Tag Archives: kath bird

161. ROBERT WHEATON’s solo album “Tomorrow’s World” (2017). A pre-release review.

Front cover artwork by Connor Sheehan (Image: R.Wheaton)

This album has been a long time coming. I’ve been friends with Rob Wheaton for the best part of thirty years; and heard many of his songs – enough for a boxed set in fact! Yet apart from recording with various bands over the years, his remarkable solo work has been unfortunately largely unreleased until now.

A Dagenham lad, now based in Devon, Rob has a broad range of influences and enjoys playing many genres of music; including many forms of Folk, Rock, and Blues, etc. He has been a member of many bands over the years including Dragon’s Playground; Farrow; Trousers; and after moving to Devon a few years ago, Folk band Devonbird. He is now a member of a new Devon-based unit, Fairmile, who played their debut gig recently; and about whom I may write soon.

But it was high time that he got himself into the studio to lay down his own stuff; and that’s where producer Mark Tucker of The Green Room comes in. This is the man responsible for the two excellent Devonbird albums on which Rob played and contributed (see my review of their second album #71). And his work with Rob on his solo project has once again, been superb.

The booklet’s rear cover (Image: R.Wheaton)

The album opens with the title track ‘Tomorrow’s World 1978’. It was written by Rob a few years ago, and I have had the pleasure of playing it with him a few times in acoustic clubs in Devon. It deals with the issue of what was predicted for the future back in ’78: ie, the optimism that largely hasn’t been realised today. He describes it as ‘a deeply ironic song… written from the perspective of someone back in 1978 who looks forward to a time, maybe four decades in the future, when the world will be a much better place’.   Its a light rock song with a comprehensive lyric and a catchy chorus. There are some nice complimentary keyboards on this one with some fine rhythm guitar.

Next is ‘Valley Song’. Over two years ago I visited Rob at his place overlooking the beautiful Ax Valley in Devon. We sat on his deck on the warm summer evening, and he handed me a beer, picked up his Fylde acoustic and told me that he’d just written a new song. He began to play, and I could immediately see how and why ‘Valley Song’ had been conceived. As I listened, the song seemed to belong to the valley as much as it belonged to Rob himself. I’ve heard him play it live a few times and always enjoyed it; but I wasn’t prepared for the very high quality of the finished master track when I heard it. It has been expertly crafted by Rob and Mark. The Uilleann Pipes were totally unexpected; hitting me with their eerie primal sound, that just seems so perfectly appropriate. It is a beautiful song that you can really drift away to. It is lyrically highly personal to Rob of course – about him finally escaping ‘the clamour of the city’ and chilling out in the beautiful West Country ‘where I want to be’ – but anyone can relate to it; and that is one of its many strengths. It is musically very satisfying too, with a lot of very good interwoven layers of guitar work (as you’d expect from Rob) that enhances, but never dominates the sound. I love it – but it sets the bar very high for the rest of the album…

‘Stardust’ was one of only two songs in the collection that I hadn’t previously heard in anything like a finished form. Rob did send me a very early instrumental recording of the track some time ago which I thought was OK, but I was totally struck by the final master from the opening bars because it had morphed into something quite special. It is a Psychedelic number inspired both musically and lyrically by the wonders of the universe; and conceived when Rob was just doodling with his 12-string Ricky through a delay pedal – one of those unexpected songs that seem to write themselves I suppose. He describes it as ‘…a piece of psychedelic fun on a cosmic theme’. There are some lovely guitar FX on this one that really appeals to me. Great bass too.

Rear case design (Image: R.Wheaton)

‘One Night Stand’ is a song that Rob wrote some time ago but recently resurrected for the album. Again, I knew it, and thought it was good, but the finished master has shown it to be an exceptional piece of work. The addition of the melodeon (courtesy of none other than Jim Causley) has given it a Continental/Parisienne feel; and there are some tasty Blues licks going on in the background too, yet as in other songs on this album, the guitar does not dominate it. Lyrically, it is about the shallowness and dissatisfaction of a casual sexual encounter – something that many of us can relate to.

