Is there anybody out there?
My BBC training and radio head tells me that as a presenter you should talk to one person - imagine them in their house or car with just you for company. It is a conversation and a one-to-one relationship. This is very different from being onstage and talking to hundreds or more at once. Quite a lot of people post FaceBook comment or comments on Mixcloud about the show, but now and then at a gig somebody will come up to me and say how much they enjoy the show. I’m not sure why, but this always takes me aback a little - maybe they were not the person I was imagining when talking to the microphone!
It is gratifying to know that so many people do listen though, as it would be entirely narcissistic for a broadcaster to just talk and play music to themselves. Since its inception the figures for Blues And Roots Radio have become very impressive and it’s possible for my programme to have a worldwide audience, something that before Internet radio would never have been possible. I guess the BBC World Service would have the same global reach, but it is amazing that we are now able to broadcast around the world and be received wherever there is an Internet or 4G signal. I know there is a small collective in Calcutta that sit on their balcony with tea having a listen, in Australia I am the overnight host, whilst in Canada I am a breakfast DJ. I always think of it as being late night, as I do the show under the dim light of an angle poise lamp, and the brighter iMac display.
One of the joys of doing the show, and indeed of it being broadcast on BRR Essential is that nobody tells me what to play, no sponsors to mention, no commercial breaks - just make the show exactly an hour. This is almost unheard of nowadays where terrestrial radio is tightly formatted as never before. There are exceptions of course, and for 7 years I was the producer of the Paul Jones Blues Show on BBC Radio 2; anything I know about presenting and curating the music I have learnt from him and he has been most encouraging to me since starting my show in 2014.
This month he bows out from the BBC after over 30 years and it feels truly like the end of
an era. Paul wanted to ‘simplify his life’ and will now concentrate on his live appearances - touring with The Blues Band, The Mannfreds, his duo with Dave Kelly, and his Christian work with his wife, Fiona. The new Radio 2 show (with Cerys Matthews) will no doubt be good as she is an excellent broadcaster and roots music enthusiast, but it will not be quite the same. Paul Jones and I have both been nominated as Broadcaster of the Year in the UK Blues Awards - the voting is all done and at the ceremony on 19th May I look forward to saluting Paul Jones for winning this category: this is my prediction and indeed
it would be a fitting tribute from the blues and roots music fans of Britain.
April 2018 Blog from Stu Vincent - Hillbilly Boogie
Welcome, dear readers, to another blog from Hillbilly Boogie.
I am sitting down to write this article as the drizzle falls and dampens the grass that eagerly awaits its first cut of 2018; never mind…I shall not be disturbing my neighbours with the sound of the mower today. I confess to being a reluctant gardener so, with not the slightest hint of disappointment, I shall listen (once more) to Vivian Leva’s fabulous release ‘Time Is Everything’ and put fingertips to keyboard for this article.
…and if you have heard Vivian Leva, here is Vivian with Riley Calcagno singing the title track of ‘Time Is Everything’
If you use Facebook you will have seen graphics* imploring you to support live music, support local promoters and musicians – I have shared them myself (and will continue to do so) – so I thought that I would write about one of my local promoters.
The little village of Earls Barton (which is a ten minute drive from Northampton) is the regular home for Kontra Roots.
Kontra Roots was established in 2004 by Kev Buxton and, since that date, has brought music to Northamptonshire and further afield. Over the years Kev has arranged regular music events at a number of venues across the county and has maintained a significant presence within Northamptonshire; Kev currently organizes:
In addition to these, the most frequent event in the Kontra Roots calendar, is the fortnightly Kontra Roots Club evening at the Earls Barton Working Mens Club.
Tip: if you are coming to the Kontra Roots Club in Earls Barton, the fish & chip shop in the village by the church is splendid!
Admission to the Kontra Roots Club is currently just £3.00! (though should you choose to pay a little extra to support the club, this is welcomed).
One of the advantage of being in the Working Mens Club is that the room has a stage and lights so the artists are well-presented, visible to all and Geoff always does a very professional job on sound too – the rest is up to the artists!
Through the course of a Kontra Roots evening, there are generally four artists on stage; these range from local musicians to musicians from further afield – such as the very entertaining Two Blank Pages from Shropshire who we saw recently. There is always a wide range of music presented though folk, blues and Americana are the most prevalent styles – which suits me just fine. Indeed, the first person that we heard play at Kontra Roots – Sunsinger – found himself nestled in between Gurf Morlix and 3hattrio in the Hillbilly Boogie playlist for the 10th February.
