Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Eliza Carthy and Tim Erikson – Rhosygilwen – 29/10/2013

The incredible Eliza Carthy was destined to make music. Her incredible natural ability and many years of experience have made her one of the best British fiddle players and singers of all time. Constantly on the road with new ideas and material, Eliza is certainly someone to admire. Tim Eriksen is a supreme multi-instrumentalist and singer from Massachusetts; he also leads the band Cordelia’s Dad.  Tim’s music focuses on new interpretations of traditional American tunes and songs. He is also an excellent composer of unique and interesting songs.

In a sense, this creates the perfect duo as they both have a similar approach to traditional music. Furthermore the sound they make together is beautiful. Rhosygilwen has to be one of the most fitting venues for this type of music. The acoustics are wonderful and the building is beautiful as well.

Unfortunately we arrived a little late, after getting reasonably lost on the way, and therefore missed most of the performance from a local concertina and melodeon player (actually a busker the organiser found in Cardigan Town Centre). I am afraid to say I am unsure of his name; however, from what I saw, he was very good and played some lovely tunes. He played some more during the interval as well, and I thought his performances were a lovely edition to the evening.

First of all, Tim took to the stage and sang accapella. He did not reveal the title of the track. This was followed by Eliza singing ‘the Trees they do Grow High’ again with no accompaniment. Both these songs were sung beautifully and emotionally and were a wonderful start to the gig.

Eliza Carthy and Tim Eriksen 
One of my favourite aspects of the duo was the harmonies they created. They sang a version of ‘Banks of Sweet Primroses’ and ‘The May Song’ in harmony with no instrumentation. This was brilliant and their voices work wonderfully together. For me, this was a particular highlight, even if ‘May Song’ was not very seasonal.

Tim and Eliza played the song ‘Castle by the Sea’. For this, Tim skilfully played acoustic guitar and Eliza played fiddle. This American song combines a lovely tune and very narrative lyrics. The listener is drawn to the lyrics and the instrumentation worked fantastically.  

I very much enjoyed the song ‘Friendship’. This demonstrated the musical talented of the duo, with both Eliza and Tim playing fiddle. The two violins created a really beautiful sound. The lyrics to the song were written by Tim but the tune is apparently a famous old American one. It is catchy toe-tapper and the singing fitted really well; it is a very pleasant song to listen to, and one of the only happy songs of the set. 

Eliza Carthy 
The most touching song of the set was ‘Logan’s Lament’. Logan the Orator was a Native American war leader whose family and village were all murdered in a massacre in 1774 by white settlers. It is supposed that he wrote the song. Therefore, as you would expect, the song is poignant, yet beautiful. I do not think this song could be made more perfect then Eliza and Tim’s version.

In perhaps a more modern style, Tim Eriksen played electric guitar a lot during the set. Furthermore, this more contemporary style was added to by Eliza’s bass drum which made the duo sound much bigger and more like a small band. One song in which both these were incredibly effective, but not a usual combination was during the song ‘The traveller’. This song is a sacred harp hymnal, but this modern treatment really suited it. Who said folk music can not be cool?

One thing that is brilliant about the two performers is the way that when they are on stage they look like they are enjoying themselves, especially Eliza. It is a visual performance and this captures the audience’s attention. They played the song ‘Sailor’s Wedding’ in which they invited the audience to sing along. It is a very catchy with a memorable chorus and a lively tune which Tim wrote. Tim demonstrated his amazing banjo playing during this piece, with Eliza playing fiddle wonderfully.

 The encore song was another hymnal from ‘Pumpkintown’. ‘Pumkintown’ is a fictional place which Tim claims certain songs come from when he does not have a full back story for them. This may sound slightly odd, and maybe it is, but it amusing and it is nice when songs have a story, regardless of whether the story is true or not. Again, this was a catchy song with a lovely chorus in which lots of the audience joined in. It was the perfect way to end the wonderful evening.

