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Sunday, 29 April 2012

Cara Dillon is an elf

I am aware that the balance of probabilities is very much against the existence of elves. After last week's detour onto Game of Thrones territory, I thought I should say that for the record. But if elves existed - I'm just saying if - they would look and sound very much like Cara Dillon, as demonstrated with as much force as one of the fairy folk could muster on Thursday night at Cecil Sharp House. As evidence I submit the following.

Firstly, she was able to sing almost exactly like this...

... despite having tonsilitis, which is surely evidence of magical powers.

Secondly she had one of those Lakeman boys in tow, one I hadn't previously been aware of called Sam, brother to Seth and Sean.

I have chosen to regard this as a small miracle - evidence perhaps of the abundance of the universe - and am very much hoping that there may be even even more of them to go around than the three I've seen with my own eyes. Perhaps one called Saul, who would be willing to perform marginally useful tasks around The Glamour Cave while singing and playing a guitar?

And thirdly - this is the killer - I'm not the first person to have spotted this. Those clever people over at Disney got there first, and let's face it: they know a thing or two about fairy folk. Not only did they induce Dillon to speak up for her kind two years ago by narrating Tinkerbell 3 and composing a lullaby for it, but they recently capitalised on their discovery by summoning her again, this time to sprinkle a little fairy dust over Disneyland Paris. For the next twelve months a song written by Dillon will be playing twice daily during its "night time spectacular, Disney Dreams", which should keep the entire Dillon/Lakeman hoard in guitar strings and little pointy hats for a while.

It was a great gig, one that brought a lump to my throat very early on - though I suspect that with tonsilitis the lump in her throat gave her considerably more trouble.  She and Sam were ably supported by Jack Harris (who went first) and a band that included Luke Daniels on squeeze box, Emma Sweeney on fiddle, and both Ed Boyd and James Fagan on guitar. When I saw Fagan come on I knew we were in for a treat. I mean, if he's in the band, how good is the main attraction going to be?

In a word, magic.

* Catch them at the Bristol festival, Bearded Theory or Folk by the Oak this summer.

* If you'd like posts from this blog to appear directly into your Facebook news feed, you could *like* its Facebook page.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Six Moulettes, one Mumford and a new addition to The Copper Family

Talking to Hannah Miller, the Moulettes' cellist and lyricist, I was aware that she kept expecting me to misunderstand her. "A lot of people don't get this..." she said at one point. "No scrub that, that sounds mad..." at another. She even offered to write her thoughts down for me, lest I was unable to do them justice aurally.

Because in her mind there is an epic story unfolding. More of that in a minute, but first a few basics.

I was handed a small pile of Moulettes CDs the other day by a promoter called Joe Cushley, who was at The Lantern Society in Clerkenwell, and got simultaneously invited to a gig. Listening to the CDs, I liked them a lot and intended to go along. But it was in Brighton (where most of the band lives) and on the day I wasn't feeling 100 per cent. Then I got a text message from Joe saying that the added filip that had spurred me to agree to go to the Las Vegas of the South Coast wouldn't be available for interview. So me and my inner sloth gave in and stayed home.

However, the more I listened to this band - and in particular to their second album, The Bear's Revenge, to be launched in July - the more I liked them (a process that continues to this day). And then, upon consideration, it became obvious that I should do something about it sooner rather than later. Because sometimes it's good to be first.

So here's the thing. The "added filip" had been that Ted Dwane, Mumford and Sons' bass player, was supposed to be at the Brighton gig and I'd hoped to have a word. As it turned out he wasn't able to make it because Britain's second most lucrative export with the initials M&S had over-run at the London studio where they're recording their second album.

What a shame, I thought, first assuming that mentioning him had been a ploy on the part of the promoter to get me to the gig. Though there was a nagging doubt because if it had been done with any cynicism, surely Joe wouldn't have texted me to let me know Ted couldn't make it?

Anyway, I now realise Ted Mumford wasn't being dangled as a PR bauble. He's listed as a band member on the CD cover, which eventually arrived a week or so later, so I think I'd been under-sold rather than over-sold.

As a result of the Mumford connection I'd imagine there's going to be a bit of a hoo-hah about the Moulettes in the mainstream media pretty soon. And I'd also imagine that the band knows it.

This because one of the Moulettes, Ruth Skipper (bassoon, vocals), is doing her medical finals at the moment but has decided to have a year out from doctoring because it looks as if this might turn out to be the band's big year - and that's not a decision to be taken lightly. "Having a doctor with us encourages my hypercondria," said Hannah. "I'll say to her 'What is this pain in my heart?' And she'll say," there was a pause for dramatic effect, "'You ate your food too quickly'."