Our most recent visit to Kontra Roots began with Tammy Levy joined (on this occasion) by Kev Buxton on harmonica. Tammy delivered a lively, country-blues start to the evening that - in my mind - deserves her being further up the billing for her next visit.
As a committed fan of The Delmore Brothers, I will forgive Tammy declaring that ‘Freight Train Boogie’ was a Marty Stewart song because she did a fine job of singing this classic song (and Marty Stewart does do a fine job of it too!).
After Tammy’s set, Jo Ash took the stage supported by Mike Wheatley on guitar and Nigel Turner on bass.
This was a departure from the folk, blues and Americana that I had come to expect from Kontra Roots and one that I applaud.
Jo’s music has been likened to that of Kate Bush and she undoubtedly has a very fine voice and her songs were delivered with great passion and were very well-received.
Next up, from Ireland, was Ian O’Regan.
One of Ian’s early numbers was an acoustic version of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Oh Well’….and, oh my, what a version. Ian’s set was mostly original songs with the inclusion of the afore-mentioned ‘Oh Well’, Tom Wait’s ‘Chocolate Jesus’ and a song by John Fullbright (confession: I was too busy listening and then applauding to write down with of John’s songs that Ian sang and my memory fails me as I sit to write).
Talking to Ian, he mentioned that he had recently supported The Black Feathers; I would have loved to have seen on of those sets.
Closing the evening was Two Blank Pages from Shropshire.
From their set at Kontra Roots, it is easy to see why they had previously been invited to play at the marvellous Shrewsbury Folk Festival.
They have a very good stage presence and I could imagine that, in a festival setting with people dancing, that they could easily bring the same kind of energy to an audience that The Avett Brothers might. Apart from the appreciation from the Kontra Roots audience, the ladies behind the bar were clearly enjoying Two Blank Pages too.
All of this was brought to us in a small club in a village in Northamptonshire by a dedicated music-lover and promoter….FOR £3.00
The energy and commitment that Kev Buxton brings to Kontra Roots is exceptional and Northamptonshire music would be the poorer without his efforts.
This is what I would ask: find your local ‘Kontra Roots’ and support the music that is put on in halls, pubs and clubs. You may not like everyone that is on a billing but you WILL hear and meet new musicians, you WILL make new acquaintances, you WILL help to keep live music being played and - if you put your hand in your pocket to buy a CD – you will be supporting independent artists.
Just to close – here are a few links to promoters who are either personal friends, friends of Hillbilly Boogie (or both). Please check their websites, find a concert and go along:
*Side note: is it ‘me-me’ or ‘meem’…either way, it’s an odd word and now I have had to look it up and apparently it is pronounced ‘meem’ but I shall continue to say graphic!
“How do you know so much music..?”
This is a question I get asked a lot, and to be honest there are times I feel like a bit of a fraud.... Let me explain.
Regular listeners to Roots & Fusion (www.rootsandfusion.com) will know I spent almost ten years working in a specialist record shop in the 90’s, where I was exposed to a huge amount of music: Blues, folk, bluegrass, Cajun, Zydeco, “World Music”, jazz, country and truth be told, that gave me a huge working knowledge of roots music and a good base to work from. After I left Decoy, I spent a number of years out of the music scene completely and that working knowledge got a bit rusty. I used to know every Deep Purple line up from 1968 to 1976, together with their various off-shoot bands – these days I’ve been known to get Plant & Page mixed up…
When I started Roots & Fusion back in 2009, the first few shows were all taken from my collection, with no new music at all. I realized quite quickly that this had to change. I wanted a radio show that not only drew from the past but also gave a voice to new music. So I bought a copy of the Music Week Directory as a starting point and emailed every label and PR Company that looked interesting. I didn’t get many replies – most weren’t interested in a new community radio show with an unknown audience, and also back then downloads weren’t as prevalent as they are today and they didn’t want to spend the postage money.
Still, I did get a few replies. That was how I discovered the wonderful mandolin based tango noir of Ruth Roshan (www.ruthroshan.com ). I asked mostly for label samplers, and one I received was a Blues & Roots Sampler from Black Market Music out of Australia. There were half a dozen tracks that I really enjoyed, one of which didn’t seem to fit on the sampler; a dark, tango inspired cover of Leonard Cohen’s Everybody Knows. I got in touch with Ruth, letting her know I was going to play her song on my show, and that was the start of something lovely. She has since appeared three times in session on the show and I’ve played her music regularly over the past 9 years.