‘Essex Song’ is another favourite of Rob’s live set, and another that I’ve played with him. It’s a good rocker about Rob’s upbringing in a nameless town ‘by a big car factory on the banks of the Thames’ – you can guess where! But the title is something of a misnomer, as that town is now part of Greater London and I must say thankfully, doesn’t represent most of the county of Essex! Guitar driven, with atmospheric harmonica, but unusually with a twin harmonised fiddle solo by Sophia Colkin of Devonbird. Great stuff.

‘Paddington’ is the other song that I’d previously not heard – in any form at all. It is strange how life is full of coincidences. Rob moved to Devon some years ago without realising until recently that his great great grandfather was born and worked only a few miles from where he now lives. But whereas Rob was lured willingly to the county, his ancestor was forced by financial and social pressures to leave it, and go to live in London’s Paddington Green area. This song then is about the plight of rural workers moving to the squalor of the metropolis at the height of the Industrial revolution. It is a Folky song with a menacing vibe describing ‘the regimental beat of the hammer’. It is fairly short (cut down from an original longer version); lyrically poignant, and cleverly worded. Jim Causley plays on this one too.

‘Jonathan’s Song’ is probably one of the most beautifully sad songs that I’ve ever heard. Jonathan Turner was an old friend of Rob’s from way back. He was a fine musician and song-writer; and ran a recording studio in Wales. Unfortunately he’d been suffering from Muscular Dystrophy since the age of 13, and his health slowly declined until inevitably he passed away. Shortly before his death, Rob was playing with Devonbird quite near to Jon’s home, but he was at that time too ill to attend the gig. So the band went to Jon’s house to play just for him. Soon after this he passed away and Rob wrote this wonderful tribute to his dear friend. It is another song that although inspired by Rob’s highly personal feelings, would appeal to any listener – especially one who has lost a friend or loved one. It has a hauntingly beautiful keyboard-enhanced rhythm guitar part, complimented by a lovely solo on a classical acoustic.

Rob playing ‘Valley Song’ at Hadfest 2016 (Photo: PTMQ)

‘Christmastide’ is perhaps a little ill-fitting with the rest of the album – being specifically seasonal. In fact Rob’s intention was to release the album before last Christmas, but unforeseen delays dictated otherwise. No matter anyway. Its a traditionally styled Folk song both musically and lyrically, but well arranged, and a joy to hear. Again, Sophia of Devonbird was the obvious choice to play fiddle on it. A nice touch is that she is mentioned in the lyric as well as Kath Bird (also of course of Devonbird). Rob tells me that it could be released as a single later in the year.

All of these songs are thoughtfully crafted; musically satisfying and lyrically thought provoking, with some innovative features and a few surprises. Vocals are good, with some well planned harmonies. I shouldn’t be surprised by Rob’s work because I know his musical abilities well, yet even so, I am often still pleasantly surprised with what he comes up. I suppose I should expect the unexpected!

The CD version comes in a standard Jewel Case with superb original cover art by Rob’s friend, artist Connor Sheehan. It illustrates the opening line of the chorus to the title track of course – ‘We’ll be driving round in hover cars’.  It is reminiscent of 70s concept album cover art, so I warmed to it immediately! The booklet contains credits and thanks etc, but no lyrics – not a problem though, as Rob’s vocals are very clear throughout. It will be available at gigs or direct from Rob’s website (check for release date); and eventually from CD Baby and iTunes.

I can’t speak too highly of this album – but even if I didn’t know Rob personally I’d be singing its praises. My only disappointment is that with only eight songs it is rather too short – I can think of a good dozen or more of Rob’s songs that could easily have been included, but I know he is too highly critical of his own work – I’ve told him! In fact he told me that a ninth song was jettisoned at the last minute because he wasn’t totally happy with it. If you appreciate good song-writing; intelligent lyrics; innovative arrangements and great guitar work in a variety musical genres, then you’ll enjoy this album very much. Long overdue – yet well worth the wait! PTMQ

Rob Wheaton’s website

Mark Tucker’s website

Connor Sheehan’s website

The opened booklet (Image: R.Wheaton)

76. DEVONBIRD Album launch gig (+ HARPING MAD; & GREG HANCOCK) in the Clifford Room, BARNFIELD THEATRE, Exeter, Devon. Friday 9th October, 2015. An on-line review.

