Tag Archives: emily howard

60. GREG HANCOCK “Comfortable Hatred” EP (2015)

Comfortable Hatred (Photo; Greg Hancock)

Comfortable Hatred, Greg Hancock

I first became aware of singer / song-writer Greg Hancock at Exeter Oxjam last November, which I had been invited to by my good friends in Devonbird; and where I met so many excellent musicians, and some other interesting people too (see my Blog entry #28). Several album reviews on this Blog came about as the result of direct or indirect contacts I made that day: See my reviews of Ange Hardy (Blog #32);  Emily Howard (Blog #37); and Daria Kulesh (Blog #35).  This EP review is yet another example of a spin-off from that one gig. All in all it was a very good event to attend for many reasons.

Greg was one of those involved in the organisation of the gig; and played a fine set with his quartet too. His set that day included two of the songs in this new collection. Two members of the band have worked on the EP with him: Jo Hooper (Cello); and Lukas Drinkwater (Double Bass). Greg of course handles acoustic guitar and vocals.

Comfortable Hatred is a collection of five original songs penned by the man himself. It is subtitled ‘Stories, portraits and observations of life’s unpredictability’ – and I think that is fair comment. They are songs that are very strong lyrically; and in terms of subject matter, undoubtedly unique. Three of the five have something to do with old ladies. I’d refer the reader to the link below which has the lyric for each song, in order to see for yourself the depth and strength of these words. There are other snippets of information there too; And as my regular readers will know, I like a bit of background info to add to the listening experience.

First up is ‘Old Lady’ which I first enjoyed at the Oxjam gig. It is apparently inspired by an interview with the legendary Joni Mitchell. It is obvious that Greg is fascinated by Joni in the interview – if not generally. Musically it has a Jazzy, plucky rhythm guitar part that’s difficult to prevent the mind rolling with, even when the song is finished! A good start.

‘Buckles And Buttons’ is a thoughtful meancholy song in three verses. ‘The lover; the family man; the soldier. Three male archetypes that don’t really stand up to a close look’, Greg tells us. Jo’s cello adds a depth to this song that enhances the mental anguish that these three characters are experiencing. Very insightful observations on male stereotypes.

Lyrically ‘Three Conversations’ is constructed in a similar way to ‘Buckles…’; having three verses, each dealing with a sub-section that come together to create the main theme. Each tells of a bizarre verbal exchange – presumably had, or heard by Greg himself; and each leaving him nonplussed! Musically it is more like ‘Old Lady’; although with a more melancholy ambience.

The title track is based on an observation of the wierdly workable relationship between two elderly ladies – Grace and Margaret – which is paradoxically both antagonistic and symbiotic (can’t live with her; can’t live without her, type of thing). Its quite amusing too. The guitar on this track is very nice indeed.

Finally ‘The Baby’s Head’ ends the collection. This is another of the songs I first heard at the Oxjam gig. Greg wrote this after reading a story about a young family trying to escape their plight in Syria. It is a poignant tale; but one with a happy ending.

The EP was recorded at Rapunzel Recording Studios in Seaton, Devon.  The quirky (perhaps slightly disturbing) cover illustration is by Julia Hamilton, and is entitled ‘Grace And Margaret’ after the two characters in the title track. I cannot comment on the CD case / sleeve because I’ve only worked from a download.

I like Comfortable Hatred  – mostly for its excellent thought-provoking lyrics; although I also love the guitar on ‘Old Lady’ and the title track. Also Greg’s vocals are good; and he, Jo and Lukas have  generally done a very fine job of arranging the music between them. Lyrically, its easily the best collection I’ve heard this year, and is unlikely to be supplanted. If you’re into thoughtful songs, then I’d recommend this EP – well worth £4 for a download!  PTMQ

Here is a link to Greg’s website… http://www.greghancockmusic.com/

Here is a link to Bandcamp where you may listen to, or download the songs; and read the lyrics..

http://greghancock.bandcamp.com/album/comfortable-hatred

37. EMILY HOWARD “Where Do I Go?” EP (Random Fish Records, 2013)

I first became aware of EMILY HOWARD last November at the Exeter OXJAM; which I had been invited to by some folk musician friends of mine. (See my bog entry #28). She was one of the many excellent local performers that I witnessed that afternoon; and after the gig I had a brief chat with her.  So when she contacted me asking me to review her debut EP, Where Do I Go? I was only too pleased to do so.