Slowly, as more people listened to Roots & Fusion and word started spreading, some PR Companies started sending me music, which was great. That was how I first heard of Joanne Shaw Taylor (www.joanneshawtaylor,com). Roots & Fusion was one of the first radio shows to play music from her debut album…
Two things became clear fairly soon. One: this was a passive way of discovering music for the show, and two: I was receiving a number of CDs that I didn’t want. One of the key parts to Roots & Fusion is that every track I play, I like. In fact, I like it so much I want you to hear it. But what was I going to do with the CDs I didn’t like..? Well, I started passing them on to other shows on Pure Radio (the community station R&F started off with) but eventually I started making trips to the charity shop. A hard decision, as I know artists have spent time, effort & money on their music – but I have to do something with them…
I started being more active in searching out new music. I subscribed to Rock & Reel magazine (later R2, now R&R – www.rock-n-reel.co.uk), a magazine we used to sell in Decoy, and also because every couple of months they review maybe 200 CDs, mostly the sort of music I wanted to play on R&F.
I often find it difficult though, reading reviews and working out if I’m going to like the music. Describing music with words is very difficult, two separate languages. I got in touch with some artists & record labels and yet more music arrived.
I then came across an online magazine called Fatea
(www.fatea-records.co.uk/magazine). There was a review of a track called Obnox Stomp by a John Fairhurst and a link to a video. I really enjoyed the track, got in touch with John and before long he agreed to come & do a session for Roots & Fusion. Back then I didn’t have my own dedicated sound engineer, so the early sessions were usually short.
A bit more investigation and I discovered Fatea was the brainchild of a guy by the name of Neil King. I read some of his reviews and then got in touch via Facebook. I noticed he listened to some online radio shows that I hadn’t heard of, so I checked some out too. One in particular was the late lamented Bob’s Folk Show. It was here that I heard artists that were being reviewed on the Fatea site, and also others I hadn’t been aware of.
It was on Bob’s show that I first heard the music of Marina Florance (www.marinaflorance.com), Jo Bywater (www.jobywater.com) and Dylan Walshe (www.dylanwalshe.com) among others.
And then I found that Fatea released a free download every three months – the Showcase Sessions (www.fatea-showcase-sessions.co.uk). What an excellent idea. A new release every quarter, replacing the previous one. No physical CD, no waste, no trip to the charity shop… Some music I knew, most I didn’t and a large proportion of it fitted right in with Roots & Fusion. I guess I have played over 100 songs on the show over the years taken from the Fatea Showcase Sessions.
This year sees the 30th birthday of Fatea, and the 10th year of the Showcase Session downloads and to celebrate I have just put together a special Roots & Fusion where every track is taken from these downloads.
At the top of this piece I said that sometimes I feel like a bit of a fraud when people ask how come I know so much music. All I do is listen to music other people know about first – I just play the stuff I like…
Well here we are the middle of spring and I’ve already been to my first festival of the year, Love Folk, a great festival at the start of February and one that I’m glad to say that Fatea has been an active supporter of for three of its four years. It’s a festival with a great atmosphere, a respectful audience that really pay attention the band performing on stage and yet like a lot of indoor, acoustic, yes I’ll even use the word folk, festivals the average age of the audience exceeded the average age of the bands by a good few years.
It’s not just Love Folk many of the indoor festivals at the start and end of the festival season have similar profiles, a few older bands and a good selection of rising younger acts that don’t seem to bring the younger audience with them.
The profile starts changing as you move to the outdoor festivals during the summer, particularly at the festivals that are deemed to be family friendly or simply so big with so many stages that they are effectively a number of different festivals in close formation. Some of those festivals even have special workshops dedicated to younger musicians as well as stages set aside for them to perform.
As a magazine editor, as well as a show host on Blues & Roots I am constantly amazed by the array of young talent that I get exposed to by the releases that come through my front door or inbox, without a doubt there are an increasing number of artists writing and performing with a maturity beyond their years and yet with many of the tools available to them, that previous generations never had, in terms of potential audience reach, it isn’t translating into bums on seats. Yes there are exceptions, Ed Sheeran, Frank Turner but very much the exception that proves the rule.
