Saturday, 29 April 2017

Lynne Hanson and the Good Intentions - St. George's Hall, Bewdley. Friday 28th April 2017

It can be a turbulent life being a travelling musician; one unimaginable for us folks who lay our pound down and sit back with expectation. The highs and lows of pursuing a creative calling were the themes core to this Lynne Hanson show and in particular it was the former that reigned supreme on this Bewdley return. The determination to share those lofty high emotions was etched in Lynne’s performance as this Canadian artist, and her travelling compatriots The Good Intentions, poured every joule of energy in presenting a very personal view of life though the medium of song and sound.

The success of these Music in the Hall evenings at Bewdley’s St George’s Hall is becoming a given from a customer perspective, although the promotion know there’s no let up on the preparation. It was last July when Lynne created such a special impression at this venue and the honour of the being the first overseas’ returnee was not lost on the guest. This time she was in possession of a brand new album which unsurprisingly featured high in a set list that was superbly executed with an undulating spread of pace, style and mood. UNEVEN GROUND has in fact only been released a couple of weeks and it didn’t take too long upon reflection to grab the sentiment of these new songs straight after first listen.

There was a contrast in how these new songs unravelled, beginning with the opening two tracks – ‘Carry Me Home’ and ‘Counting Heartbeats’ – which acted as simple scene setters, more aperitif than the main serving. This is quite common in gigs as a band adjusts to the surroundings of a place they have only just been exposed to. However by the encore, the band and audience were buzzing. ‘Gotta Have Rain’ saw the four protagonists roam unplugged around the hall in the ultimate audience connective state, while back on stage they all let rip for the evening finale of ‘Swallow Me Up’.

It was late in the show when Lynne formally introduced MJ Dandeneau (bass), Brodie Mohninger (lead guitar) and Shawn Killaly (drums), but by then we were fully acquainted with their playing, impression and vital importance to the show. MJ is a recognisable musician with from memory touring slots with Amanda Rheaume and the Good Lovelies being recalled. Lynne controlled proceedings with a mix of the deeply personal and humorous, never hiding her proud Canadian status and utter appreciation that her music is being enjoyed by folks many miles from her home. Songs like ‘Just for Now’, ‘Heaven and Hell’ and ‘Broken with You’ reveal Lynne at her heartfelt best, adept at producing a sensitive ballad on her own as to purely rocking out with her band.

One of the prime moments when they did rock out was the blues induced ‘Devil Said Do’ from the new record. Instinct and mood are more drivers for Lynne’s music rather than genre conventions, but if you’re looking for markers you’ll find segments of country, folk, rock and blues in her music. All fine ingredients if your music interest lies in all things Americana, still a weird word use for somebody north of the 49th parallel.

From Lynne’s previous releases, the title track off RIVER OF SAND proved one of the show’s outstanding moments. You can’t relate to this type of music without a dip into your dark side and from the murder ballad album 7 DEADLY SPINS, ‘Gravedigger’ and ‘Cecil Hotel’ met with a sinister approval. On a lighter side, the whole audience heeded the invite to join in with the chorus of ‘Trading in My Lonesome’, perhaps signifying the end of a dark tunnel.

As is usual with these Bewdley promotions, a local band and a youth act give the evening a lengthy opening before the main artist takes to the stage. A duo named Marlar filled the band slot with a thirty minute performance of selective cover songs plus a couple of originals. A three piece youth band going by the name of Mayfli opened up the evening and displayed a very impressive style of harmony singing as they once again paraded a set of mainly covers and the odd original. This formula is a vital cog in the evening’s success and creates an atmosphere that can sometimes be missing for touring artists at this level.

Lynne Hanson and The Good Intentions certainly revelled in this atmosphere as they headed towards the completion of the UK leg of their current European tour. It now seems a long time ago since Lynne was first caught live when opening for Gretchen Peters. While the following years may have seen many highs and lows, there must be enormous pride in a growing back catalogue and the rewards of shows like this, after pouring so much effort into promoting her work overseas. Us as an audience will rarely be exposed to artists’ lows, but we were certainly present when the high was reached during this show.

Friday, 28 April 2017

The Company of Players - Cresecent Theatre, Birmingham. Monday 24th April 2017

The Bard was present in many forms as The Company of Players took their project into the live arena to road test the sum of many inspired collaborative efforts. Soliloquys mingled with traditional arrangements alongside lyrical compilations, both from an interpretive and original perspective. The usual suspects featured frequently, though innovatively punctuated by abstract takes on Shakespeare’s approach to mental health and refugees. Most significantly though was the ten-strong ensemble of musicians heeding the call to sprinkle their folk music magic on a project commemorating the four hundredth anniversary of William Shakespeare departing this world, thus leaving a legacy which any mortal creator of art can only dream of.

