Me and my blog

Follow me on Twitter @emma1hartley

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Josienne, Ben, Sam and Hannah go vintage at the Green Note

At a time where the young are often jobless and as a result the golden "olden days" telescope backwards from the 1980s, everything retro and handmade has recently grown an undeserved glamour. This has got to be a good thing for the Green Note in Camden, where the same red velvet curtains appear to have been hanging for at least the past thirty years, their folds retaining the flavours of delicious vegetarian meals long eaten and - if you listen carefully - pockets of music from the folk dimension linger, to be emitted in faintly fluorescing puffs as the lights dim.

The place has a kind of magic.

My friend David Firn came along with his camera to try and capture some of it the other night, when Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker supported Sam Sweeney and Hannah James. He previously did the same at The Old Queen's Head for O'Hooley and Tidow and Bella Hardy, with some success, I think.

Ben jumped up early to re-tune his guitars again, producing nods of agreement between Josienne and Michelle, Ben's girlfriend, that this was a symptom of his, um, fastidiousness when it comes to anything with strings.

Josienne (above) and Ben had tailored their set to the idea that they were at a folk club, which on the one hand meant that they gave a reverence to the standards. We got Silver Dagger - beloved of folky fathers everywhere for the line "My daddy is a handsome devil" - Green Grows the Laurel and an encore of Who Knows Were the Time Goes? On the other hand, they've just started doing a version of Dolly Parton's Jolene but left it off the list for being insufficiently trad, which made me droop a little with disappointment.

A good song is a good song, whatever accent it comes wrapped in. You can hear their stunning recorded version here.

That's Josienne doing her thing.

By the way, if you carry on down that Soundcloud playlist, you may well find that the two of them have written a superb country song called Homemade Heartache. It's been covered several times already, despite being only a year old.

Sam Sweeney and Hannah James had driven down from Sheffield for the gig.

These two are only in their late twenties but have a timelessness about them. Sam is the multi-instrumentalist whose wild fiddling kicks off Bellowhead's New York Girls so that the hairs stand up on the back of your neck (complete there with a ludicrous introduction by Jools Holland, also a classic of its kind). And Hannah, whose stately accordian and unerringly tuneful voice are set off by the precision and muscularity of her clogging. 

There is an attractively closed quality to her: she has a stage presence like a tiny fist. It's as if the two of them were reincarnated from somewhere where all the light is sepier and dray horses still rule the cobbles. And I know it's not Sheffield because I was there recently...

Congratulations on your engagement to a long-haired forest ranger, Hannah.

He was at the back, near the bar.

And there's the set list, which saves me the trouble of running through it. Something really unusual about Sam and Hannah's sound is that sometimes it's really hard telling the accordian part from the  fiddle as they wrap around each other, which is surprising when you think how unalike the two instruments are.

Things we learned during the course of the evening included that there is a place near Shrewsbury where the bunting is knitted (Woolverhampton?), Hannah has a diary with a picture of Alan Titchmarsh on the front, and that until Sam took part in something called Men on the Fiddle recently, no one had ever referred to him within his hearing as "a man".

Other reminders of his youthfulness included that when he was growing up he believed the term "primadona" referred to anything that had taken place before the advent of Madonna, the singer.

I know.

He also speaks good French and once, we were told, introduced a gig entirely in that language, which seemed to go well, right up to he point at which it turned out that the word for "ring" is easy to confuse with the word for "sheep". Clarification arrived in the form of 600 French-speaking people baa'ing at him.

This gig was wonderful, there was no baa'ing this time and if you missed it the good news is that Sam and Hannah have been invited back to the Green Note early next year. Get in.

* You can check out the Green Note's forthcoming gigs here. Ben and Josienne are playing there again on October 15.

* If you'd like to receive posts from this blog directly into your Facebook news feed you could *like* its Facebook page. Or you could follow me on Twitter @emma1hartley

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Spotlight on England at Celtic Connections

After yesterday's post about the all-party folk arts group at the House of Commons, in which it was suggested that English and Welsh folk music might benefit from having its own high-profile international showcase - like Celtic Connections - I was sent this video by an English folk fan.

Have a look and see what you think. It went up on YouTube a couple of days ago and it's for something called Spotlight England, which involves England being the guest foreigners at Celtic Connections music festival in Glasgow this winter. Canada has benefited from the arrangement in the past. Just take a moment to think about that...

There is currently a long list of 24 English folk bands that has been put forward by industry experts, so the final six can be chosen next month by Celtic Connections.

Some points

* It doesn't say anywhere in the video what Spotlight England actually is and there is no mention of Celtic Connections. The video might just about work if it were shown on a screen at Celtic Connections where the context would probably be evident, but why waste public money on something that's fit only for one purpose? Just one mention of Celtic Connections would have been enough for you to get the gist. The first time I watched the video I didn't know what Spotlight England was at the end of it and had to go away and look it up.

* Its point of view appears to be "English folk is not as rubbish as it used to be 10 or 15 years ago, although we don't really know why". The tone of the talking heads is apologetic, not explanatory and you are left with the impression that they are marvelling at England's good fortune at having had Bellowhead and Laura Marling beam down from outer space and that young people have deigned to bestow their favours upon folk bands. No explanation for this is offered. Suggestion: perhaps the music's fabulous? In fact to suggest anything else in a promotional video is beside the point.