As, now, a card carrying old foggie I was talking to one of my teenage relatives after getting back from Love Folk I was discussing festivals and the subject came around to Glastonbury, which she’d been to for the first time last year, so I asked her who she went to see, to which the reply was no one, she went to Glastonbury as a rite of passage before going off to university and to be fair since she started at Uni, she’s really started getting into music, well music as a night out, open mics etc and singer-songwriters in cafes. But interestingly not the Union Bar or clubs.
Now I admit until this part of my blog, I’ve rambled a bit, seemingly throwing a number of related, yet disconnected themes out there, let me begin to pull it back together. Are audiences starting to polarise along age lines and dare I say it generational lines. We now have a generation that have effectively been denied access to arts and music in local schools. I don’t think it’s coincidental that a higher percentage of press releases for younger artists include phrases like, first discovered their love of music listening to their parents record/cd collection, curated discovery of music perhaps, but also the chance to listen to complete albums and understand the structures of music and maybe taken to gigs and concerts, seeds laid for future discoveries.
If you came from a non-musical family, school was a place where that hole could be filled, It’s a good few years ago now, but I was exposed to so many different genres before going to secondary school. We listened in groups and talked about it with our friends afterwards. By taking away the opportunity to hear music in school are we not only taking away and limiting the next generation of musicians, but also the next generation of audience, creating vacuums in our venues because it doesn’t occur to people that finding new music is a fun thing to do?
The last week has been rather Canadian, and I don't just mean the sub-zero temperatures with snow lying even in the micro-climate that is central London. We're fortunate to be on the tour trail for visiting performers and in just six days I got to see some of the very best Canada has to offer.
It started with The LYNNeS at The Green Note. I've mentioned it a few times, as it's my favourite London venue, so maybe I'll should tell you a bit more about it and try to get it on your bucket list. You'll find it in Camden, an area known for it's bohemian atmosphere and market. It almost certainly used to be a shop and only became a music venue in 2005. Since then it's become iconic and musicians want to play there. It's probably an urban myth that Leonard Cohen walked in one night to see if he could play and was told “You can have a couple, if you're quick”, but he's certainly visited. It's a narrow building and the auditorium is behind a curtain. It holds 60 or so, just over half get seats but if you want a good view you need to be in the first dozen in the queue. The stage is small, quartets can struggle to fit on it, so why is it packed out every night? The simple answer is the quality of the music and the atmosphere. This is a venue for musicians and fans of music, you don't go there to chat but to listen to the performers and they appreciate that. The sound is always excellent and there's a very good bar too. The food is vegan, the beer artisan, everything about is it quality in an environment that is cosy, welcoming and warm. There's music every night, with a tiny basement for really intimate sessions, and you should go if you ever get the chance.
A listening audience doesn't mean you sit there in silence, though, especially with The LYNNeS in full flow. If you've not come across them before you really should. Juno award winner Lynn Miles and award-winner Lynne Hanson have teamed up to produce heartbreak songs that draw you in. The album they've released “Heartbreak Songs For The Radio” is really special, certainly worth getting, but hearing played live is even better because what you get are two people who're so interesting and funny to listen to. They have stories of many years on the road which can make you laugh or cry and are very often the inspiration for the songs. I hope they return soon, I know Lynne Hanson is back with her band in the autumn and I won't be missing out.
A few days later, and with the weather even worse, I finally got to achieve an ambition I've had for a long time. Dave Gunning is a musician I liked from the very first hearing and I finally got the chance to see him play live. That's one I wasn't going to miss but the icing on the cake was that The Ennis Sisters were on the same bill. I've seen them before, in Canada, so it was lovely to catch up again and they made the perfect combination. Between them they write songs that are full of soul and have a resonance, even for somebody who lives the other side of the pond. Dave is from Nova Scotia, the Ennis sisters from Newfoundland, and as I discovered when I visited the east coast they're places that are slightly out of time. The main industries of coal, steel and fishing have largely gone, along with the family farms and the area is starting to depopulate. If people want work they have to move away, leaving their families and a culture behind. A lot of the songs reflected this regret but also the hold the area keeps has over it's inhabitants who want to return “home” at some stage in their life, even if it's only to be buried there. The Ennis Sisters have a beautiful song called “Take Me Home” which is a family story on exactly that subject. I've always liked Dave Gunning's song “Coal From The Train” but hadn't realized it's based on a true story told to him by his grandfather. You can only get that back-story at a live performance. It certainly wasn't all gloom though, and Dave told the funniest story of a dead dog I've ever heard. It wouldn't normally be a subject for humour, perhaps, but the surrealism to attempting to scatter it's ashes on a beach on a windy day with everyone wearing sunscreen had us roaring with laughter!
