finale of the latter being a Wassail kids’ procession led by Holt Morris Club in the foyer.

Also noteworthy, though I missed this, part of the proceeds goes to Zone Club, an in-house musical programme for learning disabled adults, who’s improv show opened the festival. The other half goes to the centre itself, which has charitable status, and is worth its rather hefty weight in gold.

Wowzers, I was impressed enough already, with plentiful to engage in, yet I’m told this three-stage single day is scaled-down post lockdown, previously housing two other stages and a food court, over three days. Though it was expressed this is the level they’d like to see it return to in future. I’m letting the cat out the bag, you can’t keep it a secret forever, Bradford, the south-west needs to know!

Though if food options were filtered to one, Bradford’s own Evie’s Mac N Cheese wagon is most definitely the one, my burger was to die for! There’s me, stomach-thinking first, when I’ve so much to report, so, so much great music, some completely new to me, others well-grounded in my favourites, and many to tick off my bottomless must-see list.

Aqaba

If I told you what I didn’t love, it’d be quicker, but blank! The only way to do this, is to get chronological, but before I do, it’s crucial to point out what’ll become clear by the end; the logo’s tree growing out of a guitar, and the whole name of Bradford Roots Music Festival can be a tad misconceiving; going in with the preconception it’s all folk, fiddles and hippy-chicks dancing barefoot, though these are present, to assume it’s the be-all-and-end-all is wildly off target. The diversity on offer here is its blessing, its quantity and quality is serious value for money, and likely the most important elements I need to express in order to sell next year’s to you, which I do, because it was utterly fantastic.

Not forgoing the hospitable atmosphere, its easy access under one roof, and its professionalism in staging the best indoor local festival I’ve been to, if not a forerunner for the best local community-driven festival, period. On programming I could point similarities to Swindon Shuffle, in so much as grabbing an international headline isn’t their thing, favouring promoting local acts. But unlike the Shuffle where you wander Old Town pub-to-pub, there’s a treasure behind nearly every fire-door.

Lodestone

Arriving as prompt as possible, unfortunately not as early as I’d have liked, finding Phil Cooper and Jamie R Hawkins packed up and chatting in the foyer, I consoled myself by noting there’s so much happening under this cathedral of music’s roof I won’t miss. Firstly, I found the main stage, a colossal acoustic-heaven seated hall, where came the cool mellow vibes of Chris Hoar’s Lodestone, soon to be renamed Courting Ghosts, with drummer Tim Watts from It’s Complicated, a band booked to headline the third stage, Wild and Woolley, but had to cancel.

Lightgarden

Though at this time, I’d not even found said third stage, dragging myself away from the balcony to the foyer, where a smaller makeshift middle stage hosted the duos and acoustic acts. The beautiful folk of Lightgarden currently attracting a crowd.

Mark Green’s Blues Collective

People tended to settle in one place, I rushed from stage to stage, excited as a sugared-up kid at Disneyland! Discovering the third stage was the best thing I did, as Mark Green’s Blues Collective thrilled with a reggae-riffed version of Knocking on Heaven’s Door.

The Graham Dent Quartet

Decided I need to settle down, smooth and accomplished piano-based jazz on the main stage by The Graham Dent Quartet could’ve easily helped, but hot-footing back to the third stage to catch Junkyard Dogs was a must.

Likely my acme of the daylight hours, if it’s nearly as impossible to rank the best thing any more than picking faults in the festival, Junkyard Dogs rocked this stage with sublimely executed Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry timeless classics of the raw RnB origins of rock n roll, (apt for a “roots” festival,) with added amusing originals, a downtempo Suzie Q, and a funky guitar chilled Dusty Springfield’s Spooky.

Junkyard Dogs

With fantastic delta blues in the foyer, via Westward, and a Wassail choir workshop in the main room, I tended to hover around the more unorthodox third stage, where Mod-type synths band Aqaba rolled out some damn fine originals.

Westward
Caroline Radcliffe Jazz Trio

Meanwhile joyful lounge jazz was blessing the foyer with the Caroline Radcliffe Jazz Trio, as I made my way to way to the main stage once more, to tick Billy in the Lowground off my must-see list. Missed this unique banjo and fiddle five-piece folk ensemble when they’ve graced the Southgate, but though their fiery foot-stomping loud ‘n’ proud scrumpy & western is hard-to-pigeonhole, I won’t be missing them next time.

Billy in the Lowground

This is where the stages vacated for dinnertime, and the Wassail children’s parade accompanied an entertaining Morris dance ruled the hour. It may’ve felt as if the festival was slowing pace, but it was only temporary. Outstanding Bristol-based soloist Zoe kicked off the foyer happenings again, a stalwart of the festival, while young Swindon popular post-grunge wild card, Viduals blasted the third stage.

Zoe
Viduals

It was great to meet the level-headed youths of Viduals, one to watch on the indie circuit, asserting the third stage now was for younger attendees. Man, they had some upfront drumming I likened to Animal from the Muppets, and some defined originals!

Foxymoron

The similarly youthful band, Foxymoron, to grace the headline at the third stage since It’s Complicated’s unfortunate cancellation, sounded prodigious, slightly more accomplished with slithers of retro post-punk, but I confess with so much going on, I didn’t catch enough for a full assessment. Because, I was equally surprised by Karport Collective at the main stage, but in a different way. Didn’t get any info on these guys, only to lean over to the frontman expressing my delight at them daring to cover Outkast classic Hey Ya at a roots event! If a pop repertoire of Fatboy Slim’s Praise You medlied with that Elvis breakbeat rework, wouldn’t fit at a folk festival, they did Bowie’s Let’s Dance too, engaging a mass-exodus to the dancefloor; surely a defining factor in my point about diversity here. Gallant five-piece, Karport Collective pulled a rabbit from their hat, and would be a superb booking for a function or large lively pub with universal appeal.

Karport Collective

Dilemmas over what to watch beached, the ultimate decision was the finale, where subtle yet powerful folk duo Fly Yeti Fly took the foyer, and my new favourite thing, Concrete Prairie played the main stage. Let’s get this straight, okay? Concrete Prairie are unmissable by my reckoning, though this is my third time seeing them live, and Fly Yeti Fly is one I so desperately want to tick off my list. The problem is solved by this easy access, we’re only one fire-door away from simultaneously viewing both, which I did; bloomin’ marvellous!