YouTube video of Eliza Carthy and Tim Eriksen singing together:

The set list with a beautiful illustration of Eliza, drawn by Tim 

Monday, 28 October 2013

Ralph McTell – Theatr Mwldan 25/10/2013

 Ralph McTell is, well, Ralph McTell. His genius song writing ability has gained him recognition throughout the world and his voice and skilful guitar playing are still as immaculate as ever. His current ‘One more for the Road’ tour, in which Ralph is touring both old and new material, is going to venues all over the UK. The concert at Theatr Mwldan was sold out and most of the audience, as far as I could tell, were long term fans or Ralph’s music. Armed with 6 guitars (although he did not use all of them) and a grand piano, he did a two hour performance without an interval during the middle. I am not sure of the motive behind this; however it seemed to work effectively.

He began by singing a song called ‘The London Apprentice’ from his album ‘Somewhere down the Road’ which was released in 2010. The song was immediately attention grabbing and catchy and a brilliant way to start the gig. I really enjoyed the traditional feel to this song and the fitting guitar accompaniment. It had a very different feel to some of Ralph’s earlier material; however, it is a lovely song and was incredibly enjoyable to listen to. He did a few other songs with a similar folk feel later on in the set. One of these was the song ‘Girl from the Hiring Fair’ which Ralph wrote for Fairport Convention to play. It is a song about a man who falls in love at the Hiring fair with a girl who he ends up working with. It is a rare folk song with a happy ending. Again this song has a distinct memorable tune that made it stand out to me.

Ralph mentioned for each venue he plays a different set list, including requests that he has been given. Every time he played a song someone had requested he would start by saying how long it is since he played the particular song, this was normally several years. Remarkably, he still managed to play the songs perfectly and beautifully, proving his tremendous talent.  His guitar skills are astonishing and his voice is strong and very pleasant to listen to. His songs are comfortable and relaxing. Even though I can not distinguish every single song he sang, it was a lovely, enjoyable evening. One of my favourite songs of the evening was ‘Dreamtime’. This song was written about Australia for Billy Connolly’s tour there. The song focuses on the ecosystem of Australia and how, although how everything is burnt to the ground during forest fires, the country recovers and forests spring up again. It is a really beautiful song.  

The best moment of the performance has to be when he sung ‘Streets of London’. He suggested that the audience may like to join in during the chorus. Not only did everyone do this, many people sung the verses as well. This was truly magical and poignant, as it is clear how much the song means for so many people. Although this song was written over 30 years, it is still shockingly relevant today. For this, Ralph got a tremendous round of applause.

Ralph McTell showed of some different styles of guitar playing. He spoke about Reverend Davies and his guitar playing influence. He played a song which he had written using Rev. Davies’ style and I have to say incredibly different to any of his other songs. His masterful guitar playing really suited the lyrics and tune. It was very different but a style that suited him. Ralph also showed off some of his ‘noodling’. Noodling is when you play an instrument casually and improvise a piece and Ralph has recently just recorded an album of tunes he has created from noodling. The tune he played was called ‘Housewives’ Choice’. It was a catchy tune and showcased Ralph’s amazing guitar playing.

I think my favourite song though was the encore song which was ‘Around the Wild Cape Horn’. Like the first song he played it had a very traditional feel, as the name suggests. This song has not yet appeared on any of Ralph’s albums, but it has a lovely, rhythmic guitar accompaniment and Fairport Convention have again done a version of it. 

Link to Ralph McTell's website -

YouTube video of Ralph McTell playing 'Streets of London' -

YouTube video of Ralph McTell playing 'Dreamtime' -

YouTube video of Ralph McTell playing 'Girl From the Hiring Fair' -

YouTube video of Fairport Convention playing 'Girl From the Hiring Fair' -

YouTube video of Ralph McTell playing 'Around the Wild Cape Horn' -

Friday, 25 October 2013

The Foxglove Trio – Like Diamond Glances

The Foxglove Trio comprises of Ffion Mair, Cathy Mason and Patrick Dean. Their debut EP was released in March of this year, and contains five beautifully crafted songs in English and in Welsh. Ffion possesses a brilliant voice and sings with so much clarity that it is natural for the listener to be drawn to the story telling aspects of the songs. Furthermore, for someone like me, who speaks a small amount of Welsh, Ffion’s voice is ideal for trying to follow the story lines in the Welsh lyrics. Cathy Mason, who is a talented multi –instrumentalist, plays guitar and cello on the EP. Patrick Dean is a brilliant melodeon, cello and concertina player. Both Cathy and Patrick sing on some of the tracks.