I've harped on about this before, but in a small venue you not only see a performer, you get to meet them and you couldn't wish to meet nicer people than I did this week. It wasn't just a “meet and greet” by the merch table either because we all had a common interest, so it was a gathering of friends. The Rolling Stones have just announced some UK dates and I'd love to see them but they're playing huge venues with thousands of people and probably giant video screens so I won't be going. I'll be somewhere very much smaller with a pint in my hand, making eye contact, and I'll have a much better time of it.
I know I'm preaching to the converted here but how do I get to find out about all these visiting artists? I won't hear about them on mainstream radio, that's for sure, so I don't bother listening to it. To hear the music I want to listen to I have to explore the back roads and byways and that's where Blues and Roots Radio provides such an invaluable service. It really does provide “the best music you've never heard” and long may it continue.
Hillbilly Boogie - Stu Vincent
Welcome, dear readers, to the first blog article of 2018 from Hillbilly Boogie.
During Hillbilly Boogie I will mention how my mind often goes through a series of gambols and ‘knights moves’ when I am preparing (and sometimes when I am recording) Hillbilly Boogie; I am adding this as a preface to this blog article as such an experience brought me to decide upon the topic of this article.
In mid-January I included ‘Yup’ from David Rawlings’ ‘Poor David’s Almanack’ and after considering many songs to follow ‘Yup’, I chose ‘Stitch In Time’ by Martin Carthy from his ‘Right of Passage’; this, in turn, drew me to listen again to his powerful song ‘Dominion of the Sword’. While ‘Dominion of the Sword’ originated in the 17th century, Martin Carthy added verses that reflected the times in the 1980’s (when ‘Right of Passage’ was released) yet the essence of the song remains relevant today.
Growing up in the mid-60s my sister shared her love of folk music with my eager ears. Artists such as Peter, Paul & Mary gained popularity and found their way onto BBC Radio mainstays such as Family Favourites but it was listening to Joan Baez that very quickly led me to listening to Woody Guthrie and Huddie Leadbetter (Leadbelly). At that time, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan were (probably) the most recognizable names of the ‘folk movement’ but I am forever grateful that my older sister should point my enquiring mind further back to the roots. As I stumbled awkwardly into my teenage years, and with a growing awareness of the civil rights movement in the USA, the harsh reality portrayed in Leadbelly’s ‘Bourgeois Blues’ made a lasting impression.
I recently read something by a fiddle player who is better known in the Americana and Progressive Bluegrass fields where he expressed an opinion of current events; some of the responses were extremely harsh and declaring that they would never listen to another note played by him. While the musician in question made a political point in print, there are people who will say that politics does not belong in music and many, much better writers than I, have written more in-depth articles on that subject but I would argue that, however you may perceive folk music, how can folk music ignore human experience and perceived injustice ?
One of the more interesting responses pointed out that people will generally be comfortable with politics in music when the politics reflect their own opinion. As with all things, there is a balance; I have seen musicians where the music has been almost secondary to their personal agenda yet to declare that musicians should never be able to speak out is – in my opinion – invalid.
One of the few singers that my parents enjoyed listening to was Paul Robeson, mainly for his renditions of Hoagy Carmichael songs though, as a youngster, I was drawn more to the soulful ‘River Stay ‘Way From My Door’; some years later, and through listening to Joan Baez (and – by now – going to folk clubs myself) I heard Joe Hill sung by Paul Robeson
Growing up in the 60’s and 70’s gave me some fantastic memories – seeing many very famous musicians play live at the BBC Gosta Green TV studios, being taken under the wing of the much older music-lovers who hung out in John Scrace’s record shop in Dover are a couple but such wonderful memories were tempered by the sight of the Life magazine cover reporting the horror of what happened at Kent State in Ohio.
As I draw this short article to a close, I know that some will disagree with my opinion that politics does belong in music and particularly in that almost-indefinable genre of ‘folk music’. As the years have gone by, we have seen Rock Against Racism, poets like Linton Kwesi Johnson, Benjamin Zephaniah and Michael Smith raising awareness, Billy Bragg come to the fore (and stay there!), bands such as The Levellers who are enduring favourites on tours and for their festival appearances but I know that – for some – this will mean little, so I will leave you with this….