Complete with double-bass accompaniment, predicted gentle positive acoustic vibes from Fly Yeti Fly, if a song about burning the furniture for firewood on a frozen canal boat is gentle and positive! But, oh, how a duo can hold an audience spellbound, Fly Yeti Fly are the enchantment. My night was completed by their tune Shine a Light, which (plug) you can find on our Julia’s House compilation, together with swinging that fire-door to catch the sublime country-folk of Concrete Prairie as they polished off a set of debut album tracks, covers and new songs, with the magnum-opus Devil Dealt the Deck.

Concrete Prairie

Still at 1,000 feet of an impressive mountain; Bradford Roots Festival, I conclude, is faultless.


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The Bradford Roots Music Festival Returns

I know, it’s hardly festival weather, but this one is all inside! Inside the glorious Wiltshire Music Centre in Bradford-on-Avon that is, on Saturday 21st January 2023, and it’s a whooper!

The popular Bradford Roots Music Festival returns kicks off at 11am, and runs until 10pm, for a day of great music to warm away the winter blues and celebrate all Bradford on Avon has to offer.

Building on Lisa and Chris Samuel’s brilliant work since founding the festival in 2012, Bradford Roots’ new team of community programmers will fill the Centre with folk, blues, pop, and rock, as well as workshops for all the family, great local food and drink and the famous Wassail. A true feel-good event, Roots is synonymous with community spirit, local talent, and an inclusive atmosphere.

There’s a huge range of local artists performing across all three stages this year, including the returning Fly Yeti Fly, St Laurence rock band Foxymoron, a Big Sing Workshop to lead participants through the Wassail, and celebrated group and Bradford Roots regulars Holt Morris who will put on a special dance performance.

 Dee Way, one of the new festival programmers shares what makes the festival so special to her: “Roots to me means a music festival under cover to cheer up the winter, to raise money for some very worthwhile charities, and to have a thoroughly good time with family and friends. This is a great opportunity to see and hear a wide range of musicians performing – all who have a local connection. It is also a brilliant opportunity to find out more about Wiltshire Music Centre and enjoy a family day out.”

 As well as music, Evie’s Mac & Cheese will be pitched-up on the front lawn all day and serving delicious grub, sweet treats, and hot drinks. Vegan and gluten-free beers will be available from Bradford on Avon microbrewery Kettlesmith, and scrumptious ciders from Honey’s Cider – both local brands who are proudly sponsoring this year’s festival! Enjoy their flagship refreshments alongside the usual WMC Bar offerings.

 Attendees can also get involved in the famous Wassail, led by Holt Morris, where participants in the Creativity Area can show off their handmade glowing lanterns!

Tickets are now on sale – one ticket gives admission to all the events of the day, and under 12s go free! Price: £22 Adult / £12 U18s + students / Free U12s. Book online: wiltshiremusic.org.uk/whats-on/bradford-roots-music-festival-day-2023

That’s the technicalities out of the way, let’s feast our eyes on all that’s performing at Bradford Roots this year, and, as it’s me and I like favouritism, point out my personal preferences!

To get the ball rolling, one you should never miss, Concrete Prairie are superb, and if you’ve not heard about them yet you must be new to Devizine, cos I’ve been waffling on about them for a while now, and get tremendously excited whenever their name crops up!

Billy in the Lowground, Fly Yeti Fly, It’s Complicated and those Junkyard Dogs all go without saying, and although The Lost Trades aren’t there this year, two-thirds are, the boys Phil Cooper & Jamie R Hawkins will be in attendance.

The ones I don’t know about, but you might know different, are Karport Collective, Big Sing Workshop with Jane Harris & Clara Atkins, Graham Dent Jazz Quartet, Lodestone, Jazz Factory,  Doves, Peace Choir, Zone Club, Z O E, Caroline Radcliffe Jazz Trio, Westward, Timur Dersuniyelioglu, LightGarden, Joe Hunt, Adrian Long, Littlemen, Aqaba, Foxymoron, Mark Green’s Blues Collective, Terry Sheppard’s Open Mic Hour and, and this is a big AND, an and I shouldn’t try but, well, you never know, might have a natural talent for, Wafaa Powell Belly Dancing Workshop!!

 Follow the Festival online: facebook.com/BradfordRootsFestival #BradfordRoots2023


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So, it was a most memorable evening in Calne last night, and that’s everyone from Devizes leaving the site with insular mumblings of ‘ah, you dunt wanna go down thar, probably get licked in a drive-by shooting!’ Now, I’m not one to get fanatical, but if the mountain won’t come to Muhammad, I’ll risk it for the biscuit that is the finale of Calne Music & Arts Festival, because my new favourite thing, Concrete Prairie rang out the rafters with their exemplary blend of Americana.

Witnessing nothing of the preconceptions of smalltown rivalry, Marden House is an architecturally idyllic hall of gardened central location, with grand acoustics to boot. Beneath a plethora of submitted paintings which make up the gallery viewable throughout the fortnight of this long-founded festival, including one particularly striking image from our good friend Clifton Powell, Concrete Prairie played through their exquisite debut album, gave us a taste of what’s to come, and sprinkled it with a few apt covers. In such, they confirmed, short of me pressing my ugly mug on their limo windscreen as they leave a stadium, screeching “I love you, Concrete Prairie,” I’ve, in a relatively short time period, become somewhat obsessive about the wonderful local five-piece; and Americana of this country-inspired landscape isn’t usually my preferred cuppa!

Not wanting to scare them too much, I don’t do fanboy stalker, not with my eclectic tenet of promoting the entire local live music scene and the overabundance of talent here. Like my kids, I never announce my favoured drowning in car scenario preferences, but Concrete Prairie, I’d absolutely jump back in. And it was a more complete concert, rather than the half-hour gig at the sardine tin Beehive during the Swindon Shuffle. Though I mutually agreed with frontman Joe Faulkner, that was a blinding gig, bursting with atmosphere, you wouldn’t want to display your prize paintings on the walls there for the duration! Despite this more concert-based event may’ve been principled and lesser-so unruly, they met with an encore and rousing applause.

