Six Old Concert Reviews

Dervish – Lichfield Guildhall – 3rd February 2008

The world famous traditional Irish band Dervish called into Lichfield Guildhall as part of their latest tour.

The six piece band of Brian McDonagh on Mandola, Flute and whistle player Liam Kelly, Fiddle player Tom Morrow, Shane Mitchell on Accordion, Cathy Jordan on Vocals, bodhrán and bones and Bouzouki player Michael Holmes played a wide ranging concert that ranged from the traditional music of Ireland to songs sung and made famous by Cher and Bob Dylan.

Playing songs and music from their recent studio album, Travelling Show, the ensemble started of with The Coolea Jigs, with the rhythm section of Mandola, Bodhran and Bouzouki providing a solid foundation for the melodic interplay of the Accordian, Fiddle and Whistles.

Singer Cathy Jordan is seen as one of the best singers in traditional Irish music and this facet of the group’s repertoire was shown to best advantage in the ballad ‘My Bride and I’ with it’s sweeping, romantic orchestral backing, whilst a treatment of Dylan’s ‘Boots made of Spanish Leather’ turned it into a song that could have come from somewhere in the 18th century.

More upbeat songs also featured in the set, with the playful ‘The Cat she went a Hunting’ and ‘Siesta Set’ providing moments of levity. An instrumental medley of ‘O’Reily’s Grave/The Swallow’s Tail’ started of with a whistle solo from Liam Kelly, before a sympathetic backing of mandola and Bouzouki harmonics provided backing for the ensemble playing of the more upbeat second tune.

An encore of an acapella version of ‘I would not give her name for the love of Ireland’ was a touching way to end the concert.

English Originals – Seth Lakeman/Tunng/ Sharron Krauss

Birmingham Town Hall – Saturday 26th April 2008

The second night of Birmingham Town Hall’s season of English Folk gigs took some of the young lions of the genre, and showed that there is life in the music yet. The level of musicianship was exemplary, but many of the acts also took from other genres and disciplines to add to the palette of colours that was available.

Evening opener, Sharon Krauss, a singer very much from the Anne Briggs/ Shirley Collins school led her band of musicians through a set of both traditional songs, and her own compostitions. The use of instruments such as Banjo, double bass, fiddle and guitar leant an air of almost bluegrass interplay to the songs, which also strongly featured accordions. Songs such as The Gallows Song had a brooding intensity, whilst other songs were lighter in tone.

Tunng, famed for their use of Electronic instruments had clearly attracted a number of fans, with their use of electronic motifs, close four part harmony and complex, interweaving guitar parts. Set opener Wood-Cat started with a beat that could have come from an old game of Binatone Tennis, before chiming acoustic guitar and their warm vocal harmonies bought a whole new dimension to the song. This was followed by Bodies, with the harmonies of Becky Jacobs adding greatly to the sound mix. A number of other songs followed, interweaving acoustic instruments such as guitars and clarinets, melodica, and a musical children’s toy to the melee of sound.

Headliner Seth Lakeman, fresh from his appearance on BBC1’s Made in Britain played a set of his powerful folk styled songs. His brother, Sean on Guitar and Mandolin played with a rhythm section of drums and double bass to give life to Seth’s many award winning songs.

Pieces such as the war ballad ‘King and Country’ mixed sentiments of pathos with a gently brooding backing, whereas a song such as ‘Kitty Jay’ was a tour-de-force for Lakeman’s violin talent, and his strong singing voice.

Other songs like ‘Childe the Hunter’, ‘Rifleman of War’ and ‘Send yourself Away’ mixed expert musicianship with narrative song-writing. Lakeman played tenor guitar, fiddle, and banjo, and was on fine form throughout the gig. As well as coming from the folk tradition, many of these songs would have worked for a rock-band, if electric instruments had been used.

In the hands of groups such as Tunng, and with singer-songwriters of the calibre of Sharron Krauss and Seth Lakeman folk music’s future will be very much removed from its image of Shetland jumpers, and singers with a hand over one ear.

Flook – Lichfield Guildhall

One of the leading bands at the fore front of Traditional music, Flook, played to an enthusiastic audience at the final in Lichfield Arts series of Folk gigs for 2008.

The quartet has recently become a quintet with the addition of banjo and tenor guitar player Damian O’Kane, who added a blue-grass type feel to some of the groups songs. The ensemble, led by Flute, Whistle and Low whistle player Brian Finnegan and Alto Flute and Accordionist Sarah Allen had more than able support from guitarist Ed Boyd, and John Joe Kelly, an award winning and widely acclaimed Bodhran player.

The gig started of with Wrong Foot Forward, from their most recent album, Haven. Many of the evening’s numbers came from that album, with a number of newer pieces. The highlight of the newer pieces was Brian Finnegan’s slow ballad The Last Star, a duet for flute and guitar.

Another piece was The Astrusian Way, which consisted of three reels, Peter Street/The Drunken Acrobat/ and The Astrusian way, which started of slowly, before becoming faster with the addition of the Bodhran, and the two guitars. The sound that the quintet produced was full, with each member providing support to each other.