The EP contains the wonderful song ‘Newry Town’. The words are set to a new tune and, although I really like the old one, this version suits the lyrics incredibly well. The story contained in the song is about a highway man who robs the rich in order to supply his wife with gifts. However, this has severe consequences when he caught and serves as a warning against thievery. Ffion’s whistle playing on the track is also fantastic.

My favourite song is ‘The Sign of the Bonny Blue Bell’. This is probably the most catchy and cheerful songs on the EP. Although the lyrics have very little meaning, the tune is lovely. Furthermore, I particularly like this instrumentation on this track and the vocal harmonies. This, combined with Ffion’s fantastic singing, create a really enjoyable song to listen to.

‘Betsy Bell and Mary Grey’ is a song about a man who is in love with two women. In the song the merits of the two women are compared. The song has a rather dramatic tune and accompaniment, containing rhythmic melodeon playing by Patrick. The song finishes with the traditional tune ‘Morrison’s Jig’ which shows off the musical talents of the trio and is certainly a toe tapper of a tune.

The song ‘Cariad Cyntaf’ (First Love) begins with a haunting cello line played by Cathy Mason.  Patrick plays the melodeon the track which creates a more joyful element to the song during the second verse that suits the lyrics more than the initial haunting accompaniment. According to the sleeve notes the lyrics contain a story about two lovers discussing their plans for getting married. The second song in welsh on the EP is ‘Bugeilio'r Gwenith Gwyn’. This, again, is a song about two lovers; however, it certainly does not have a story in which everything ends happily. It was written by Wil Hopcyn, in the 18th century, about his love for the daughter of a wealthy land owner, Ann, who was forced to marry a different man against her will. Wil supposedly wrote these lyrics ones he had left the village. It is said that at this time Wil had a dream about the man Ann had married dying and he rushed back to Ann in the hope of being able to marry her, to find that the dream was wrong, and it was in fact Ann who had died. The song contains a wonderful guitar accompaniment. Both these songs are sung with a lot of emotion and it is certainly not necessary to comprehend Welsh in order to understand some of the emotion behind the lyrics.

Considering this is a debut EP, I am sure we can expect more fantastic music from this trio in the future. Also, it is incredibly clear that they are all fantastic musicians.

Link to their website :
YouTube video of Cariad Cyntaf:

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Paper Aeroplanes and Martyn Joseph – Theatr Mwldan – 11/10/13

Paper Aeroplanes and Martyn Joseph are Welsh singer songwriters, making a natural combination to tour together. Martyn Joseph is renowned across the globe for his distinctive, skilful guitar playing and thoughtful songs. Hailing from Milford Haven, Paper Aeroplanes, comprising Sarah Howells and Richard Llewellyn have just released their third album as duo and have built a large fan base for music, especially in this area of Wales. Furthermore, Theatr Mwldan is a natural venue for such a tour, as it is incredibly committed to the promotion of Welsh music.  

The first half of the gig was a set from Paper Aeroplanes. Sarah Howells has an incredibly distinctive, haunting voice and Richard Llewellyn added wonderful harmonies to the duo and is a great guitar player. However, the songs lack distinct features and, to me, are not wonderfully catchy. Their tunes do not compel you to listen to the words; instead, they sound pleasant and are relaxing. In a sense they are quite introverted, like the performers themselves, as though background knowledge is needed to understand them and the emotion behind them.  However, overall I really did enjoy the set.  Additionally, I enjoyed the instrumentation. The two guitars worked really well together; however, I preferred the addition of the mandolin as it introduced a different sound into the mix.

One of my favourite songs of the set was ‘My First Love’. This song was probably the most memorable, with a reasonably catchy tune and sweet lyrics to accompany it. I really like the way in which Sarah uses the higher register of her voice in this song. Also the rhythmic guitar accompaniment really fitted the song giving it a more cheerful atmosphere. Furthermore, I especially enjoyed the haunting quality of the song ‘Circus’. This song matches Sarah’s haunting voice and its slightly creepy tune was intriguing and compelling.         