Kelly Oliver
It is just over a year since this group of young emerging folk artists put their busy individual schedules to one side and set about turning a ‘crazy’ idea from Said the Maiden’s Jess Distill into a fabulous fruition of folk fusion. Birmingham’s Crescent Theatre was one of the lucky first chosen venues to host the live version, obviously falling in line behind a showing at Stratford’s RSC. Over the course of an hour and half, twelve new songs were entertainingly introduced, presented and beautifully gift wrapped, leaving a popular traditional in ‘Froggy Went a Courtin’ to be the evening’s parting shot along with its Romeo and Juliet connotation.

The good news is that the recorded version is nearing its release moment with a yet to be finalised late summer/early autumn date. Furthermore its content is a treasure trove of artistic creativity showcasing sizzling harmonies, exalted solos, thought provoking lyrics and crafted musicianship of the highest calibre. A treat awaits those who have pledged, pre-ordered and many newcomers certain to be engulfed in its tempting samples.

The architects of this project were all present for this Birmingham premiere packed with names which are becoming increasingly familiar on the independent folk and acoustic circuit. Already mentioned have been the Hertfordshire based trio Said the Maiden, bringing a sumptuous style of harmony singing coupled with the violin input from band member Hannah Elizabeth and the multi-instrumental talents of Kathy Pilkington. The four other female performers included three solo singer-songwriters in Minnie Birch, Daria Kulesh and Kelly Oliver plus Kim Lowings, who fronts her Stourbridge based band The Greenwood.

Kim Lowings
The guys may have been outnumbered, but the numerical deficit was a mere irrelevance led by Chris Cleverley in buoyant hometown form on song, guitar, banjo and gag duty. One of his offerings, the mental health inspired ‘Thinking Makes It So’ ,was the song to have been previously heard at his solo shows and his banjo contribution was a key moment in the first half ending with Hamlet in hoedown mode. Sam Kelly spent the majority of the show on mandolin before rising to the song challenge deep  in the second set with the selectively sourced ‘Jessica’.  All musical collaborations need a resolute backbone and it was of little surprise to see in-demand multi bassist Lukas Drinkwater in his regular engine room role.

All song writing participants had their vocal moment in the sun, with Kelly’s refugee angled contribution ‘Strangers’ featuring in the second half and Minnie’s sole effort ‘Up and Down’ doing likewise before the interval. Daria opened the show with the evocative ‘Lady Macbeth’ before settling mainly in a musical role. Kim generally traded in her usual dulcimer for the available piano and the keys accompaniment to one of her contributions ‘The Song of the Philomel’ made a strong case for the evening’s highlight. However at the conclusion this had to be a shared accolade such as the ideals of an egalitarian project.

Whether you approach this project from the comedy angle of Mid Summer Night’s Dream/Twelfth Night; are a tragedy junkie for epics like Hamlet/Macbeth or just a lover of folk music, riches are aplenty. These ten musicians have made a statement that enamoured collaborative projects need not be the domain of those etched into the grain of the genre. The strength of any movement is in its roots and The Company of Players have just solidified this base with an absolute gem.

Jess Morgan - Dark Horse, Moseley, Birmingham. Sunday 23rd April 2017

Circumstance and opportunity have recently conspired against seeing Jess Morgan play live, but this seems to have been rectified as the summer months of 2017 open upon us. Ahead of a scheduled appearance at the city’s Moseley Folk Festival on the first weekend of September, Jess made a welcome return to Birmingham as the latest guest of the Nights at the Circus folk operation. The result was a super set providing satisfying re-assurance that Jess is continuing to evolve as a highly effective performing singer-songwriter.

The centrepiece of a set, which pushed the hour and a quarter mark, was a batch of songs from the latest album EDISON GLORIETTE. This record saw the light of day at the back end of last year and has transpired to be her most accomplished effort to date. It was a thrill to hear these songs live for the first time and revitalised an album which heralded many listens plus a glowing review around release time.

The added bonus of seeing a singer-songwriter play live is the opportunity to gain further insight to the songs especially where the lyrical content is highly valued. Throughout the evening, Jess duly provided to mix useful chat with the playing thus shedding more light on songs such as ‘In Brooklyn’ (yes based on the New York borough), ‘Red Rubies’ (rather gruesome eating habits) and the somewhat self-explanatory ‘Don’t Meet Your Heroes’.