Devonbird in full flight (Photo: Brent Ellicot)

Devonbird in full flight (Photo: Brent Ellicot)

Preamble: I was unfortunately not able to attend this gig due to various reasons, although I had been specifically invited by my friends in Devonbird. That was a great shame, as it was a very important one in the career of the band that I’d have liked to have attended – i.e: the official launch of their second album Turning Of The Year (See my review #71). However, although I was peeved at my own inability to be there, the band’s guitarist Rob had told me that the gig was to be streamed live on line via Livestream.com, and I would therefore be able to see it nonetheless. This is the first review I’ve written from a live stream; although I have seen them before.

Technical Talk:  I wasn’t too happy though, about the quality / inaudibility of sound; which somewhat spoilt my enjoyment of the first two sets; although I don’t know if it was the website or my laptop at fault. Master Of Ceremonies Tony Colkin, spoke without mic too; which for me sitting in Essex, meant utter silence when he spoke! I’m glad to say that this was improved to an acceptable level for the main Devonbird set though, as Tony had been advised to use the mic, and the sound generally improved in volume and quality too. Sight and sound were also slightly out of synch throughout the whole evening, but nothing I couldn’t live with! Generally the filming was good though, I must say – various angles were covered at appropriate times; and it was always in focus. Lighting was good; and I experienced no buffering.

The Greg Hancock Set:  Greg played a short solo set of three songs from his excellent new EP Comfortable Hatred. (For a review of this EP, see my entry #60). He gave us his ‘Three Conversations’; ‘Buckles And Buttons’; and ‘Old Lady’. Although the sound that I was receiving was unacceptable, I am familiar with these songs, and I enjoyed the set as best I could. I had seen him play live before; at Exeter Oxjam last year (see my review #28). On that occasion he performed with his quartet, but this time he was alone. On both occasions he gave a fine performance.

The Harping Mad Set:  I was not familiar with this duet at all, so I was looking forward to seeing them. Unfortunately it was their set that suffered most from the poor sound quality, so I learnt very little about them or their music. There was a lady on Harp and a man on recorders; and they looked good. I say ‘looked good’ because I could hardly hear a note or a word! The recorders came through well enough, but the harp and vocals were barely audible; and that is a great shame because I wanted to hear them. As far as I could hear though, they were very good indeed.

The Devonbird Set:  MoC Tony (violinist Sophia’s Dad) introduced the band and mentioned that he used to be their original guitarist – a fact that had somehow previously eluded me! My readers may remember Tony’s fine portrayal of a Saracen in the band’s video for the song ‘Greenwood Tree’. (See my review #58). For those not familiar with the line-up, Devonbird currently consist of: Kath Bird (vocals, guitar, whistle); Sophia Colkin (fiddle); and Rob Wheaton (guitar). These three regulars were supplemented for the night by the addition of an excellent drummer / percussionist: Martyn Hillstead. 

The set began with ‘Mary’, a Trad-style song about Kath’s Nan. This was followed by the Irish tunes ‘King Of The Fairies / Morrison’s Jig’. Kath, barefoot and perfectly in synch with Sophia’s fine fiddling, was impressive; while at all times Rob and Martyn (with bodhran) kept a reliable rhythm. This is a lively number, and the audience were keen to get involved by clapping along.

Every song from the new album was played, from the foot-tapping ‘Rain Dance’, to the wonderful ‘Dead King’s Land’ with its reverb’ed guitar intro. In addition they played ‘The Bold Grenadier’ – which Kath told us was the first song she ever sang live. (This song has not appeared on either of the band’s two albums). Also they gave us ‘The Crow On The Craddle’; and from the first album, their medley ‘Brannigan’s Ball…’ et al. Their main set finished with the remarkable ‘Star People’, for which Sophia played her electric fiddle, and Rob his 12-string. Great stuff!