Emily Howard's 'Where Do I Go?' (Photo: PTMQ)

Emily Howard’s ‘Where Do I Go?’ (Photo: PTMQ)

It is a six-track collection  of original works, all penned by Emily herself. After my initial listen, It was immediately clear to me that the lady has many talents: chief of which is her song-writing ability.  They are all well constructed songs, with good, interesting and unusual lyrics inspired by her experiences of life; about which  she seems remarkably, and refreshingly candid. Listening to the EP, I’m subtly reminded of other artists’ work, but I can’t for the life of me put my finger on who! (Although Beverly Craven springs to mind). There’s definately something unique about Emily’s music though; and that’s the important thing here.

I had only previously heard one song from the EP – the title track (which I remember taking a liking to at the Oxjam gig).  It is my personal favourite among the six. It has a nice arpeggiated chord sequence as an intro; enhanced by the bansuri flute, which delivers a mysterious ambience.  Fluttering keys add to this vibe later in the song.  ‘Where do I go from here?’ sings Emily – how many of us have asked ourselves that question in a time of uncertainty, I wonder? The piece ends with a nice little instrumental coda which I like a lot.

Emily has a lovely singing voice and her lead vocals are very good. She also has an ear for well thought-out harmonies to back them too – particularly on ‘Skip This Track’ and ‘Butterfly’; but these are evident on all of her songs. She also plays all guitars. And I must say that her rhythm guitar work is another of her great strengths – most noticable on ‘Journeyman’.  Lead guitar, where it is played, is simpler but effective enough to enhance the songs – especially on ‘Age’, I thought.  She is ably assisted by her band, which consists of: EWAN MacCAULEY on keys; CHRIS JONES on bass; and LUKE DOLMAN on drums. Additional musicians BIPIN JANI on Bansuri; and OLLI WHITE on percussion; were draughted in as necessary too.  

The CD comes in a simple card slip-case with basic info on credites etc; and a very nice (and relevant) guitars, butterflies, and other natural motifs design by Hannah Scully. 

Emily is apparenty currently recording a second collection of songs entitled ‘Keep Us Sane’ (another song that I heard at the Exeter Oxjam). I am, at time of writing, unsure whether this is another EP or a full album; but if the Where Do I Go?  EP is anything to go by, then the future is looking very rosy indeed for this very talented young singer / song-writer. I hope to get down to Devon again soon; and hopefully catch Emily at one of her gigs. Good luck to her with the new project anyway.

 PTMQ

Here is a link to Random Fish Records website:

http://www.randomfishrecords.co.uk/Random_Fish_Records/Home.html

Here is a video of the title track ‘Where Do I Go?’ :

28. OXJAM MUSIC FESTIVAL, EXETER. Featuring NIC JONES; DEVONBIRD; GREG HANCOCK QUARTET; JEMIMA FAREY; GREG RUSSELL; APPALOOSAS; EMILY HOWARD; ANGE HARDY at HOPE HALL, Exeter. Sunday, 2nd November, 2014

I was originally invited to this charity folk gig by my friend ROB WHEATON – guitarist of local band DEVONBIRD. It was an invitation that I couldn’t refuse; so I made the four hour trip to Devon the night before; staying with Rob and his gf Sue. As usual they made me very welcome and comfortable. Rob showed me his new 12-String. Its a beautiful guitar and a joy to play. I knocked out Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ – it sounded wonderful (even with me playing it!) That jingly-jangly 12-string sound is highly infectious, and I had trouble putting the bloody thing down!

Sophia of Devonbird - a sketch by (and used with kind permission of) Naomi Hart.