The older material was kept to a minimum with ‘Missionary’ going back to the first time Jess was seen live when she played a gig in nearby Stourbridge in 2013. Like then we learned a little of her African adventures at a time before a busy music life took hold. Perhaps now acquiring the role of oldie status is a firm Jess Morgan favourite ‘Freckles in the Sun’ and it was of little surprise for it to appear as the encore number. The audience had been given the choice of an original or another cover at this stage with the former getting the shout out.

Earlier in the set Jess had made one delve into the work of others with a cover of the Steve Earle song ‘Goodbye’. It was apt that a transatlantic deviance occurred at this point as there is no disguising the Americana influence that is seeping into her music, albeit framed in a firm folk direction. This has led to interest from the AMA UK, and a style possibly garnered from excursions across the Atlantic such as an appearance at Folk Alliance.

On this successful evening held in the upstairs music room at the Dark Horse, Midlands based singer-songwriter Dan Hartland opened for Jess. A regular on the local music scene, Dan was joined for his set by a colleague on double bass and the songs, both old and new, flowed in an affable style.

As intimated at the outset of this review, this was a timely return to the city of Birmingham for Jess Morgan, although her many gigs often skirt the area in the wider Midlands. We know that she won’t leave it so long in the future and it is a given that she will go down well on the Sunday of Moseley Folk, a day where this increasingly eclectic urban festival makes a concerted effort to go back to roots. Until that day at the end of the summer, good memories of this immensely satisfying show will suffice.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker - Glee Club, Birmingham, Thursday 20th April 2017

The irony of Josienne Clarke appearing at the Glee Club was lanced on the evening even before a chord was struck, but the temptation to temporarily revive it is too good to miss. Needless to say Josienne proceeded to be in her fine usual form showcasing why Ben Walker and her are one of the preeminent acts on the UK folk circuit. In fact it is tough to identify a better duo where each half executes their specific part to an outcome of blissful excellence so well.

You can take your pick on the many facets of the Clarke-Walker partnership, and the full pack was on show during this return to Birmingham barely six months after their previous visit. Ultimately the sheer beauty of the music is purveyed through the triumvirate of original, cover and traditional songs. The stunning Josienne Clarke solo write ‘The Waning Crescent’ emerged on the evening as the standout original with its alternate theme and supreme soundtrack impressing. The cover of Gillian Welch’s ‘Dark Turn of Mind’ goes a long way to defining the duo’s tone and sets the scene of the Clarke-Walker aura early in the set. From a traditional perspective, ‘The Banks of the Sweet Primroses’ has served them well in the past and continues to do so as this gig evolved into a special exposure of tantalising live music.

Apart from a brace of Josienne’s forays into the world of saxophone parts, the effortless charms of Ben Walker’s sublime guitar playing adds instrumental colour to the Clarke-Walker canvas. His unassuming presence and elegance belies the summit of impact as you are left to marvel at the ease of his approach. Forever inventive and innovative in style and instrument choice, Ben mesmerised both aficionados and those intent on mere indulgence to equal measure as the acoustic, electric and bass format was excelled to a lofty degree.

If you were compiling an A-list of contemporary folk vocalists Josienne Clarke would feature high. The emotion, versatility and ability to convey the magic of song all radiate from her vocal presence, displaying a classical style that permeates through to the layperson. Each song chosen to form this twin-set gig possessed such an impact that it was a pleasure to experience this aural delight from close quarters. The Sandy Denny connotation is not going away especially when ‘Fotheringay’ makes the set list and an intriguing version of the Dolly Parton hybrid ‘Little Sparrow’ provided an enhanced touch.

This was the third occasion of seeing the Clark-Walker duo live and it helps significantly if you buy into the Josienne Clarke stage persona. Maybe sarcasm is a touch harsh; irony is probably a kinder compliment. The humour blends well with the unabated melancholy and perhaps adds a progressive maverick element to a product which can sometimes echo a conservative feel. Either way the whole Clarke-Walker package has attracted the signing arm of retro punk label Rough Trade, which put out their superb latest concept record OVERNIGHT in the latter part of 2016. Who needs rules anyway?

Maybe it wasn’t so ironic in booking Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker in a Glee Club after all. Synergy can exist in abstract situations and it would be dull if the world was viewed in a uniform way. Long may their talents be paraded at any venue where appreciative music fans get their pound rewarded tenfold. There may even be hope in Chicago one day!