Other clues include that they are booked to play the Mumfords' Gentlemen of the Road mini-festivals in Huddersfield and Galway in a couple of months' time and that - this is where I came in - they've just made a brilliant album.

It has the multi-instrumental virtuosity of Bellowhead, the urgency of Mumford & Sons - though without the lyrical directness (they haven't fucked anything up this time) - and the winding, melodic complexity of The Indigo Girls. It also has something unique that I was having trouble putting my finger on.

"I really enjoy fantasy realms," said Hannah. "Not crap fantasy, like lurid album covers with wizards on them. But going to other worlds, like you do in Lord of the Rings, Narnia and Philip Pullman. The songs draw on this love." We'd been speaking for a while but when I asked whether she was watching Game of Thrones,  it was as if  I'd taken all the tension out of the situation by mentioning the thing that she really wanted to talk about. I'd hit the main vein.

"Yes! I'm so glad you brought it up. We love it. It's amazing." I love it too - what's not to like about Lord of the Rings with shagging? So we talked about how that dwarf rocks, that it was a shame that Drogo the horse warrior had to die and how I was really missing out by not having seen any of season two yet.

"That show is like crack," she said, correctly.

Anyway, it turns out that many of the songs on The Bear's Revenge are part of a fantasy narrative that Hannah's inventing: she's writing her own mythological world through songs. "I also weave tapestries. I make them out of fabric and buttons and things. But the funny thing about fantasy is that there is a certain snobbery about it - as if it might not be real or good," she mused. Here's one of her tapestries, which is also artwork for the album. That might or might not be a dragon.

In a way the aesthetic of the Moulettes is like the title sequence of Game of Thrones: all hand-made with a theme containing swooping fiddles and cellos. Apparently several forthcoming videos will involve animating Hannah's tapestries. I must stop dwelling...

So where did the Moulettes come from? "The band started with Ruth and me when we were at school and we've picked people up along the way. We were both at school with Ted." Millfield public school in Somerset, as it turns out. "Ruth and I were both music scholars, so we didn't get out much, and I had a free haircut one day that turned into a mullet. We were joking that it was a moule-ette."

These days there are six full time members. "Myself, Oliver, Ruth, Georgina, Jim and Rob. But there are nine who can call themselves Moulettes. It's very much like an extended family. Ted was in the band until three or four years ago, until things with his other band started taking off. But it's been great having him back again. He worked on the second record with us.

"And while he was touring the States," during which Mumford & Sons were said to have cracked America, "he made some great finds. For instance, he sent us this extraordinary mandolin and banjo player called Matt Menefee who came all the way down to Winchester one day. We picked him up at the station and he did a day's session work for us. He plays progressive bluegrass."

There are lots of trad instruments on the record and Hannah describes the band's sound as "rock, pop, fantasy folk". The fiddle player, Georgina, plays folk and blue-grass, as well as sometimes making noises so assured that her classical training shows through. "She went to the Royal Northern. But Ollie (drums, vocals, guitar, banjo) is completely self-taught and Laura (Hockenhull on vocals) is a real folk-singer. She grew up in a folky family, singing with some of the Unthanks." Hannah's own father is a folk musician who makes musical instruments for a living.

And then there's this. On Friday Laura, whose partner is Ben Copper, gave birth to the newest member of The Copper Family. "Yes! We've got a tiny little Moule baby. I haven't seen her yet but her name's Georgia Rose."

Their fecundity knows no limits. Despite The Bear's Revenge not being officially launched yet, Hannah said she'd be recording some stuff for the next album as soon as we put the phone down, something which is possible, she said, because they have many years' worth of material to fall back on. She's in her late twenties now, so that's probably a decade's worth.

They've got a single out called Sing Unto Me.

"I was thinking about the Nordic mythology of singing the world into being. In the Bible it's The Word, in Narnia the lion sings the world into being. It's about the idea of the world being born and dying in a blaze of harmony," said Hannah.

And there's this, which gives you a bit more of an idea what they're like when they can hear each other.

I should think there'll be some more from them along shortly. I'm going to finally get to a Moulettes gig for a start.

In the mean time, here's that Game of Thrones title sequence in full.

* Moulettes are sexually deviant pagans, says Liverpool Echo. Yay!