Sophia of Devonbird – a sketch by Naomi Hart (Reproduced here with her kind permission)

On the Sunday morning, we set off for KATH BIRD’s house. (She being the founder member of Devonbird). There we met the third member of the band too – the fiddle player, SOPHIA COLKIN. Kath has a music room at the back of her place, and the band felt that they wanted a little pre-gig rehearsal. So I was privileged to be able to sit in on this little session. They planned to play four of their songs later that day:  three from their first album Hangman’s Daughter  (‘Fairleigh Well Old England’; ‘Lannigan’s Ball’; and the title track); plus a new song: ‘Greenwood Tree’, which I liked immediately. They also practiced two other newbies: ‘Rose’ and ‘Mary’ – reserves in case they were needed. The band told me that they’d soon be in the studio to record their second album. Based upon what I heard in Kath’s music room, I’m expecting another great album, and it will be interesting to see how they’ve developed as a unit; and what directions they’ve taken musically.  They also practiced a couple of NIC JONES songs in case they should be asked to join him onstage: ‘The Little Pot Stove’ (From Penguin Eggs, 1980); and the traditional old ballad, ‘Rose Of Allendale’. Marvellous.

We arrived early at the venue, HOPE HALL in  Exeter,  for the sound-check. There, I met the proprietress NAOMI HART. Naomi is an artist who rents the Hall (which is a former Baptist Sunday School founded in 1905) as an art studio; but kindly hires out the venue for exhibitions; workshops, and small gigs.  (She also provided excellent tea and cakes!) The show was organised by well-known local folk personality, GREG HANCOCK; in conjunction with  NIKKI WARNER representing the charity Oxfam. It is part of a large on-going Nationwide programme of musical events, dubbed ‘Oxjam’.

Rob and Kath of Devonbird - a sketch by (and used with kind permission of) Naomi Hart.

Rob and Kath of Devonbird – a sketch by Naomi Hart (Reproduced here with her kind permission)

I had mistakenly been under the impression that only Devonbird were to support Nic Jones; but I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were many other artists on the Bill. Originally I was going to write a piece on just the two acts, but I soon realised that there would be plenty more to say! Many of these other (mainly local) folk musos were already in the hall preparing.  With so many artists to get through, the sound-check took quite a while; yet it was very interesting, and I met lots of the performers. It was almost 4pm before all was ready; then there was a kerfuffle as someone said that Nic Jones had arrived! The folk veteran entered the hall greeting old friends warmly, and meeting new people  – including myself. We had a nice little chat; and I found him to be very friendly and approachable.

My friends in Devonbird were first onstage; and I’d been tasked by Kath to film their four-song set with her I-Phone 6. Their performance was excellent and went down very well, I must say. Their new song ‘The Greenwood Tree’ with which they finished, was especially well received (You Tube link below). They left the stage to great applause. I was surprised when Kath and Sophia told me that they’re always nervous before a show – even after all the gigs they’ve done together. It didn’t show though – their personal performances were very, very  good indeed. Rob though, being a veteran of many different bands and genres, was as calm as can be!

Fiddle player Sophia stayed onstage, as she is also a member of the next act, THE GREG HANCOCK QUARTET. The other three members are: Mr.Hancock himself (Acoustic guitar); JO HOOPER (Cello); and the remarkable LUKAS DRINKWATER (Double-Bass). Their set consisted of the beautiful ‘1 to 10’; ‘Baby’s Head’ (a thoughtful song about the Syrian Civil War); and the jazzy  ‘Old Lady’. A fine set. Lukas (swapping bass for guitar) and Jo, stayed on stage then, and were joined by EMILY HOWARD (who sung excellent vocal harmonies) for a fine number called ‘Straight-jacket’.

Next on the Bill was a young singer/song-writer called JEMIMA FAREY. She began her set with a song from her debut album Good Days, called ‘I’ll be Back (Just  Don’t You Worry)’ which is dedicated to her parents. She followed this with ‘Travellers Waltz’; ‘Farmer’s Bride’ (which was influenced by Lark Rise To Candleford); and ‘Song For My Sisters’. The beauty of her songs is in their simplicity, coupled with strong lyrics. I enjoyed her set; and the brief chat we had later.

GREG RUSSELL from Chester was our next performer – another good young artist. He played ‘Did You Like The Battle, Sir?’ which I immediately liked. He followed this with ‘Willy Ole Lad’ (a love song from Stoke-On-Trent), which he sang superbly, unaccompanied. ‘Away From The Pits’ was next; then ‘Rolling Down The Ryburn’, which we were asked to join in with. I enjoyed his music and later we had a chat.