*  I've often been left breathless with excitement by English folk music. This video makes the entire enterprise seem dull.

* John Tams' name is spelled wrong.

* Where is Show of Hands on the long list of bands being considered to showcase England to the rest of the world? Are they popular enough to fill the Albert Hall several times over but not popular enough for EFDSS to include on its list of England's top 24 folk bands? How has this happened? To hear that they were unaware of the application process - which will inevitably be the case - is silly and poses more questions than it answers. It doesn't take much to pick up the phone.

* Alan Bearman appears on the list of decision makers here and yet many of the bands he represents appear on the longlist. This is a conflict of interests and undermines the integrity of the process since he stands to gain financially. It's not his fault - you would, wouldn't you? It's the fault of the organisers. And no amount of explanation that Alan Bearman was out of the room at the appropriate moment will cut the mustard, I'm afraid. When public money is being used to market an industry - as it is here - there has to be no discernible corruption. It's axiomatic.

* It's bizarre that English music does not have its own international showcase (I'm told that Wales's national Eisteddfod has an international offshoot), organised to the same professional standards as Celtic Connections. Perhaps one day it will and may summon the self-confidence to invite the Scots to participate as foreigners. I wonder how they'd react to that?

By the way, I've also heard a whisper that the folk awards will be held in Glasgow this time around. Interesting, eh?

* If you'd like to receive posts from this blog directly into your Facebook news feed you could *like* its Facebook page. You could also follow me on Twitter at emma1hartley

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Kevin Brennan MP brings all-party folk arts group back to life

Kevin Brennan MP is the Labour member for Cardiff West, he's the shadow schools' minister - so I guess he was pretty busy yesterday with all this business about the baccalaureate - and he's been in parliament since 2001. Plenty of time to get his shoulders under...

Last Monday he hosted the first shin-dig of the revivified all-party folk arts group at the House of Commons, in the Jubilee Room - shades of Cluedo here - featuring beer and crisps, with Katzenjammer, Lisa Knapp and Jack Harris for entertainment.

And he's got form with with folk music. "I was in a band called Cadlan in the late 80s and early 90s. We were a Welsh folk dance group - the equivalent of a ceilidh band, only in Wales it's known as Twmpath - and I played guitar. We were teachers with full-time jobs but we toured around south Wales, evenings and weekends. We called a halt to it when one of our members, Graham Simpson, who was a brilliant mandolin and banjo player as well as an all-round good egg, was knocked off his bicycle and killed."

These days he plays with MP4 - see what they did there? - a cross-party rock band of four MPs, including Pete Wishart, formerly of Runrig now of the Scots Nats, who were gigging last weekend at the Pocklington Arts Centre in Yorkshire.

"The all-party folk group was kicked off, I think, by John Battle," Brennan said. "But Alan Keen took it on: he was a very big folk fan and was responsible for getting a couple of events on in the Commons. He had Ralph McTell and Tom Paxton in.

"But sadly Alan died of cancer last year. I'd met him at the folk awards in London in 2010 while he was having his chemo and when he passed away I thought I should keep the group going.

"So it was the first event the other night. My thoughts were that if we had a couple of events a year to showcase folk and acoustic based music - trad or contemporary - we could interest other MPs in some of the issues surrounding folk and get them to mingle with people from the folk music world.

"What I'd like to do is develop a little manifesto of things that the folk world would like us to do to support the sector: aims that people can agree on. So far I've been liaising mainly with the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) and Trac in Wales."

Brennan had a success with the all-party muscular dystrophy group a while back, as a result of which he got £3 million from Whitehall for much-needed treatment.

So how did he end up with the Norwegian all-girl band Katzenjammer at the first event? "They were doing a gig in Hyde Park for Radio 2 and thought 'Why not get them in?' Along with some British folk artists, it could be part of the antidote to The X Factor."

He singles out The Decembrists and their singer Colin Meloy as his favourite musicians right now.

"Anyone who wants to get in touch with me about folk-related issues can email me on or write to me at the House of Commons," he said. He's also on Twitter, where his handle is @KevinBrennanMP

I'd say that England and Wales have a lot to learn from Scotland on the subject of showcasing their music to the rest of the world, potentially as an export. Celtic Connections in Glasgow works very well, with the support of the Scottish government, as a Scottish music event that draws music lovers and music industry folk from all over the world.

Why not start there?

Throw in webstreaming by the Denscombes and you've got a potentially world-beating phenomenon.

And to make the all-party folk arts group the destination parliamentary event of an evening, form an alliance with the all-party parliamentary beer group and marry it to some fine ales and ciders, and possibly a hog roast. It's how most of us appreciate our folk.

* If you'd like to receive posts from this blog in your Facebook newsfeed you could *like* its Facebook page. You could also follow me on Twitter @emma1hartley

Monday, 10 September 2012

Sam Lee nominated for the Mercury Prize?

Sam Lee's told someone who's highly unlikely to fib about these things that he's been nominated for the Mercury Prize - an announcement is expected on Wednesday. This would be for his first album, Ground of its Own. Congratulations.

* If you'd like to receive posts from this blog directly into your Facebook news feed you can give yourself a 15 per cent chance of doing so - according to the latest Facebook algorithm - by *liking* its Facebook page.

Emma Hartley blog logo

24hourlondon logo

Did David Hasselhoff End the Cold War?