After the interval, Martyn Joseph took to the stage with much enthusiasm and energy. He truly is a master of making his wonderful guitar playing look effortless. He is certainly a performer as well as a musician. His set was full of energy and excitement, as well as audience interaction, quite the opposite to the style of performance from Paper Aeroplanes. Throughout the set Martyn mostly played his own catchy, upbeat material.

Martyn has recently released an album of his versions of Bruce Springsteen songs. He is often referred to as the Welsh Springsteen. Therefore, it is not surprising that during the set he allowed the audience the opportunity to select two Bruce Springsteen songs from a list of six for Martyn to sing. The audience chose for him to sing his version of ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’ which I thought was incredibly beautiful. The second song he sung ‘No Surrender’ had a very different feel to it. He accompanied himself on ukulele which was not amplified and therefore Martyn had to hold it up to the microphone. However, the quietness of the ukulele was a foil for Martyn’s strong singing voice. Also, although the ukulele was perhaps an unusual choice for the song, it was really effective and gave it an incredibly acoustic feel.

The most affecting song of the set has to be ‘Five Sisters’ which is a true story about casualties from the conflict in Palestine. The conflict in Palestine is clearly a subject that Martyn cares about greatly and this comes through in the song, in the beautiful and poignant melody and the lyrics which tell a sombre story.

One of my favourite songs of Martyn Joseph’s was ‘I’m on my way’ which has a really catchy chorus and is very enjoyable to listen to. The audience were encouraged to join in and definitely did so, which always adds to the enjoyment of a song for me and shows that the audience were enjoying the gig as much as I was.

One of the best moments of the set was when Martyn Joseph stepped of the stage and into the audience. Although his guitar playing was still being amplified, he managed to sing over it. It was a lovely moment that proved he has a natural talent for being heard acoustically as well as through an amplifier. Furthermore, this, and his constant habit of walking about the stage, made it a visual show as well as something to be listened to. As I said, he is a performer, not just a musician, and that takes real skill.

The best part of the gig has to be the encore. For this, Martyn Joseph and Paper Aeroplanes all took the stage. Paper Aeroplanes sang the song ‘Newport Beach’ which has local connections to the area so it went down incredibly well. I think it is my favourite Paper Aeroplane song, as it carries a catchy tune and engaging lyrics. Furthermore, the instrumentation was really appropriate and exciting, especially with Martyn Joseph playing guitar and harmonica on top of Paper Aeroplanes two guitars. There were many lovely harmonies incorporated into this song as well. After this, the three of them sang Martyn’s song ‘Still a lot of Love’ which was the perfect way to end such a lovely evening. Again, the audience joined in on the chorus and it felt as though every single person in the room was part of the performance in some way.  

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Faustus – Theatr Mwldan - 04/10/2013

Faustus is a folk trio comprising Paul Sartin, Saul Rose and Benji Kirkpatrick, all of whom are amazing musicians and singers; together they make a wonderfully big sound for such a small group. They could be described as a very democratic band as individuals share lead vocals in different songs.  This is the first time I have ever seen Faustus live, although I am quite familiar with their music and am massively fond of the band Dr Faustus, which Faustus was formed from.  Furthermore, Theatr Mwldan is a lovely venue for folk and acoustic gigs; the acoustics are wonderful and it has a very friendly atmosphere.

After a witty introduction by Benji and Saul, ‘Broken Down Gentlemen’, the title track of their brilliant new album, was sung by Benji, with Saul on Squeeze box and Paul on fiddle. This is an incredibly catchy song about a young man who is careless with money and reaps the consequences. Although the message of the song is serious and it is hardly a happy story, the tune that accompanies it is rather jolly, making it a very appropriate start to the light hearted atmosphere of the set. This was followed by Saul singing the lively song ‘Prentice Boy’ set to a merry morris tune called ‘Highland Mary’.   The story concerns two young lovers discussing their wedding plans, when unexpectedly the boyfriend decides to murder his lover!

The song that followed, ‘American Stranger’, I thought was incredibly beautiful. The words are set to a tune called ‘Princess Waltz’ that Paul wrote for a friend’s wedding. It is a lovely tune and suits the words which are a love song. Then came my favourite song of the first half, ‘Blow the Windy Morning’. This wonderfully catchy song is about a lonely Sheppard who finds a woman at a brook and takes a liking to her. I particularly like the rhythmic element of this song, added to by Saul’s melodeon playing, and a chorus that begs to be sung along to.