It also gave the chance for the band to really push the album tracks, express their thoughts behind the songs and give a more comprehensive show. None of this prior to student friend of Joe’s, M Butterfly, a Brighton-based soloist as support, providing some lush acoustic self-penned songs.

Kicking off with an instrumental guitar and fiddle combo, the drums rolled in for the opening track of their album, Pick up Pieces, after which Joe ate humble pie for the usage of the word “shit,” and livened the mood with the upbeat People Forget, which they did, or least forgave. If the audience were informed the opening song was about fatherhood, the second was more coming of age. Then two covers excellently unfolded, Loudon Wainwright’s Swimming Song, and The Waterboys’ finest hour, Fisherman’s Blues.

The mental health wellbeing themed Bury My Blues followed, and Hard Times took us nicely to an interval. What I didn’t catch at the Beehive was the diversity of Concrete Prairie, all members save drummer Tom Hartley and violinist Georgia Browne, swapping roles and instruments, all taking vocals, particularly the edgier Cash style of Adam Greeves, and accompanying, yet ever as tight and accomplished as they dared. Chatting to them later it was revealed to be too cramped conditions to do such at the Beehive. Here we could really get a better taste of the band, and they exploited this to the full, showing true professionalism in their stage presence and banter.

So, Wine on my Mind bought us back to the stage, with a new song Bound for Heaven, of equal and interesting composition, a solid taster for the sequel album. Joe then revealed a narrative of equality behind I Wish you Well, explaining the Annabel character mentioned was a personification of respect for anyone “different” from them. I mention this to detail the depth of concept in the band’s riddled writing, perhaps part of a job description for country artists, but they do this with the strength of the classics. Talking of which, a pleasing cover of Glen Campbell’s Wichita Lineman followed; sweet as.

Apologies for losing track at this conjunction, the spellbinding nature took hold, as they drove out their passionate fables with the attention to detail of Springsteen, or mentors, Guthrie and Segar. Often morbid subjects which other bands would refuse to attempt, yes, it can be dark at times. The album’s penultimate Winter Town being a prime example, yet carried off with such sublime precision, it awe-inspiring, Adam taking lead on this one beautifully.

The finale was, what I consider their magnum-opus, at least to-date, The Devil Dealt the Deck, and it came with a lighter explanation then I’d have imagined, but still, it stands as a testament to blanket Concrete Prairie’s range, it’s morose, yet builds in layers to danceable proportions of folk. Though of the ending, an encore was unanimous, and surprisingly, they arrived back on stage for a quick version of the Coral’s uplifting Pass it on, led by birthday boy bassist, Dan Burrows.

I was thrilled to catch this band in Calne, of whom Americana UK awarded a ten-out-of-ten album review, because all praise is thoroughly deserved, and their link to the wonderful Calne Music & Arts Festival was revealed by resident violinist, Georgia Browne, stating her mum was a chief organiser, and she appeared here since she was eight.  The ethos remains for the festival, earlier events promote school choirs and young talent. This was also a marvellous accolade and association, resulting in something of a homely atmosphere, where respect was given. Outside, my opening line in meeting the other band members, aside Joe who I already met, was we really need to get you in Devizes, and they leaked a secret they’re booked somewhere in town very soon. The Southgate I havered a guess, and I believe, without quizzing Deborah, tis true. When they do, wow, I thoroughly recommend you attend and show them what we’re made of!


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Hooch on Streaming

Once a cover band, east Wiltshire’s rootsy four-piece Hooch have moved to writing and recording original material. Their discography goes onto music streaming sites today (Sunday 3rd July,) and if you like your country-rock breezy and uplifting, with a subtle touch of psychedelia and surf, then it’s worthy of your attention…..

The instrumental Eagle Ray is particularly awash with this aforementioned surf-rock style, while all tracks have this sunny-side-of-the-street, retrospective feel about them. Slowburn, for instance, is good time mid-era-Beatles in nature and Voodoo Hair is outright groovy.

Well even if you don’t do the streaming platforms you can get a listen direct from their website.Ten tunes on offer here, enough for an album, guys? An album of ten jumpy, anthemic ballads like Sweet Maria would see us fine, this one in particular is a beguiling peach I could imagine fans chanting back at them after only a few listens.

Live is a bigger part to Hooch, I’m certain you’ll make a beeline for a gig upon hearing these well crafted tunes, they’re at the Seven Stars in Bottlesford Saturday July 16th, tickets are a purple one, I believe this includes a barbecue thrown into the bargin, and a summer mini-fest at the Horseshoe Inn, Mildenhall July 23rd.

Expect “unusual” covers choices, they say, but I’d argue the cited Depeche Mode, Space and The Coral are apt, this upbeat melodic blend from Martyn Appleford, Nesh Thompson, Simon Dryland and Matt Ryan reflects this, with a dash more roots than perhaps, new wave mod, but with a move to electrification enhacing their acoustic roots, they weave perfect pop simplicity into their lyrics, and that’s where it is to pinning an imitatble, memorable style.

If the name derives from the late 19th century abbreviation of Hoochinoo, a North American tribe in Alaska renowned for brewing booze, this is certainly fun time drinking music, but the sound is far more matured than its commonly associated brand of alcopop. Ha, whatever happened to that, do they still sell it? It certainly took the brunt of the blame for underage drinking in the nineties, as if they invented the concept and no kid ever tried alcohol before their ingenious bottle of wobbly lemonade came onto the market!

Sickly sweet though, wasn’t it? Precursor to the Bacardi Breezer and Smirnoff Ice, but try the tune Aluna for size, and you’ll see, though there’s elements of the Kinks at their most comical, or subtle Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band at times, it’s a choice for grownups, with no immature persuasion; I love it, and hope they’re encouraged to perform their own tunes live, rather than an all-covers set; the difference between buying spirits and mixing it to your own taste or letting mainstream brewers decide on your sugar levels!


Showcase of Reggae Perfection; Lone Ark meets the 18th Parallel

Just as Afrika Bambaataa was “looking for the perfect beat,” I’m one who’s seldom content with the direction reggae has shifted to in the modern era, and long to discover something more akin to the finale of its golden age, when Marley chanted his songs of freedom to a liberated Zimbabwe, Jah Shaka shook the rafters and Linton Kwesi Johnson poetically versed an English insurgence.