The Sleeping Tortoise was the piece that allowed John Joe Kelly to really shine, with his bodhran solo, full of colour and drama giving drummers with their full kit something to think about. The group played two reels for their well deserved encore.

Concert Review – Grada – Lichfield Guildhall – November 16th 2008

Grada, one of the finest contemporary folk ensembles played to an enthusiastic audience when they appeared at Lichfield Guildhall.

The group, led by singer and Bodhran player Nicola Joyce played a number of songs from their three albums, as well as a number of instrumentals that crossed the boundaries between traditional music, and other genres such as rock, pop and even strains of Cajun music.

The rest of the band were, Alan Doherty on flute, low whistle, vocals and percussion, guitarist Gerry Paul, Andrew Laking on double bass, and new recruit Laura McKern, who was playing only her third gig with the band on Fiddle.

The use of the double bass added an almost chamber jazz feel to some of the songs, whilst the rhythm provided by both Bodhran and Cajon added an almost industrial feel to some of the songs, most notably Tim O’Brien’s Jon Riley.

The group played a number of ballads which showed Nicola Joyce’s lead vocals and Alan Doherty’s harmonies to the best effect. Pieces such as Tread Softly, or The Eighteenth of June, with its still sadly relevant story of lives torn apart by war, or new song No Linen, No Lace, which told the story of a new wife missing her sailor husband. Or on Endeavor, which featured Andrew Laking on vocals and nylon string guitar.

The band were also strong on more upbeat pieces, such as Cooler at the Edge, or set closer Cathain, which lacked nothing for having no drummer. Affecting instrumentals like Fifty-Ninth Street allowed for some fine violin playing, whilst Doherty showed off his technique on the Low Whistle and Flute on the faster songs, such as Pint of Reference.

Maria Letizia’s, an unusual piece, which went through a number of tempos and moods was written by guitarist Gerry Paul, who also provided the band with the more usual piece, Foot to the Pedal.

The enthusiasm that the band shared in playing together, and in their music led to another selection or jigs and reels for an encore.

Malinky – Lichfield Guildhall – October 28th 2007

The hotly tipped five piece Scottish band Malinky played to a small but enthusiastic audience when their current tour bought them to Lichfield’s Guildhall.

The five piece ensemble, consisting of the outstanding young vocalist and cellist Fiona Hunter, Ewan MacPherson (Mandolin, Mandola, Guitar,Vocals) Jon Bews (Fiddle,Vocals), Steve Byrne (vocals, Bouzouki, Guitar) and Mark Dunlop (whistles, bodhran, vocals) played a selection of music from Scotland, Ireland, Britanny, and Scandanavia.

The set included a variety of songs, textures, and moods, from the tragic story telling ballads of Flowers of Saskatchewan, Bonnie Banks O’ Fordie, and Trawlin’ Trade to theupbeat pieces such as Inertia Reels and the Scotia Set.

As well as playing traditional music, the band also played their own well crafted compositions, such as Rovin’ Ploughboy with its sing along chorus, as well as the traditional songs False Lover won back.

The upbeat piece, King Orfeo allowed for ensemble playing of the highest calibre, whilst the Cello added a darkness to some of the more chilling songs, while in other pieces, it helped to add bass like parts, and textures to support the chiming mandolin and bouzouki playing.

All five members played to a high standard, with no clear leader to the group. An encore of a heartfelt My Ain Countrie was a fitting way for this good concert to end.

Martyn Joseph – Lichfield Guildhall – April 12th 2008

Martyn Joseph, one of the most renowned of recent songwriters bought his one man show to play for a sold out Lichfield Guildhall audience.

His back-catalogue of 29 albums, with its themes of love, politics, and humanity was performed with a characteristic celtic passion. Often described as a Welsh Springsteen, his music also took elements from other performers, such as Chris Rea and Mark Knopfler in some of the more commercial material, as well as other writers such as James Taylor, Randy Newman, Robbie Robertson and Leonard Cohen, in both the timbre of his vocals and his pointed subject matter.

His gig started of with ‘Weight of the World’ and many songs from his most recent album ‘Vegas’ were also performed. The title track, ‘Vegas’ with its narrative story arc linked to a Sun Studio rhythm track was a high light of the early set.

He played many songs that had a pointed political message, ‘Please Sir’ was about the death of the mining industry in his native Wales, and ‘Coming down, I have come to sing’ about legendary singer Paul Robeson.

A cover version of Springsteen’s ‘One Step up’ stripped of the bombast of the studio version was a delicate ballad. ‘Cardiff Bay’ one of his better known songs was also performed, whilst being described as a song about father-hood, rather than the hymn to his home that he wanted it to originally be.

Love songs were also a strong part of the concert, with the softly sung ballad ‘I would never do anything in this world to hurt you’ showing of some dextrous guitar playing, and the softer side of his voice, which was also carried through in the protest song ‘Thing we have carried here’.

His biggest hit, ‘Dolphins make me cry’ was conspicuous by its absence, but a touching version of ‘Can’t help falling in love’ with harmony singing from the audience was a fitting way in which to encore.



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