When I started with the idea of writing about whether politics had a place in music, I pulled together a bunch of YouTube links - some of which I have shared with you in this article – then I had that ‘lightbulb’ moment where I knew that I could not write the article without sharing this particular video clip.
Earlier in the article I mentioned Martin Carthy’s ‘Dominion of the Sword’ having relevance to the 17th century when it was first written, to the 1980’s when Martin Carthy recorded his version and that it remains relevant today. In 1937, Abel Meeropol (aka Lewis Allan) wrote a poem after seeing a photograph; two years later that poem was put to music and sung by Billie Holliday.
I started writing this article last week and I stopped after watching this video – which I warn you is harrowing – because I could not see my keyboard for tears. I wrote elsewhere, that if this does not make you cry or be angry or be defiant then we are made of different stuff. In the song and in the video, the message of abhorrence of racism is the starkest that one might ever see; so if anyone asks me if politics belongs in music, I would warn them (as I have warned you) and show then this video accompanying Billie Holiday’s ‘Strange Fruit’.
Until next time,
Releasing an album over time
So, you have just finished putting the finishing touches to a new album. Something that has taken time and money to produce over many months. You are rightly proud of the achievement and you want to get it out there, into the hands of supporters and those who will help you promote to the general public.
Normal approach at this stage is to distribute free of charge copies to all those you think may help.
They may be reviewers or radio presenters who specialise in your type of music who will jump at the chance to be among the first to unveil your work.
You may follow this with a special event or concert just to add to the excitement surrounding the release of new work.
Back to the presenters, on receipt of a copy they will of course take a listen and no doubt choose a track or two to include in their upcoming show. Show times may enable them to claim to be the first to play the tracks as an exclusive.
During this early phase after (Or even before) release of the album much hype is generated and for a few short weeks it would seem that your album is on air every few hours as show after show offers samples to their audience. You may even be album of the week and gain additional publicity that way.
How much that approach, which is fairly standard, impacts on longer term sales, I am not sure, however?
I wonder if there could be a different and ultimately more beneficial approach.
If we call this normal approach the “Big bang” then I would suggest considering a more sedate trickle feed as an alternative..
Maybe holding back and choosing recipients in a more serial way and thereby prolonging interest over a much greater time?
I know from experience myself and colleagues with similar shows find it dissapointing to find what is thought to be an exclusive opportunity to first play an album is in fact nothing of the sort. The album being played on several shows sometimes even following each other on the same day.
Another way of course is to ask the presenters to hold back on playing tracks. I know of several instances where that has worked really quite well.
So, I guess in conclusion like all matters in life and music it comes down to planning and communication.
And of course an excellent product that everyone wants to get their hands on……..
Anne Sumner – Legitimately Good Music
Back in June 2016, friend of Roots & Fusion by the name of Mark Flanagan introduced me to the music of Anne Sumner. He was at an open mic night when Anne played two songs which he really enjoyed and thought I would too. He was right.
When I heard that voice I was immediately stunned and wanted to hear more. Mark kindly said he would send me a copy of her album, and I said I would include the song he sent, These Hours, in the next show.
As it turns out, Anne had never had radio airplay of her songs before, she’d never submitted them as she was worried about rejection, so she was a little emotional when she heard the show with her song included
LISTEN >>>> Roots & Fusion - Anne Sumner
As soon as I heard the album I got in touch with Anne to ask if she would come up to Stockport so we could record a session with her. She agreed and in the November of 2016 we recorded a handful of songs – just voice & acoustic guitar.
LISTEN >>>> Roots & Fusion Session - Anne Sumner
As it turns out she’s a lovely person, we enjoyed each other’s company and it was a great session.
The thing that still stands out for me was the moment when she started singing. Aaron (my sound engineer) and I just looked at each other with our mouths open. By this point we had recorded 60 plus sessions for the show and had never heard a voice like it. And those songs…
Since then I have played numerous of her songs on the show, and I’m pleased that she has started getting airplay on other radio shows now too, including BBC Kent.
A few weeks back Anne announced she was releasing her new band album, Beacon, together with an acoustic album called Half-light. She invited me to the album launch at The Oval Tavern in Croydon, London. I said yes I’d go. It made sense to me for two reasons. First, she’d come up to Stockport for a session so I was returning the favour, and second, and I wanted to see her in a live setting.