Alongside international acts such as Spanish The Emeterians, or Hollie Cook closer to us, Switzerland’s Fruits Records is that rare outpost still defending the ethos of that militant period in reggae, and if I’ve used the term “reggae perfection,” to define their wonderful outpourings before, this one takes the phrase to a whole new dizzy height.

Out tomorrow, 3rd September, Showcase Vol1, cannot be compared with any other reggae album I’ve heard of recent; it simply wouldn’t be fair on the others. I’d better pitch this against classics; Bob Marley & The Wailers’ Survival, Burning Spear’s Marcus Garvey, Black Uhuru’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and a particular favourite of mine, Misty in Roots, Live at the Counter Eurovision 79, in order to rank it equitably, fi true.

Probably the most respected and sought-after producer of the European reggae scene of the last decade, Roberto Sánchez takes his place behind the microphone to deliver a new album as a singer under pseudonym Lone Ark, and is backed by Fruits’ in-house band, The 18th Parallel, and it’s quite simply, a sublime combination.

Sublime because it honours the Jamaican roots reggae tradition, with bells on. To put in perspective these six tracks, with dubplate counterparts, is to accept I’m sent so much music they occasionally get played more than once, but Showcase has been on repeat for the last month, and it still makes me tingle with delight, and militantly march while washing up the dishes!

It just has all the elements of said reggae perfection, heavy bass, divine one-drops, scorching riddims and well-penned lyrics of righteousness. The creativity of the sound engineer and the musicians is freely expressed, and the melody is tight, allowing all elements to flow in an amalgamation which sizzles under the grill.

Without being preachy or spiritual, there’s balanced virtue in the words. Starting revolutionary in citing youth, with the rousing line of Defend; “the rights of our brothers and sisters who cannot defend themselves,” through the yin-yang revelation in the solid Snake in the Grass. Side B, however, starts with Build an Ark, talks of family values in everyday activities, and “Get You,2 projects positivity to defeat oppression, akin to One Love. And in a summary, it creates a tenet comparable to the words of Marley, along with the sound of Sly & Robbie at their peak of Black Uhuru. And I’m sorry, but you cannot beat that.

This album is a treasure, all reggae fans need in their lives.


Check out my reggae and ska show, every Friday from 10pm GMT

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Reggae Perfection; Winds of Matterhorn

Again, we find ourselves in the most unsuspecting part of the world to find the perfect reggae sound, Switzerland. Fruits Records release Winds of Matterhorn at the end of this month, 30th April.

Rather than the unanimous Rastafarian camp, Jamacia’s hills of Wareika, Swiss-Italian trombonist Mattbrass and producer Jackayouth have taken inspiration from the eminent mountain in the Alps for this four-track instrumental EP. Unlike the progressive nature of the Jamaican music industry, Fruits Records, as ever, find their penchant in a more classic sound. The tried-and-tested formula of roots reggae may be deemed old hat on the island of reggae’s origin, but no one can refute the global influence of Bob Marley and the Wailers, and the consequential epoch which followed.

The mechanics of the profound effect reggae’s golden era has had on music as a whole is inconsequential here, because there is no fusion or experimental divergence. You will not hear rock or soul’s pastiches of the formula, there’s no preaching vocals, you will only hear a crisp and refined approach to the true sound. This is reggae at its finest, a driving riddim, occasional wail of an electric guitar, heavy bassline and saturated in sublime horns.

To emphasise these classic elements of reggae are evidently profound, each tune is singularly named after the four classic elements; earth, air, fire and water.  

Earth is marching one-drop reggae, the kind you’ll identify with the later works Bob Marley & The Wailers, such as the 1979 album Survival. But Air is no lighter, there’s a real deep, roots feel to it, a plodding bassline fills said air, but throughout there’s this continuation of a tight horn section, managed to perfection. Fire has more upbeat jollity about it, so much so it near-verges on the classic ska of the unrivalled Skatalites. Water brings it back around, with that proud one-drop march.

This is the traditions of reggae, elsewhere at its very best, the only thing it lacks is the vocal affirmation to Rastafari, or anything else uniquely indigenous to JA, rather a structured salute to the sound, as if it was performed by Mozart or Beethoven. There’s the nutshell, if Beethoven went to sister Mary Ignatius Davies’ class at Kingston’s Alpha Cottage School, with Don Drummond, Rico Rodriguez, Roland Alphonso et all, his symphonies might end up sounding something like this; it is that accomplished.

Top marks, as if they not done it before on Devizine, and I’ve still not gotten fully over how awesome Wonderland of Green was!


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Song of the Day 15: The Emertarians

Anytime is a good time for some roots reggae, Sunday morning, doublely so.

Enter one of my favourite current reggae bands, from Madrid, the Emertarians.

They always remind me of an occasion, at a festival in Andalusia. I watched this great French reggae band. The slighty rotound frontman looked rather like the late, great Jacob Miller. After the performance I noted he was standing close to me, watching the following act. I went over in hope of telling him how much I enjoyed their music, praying they spoke English.

I momentarily regretted my school French lessons, which I spent making homemade comics out of text books, as he replied with an adamant no upon asking if he spoke English.

All the vocabulary my intoxicated mind could conjour was “tres bien,” so I repeated it perpetually in true Del-Boy fashion!

Otherwise the meeting was the awkward silence of communication breakdown, in which I suspected they thought I was completely nuts. Not so far from the truth.

So, I namedropped Jacob Miller and suddenly we had understanding and mutual respect for the man. My point is, sometimes the Emertarians sing in Spanish and sometimes English, often the Spanish ones more emotive, but reggae has no language barriers, because it’s spiritual meaning and uplifting ambiance is universal. As with the French Jacob Miller-alike, we were on the same song sheet….

Naturally at that conjunction, I rolled a joint.

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A Modern Reggae Classic: Wonderland of Green

On first hearing Wonderland of Green, I was like, yeah, that’s as sweet as a sugarcane field. But it’s moreish; every listen it approves all elements, everything I love about reggae, and why I love it.