Encore!  Of course, the choice for encore – and the only track from the new album not yet played – was the band’s wonderful celebration of Sylvania: ‘Greenwood Tree / Jenny Wren’. It was a fitting end to the show. Worthy applause having been received, all that was left was for Kath to thank all those who had made the night possible – and memorable.

It was a great shame about the technical difficulties during the first part of the evening (had I been there in person, I needn’t have worried of course); but it was a good performance from all the musicians concerned. The second album release from Devonbird is now available, and in my opinion, well worth purchasing. See the band live too if you can. PTMQ

For more info about Devonbird, see my articles: #4 All About Devonbird;  #28 Oxjam Folk Fest;  #57 Practice and Planning;  #58 Video Shooting;  #59 at Romford Folk Club; and  #71 Turning Of The Year Album Review.

The band’s revamped website is here….

http://www.devonbird.co.uk/

71. DEVONBIRD “Turning Of The Year” (2015)

Second album Turning Of The Year (Photo courtesy of Devonbird)

Front cover and inner liner (Photo: Devonbird)

I was pleased and honoured when my friends Kath Bird, Sophia Colkin, and Rob Wheaton, of Folk band Devonbird kindly sent me a pre-release download of their second album Turning Of The Year some time before it was due to go on sale to the general public. They asked me to write about it for their press release, and review it on my website too. I was of course, only too pleased to do so.

I was very impressed with the prototype versions of some of the songs that I’d heard on Garageband software that my good friend Rob (the band’s guitarist) had played me (in confidence!) some months before the studio recording began; so I knew that I should expect something good. It was a long wait, but worth it; as this second album is even better than their debut, Hangman’s Daughter (2013).

This fine new opus sees Devonbird in full flight; with Kath, Sophia and Rob melded together as a unit and spreading their wings confidently. They have comfortably embraced some of the various sub-genres of Folk music ranging from the Traditional to the Progressive. Turning Of The Year is a collection of nine excellent songs – mostly penned by Kath, and inspired by local / family history; legend; Folklore and spirituality.

(Photo: Devonbird)

Rear cover illustration. (Photo: Devonbird)

The opening track ‘Star People’ is one of those that I was familiar with some while ago; and is one of my favourites on the album. It is a Progressive-Folk piece that is really quite astounding. It starts with the ethereal sound of whale-song; and has an epic, desperate, and wondrous vibe to it throughout; which enhances the subject matter. It is dedicated to adventurers in days of yore, who have experienced being plucked to safety at the moment of impending doom by Guardian Angels – or ‘Star People’. Kath’s heartfelt vocals; along with Sophia’s and Rob’s respective musicianship make this a great opener.

The two-part track ‘Greenwood Tree / Jenny Wren’ (written by Kath, and fiddle player Sophia respectively), was first aired at the excellent Exeter Oxjam gig back in November last year (see my review on this site  #28). It was also the song chosen by the band for a video (see my article #58 ). Its a cheerful little song; simple but effective in construction, and builds nicely to a climax in the ‘Jenny Wren’ section where Sophia gives a fine display of her art. Its a celebration of the trees: ‘I love to see the fruits, and the shoots, and the roots’ sings Kath. Think of Beltane or Orchard Wassailing and you’ll catch the drift – the changing seasons; or the turning of the year.  I missed Kath’s ‘Whoop! Whoop!’ at the intersection of the two parts, that she utters when the band perform the song live, though! There is a link to the video below.

‘Mary’ is a fine traditional sounding tune. Its about Kath’s Nan Mary, who came from Dartmoor and worked for the noted scholar, the Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould (The writer of ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ among many other hymns).

The tempo is picked up for ‘Rain Dance’. It is, Kath tells me ‘…quite simply about witchcraft on Dartmoor!’ It is a lively little song, perfectly evoking the folkloric beliefs of some Devonfolk. I can see the witches dancing around the oak tree as I write!