To put this into perspective, Stockport to Croydon is over 200 miles. I only tend to go down to the big smoke once, maybe twice a year, to see people who are really important to me. I’d already booked to see Baaba Maal in April at the Union Chapel and I wasn’t expecting to go again this year. But I wasn’t going to miss this…
I managed to get to the venue early, which I always try to do – support acts are important. That was how I first discovered the music of John Smith back in 2007, supporting Davey Graham, but that’s another story.
After meeting up with Anne, being ushered to a seat that had been saved for me, tucking into stilton & broccoli soup with fish finger butties, and having a quick chat with Mark Flanagan and friends (Hi Adam..), it was time for the show to begin.
The first two musicians on stage were a father & daughter duo, Vicky Keohane on bodhran & vocals and Aidan on mandolin & banjo. Lovely renditions of jigs, reels & trad tunes and songs, including a quite stunning bodhran solo. Pleased I was early…
There was a short break and then Anne took the stage with members of her band. By her own admission, these were local musicians she respects a great deal and worked hard to get them on her recording and also to play live with her. They are all busy people…
Anne’s first set started with her, together with Vicky on bodhran, Maggie Casey on shruti box (then whistles) and Daniel Fitzgibbon on drums. At this point I need to say something about Daniel Fitzgibbon. Over the years I have heard numerous acoustic numbers destroyed by over eager, metronomic drumming. Not so here – Daniel was sympathetic, empathetic and rarely took his eyes off Anne. He is someone who understands that drums are an instrument like any other, and therefore have to be there for a reason, and have something to say within the framework of the song. Later on he also played bass at the same time as drums on a song (the original bass player went awol on the night) – never seen that before… Respect.
I have talked about Anne’s voice and songs at some length on various R&F shows, and will do again, I’m sure. Her voice has a weight, a timbre, that draws the listener in and the lyrics are written with such heart tearing honesty that it is almost impossible not to be drawn in to the point of crying.
With yet more variety, the second set started with a solo piano & voice musician by the name of Fabia, whose left hand was almost alien in it’s incredible reach… Anne then came on stage for a guitar & piano piece with Fabia before other members of the band re-appeared. There was also a really lovely sing a long part that the crowd enjoyed as well.
Which reminds me – I have been to many pub gigs, and invariably there is some ambient noise. People talking, clinking glasses, etc. On this night, in this venue, at this time, the audience was silent. Even the bar staff were stunned by this performance, and said so afterwards. Much credit to a wonderful artist who was obviously enjoying every minute up there…
I am now the very happy owner of both Anne’s new albums – a signed copy of Beacon and the other release, Half-light, which is, as she says, how the songs started life – just guitar or piano & vocal. I played them both all the way through when I got home, and I am not faced with the decision of not what to include in the next show, but what not to include. An Anne Sumner special is probably on the cards…
I really hope that Anne’s music reaches a much wider audience (you can help here people – listen to her music and then spread the word) and that she gets the recognition that she obviously deserves.
Anne Sumner – legitimately good music.
As this is my first blog of 2018, I think it would be appropriate to wish you all a happy new year and hope that it brings you all that you ask of it. It’s a time of year for looking forward. The Fatea Awards have paid tribute to what the team felt was the best of last year, time to see what’s coming.
2018 is going to be a hugely busy year Fatea turns 30 which means that there will be events during the year to mark the occasion and are currently in the planning phase so more on that next time. Fatea is already committed to supporting two festivals, Love Folk, through our association with Busk Love Folk, in February and Wimborne Folk Festival in June, where we will be supporting the inaugural gigs being held in the historic minister.
In addition we will also be support Royston Folk Club in its second Young Folk Artist competition as well as providing a platform for a joint single from Trials Of Cato and Katie Spencer, who were respectively the winner and runner up for 2017 and I was privileged enough to attend the event that saw them being awarded their prize on a really great night of music back in December.
I have a really good feeling about the year to come. I’ve been lucky enough to hear some of the great albums that are already on the slate for release in the early part of the year and which you’ll soon be hearing tracks from on my Along The Tracks show here on Blues & Roots Radio and reading the reviews of in Fatea Magazine, there are also great albums being talked about for later in the year. The thing that really excites me though is the albums not yet being talked about from names I’ve yet to hear and knowing that I’ll be playing a part in getting the knowledge of these out to you.