Another highlight for me was  the song ‘Lovely Johnny’, which was described as an ‘anti-love’ song. It about a woman who is intent on marrying to Johnny, however, Johnny is not so keen. Again it has a very catchy refrain and a wonderfully fitting instrumentation that add to the angry feeling of the song.

The most affecting song of the set for me was ‘the Captain’s Apprentice’. This is a tragic story about a boy who is apprenticed to a cruel captain but the point of view is the captain’s. Apparently it was written after a series of real events making it more poignant. Paul Sartin sang lead vocals and it began with a rather sparse accompaniment to his singing appropriate to the sombre theme.  At the end of the song there was an instrumental part in which Paul played the tune on the fiddle. There was distinct pause whilst the last not of this resonated in the air before the applause started indicating that the audience was as affected by the song as I was. The singing and instrumentation was just so powerful and emotional, yet beautiful and delicate. It was the sort of moment that could never come across on a recording of the song; it relied on the audience as well as the musicians.

However, this solemn atmosphere did not last long.  Faustus continued by playing a wonderfully lively tune set. It was masterfully performed, showing what skilful musicians they are. Furthermore, it was very much a toe tapper of a tune set which incorporated some beautiful instrumental harmonies. I am sure if there had been room there would have been dancing. 

The set finished with ‘The Og’s Eye man’ which is a catchy sea shanty, with a chorus that begs to be sung along to.  My favourite feature about this song is the vocal harmonies that make the song compelling to listen to. Also, it is another lively song, especially with Benji’s powerfully rhythmic guitar playing added to the mix. After an astounding loud round of applause, they played the song ‘Brisk Lad’ as an encore. This was a song collected from Paul’s relative, as he proudly explained, pointing out the miserable theme of the song. This song was sung so beautifully and was the perfect ending to a wonderful gig. It incorporated some incredible vocal harmonies and was sung with limited instrumentation adding to the misery of the song. 

Paul Sartin 

Benji Kirkpatrick 

Saul Rose

Youtube video - 'Brisk Lad' :
Youtube video - 'Blow The Windy Morning' : v=eh3nI49tWaM
Youtube video - 'Broken Down Gentlemen' :

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Folk Song in England Day At the British Library - 21/09/2013