Title track ‘Turning Of The Year’ is another favourite of mine. It is a love song about the meeting of ‘Twin Flames’ (akin to ‘Soul-Mates’ I think), and steeped in the esoteric spirituality of New Age mysticism. Musically too, I find this song very charming; the vocal melody from Kath, and the harmonies from Rob are superb; all backed by wonderful fiddle from Sophia.

The CD (Photo: Devonbird)

The CD (Photo: Devonbird)

Apparently, driving home along the A303 from their appearance at Hadfest in Hertfordshire in 2013, Kath had been inspired to write ‘Dead King’s Land’ as they passed Stonehenge and its satellite monuments.  This sacred and ancient landscape has provided a muse for many an artist; and she came up with this wonderful song as a result. It is another that I first enjoyed in its seminal form; but I was very impressed indeed with the finished article. Its another Prog-Folk piece with a beautifully arpeggiated multi-tracked  intro from Rob; sympathetic fiddle from Soph; and more haunting vocals by Kath. Lyrically steeped in the mists of prehistory, Kath asks for the Dead Kings not to be forgotten. It is a song that greatly appeals to me. One of the best on the album, for several reasons.

‘Rose’ is apparently about love in its purest of forms. In this song one lover has to wait for her soul-mate (or ‘Twin Flame’?) to return from overseas. It is a beautifully sad song with a yearning feel to it.

‘King Of The Fairies / Morrison’s Jig’ are traditional Irish tunes; interpreted by the band in their own inimitable style. A beautiful piece; it is a vehicle for Sophia’s violin in perfect synch with Kath’s whistle. As in ‘Greenwood Tree’, the piece comes to life for the second part. Traditionalists couldn’t complain about this one!

Finally, ‘Rebecca Downing’s Lament’ is an interesting song. Kath took the words from a Broadside by T.Brice, and put them to a sympathetic trad-style Folk tune.  Its about the last woman to be burnt at the stake for witchcraft, in Exeter in 1782 – at the age of only 15! Its a well thought out song beginning with an ominous death knell from a church bell. Kath’s vocals and Soph’s fiddle are exceptionally sympathetic on this one.

All in all, this is a wonderful album in my humble opinion. It is clear that the band have tangibly progressed as a unit. Particular strengths are: Kath’s song-writing skills; Sophia’s continually impressive fiddling; and Rob’s increasingly good vocal harmonies – he plays the guitar pretty well too!

Recording was done at The Green Room in Devon; and production was by Mark Tucker – who had previously worked on their debut album too; so it was a foregone conclusion that he’d be asked to do this one as well. The CD comes in a standard Jewel-Case, with a very inventive and colourful design depicting the ‘Turning of the year’ (not easy to achieve with four seasons and only three band members!)  Photography is by Brent Ellicott and George Totorean. I think I’d have liked the lyrics printed out on the cover, but this is an oh so minor complaint!

Turning Of The Year is to be released on 9th October; and is quite likely to be my choice for Folk album of the year; so its a big recommendation from me!  Yes, I know I’m biased because I’m friends with the band, but it really is an excellent album, so I’d be spouting superlatives about it, even if I didn’t know them personally! Give it a listen and you’ll see what I mean. PTMQ

Here is a link to the official video for the song ‘Greenwood Tree / Jenny Wren’. (See my write-up on the making of this video Entry #58)…..

And here is a link to the band’s website; with details of gigs etc (including the album launch gig on 9th October)…

http://www.devonbird.co.uk/

59. DEVONBIRD (+ BILL FARROW & others) at ROMFORD FOLK CLUB, in THE SUN (PH). Tuesday 7th July, 2015. + a few words about the club and the venue.

Devonbird at RFC (Photo: PTMQ)

Devonbird at RFC (Photo: PTMQ)

These days my friends Kath, Sophia and Rob of Folk band Devonbird are flying high, with gigs ever further afield than their Exeter home base. And this is a measure of their increasing popularity and success. They’ve been all over the West Country, and have ventured into Wales on occasions; but the nearest they’ve been to my neck of the woods is when they played Hadfest in Hertfordshire back in 2013. This was the first time that they’d been to the Romford area though. Actually, the band’s guitarist Rob was brought up not far away, and has played The Sun on numerous occasions in the past. As for me, I live local too, so there was no doubt that I’d be along for this gig.