Nic Jones - a sketch by Naomi Hart (Reproduced with her kind permission)

Nic Jones – a sketch by Naomi Hart (Reproduced with her kind permission)

The special guest Nic Jones then joined Greg R, for the finale of the first half. They played ‘Dark The Night, Long Till Day’ which everyone sung along to. And next they did the thoughtful – almost philosophical – ‘Now’. Nic still has that distinctive voice of his – a pleasure to see and hear him perform. There then followed a short break, during which Rob W went down the nearby pub and brought back a couple of beers for us both (as Hope Hall is a ‘dry’ venue!), while I rabbited with various folk musos; and sampled Naomi’s cakes!

First up after the recess were THE APPALOOSAS – an ‘Old Time’ American folk trio; consisting of ELIZA ACTY (vocals and guitar); PETER ACTY (Banjo, guitar and vocals); and STEPHEN POTTER (Fiddle).  They also have the added attraction of Appalachian ‘Flat-Foot’ dancer,  JO WRIGHT. They played ‘Come All You Virginia Girls’; ‘High On A Mountain’; ‘When Sorrows Encompass me Round’ (an Appalachian hymn); and ‘Little Birdie’. I must admit, that this is a genre of music that I’d not really encountered before, but I very much enjoyed their set;  with Eliza’s very distinctive vocal style, and Jo’s dancing! I thank them for introducing me to something new.

Emily Howard then returned to the spot-light for her own set. She began solo with a new song: ‘A Few Kippers’. The chorus of this song is derogatory to a current controversial politician.  She encouraged the audience to sing it, but their response  was a bit half-hearted – to be honest, she could have used any other politician’s name and it would have had the same result. With Lukas D returning to the stage, her next offering was ‘Where Do I go’ – the title track of her new 6-Track EP. It was very professionally played and sung. Then, with capo surprisingly high on the 8th fret, she did ‘Keep Us Sane’ from an earlier collection of her work. All things considered, it was a very good set.

The remarkable ANGE HARDY then, bare-foot, took to the stage. She began with  a beautifully expressive, unaccompanied cover of the traditional song, ‘She Moved Through The Fair’ – it was a joy to hear. From her album Bare-Foot Folk, she then played ‘Mother Willow Tree’; and from her new one, The Lament Of The Black Sheep, ‘The Lost Soul’. Also from the latest opus, she gave us ‘The Woolgatherer’ – written about her daughter. The ubiquitous Lukas returned to play bass, and Jemima, harmonies, for her; and we heard another new one: ‘The Raising And The Letting Go’ – a song about her mother. Her final number was ‘The Farmer’s Son’ – a song about a matricidal gay farmer! This was a very impressive set, all told.  Ange is not only a fine singer/song-writer; but a multi-instrumentalist too – playing guitar; bodhran; tambourine; and an Indian Shruti (a type of squeezebox). She also makes good and frequent use of a Loop FX device which she refers to as ‘Mr.Miyagi’. And throughout her set, her lyrics and spoken words were clear, with beautiful diction. After the gig I spoke to Ange and she gave me a copy of her latest album, and I promised to review it on this blog – watch this space.

Our special guest Nic returned to the stage once more at this point; and along with Lukas, they gave us Ange’s song ‘The Sailor’s Farewell’. This was followed by another of her excellent songs: ‘The Wanting Wife’; which she sang unaccompanied, with Nic on backing vocals. Then Lukas returned once more, and with Greg Hancock on guitar they played the traditional favourite: ‘The Rose Of Allendale’; which was a superb performance, and we heard that distinctive voice and vocal style once more. The audience too were part of this performance, avidly singing along to the chorus. The grand finale was a classic Nic Jones song  – old favourite,  ‘The Little Pot Stove’ (from Penguin Eggs). Everyone knew and loved this piece, and sang along throughout. And thus ended a very special concert indeed; and I’m glad I was there.

Many of the performances of this fantastic little festival are on You Tube if you have an inclination to investigate. I have picked only one – of course, its my friends in Devonbird doing their  ‘Greenwood Tree’.  My thanks to all those involved (I hope I haven’t forgotten anyone!) PTMQ.