Fruits Records may be based in Switzerland, but their dedication to authentic Jamaican roots reggae is paramount. This latest release featuring the Silvertones is a prime example, a sublimely balanced one-drop riddim with all the hallmarks of reggae’s golden era; the roots sound of the seventies, Black Ark, the legendary studio of Lee “Scratch” Perry, and the Roots Radics rub-a-dub riddims of the early eighties. These traditional styles echo through this 7” EP; the heavy bass, the offbeat guitar riff, and the traditional female backing vocals as passed into mainstream by the Wailers’ I-Threes.

Yet it also pounds contemporary at you too, fresh sounding, with a version, Living In A Wonderland, toasted by Burro Banton, an incredibly gritty-voiced DJ popular in the late eighties and nineties dancehalls of Jamaica. Even the subject matter of Wonderland of Green is timeless, as it suggests, it’s earthy and ecological, a tenet inherent in Rastafarians long before it became trendy.

The band behind the riddim is the 18th Parallel. Produced, composed and arranged by Antonin Chatelain, Léo Marin and Mathias Liengme, and recorded at Geneva’s Bridge Studio by Liengme. There’s an instrumental on the flipside, and an extra killer dub mix by French wizard Westfinga, who retains the retrospective ethos using the traditional dub values set by King Tubby.

Burro Banton

But what makes it so thoroughly beguiling is the vocals by The Silvertones. A legendary vocal harmony trio from the early ska era, originally, Keith Coley, and Gilmore Grant, with Delroy Denton joining early in their career. Delroy’s individual baritone and guitar skills saw him quickly become the frontman. Though he migrated to the States and was replaced by Joel “Kush” Brown.

Though the only remaining member is Keith, who takes lead, that’s just technicalities, as the modern line up rests with Norris Knight and Nathan Skyers on harmonies, both of whom have solo careers in their own right.

Westfinga & The 18th Parallel’s Wonderland of Dub

Recording at Coxsone Dodd’s Studio One, they interestingly triumphed in Jamaica with their debut single, a ska re-creation of Brook Benton’s “True Confession,” a track producer Duke Reid would also have the early Wailers record, but the Silvertones is indisputably more poignant. They also recorded under guises The Gold Tones, The Admirals, but most popularly as The Valentines, prevalent with the skinhead’s ska revival era was a tune called “Blam Blam Fever,” denouncing the rude boy’s gun culture.

The Silvertones

Through the late sixties they enjoyed success recording for Reid’s Treasure Isle label and Clancy Eccles, as vocal harmonies became more significant during the rock steady era. Yet their dominant period was the early seventies when they stepped into the converted carport which was Black Ark.

The eccentric amplifier genius, Lee “Scratch” Perry is renowned for getting the best out of any artist, he shaped the way we view Bob Marley & The Wailers. With penchant for outlandish, heavyweight psychedelic sound testing, he was the experimentalist who would pave the way for dub pioneers like King Tubby.

Historically then, Wonderland of Green slips right in as if it’s been there all along, but prominent now with its environmental subject matter, it’s gorgeous. I look forward to blasting it on my Boot Boy Radio show this Friday, maybe blending versions together, even if they’re live from the Skinhead Reunion, and who’s punters would favour boss reggae!

Wonderland of Green is newly released this week, as download, or on regular black wax 7” vinyl and on a beautiful limited and numbered picture sleeve edition with opaque dark green vinyl; how apt!

Streaming: http://hyperurl.co/wonderlandofgreen

Vinyl records: https://fruitsrecords.bandcamp.com/album/wonderland-of-green


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South American Ska

Discovering a thriving ska scene in South America is like England in 1979……

Studio 1’s architect, composer and guitarist, Ernest Ranglin proclaimed while the US R&B’s shuffle offbeat being replicated by Jamaicans in their early recording studios went “chink-ka,” their own crafted pop, ska, went “ka-chink.” Theorised this simple flip of shuffle took place during Duke Reid’s Prince Buster recording session mid-1959, added with Buster’s desire to include traditional Jamaican drumming, created the defining ska sound.

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Prince Buster’s block party on Orange Street

Coinciding with the island’s celebration of independence in 1962, the explosion of ska was eminent and two years later the sound found its way out of Jamaica, when Byron Lee & the Dragonaires, Prince Buster, Eric “Monty” Morris, and Jimmy Cliff played the New York World’s Fair. But if Jamaica’s government revelled in the glory of the creation of a homegrown pop, behind the scenes, Kingston’s downtown was using it as signature to a culture of hooliganism, known as The Rude Boys, and thwarted it. Through curfew and a particularly sweltering summer of 67, horns were lessened, tempo was mellowed and reggae’s blueprint, rock steady, had formed.

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World’s Fair, New York 1964

Forward wind fifty-five years and Jamaican ska pioneer, Stranger Cole launched album “More Life,” yet it’s released by Liquidator Music, a label dedicated to the classic Jamaican rhythms, but based in Madrid. Perhaps in similar light to Buster’s innovation, Jamaica doesn’t revel in retrospection and strives to progress; the last place in the world you’re likely to hear ska these days, is in Jamaica itself. Modern dancehall trends can be attributed closer to the folk music of mento.

stranger cole

But the design was set, and to satisfy the musical taste of Windrush immigrants in England, Bluebeat, and later, Trojan Records set to cheaply import the sounds of home. It was a combination of their offspring taking their records to parties, and the affordable price tag which appealed to the white kids in Britain. Thus, the second wave of ska spawned in the UK. By the late seventies the formation of Two-Tone records in Coventry saw English youths mimicking the sound.

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Similarly, though, this has become today somewhat of a cult. Given the task of producing a radio show last year, for ska-based internet station, Boot Boy Radio, while aware of American dominated “third gen ska,” that there were few contemporary bands here, such as the Dualers, and Madness and The Specials still appeased the diehard fans, I never fathomed the spread of ska worldwide. The fact Liquidator Music is Spanish, it is clear, ska has a profound effect internationally, and in no place more than Latin America. Yet while England’s second wave is largely attributed to the worldwide distribution of ska, and waves the Union Jack patriotically at it, the sound of ska music spread to Jamaica’s neighbours significantly prior.

spouge

Caribbean islands created their own pop music. Barbados had spouge, cited as “Bajan ska,” despite a completely different rhythm section more attributed to calypso. Columbia likewise saw a surge in cumbia during the early sixties, a genre derived from cumbé; “a dance of African origin.”