Recently I participated in a day of volunteering for EFDSS at a ‘Folk Song in England’ day in the British Library in London. The event was part of the EFDSS’ ‘Full English’ project, in which EFDSS have put the collections of 12 song collectors on to an online archive that anyone can access. This momentous project has led to these ‘Folk Song in England’ events happening all over the country. Although I assisted at the event, I had the privilege of listening to the speakers and I would like to share some of the amazing things that I learnt.
              The day began with Steve Roud, a historian with a passion for and vast knowledge of folklore and folk song. Steve Roud has been involved in publications such as the ‘New Penguin Book of English Folk Song’ and ‘A dictionary of English Folklore’. He started by playing a version of ‘the Hungry sung by Ron and Bob Copper. Steve firmly pointed out that the day was about English Folk Song and did not apply to Welsh, Scottish or Irish folk song. To me, this was slightly disappointing as I tend to think of all British Folk Music as incredibly interlinked and as a unit rather than to be separated by country borders. This is probably due to the fact I live in a distinctively English part of Wales.
               Steve discussed the definition of folk music and how a song becomes traditional. He spoke in terms that a folk song must have been learnt from someone and passed on. Also it is to do with selectivity – learning the songs you want to as opposed to every single one. The third element which he mentioned that makes a folk song is how it is mutable with people’s different interpretations of the same song. He pointed out that it is impossible for the same singer to sing a song exactly the same every time, and therefore it is impossible for songs to be passed on the same every time. Later on he proved this by playing a mother singing a song and then her son singing the same song. The two versions were sung incredibly differently; the mother sang in a delicate, gentle way, whereas her son sung  in a loud strong voice, illustrating his point as the son had learnt the song from the singing of his mother. Steve called the attributes of a folk song ‘continuity, selection and variation’.
               The other context that was given is that folk songs are non-commercial and sung face to face. He pointed out that, before the 1940s, if you wanted to listen to music then you had to hear it from someone; there was no way of putting on an album and listening that way. This discussion led to theme of where these folk songs were sung. Steve briefly discussed how folk sessions would work. It was mentioned how the younger people in the session would sing the ‘modern’ songs from the time. These would mostly be from musicals. However, the older generations would sing the old folk songs. Everyone had their own songs to sing and no one ever sung each other’s – almost as though singing a song gave you the ownership of it.
               We were shown some clips from ‘Here’s a Health to the Barley Mow’ which is a series of various dvds containing archival footage of folk customs. The clips we were shown were of a folk  session happening from the mid 20th century. Steve explained that it is the nearest we’ll ever get to seeing a ‘proper’ folk singing session, although obviously people would have been wary of being filmed. The footage was fascinating, and, at times, amusing. The people singing were clearly having an amazing time and everyone in the pub, from the pub owner to the people sitting in the corner, seemed involved in some way. Also, it presented a lot of songs I previously had not heard.
               One of the main topics of conversation during the event was how songs weregathered by collectors. Steve spoke about how Percy Grainger’s collecting methods differed from those of Cecil Sharp. He spoke about how Grainger would record songs on a wax cylinder and then Grainger would take these recordings home, slow them down, to work out every single detail about them. This is fairly incredible considering the accuracy and the muffled quality of the recordings. This differs to Sharp, who would write down the tunes and word on site. No one quite knows how he did this or whether he was pitch perfect, but it is true to say that his manuscripts are probably far less accurate than Grainger’s. Vaughan Williams used a similar method to Sharp but he was more interested in the tunes than the words. He therefore normally the people singing the song to write the words down and he would collect the tune; alternatively he often got his wife to write down the lyrics.
               Then we went to see some of the manuscripts that Vaughan Williams and Grainger had recorded. It was wonderful to see these! Many of them are still in brilliant condition and it was fascinating to see fragments of manuscript from different stages of their lives. Furthermore, there were lyrics written down by people that Vaughan Williams had collected from, which were all beautifully presented showing how much these collections  meant to the people they  were collected from. Additionally we were able to see some pictures of Vaughan Williams and his wives and some wax cylinders that held some field recordings. We were also told about the vast collection of recordings that the British Library holds. You can listen to some recordings here : .
               After lunch Julia Bishop, who is an expert on folk music and another contributor to the ‘New Penguin Book of English folk Songs’, spoke about the musical side of folk music. She mentioned how must songs have a really similar tune. She also spoke about modes – which are an alternative sort of scale, and how they were frequently used in folk songs. She demonstrated this by playing ‘The First Noel’ on the recorder in different modal scales. This helped us all notice how much the modes changed the piece of music. Instead of the music sounding flat and ordinary, it had a new exotic sound that is a key aspect of folk songs. However, it was pointed out that when folk singers were becoming more popular, people complained that folk singers couldn’t sing in tune. That Is the main reason why the modes were thought up. This was all rather fascinating to me as I had previously not understood the theory behind modes. However, I think that if I hadn’t been able to read music then I would have struggled to understand some of it.
               Towards the end of the event, Steve spoke about how and why people began collecting folk songs. He told us that, during the late 18th , century poets in Scotland had been interested in the lyrical side of the ballads, and therefore had begun collecting the words for their poetical element. He spoke about how, in the mid 19th century, people really began writing down the tunes. These collectors normally just collected in the local area. Towards the end of the 19th century people were trying to search for a distinctively British music. They did not have many great composers like other countries so they began to turn towards folk music as encapsulating something patriotic. However, the war put an end to this collecting. Even if the songs were still being sung, some of the collectors had been severely hit by the war.  Steve mentioned how Sharp organised a morris dancing side and, out of all of the young men in the side, only one survived. Therefore, you can see the impact this must have had on Sharp. Thus, there were only a few song collectors between then and the folk revival of the 1950s.
               It was a very enjoyable day and I would really recommend getting as involved as possible in these Full English projects. I am very sorry that this is so late after the actual event; I have had a very busy few weeks.