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Tour Preview: Mo Kenney



Her insightful and occasionally lacerating lyrics, her tunefulness and her finger-picking guitar perhaps place her in a bracket with the very British Laura Marling – Fatea

Known for her smooth vocals and fearless lyrics, Canadian songwriter Mo Kenney is excited to announce the release of her new single UNGLUED (May 26th); the first track to be taken from her eagerly awaited new album THE DETAILS, due for release later this year. Mo is excited to return to the UK this May for a string of live dates, including the GREAT ESCAPE and London headline show at THE ISLINGTON May 24th 2017.

“It’s been a while, but I’ve got a new record coming out. Took my time writing it and I’m excited to share it with the UK!”  Mo Kenney.

Mo’s Juno nominated second album In My Dreams (produced by Joel Plaskett) helped present an artist who has grown in every facet of her craft. Already recognised for her mix of folk and pop genres at the Canadian Folk Music Awards and East Coast Music Awards, Kenney is excited to share her new mix of Pop, Rock and Folk with UK audiences.

“Folk, pop, scuzzy rock - she is clearly poised and ready to pounce” Tony Clayton-Lea, The Irish Times.


18-20th May  GREAT ESCAPE Festival, Brighton

Sunday 21st May  Shepley Festival

Tuesday 23rd May The Castle, Manchester

Wednesday 24th May The Islington, London

Friday 26th & Saturday 27th May  Ireby Festival

Wednesday 31st May  The Mash House, Edinburgh

Thursday 1st June  King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, Glasgow

Friday 2nd June Louisiana, Bristol

Saturday 3rd June Acoustic Festival of Great Britain

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Artist Feature: Jess Morgan

Jess Morgan to release limited run of handmade 7” records for Record Store Day

DIY singer/songwriter Jess Morgan takes the do-it-yourself concept to new levels creating handmade vinyl records in her Norwich home. Jess has made a limited run of 7” vinyl of the song ‘Still In Fashion’ (from her album ‘Edison Gloriette’) for release exclusively at Relevant Records in Cambridge for Record Store Day on April 22nd 2017. Jess will also perform an acoustic set at 12pm at Relevant Records.

This limited run of ‘Still In Fashion’ follows 2016’s run of ‘In Brooklyn’, released as part of the PledgeMusic campaign for ‘Edison Gloriette’ as featured on The 405 who called her “a true DIY artist in her element. Seriously, she does it all”. Jess talks about the process on her BLOG in which she says:  

“It took a while to hit upon the right recipe - ratio of catalyst and silicone mix to pick up the grooves of a record while still holding its shape and not shrinking back. I also used paper / car / demo tape / duct tape and foil to build up texture in relief which would become the mould and transfer a raised design onto the resin. Eventually I used a thick kind of foil tape - which I think is used for insulation in plumbing - as I wanted to see if I could recreate the fine lines of a sketch in relief. Since working out how to successfully 'clone' a record, I spent almost a year - on days in-between touring and recording - experimenting with different ways to make the records special. In the early stages, I found colour mixing - within the resin really quite difficult. I experimented with dye, ink and paint to add a colour injection.”

The artwork for ‘Still In Fashion’ is designed by Jess, with a disc cut from the sleeve and trapped in the centre of each record.

‘Still In Fashion’ also appears on Jess’ album ‘Edison Gloriette’ which will receive a full commercial release on April 22nd 2017.

"musicianship dovetails well with her clever and understated songwriting" - The Telegraph
"Gorgeous country folk" - The Guardian
“Some of the most sublime tunes you are likely to hear in a long time. ****” – R2
“A real treat… an enormously gifted songwriter” – Songwriting Magazine

Tour Dates
Thursday 23rd March – The Burston Crown
Friday 25th March – Portico, Lincoln
Thursday 30th March – Relevant Records, Cambridge
Friday 31st March – The Courthouse, Thirsk
Thursday 13th April – Loughton Folk Club
Saturday 22nd April – Record Store Day session – Relevant Records, Cambridge @ 12 noon
Saturday 22nd April – Elmslie House, Malvern
Sunday 23rd April – Nights at the Circus, Birmingham
Sunday 30th April – Big Session Festival, Buxton
Thursday 4th May – Cuffern Manor, Pembrokeshire
Saturday 13th May – Hebden Bridge Roots Festival
26th May & 27th May – Ireby Festival, Cumbria

Jess Morgan – background

Jess Morgan is a songwriter’s songwriter. A cerebral storyteller. On her new album she pens personal, creative folk & roots tunes that paint a vivid picture for the listener.