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In South America though, ska was fused with their own sounds of samba, and particularly upcoming rock ‘n’ roll inspired genres such as “iê-iê-iê,” via Brazilian musical television show, Jovem Guarda. Os Aaalucinantes’ 1964 album Festa Do Bolinha predates England’s embrace of ska, the same year, in fact, as Byron Lee & the Dragonaires, et all playing the New York World’s Fair. At this point in time, through Bluebeat, English youth were only just discovering a love for Jamaican music, and Lee Gopthal wouldn’t found Trojan Records for another four years. This mesh of fusions gave birth to a creative period in Brazil, vocal harmony groups like Renato E Seus Blue Caps, and The Fevers followed suit, blending US bubble-gum pop with jazzy offbeat rhythms. It did not borrow from England’s mods; it followed a similar pattern.

Las Cuatro Monedas a Go Go
Las Cuatro Monedas

Similarly, in Venezuela, Las Cuatro Monedas introduced ska and reggae as early as 1963, with their debut album, “Las Cuatro Monedas a Go Go.” Through maestro arranger and composer, Hugo Blanco they won the 1969 Song Festival in Barcelona, and continued until 1981, when over here The Specials were only just releasing “Ghost Town.” Desorden Público is Venezuela’s most renowned ska band, formed in the eighties. When frontman Horacio Blanco was still at school, he wrote “Paralytic Politicians,” an angry, anti-Hugo Chavez anthem which his fans still yell for. Although Chavez died in 2013, his protégé Nicolas Maduro has descended the country into political and economic crisis; one example where South American ska is equally, if not more, dogmatically defending justice as Two-Tone here in the UK.

Desorden Publico
Desorden Público

Chile trended towards cumbia through tropical orchestra Sonora Palacios in the sixties, therefore ska didn’t fully surface until the third-gen bands of the nineties. Even today though, Latin enthused bands such as Cholomandinga and reggae is favoured through bands like Gondwana. The modern melting pot is universal and extensive though, I’ve got a lovely cover of Ghost Town by Argentine cumbia band Fantasma, who cite themselves as being the first to develop a cumbia rap. And when upcoming, all-female Mexican ska band, Girls Go Ska sent me some tunes to play, a cover of the Jam’s David Watts was one of them.

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Girls Go Ska

All’s fair in love and war; undoubtedly the Two-Tone era of England has had a profound effect on the worldwide contemporary ska scene, so did their revolutionary principles. Peru commonly cites its scene commenced in the mid-eighties, when punk and second-gen underground rock bands emerged in Lima. Edwin Zcuela’s band, Zcuela Crrada differed by having a saxophonist, and adopted a sound which bordered ska. Azincope and Refugio were quick to follow, not to the taste of the rock-based crowd who classed it commercialised pop. Psicosis came about in 88, the band to initiate the term “ska band” in Peru, taking steps to eradicate the preconception. They won a recording contract through a radio contest, the jury expressed concern; the band were radicals within a pseudo-movement with libertarian ideas, and so the band refused to record.

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Zcuela Crrada

With influences from the Basque ska-punk band, Kortatu, Breakfast continued the rebellious nature with ska in Peru, but discarded their discography. It will take us into the nineties to start to find orchestral flairs, when Carnaval Patetico and Barrio Pamara emerged, bringing with them the country’s belated by comparison, second wave. Odd to see how punk gave ska a leg-up in this legacy, but the melting pot is bottomless.

Where some bands, such as Swiss Sir Jay & The Skatanauts, favour pouring jazz into their style, akin to how the Skatalites formed the backbone of Studio 1 through attending Kingston’s Alpha Cottage School, others, such as the States bands like The Dance Hall Crashers prefer to fuse punk influences, Big Reel Fish takes Americana to ska, and one has to agree the tension of teenage anguish felt by eighties skinheads equalled that of latter punk-rock.

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The Dance Hall Crashers

The rulebook is borderless and limitless, to the point there is no longer a rulebook, through an online generation one can teeter on the edge of this rabbit hole, or go diving deeper. If I said previously, Two-Tone is a cult in England, in South America ska is thriving. Some subgenres bear little relevance to the sounds and ethos of original Jamaican ska. Other than the usage of horns to sperate them from punk or rockabilly, off-shoots of skacore and skabilly tangent along their own path. Oi bands prime example, where a largely neo-Nazi tenet cannot possibly relate to an afro-Caribbean origin.

Again, the folk of a nation mergers with the sound, and there can create an interesting blend, such as the Balkan states, where the Antwerp Gipsy Ska Orchestra and Dubioza Kolekiv carve their own influences into ska. Which, in turn, has spurred a folk-ska scene in Bristol and the Southwest, bands like The Carny Villains, Mr Tea & The Minions and Mad Apple Circus, who add swing to the combination, and folk-rock bands such as The Boot Hill Allstars, confident to meld ska into the dynamic festival circuit. South America typifies this too.

Mr Tea & The Minions

Modern murga, a widespread musical theatre performed in Montevideo, Uruguay and Argentina hugs ska through carnival. Argentina’s scene is as widespread and varied as the UK or USA, in fact it was former Boot Boy presenter, Mariano Goldenstein, frontman of The Sombrero Club who led me to the rabbit hole. If the name of this Argentinean band signifies Mexican, one should note, The Sombrero Club was a Jamaican nightclub on the famous ‘Four Roads’ intersection of Molynes and Waltham Park Roads in St. Andrew.

Sombrero club
Byron Lee @ The Sombrero Club

Journalist Mel Cooke recalls in a 2005 article for the Jamaica Gleaner, “although it carried a Mexican name, the senors and senoritas who stepped inside the Sombrero nightclub did it in true Jamaican style. It was an audience that demanded a certain quality of entertainment and, in the height of the band era the cream of the cream played there. “It was one of the premier dance halls for bands, live music,” says Jasper Adams, a regular at The Sombrero. “If you capture the image of the dance hall in London at the time, you get an idea of what it was like.”

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Note the Wailers, bottom of the billing!