My regular readers will know, of course, that I was down in Devon recently at the invitation of the band (see my previous two Blog entries #57 and #58), who were making a video for their song ‘Greenwood Tree’. It was nice to have them in my Manor for a change on this occasion though. Another person who came along to the gig and was delighted to see Rob was the Blues guitarist Bill Farrow who is also a local man. Rob was once in Bill’s band, simply called Farrow. Nowadays, of course, Bill plays in the Milton-Farrow Skiffle’n’Blues Band (see my Bog entries #22 and #33). He has also played The Sun many times.

Romford Folk Club has been held down in the basement function room of The Sun, on London Road, Romford, for almost twenty years now; and they’ll be celebrating the 25th anniversary of the club’s existence next February. The RFC meet regularly on Tuesday nights. Its usually an Open Floor; but sometimes a named band / artist is booked. This evening, of course, it was the latter. Micky Brown and Garry Walker who run the club were very welcoming and informative; as were all the regulars that I spoke to. For any level of talent, its a good place to try out a few songs – new or old – in an amiable and encouraging atmosphere.

Bill Farrow at RFC (Photo: PTMQ)

Bill Farrow at RFC (Photo: PTMQ)

The Sun itself I haven’t visited for some years, and the main part of the pub has been done up very smartly; so that I wouldn’t have recognised it. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of the basement function room, which is in dire need of redecorating – or even a good clean up! I think the RFC deserve better than that – especially considering that there were more thirsty people attending the Folk Club than present in the main bar that night! The barmaids were very friendly and helpful though; so thank you ladies!

I arrived at the venue quite early. The band arrived soon after, and I helped get their kit downstairs and set up for the sound check. When Garry Walker arrived he explained that the evening would be in two parts: an Open Floor followed by Devonbird’s first set; and the same again for part two. After a little informal jam from Mick Brown, Paul Ballantyne and Richie Barratt;  we were ready to begin.

Several regulars were keen to do a turn for the first Open Floor section. There was a great variety of musical style, performed with varying degrees of talent – yet all admirable in their way – and it was nice to see everyone supporting and encouraging each other.  Best among them were Paul Ballantyne with a good rendition of Richard Thompson’s ‘Vincent Black Lightning’; and there was some fine fiddling from Richie Barratt.

Devonbird were on next. Starting with ‘The Snows’, they played several songs from their first album Hangman’s daughter; including ‘Velvet’; ‘Fairleigh Well Olde England’ and, my personal favourite from the debut album, ‘The Brae’. They interspersed these with fine traditional jigs, reels and slides from their repertoire. Also, from their eagerly awaited forthcoming album Turning Of The Year, they played the excellent title track for us.

Informal jam at RFC (Photo: PTMQ)

Jamming at RFC (Photo: PTMQ)

After a short break, Part Two commenced in the same manner as the first, with various regulars doing a single song. Again very diverse in content and quality; but kudos due to anyone who had a go. It was nice to hear the duet, Martin and Jackie, because they played Fairport’s ‘Meet On The Ledge’ which I like but had totally forgotten about! So thanks to them for reminding me. Finally, the inimitable Bill Farrow played two of his numbers with a borrowed guitar: ‘Ain’t It Good’ which is great fun for a sing-song, and in which fiddler Richie Barratt busked along. Next he played his ‘Rain, Lotsa Rain’, which is inspired by the music of Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Personally, I like a bit of upbeat acoustic Blues and I could quite happily sit and listen to Bill playing all evening; but tonight however was Devonbird’s night!