When it came for the Norwich-based singer-songwriter to start recording tracks on ‘Edison Gloriette’ Norway was calling. Jess returned to Bergen team-up with collaborators from her 2010 debut, producer HP Gunderson and producer and studio engineer Daniel Birkeland. She wanted to record slowly and meaningfully following a mad 5 years of touring and rapid releases. 2 weeks in a quiet cabin, alongside a fjord on the outskirts of Bergen was just the right change of pace. ‘We recorded against the most incredible backdrop taking breaks for walks, drinking beer at the water’s edge’ explains Jess.

Back in the UK Jess brought on friends Stephen MacLachlan - to work on percussion - and Ben Savage and Hannah Sanders to record backing vocals. Noel Dashwood also joined the ‘Edison Gloriette’ dream-team to add some soulful dobro solos to ‘Red Rubies’, the true story of an unusual bird eating man, and ‘Still In Fashion’ which Jess describes as being about, ‘the fear of tomorrow that casts a long shadow over today’.

Jess’ songs are acutely observed tales of life, love, people and places. Album opener ‘Longest Arm’ is a snapshot of an encounter between a man and a waitress and the feelings stirred in their shared moment. Rousing track ‘Hymn In The Morning’ is about priorities changing as you get older, ‘I started writing this song in the wake of one of those mornings where you haul yourself out of bed and feel like you just can’t do nights out like you used to!’ says Jess, ‘I imagined the story set in the small hours, spending the morning in bed, shaking off the night with someone you love’. Rootsy-ballad ‘In Your Life’ is both challenging and optimistic.

The past 5 years have seen Jess cement her place in the burgeoning folk, roots and Americana scene throughout the UK and Europe. Her music has attracted the ears of BBC Radio 2, BBC 6 Music, Uncut, The Telegraph, The Guardian, R2 and Folk Radio UK, to name a few. New album ‘Edison Gloriette’ follows on from Jess’ 2010 debut ‘All Swell’, 2012’s ‘Aye Me’ and her highly acclaimed 2014 release ‘Langa Langa’. In summer 2015 Jess released ‘The Bournemouth EP’ which sold-out its limited edition run in less than 24 hours.

Gig Preview: Lynne Hanson St.George's Hall, Bewdley. Friday 28th April 2017

Somewhere in the heartlands, in a town called 'Americana USA,' nestles a particular variety of singer-songwriter. Someone who views a melodic sensibility through the bottom of a whiskey glass. Canadian songstress Lynne Hanson could run for mayor of that town.”

Bewdley’s Music in the Hall are delighted to welcome back to headline their next event on Friday April 28th Canadian songstress Lynne Hanson, together with her band The Good Intentions. Lynne featured at St Georges Hall last year, receiving a standing ovation and rapturous show reviews. Now she is back with a European tour promoting her brand new album “Uneven Ground”.

At first listen, her warm, gritty, boot stompin’ music leads you through the southern USA, though Hanson hails from Ottawa, Canada. Her sound is born honestly through a lifetime of experience and influence, expressed through the rock, blues and roots that bleeds from her very being. With a liberal amount of Texas grit and a polished Nashville sensibility, Lynne’s songs are familiar and comfortable, yet fearless and strong. She likes things a little rough around the edges, but her deep bluesy croon is pure and full of fortitude. No matter what the song, there’s a weight and a warmth to her expression.  

In her brand new release Uneven Ground (April 2017), produced by Winnipeg’s Scott Nolan, Hanson explores the realm of giving sound advice through songwriting, and fighting back against the devil within us. Permeating the recording is a restrained intensity, elevated with a finger picked beat, beautiful piano accompaniments, dobro and wind instruments. The album leads out with the lush electricity of “Carry Me Home,” winding into down-home roots ballads like “Stronger” and “Just For Now”. The title track “Uneven Ground” is a full-on blues assault, conjuring images a glamorous chanteuse stretched out in front of a baby grand in a smoky nightclub. “Counting Heartbeats” and “Every Honest Misstep” each have a unique, driving, rain-on-the-windshield quality; with a pace that leans in on the gas just a bit. All together, Uneven Ground is an authentic expression of Hanson’s rustic style, brimming over with imagery and cleverly penned lyrics, and a crystal clear production. It steps proudly into the next generation of roots and blues music, while still respecting traditions.   

The regular support slot is filled by Bewdley based Malar, whilst Wyre Forest Young Musicians of the Year Mayfli are featuring in the opening Youth act spot.

Tickets (£10.00) are selling very quickly, and are available at or over the counter at St Georges Hall Cafe. Doors Open at 7.30pm.