After the demise of the Bournmouthe in East Kingston, in a bygone era, The Sombrero was the place to catch ska legends, Toots and the Maytals, Tommy McCook and the Supersonics and Byron Lee and the Dragonaires. There could be no name more apt for Argentina’s Sombrero Club, for within a thriving scene which mimics England in the grip of Two-Tone, their proficient and authentic sound is akin to our Specials or Madness.

The Sombrero Club

It is, however, through Marcos Mossi of the Buena Onda Reggae Club from Sao Paulo, perhaps a lesser known band outside Brazil, who have really spurred my interest in South American ska, through their sublime blend of mellowed jazz-ska and reggae, and through it I realise I’m still teetering on the edge of the rabbit hole. Aside the aforementioned bands, I’m only just discovering Brazil’s Firebug, Argentina’s Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, Los Calzones Rotos, Los Auténticos Decadentes, Karamelo Santo, Cienfuegos, Satellite Kingston, Dancing Mood, Staya Staya, Los Intocables, and Ska Beat City, Cultura Profética from Puerto Rico and Peru’s Vieja Skina. Pondering if the list will ever end.

Bunena Onda Reggae Club

One thing this highlights, while ska is international now, with vibrant scenes from Montreal to Melbourne, Latin America holds the key to a spirit akin to how it was when I opened my Christmas present in 1980 to find Madness long player, Absolutely.

 


Tune into my show on http://www.bootboyradio.co.uk – Friday nights from 10pm till Midnight GMT, where we play an international selection of ska, reggae, rock steady, soul and funk, RnB, shuffle and jazz, anything related which takes my fancy, actually!


© 2017-2020 Devizine (Darren Worrow)
Please seek permission from the Devizine site and any individual author, artist or photographer before using any content on this website. Unauthorised usage of any images or text is forbidden.

Keep on Running with Joe Edwards

Joe Edwards has his debut solo album, Keep on Running released this week, here’s my tuppence on it…..

Under the “write what you know,” philosophy, if I’ve been critical in the past regarding local Country-fashioned artists using cultural references alien to their natural environment, i.e. a band from Wotton Bassett crooning about boxcars and wranglers, I have to waive the argument in the case of Keep on Running, the debut solo album by Joe Edwards, of Devizes. Not because Joe is well-travelled to apt locations and it was recorded and produced at Henhouse Studios in Nashville, though he is and it was, or it’s so authentic it’s more authentic than the authentic stuff, but because, in a word, it’s so absolutely gorgeous.

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I’m going to be hard-pressed to find a different album of the year, as if this was a new Bob Dylan release the headline would be “Dylan Back on Form.” But it isn’t, and if one can rebuke Dylan as eaten by wealth and the machine he once repelled against, here, with freshness, is Highway 61 really revisited. The characters here can be akin to Dylan’s, questioning romance, bittersweet with humanity’s cruelty. Keep on Running never faulters nor diverts from its mellow method, if the tempo raises it’s only slight, and if it slips a toe under the door of rock, shards of both folk and blues roots are methodically preserved with finesse.

“…if this was a new Bob Dylan release the headline would be “Dylan Back on Form.”

When preacher Casey picks up hitchhiking Tom Joad, recently paroled from the McAlester pen in the Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck paints a picture with his words so immaculately precise you’re in that pickup with them, sensing the raw sting of the dustbowl and the smell of the dying cornfields of Oklahoma. With every banjo riff, or twangy guitar, Joe paints a similarly genuine image of the Southern American states.

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The writing is sublime, acute blues. Characters are often despondent, impecunious and dejected. Yet this is not Springsteen’s Nebraska, somewhere they’re thrown a curveball and the air of melancholy is introverted, altered to positivity in the face of all things terrible. You may be riding their train of pessimism, yet it’s not discouraging on the ear, rather selfless muse executed with such passion there’s an air uplifting, best compared with Tom Petty’s “Free Falling.”

You sense a running theme; yes, life is shit but I’m dammed if I’m going to let it piss on my chips. A feeling Joe nurtures as the album continues, reaching an apex with a track called “Don’t Let the Bastards Get you Down,” and continuing to the title track. Hereafter you understand the metaphor to “Keep on Running.” If not, the cover is a meek lino-cut akin to labelling of a Jack Daniels bottle, with a road heading off to the mountains, just to make sure.

“Yet this is not Springsteen’s Nebraska, somewhere they’re thrown a curveball and the air of melancholy is introverted, altered to positivity in the face of all things terrible.”

After the title track, there’s a road ballad in true Americana style, the venerable symbolism for changing your life, which is never a negative notion. If the finale then spells the most adroit blues tune, “Mine oh Mine,” the beginnings, “Beth’s Song” and “Cross the Line” herald the better country-inspired ones, but between them, an insolvent blues tune, “Capital Blues,” as a beguiling teaser for what’s to come. In contrast the achingly poignant, “Gambler” is perhaps the most accomplished bluegrass, filled by a tormented soul pouring his heart out for want of an extra six dollars.

It flows so incredibly well, George Harrison well, though, like a concept album of the 1970s it’s a single unit to be heard complete. This doesn’t prove a problem; you’re engaged throughout and wouldn’t dare press pause.

Nothing is tentative about Keep on Running; you get the sense Joe is deliberate in where he wants to take you. Despite remaining faithful to the formulae set by Guthrie and continued by Dylan, Segar and Lynyrd Skynyrd, where nothing is experimental, nothing is cliché either. One listen and you’ve entered a grimy western saloon, biker citizens pause shooting pool to glare, and a cowgirl in daisy dukes and a red chequered shirt tied at the waist welcomes you, piercingly.

“It flows so incredibly well, George Harrison well.”

joetinylogo

There is no in-your-face blast of sound, it traipses mellowly, and Joe executes his vocals with a whisper, as though he’s pouring a heartfelt secret to you alone, and for that you’re honoured; you should be. This is sweltering Sunday morning music, preferably slouching in a rocking chair on the veranda of a log cabin, sipping whiskey and rye, plucking a banjo. Though the least I can do right now is watch Oh Brother Where Art Thou!

Keep on Running is available now, here, and on Joe’s Bandcamp page, here.