My friends from Devon began their second set with the oft-covered Sydney Carter anti-war song ‘The Crow On The Cradle’ which I haven’t heard them do before. And an interesting version it was too. They followed this with two more fine new songs from the forthcoming album: ‘Rose’ and ‘Mary’. I’m familiar with both of these new ones, and I think the latter is an especially good song. After another jig medley, next on the playlist was the title track from their debut album Hangman’s Daughter. Also from the first album, they gave us ‘Purty Jane’; the song sung in quaint Devonshire dialect. After another foot-tapping jig medley  they finished with the wonderful ‘Greenwood Tree’.

I’ve seen the band play on numerous occasions now, and I have followed their developing live set with interest over the last couple of years – near enough since their inception, in fact. In that time they’ve gone from strength to strength. They are very tight as a musical unit; which is a result of their constant gigging. This is especially noticable in medleys, where the trio move as one – shifting seamlessly through changing time signatures with ease. These jigs are also remarkable for the faultless unison of Sophia’s fiddle and Kath’s whistle. Rob’s vocal harmonies are also enriching the overall tapestry of sound on the songs to a great extent now too. All in all, a fantastic performance which went down well with the small but enthusiastic audience.

Set finished; it was time to pack away the kit and load up. After a little chat and some fond farewells, Bill and I left the band, and I gave him a lift home.

Devonbird’s second album will be released in September; and I’ll be reviewing it on this Blog as soon as its available; so watch this space. I’ve heard the finished product already, and I can reveal that its a corker – even better than their debut. PTMQ

For more on Devonbird, see my Blog entries #4; #28; #57; and #58.

Here is a link to Devonbird’s website…. http://www.devonbird.co.uk/

Here is a link to Romford Folk Club’s site…  http://www.romfordfolkclub.com/

58. With DEVONBIRD Part Two: Video Shooting. Tuesday, 9th June 2015.

(Continued from my previous Blog #57).

Devonbird '...under the Greenwood Tree'! (Photo by Charo)

Devonbird ‘…under the Greenwood Tree’! (Photo by Charo)

The song chosen for this video, was the two-part ‘Greenwood Tree / Jenny Wren’ (written by Kath Bird and Sophia Colkin respectively). This is of course a track from the eagerly awaited second album from Devonbird – Turning Of The Year, due for release in September. Although I have been privileged to hear the new album already, the band have sworn me to secrecy about a lot of it. ‘Greenwood Tree’ however was first aired at the excellent Exeter Oxjam gig last November (see my Blog #28), and has been part of their live set since then; so it is well known to their fans already. Its an excellent choice for a video too.

The place arranged for the video shoot was Ideford Common, just south of the City of Exeter, in Devon. I didn’t see that much of it, but It seemed a typical English country park to me – forest in places and Moorland in others; and as beautiful as nature intended. Its popular with hikers, nature lovers and dog walkers etc – and of course, a great choice of location for the filming of a Folk Music video. Guitarist Rob Wheaton and I arrived first, briefly wondering if we were at the right place! We needn’t have worried though; as very soon, Kath and the others arrived.

Yours truly on filming duty! (Photo by Charo)

Yours truly on filming duty! (Photo by Charo)

I already knew that I was on filming duties; and Kath ran through what exactly she had in mind for myself and the other camera crew members: Brent and his daughter Amy. Brent’s son Matt was to be the soundman. Kath led us along the charming pathway where she wanted ‘Greenwood Tree’ filmed; and to the shady glade where she wanted the footage shot  for ‘Jenny Wren’. I’d not done anything like this before, so I was a little apprehensive. Kath however had it all very clear in her head, and I soon picked up the ideas that she envisaged.

Back in the car park, everyone had arrived and was getting changed into their respective costumes and masks; and getting their faces painted as necessary.  We soon had a great variety of charming mythical; quasi-historical; and woodland characters eagerly awaiting the filming. There was St. George; a Saracen; a monk; a traditional Father Christmas in green (no, I didn’t know FC used to dress in green either!); a Spanish lady in blue; a Dark Fairy Queen; a crow; an owl; a pixie princess; and a couple of dogs – quite a eclectic group of characters and fauna then! Not surprisingly we got a few odd looks from passing cyclists and dog walkers!