* If you really like Game of Thrones you might also be interested in this post about The Medieval Baebes ;-)

* If you'd like to receive posts from this blog directly into your Facebook news feed you can make it so by *liking* its Facebook page. Follow me on Twitter @emma1hartley

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Bob's Folk Show and The Lantern Society

Bob Meyer is not a professional DJ and I say this in the knowledge that this will, in all probability, only enhance his standing among the provisional wing of the folk movement.

He's a bloke who drives a van for a living, had a heart attack five years ago, takes 15 pills a day to prevent it happening again and when he gets emotional about stuff - which seems to happen a lot - he says things that he regrets later. At least I assume he regrets them later... I would. But being a blokey bloke he doesn't let on and I suppose that embarrassing his interviewees with claims of undying love, respect and an intimate knowledge of their sexual habits could be his idea of fun. (I'm not sure he would have got away with it before Ricky Gervais threw our sense of irony out of whack.)

Anyhow. He has a radio show, for two hours on a Tuesday starting at 9pm on Radio Wey, which is a hospital station based at St Peter's in Chertsey.

But it's no good zooming off to search for it on the internet in the hope that you'll be able to listen again, or some other technologically complicated thing, because you can't. If you don't listen online at 9pm on Tuesday evening then you've missed your chance. Ner.

However, judging by the number of followers he has on Facebook and the number of comments he gets on that page, after two years the show is nothing less than an underground hit. I say "judging by his Facebook page" because I asked him how many listeners he has and he didn't know. Let's just say that he hasn't got much further to go before Facebook forces him to stop being "friends" with everyone and turns his page into one of those ones you can only *like* and in the democratising way that social media has, this puts him in roughly the same position as Mike Harding.

And my reason for mentioning this - aside from the fact that he's been badgering me to write about him and I have a grudging respect for persistence - is that he's released a CD of some of the original music that he's had on the show.

My favourites on there are Josienne Clarke, Keston Cobblers Club and Jack Day (below). But then I'm not a great one for one-man-and-his-guitar Americana. Unless it's Richard Shindell, obviously. I wonder if you count as Americana if you're actually American?

Bob, however, is a big fan of one man and his guitar. Sometimes he stretches a point and one woman and her guitar get a look in. But mainly it's the fellas.

I think this could be because Bob himself is one man who has a guitar. He's released two albums - called All This is That and Three-fold Return on the Malicious Damage label, both of which are available on Amazon and one of which bears a picture of a bloke wearing a baseball cap very much like the one Bob was sporting the other night (see the top for badly snapped evidence). "They're still waiting for the third album," he said gruffly, before adding that neither of the CDs were successful.

So he's turned his hand to promoting other people's music. In the spirit of this I met him not once but twice at The Betsey Trotwood pub in Farringdon - the first time for the album launch and the second at an evening called The Lantern Society, which was great, so I'll tell you about that.

The Lantern Society has been going for about four years and has been run for the last two by two young musicians called Jack Day and Benjamin Folke Thomas, who play guitar and sing, separately and sometimes together. It happens twice a month, there are lanterns and it's a magnet for singer-songwriters and other musicians hoping to make a name for themselves, or at least to make a start by getting invited back again. And thus the quality is much higher than at your average open mic night.

The night I was there, there was lots of good and interesting stuff: Pepper & Shepherd and Gabriel Moreno in particular (he's from Barcelona, had very expressive eyebrows and sang "We are little frightened angels who smoke and laugh/ Singing for someone to love" which made the audience smile). But the guys who most impressed me -  I use the term "guys" advisedly, as they were women - were an interestingly witchy a capella trio called Long Stride Lizzy. There is some stuff by a previous incarnation of the band on YouTube and MySpace but the line-up has changed since 2009, when it was posted, and I'm hoping that when they put something new up they'll let me know.

Anyway, the point is that the future belongs to the Bobs of this world, people who get off their arses and do the thing they believe in. And if you tune in on a Tuesday at 9pm it might turn out to be your thing too.

Also, while I don't want to give the impression that it's really all about the pies for me, for the sheer joy of it I wanted to let you know that the Betsey Trotwood has one of those old fashioned pie warming machines...

... though Benjamin Folke Thomas - who is Swedish and looks like a friendly Viking - had brought his own home-made samosas, which he shared, and they had cheese in them. I'm thinking of getting a T-shirt made that says: "Will write for pastried goods."

* Bob's Folk Show is on Radio Wey at 9pm on Tuesdays. You can find it here. And The Lantern Society happens every first and third Thursday of the month at The Betsey Trotwood pub on Farringdon Road, Clerkenwell, which is much bigger on the inside than it looks.

* If you'd like posts from this blog to land directly in your Facebook news queue, you could *like* its Facebook page and make it so.

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