© 2017-2020 Devizine (Darren Worrow)
Please seek permission from the Devizine site and any individual author, artist or photographer before using any content on this website. Unauthorised usage of any images or text is forbidden.

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In Review: The Bradford Roots Music Festival 2019

By Andy Fawthrop

 

Bit out of D-Town I know, but it doesn’t take long to just tootle over to Bradford, and the really splendid Wiltshire Music Centre. I mean – it’s not as far as Tibet is it?

Now in its seventh year, Bradford Roots Music Festival, now extended to three days, is all about two things – showcasing the vast array of musical talent that has any connection with Bradford, and raising (lots of) money for good causes. This year’s beneficiaries were Dorothy House Hospice, Zone Club (creative club for disabled young adults) and Wiltshire Music Centre. All the artists play for nothing and the event is administered and operated wholly by volunteers. That way all the funds raised go to the good causes.

So it’s a local (indoor) festival for local people. But this is not Royston Vasey, it’s Bradford.

And what a lot you get for your investment in a weekend ticket! I counted over fifty performances and workshops you could have attended if you’d really put your mind to it. I had to skip Saturday evening’s offerings (due to the small matter of Mr Wakeman’s KGB putting on a little show back in The Vize), but I still managed to sample more than 30 acts for myself. Once the WMC have given over the building to the Festival organisers for the weekend, the place is utterly transformed. Apart from four different performing stages (including the massive and superb main auditorium), there are several spaces given over to craft workshops, merchandising, tarot readings, a gin and prosecco bar, a main bar and an artisan fair. Just outside there’s a huge marquee hosting Hartley Farm Shop & Kitchen, which runs all weekend serving hot drinks and great array of home-cooked food.

But the music is the main thing. So many acts to choose from, and so difficult to highlight only a few from such a talented array of performers. But here goes: the stand-out acts for me (in no particular order) were:
• A Night In The Blind House – a rock and indie covers band
• Georgia Lewis – a stunning singer, multi-instrumentalist and folk artist
• The Hazir Ensemble – playing some stunning music from the Middle East & Turkey
• Lightgarden – original material from the UK, Russia and beyond, including Mongolian Overtone chanting (don’t ask – you have to hear it & you’ll be amazed)
• Rockpipes – a Bristol-based Celtic rock band featuring bagpipes (honestly!) as their lead instruments. Sounds mad, but it worked!
• The Bumnotes – an 8-piece acapella close-harmony group singing Barbershop

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Over three days I think I heard music from Africa, the USA, Crete, Turkey, Mongolia, the UK and – yes I know I said it wasn’t that far – even Tibet!! There was rock, blues, folk, country, bluegrass, barbershop, choral, jazz, singer/ songwriter, world – you name it!

The Festival is now over for another year but will be happening again next January. I can’t recommend this event highly enough – there genuinely is something for everyone to enjoy, with great food, great beer and a great atmosphere. It’s superb value for money and there’s plenty to do and see for children and for adults. If you’ve never been, I urge you to check it out for next year.

The Wiltshire Music Centre is also a superb venue in its own right, hosting a year-round programme of top UK and international artists from all genres – classical, folk, blues etc. Worth checking out if you are after top-class entertainment.

 

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Emma Langford and the Quiet Giant

Ever had the awkward scenario where a acquaintance posts a song with a caption, “this is my daughter singing,” you feel obliged to listen, humour their parental pride and bend the truth that you reckon it’s awesome?! This was NOT one of those occasions.

 

I’ve been an online friend with Des for many-a-year; we share a love of comics and cartoons. He’s an exceptionally talented artist and sign-writer; his cartoon frescos adorn his hometown of Limerick, in school playgrounds and on shop windows. I was honoured when Des contributed a cover for my charity-based anthology book, “I am not Frazzle;” it became an iconic image in Devizes.

 

Never more apparent that creative talent filters through the generations; from the moment I clicked on that link and heard Emma’s voice, I was in love with her music. Renowned in Limerick, I’m dedicated to switching as many as I can onto this, I’d shout it from the highest mountain, if we had any here; the folk-rock pop of Emma Langford is simply sublime.

 

So while I could’ve approached this by hiding our friendship to promote Emma’s latest album, Quiet Giant, and try to find a tenacious link between her and Wiltshire, not to unhinge the tenet this website is of locally produced talent, I’d rather be honest. Plus, in this era of YouTube, you can judge for yourself from the couple of videos below; I ain’t a fibber.

 

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Akin to Andrea Corr or a young Kirsty McColl, Quiet Giant is Emma Langford, refined to perfection; nothing here is left to chance. Released on the 18th October, I confirm a crashing symbol and delicate piano opens ten tracks of absolute gorgeousness. All songs are written by Emma with a sophisticated, evocative narrative. It eases you in with certain grace, a couple of earnest mellow songs; the folky title track and smooth jazzy Sandman insure you’ve made the right choice for your listening pleasure.

 

Then Peter Hanagan’s Double bass and fiddles by Tadhg Murphy up the tempo for Closed Book, a storming tune skilfully separating honourable people from the general, ostensibly an effective running theme throughout Quiet Giant which makes its hauntingly nimble quality so endearing.

Emma Langford and her accomplished collective, aforementioned Peter and Tadhg, plus particular prestige for Cellist Alec Brown and pianist Hannah Nic Gearailt, insightfully have produced something special; Quiet Giant is a suave survey of dignity and passionate despondency with uplifting string arrangements and traditional Irish folk values, all wrapped in the wonderful cover art of Jacob Stack; you’d be sorry to have missed it.

 

When I heard Emma had a gig in Bristol and was looking for another date in London a few months ago, I attempted to hassle known local music promoters into booking her for a gig in Devizes, hoping it’d be a halfway house. But Emma explained she only had two days here, still she seemed keen to visit us. The promoters were in awe, told me she really needs to head for London for maximum exposure, “she’s too darn good for Devizes,” I was told!

So then I worried I was being selfish, trying to hook her into our tiny market town just so I can hear her live when they were right, she needs, and she did play a gig in London. Next time it’s bookmarked; I’m bunking the next day off work!

 

Order the pre-release of Quiet Giant here on Bandcamp; out on 18th October.

Like her Facebook page for more information and updates.

 

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