The first part of the video – ‘Greenwood Tree’ itself; ie, the slower, sung part – was to be filmed with everyone walking along the green lane behind the band as they performed the number. Moving backwards in front of the band and cast, were the film crew (Brent, Amy and myself); along with Matt the soundman playing a recording of the song so as to allow the band to mime as they walked. This proved to be easier said than done, as we found it almost impossible to keep steady whilst filming and walking backwards. I tried standing still and zooming out in pace with the band walking towards me; yet still it was difficult. We shot the progress along the lane a good half dozen or more times in all; so some good footage should have been captured.

Some of the cast in the glade (Photo by Charo)

Some of the cast in the glade (Photo by Charo)

The second part of the video – ‘Jenny Wren’; ie, the livelier instrumental part – was to be filmed in the shady glade. The band stood and played their part whilst the cast danced around them with an almost pagan revelry – but that was exactly what was required. We shot several versions of this part from various angles too. I must say, it was much easier filming this as we camera people were static during this section. I filmed a couple of cameos too; one of Father Christmas emerging from the bushes; and one of St. George fencing with the Saracen (during which play-fight the Saracen really was slightly injured by the over-zealous Christian Knight!)

All in all it was a lot of fun. Back in the car park the cast got changed; and the band handed out bottles of wine by way of thanks to them, and to we technical bods too! As I write, the video is being edited by Rob Jones (and the wine is being consumed by yours truly!) When the video is ready I will of course link to it here – watch this space. PTMQ

Devonbird: Kath Bird (Vocals); Sophia Colkin (Violin); Rob Wheaton (Guitar).

The Cast: Pete (Saint George); Tony (The Saracen); Pat (The Monk); Chris (Green Father Christmas); Charo (La Señora Española en azul); Katharina (The Dark Fairy Queen);  Daisy (The Crow); Mia (The Owl); Zoe (The Pink Pixie); and last but not least, Tyler (The Belgian Shepherd Dog) and Sophie (The Westie).

Technical bods: Brent and Amy (Video cameras); yours truly (Video camera and stills); Matt (Soundman); Charo (Face painting and stills); + various people (Costumes).

57. With DEVONBIRD Part One: Practice And Planning. Monday, 8th June 2015

Rehearsals in Kath's mirrored music room (Photo: PTMQ)

Rehearsals in Kath’s mirrored music room (Photo: PTMQ)

It seems that my friends Kath Bird, Sophia Colkin, and Rob Wheaton  of the Folk band Devonbird, have quite a busy schedule ahead of them of late.  Not only is their long awaited second album due out soon; but they have a few high profile gigs lined up for the near future; and they had a video to shoot for their song ‘Greenwood Tree’ too. Plenty on their plate then!

They invited me down to Devon to discuss a few things regarding the new album Turning Of The Year; due to be released in September. They asked me to write about the new album for the press release; and do a little filming for the video too; and of course, I was only too happy to oblige, having never done or witnessed anything like that before.

Band rehearsals normally take place on a Monday evening in the smart mirrored music room in Kath’s house; so of course, I came along too as I was staying with guitarist Rob for a couple of days. They rehearsed a lot of their songs – both old and new – that they intended to play at the forthcoming gigs. I’m not at liberty to divulge much about the new stuff as yet, but I’ve been privileged  to hear the second album already, and heard the band practicing the new songs; and what I can say is that if you’re a Devonbird fan like me, then you’ll be thrilled when you hear the new material that the band have produced, as they’re better than ever!

Rehearsals completed, next on the agenda was for Kath to go through her ideas for the video shoot scheduled for the next day. It was clear that she had some very inspired ideas; and I was keen to get involved. I thought it was workable, and sounded good! I think the rest of us also made some positive contributions to the plan. The details of filming will be the subject of my next article: Blog #58. PTMQ

For more about Devonbird, please see my Blog #4 ‘ALL ABOUT DEVONBIRD’; and Blog #28 ‘OXJAM MUSIC FESTIVAL’

To find out about the band’s forthcoming gigs – or any other info – here is a link to their website….

http://www.devonbird.co.uk/

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.