For a lot of new artists this may well be through a track on the Fatea Showcase Sessions and 2018 will be the 11th year we have brought you these downloads and I know many of you use these as a chance to hear new artists before exploring the websites and full releases from them as well as looking out live dates, which is what it’s all about.
2018 won’t be without it’s challenges, not least changes in an obscure area of governance called Net Neutrality. In sort net neutrality means that all data must be treated equally, the data coming to you from Blues & Roots Radio, via their streams and website, Fatea’s website, Amazon, Google and Apple all gets treated exactly the same, the Republican’s unilaterally turning over net neutrality it allows ISPs to give priority to some traffic and throttle back others. Large corporates like Apple and Spotify could further control the music market by ensuring downloads and streams from their site get a bigger slice of the pie, with people trying to listen to music from small independent music providers, like Blues & Roots and other innovators and introducers of new music, being forced to wait until the music has finished buffering again.
Ironically this is going to happen at a time where more musicians would have been in a place to take more control of their online sales and downloads, not entirely a coincidence. There are many sites that cover net neutrality in more detail, but here’s a good starting point.
I’m really looking forward to 2018 music wise, the portents appear to be good. I’m hoping that the revival of the instrumental album continues and that we also see the inclusion of more pure instrumental tracks in regular albums.
I make no secret of the fact that I’m narrative lead when it comes to songs, let’s make 2018 a year to pick up the courage of your convictions and write songs about things that matter to you, but not just what’s wrong, what needs to be right. In short, let’s have a 2018 that inspires and let music be at the forefront of that inspiration. Here’s to a great year
One of the concerns I had when I first started this blog was what I'd find to write about, but this one suggested itself. I was reviewing an Ange Hardy gig recently and wrote “You can't define a perfect gig in advance, but you know when you've been to one.” So there you go, we have a topic. What makes the “perfect” gig?
Well, the music certainly helps. Many of you will know Ange through her music, or her award winning show “Folk Findings” here on Blues & Roots Radio. She's a wonderful singer and multi-instrumentalist so you know in advance the music will be of the very highest quality, but more than that there's the person behind the song. In folk music, in particular, the story is almost as import as the lyrics and Ange is a superb storyteller who isn't afraid to open up about her life and experiences and how this has influenced her work. There were so many beautiful, moving songs and we were regularly in tears but she tells her stories with such spirit and sprinklings of humour that they become warm and uplifting rather than sad.
So, yes, the music and performer are important but that's not all that is needed for the “perfect” gig because I see lots of excellent musicians on a regular basis. They're great nights but don't quite become perfect. For me there needs to be other ingredients as well, and one of them is an element of adventure. Going to see Ange involved driving about 70 miles to get to the venue and the weather forecast said there was a chance of snow, so that added a certain frisson. As it turned out I was home before the snow started, which was a good job because people who stayed over got stranded, but even so I had one eye on the road and the other on the slowly dropping temperature gauge. The other thing special about this particular night was the sense of community that she helped to establish within the audience, which gave the whole thing a feeling of a gathering of friends rather than just a group of individuals. I found myself chatting to people I'd never met before, our shared interest in music creating a bond.
One of my favourite perfect gigs was the time I flew to Germany to see Minnie Birch and Kelly Oliver playing in a café about an hour north of Frankfurt. That had the added bonus of a different language, although I can speak German to a fair level, and having to navigate my way around an airport and city I'd never been to before. I don't think I'll ever forget the looks on their faces when I walked through the door! It becomes an adventure, and a holiday, with lots of memories to come home with. Music has taken me to Holland, Ireland and Canada - even Essex.
Earlier in 2017 I travelled down to Dorset to see Kadia and Emily Mae Winters, two superb acts and it was a beautiful gig. What made that perfect was, again, the extra ingredients including the journey, this time by train through some of the most beautiful parts of the country. Then, the icing on the cake is meeting up with friends; in this case Neil King. The venue also helped make this one a perfect gig. It was held in an old church, in a village, and churches always seem to have great acoustics. We were also fortunate to have real experts on both sound and lighting, too. The whole evening became part of the performance.
Folk songs often have a moral to them and I suppose this blog has a moral, too. If you want to get the most from your music be prepared to push the envelope. Try new things, new venues, new bands, and be willing to make the effort because eventually you'll be rewarded with that perfect gig.