Tag Archives: phil the quill

169. THE TANYA PICHE BLUES BAND Album Launch Gig (+ Blues jam) at The Mill Beach PH, Maldon, Essex. Sunday, 14th May, 2017.

The TPBB in action (Photo: PTMQ)

Blues singer Tanya Piché had been asking me to come along to one of her monthly Blues jams at The Mill Beach PH, in Maldon, Essex, for a few months, but I hadn’t been able to get there until now. These jam sessions are held on the second Sunday in the month between 5 – 9pm, and have become very popular with local musicians. This particular jam was a special occasion though, as Tanya and her band have just released their debut album, the howlingly good Wolf Woman Blues (see my review #164), and they decided to use this session for their album launch. I arrived just in time to say hello to Tanya and the band members – David Warne (guitar); Nick Sherreard (bass); and James Digings (drums) – and get my name down on the performers list, before the afternoon’s entertainment began.

Howlin’ Wolf Woman! (Photo: PTMQ)

The plan was for the TPBB to play all ten tracks from the album in three mini-sets of three or four songs each, with jam sessions in the two spaces between (a kind of wolf-flavoured jam sandwich I guess you could call it!) So the Wolf Woman and her pack kicked off their first set with ‘Clawing At Your Door’, and proceeded to play the songs in the album track order.

Now Tanya is a very lovely lady of course, but it is when she gets on stage that she really comes into her own. She seriously gets into the vibe of her Blues – and it’s infectious too. On stage she is animated, and sassy – and you can’t take your eyes off her. Her characteristically unique voice and vocal style (that has earned her the sobriquet ‘Howlin’ Wolf Woman’), growled and howled out her lyrics to an appreciative audience; yet there is a tenderness to her vocal when necessary as well – and during ‘I Put A Spell On You’, she was just a bit scary too!

The TPBB’s Blues (as I said on the album review) are as authentic as you can get this side of the Atlantic; and a great salute to their classic Stateside heroes. Their live performance here was faultlessly true to their recorded album tracks too. This is a band that has been gigging hard for the entire two years of their existence, and they demonstrated a well-practiced set indeed. David’s guitar work was impressive, relaxed and effortless, in the knowledge that backing him up was a superb, reliable, and tight rhythm section in Nick and James. I couldn’t fault their performance at all; but I wasn’t the only one, because as they finished their third set with the mellow, Greeny inspired ‘why’, the applause was thunderous and demanding of an encore. This was duly given in the form of a track that hadn’t been included on the album, their spooky single ‘Good Morning Mr.Postman’, with its psychedelic, wah-wah rigged guitar part. (Incidentally, Tanya said that, Joe Green, Peter’s nephew who will be playing live with them as a special guest at The Owl And Pussycat, Basildon, on 4th June, sent a message of support from Greeny himself).

Apart from being the star of the show, Tanya was also the Master of Ceremonies for the afternoon, so she was the busiest person there. After the first set with her band, she had quickly organised and introduced some jammers for the first of several three-number sets. There were a good number of musos present; too numerous to name (I knew some), but all of a very impressive standard indeed. Many Blues/Blues-Rock classics were excellently covered, such as: ‘All Along The Watchtower’; ‘Statesboro Blues’; ‘Texas Flood’; ‘Crossroads’; ‘Brown Sugar’; and many more – and including a surprise rendition of Sweet’s old hit ‘Wig Wam Bam’. (Blimey, that took me back a few years!) Tanya had asked me to bring my acoustic and said she’d play harp for me on my ‘Mid-Life Crisis Blues’, which she kindly did – and really well too. (Thanks Wolf Woman!) It seemed to go OK but I offer no critique – except that Tanya’s Dad said he liked it!

Among the many guests present were Blues DJ  Jim McNeill, of Blues @ Rock Radio UK, and we had a good chat about Blues and other sounds. He recommended a few bands that I may need to check out sometime soon. Thanks Jim.

Big thanks to Tanya and her boys for inviting me; to all the excellent jammers; and to everyone there for a fantastic afternoon of Blues, Blues, Blues! The bar staff need a mention too – good service with a smile… and delicious pineapple sponge! Beer was good too! PTMQ

168. FRANK STATESBORO (+MARTIN McNEILL & Open Floor) at RFC. Tuesday 9th May 2017.

Bluesman 1: Frank Statesboro (Photo: G.Walker)

Well, with Frank Statesboro as special guest, this particular night at Romford Folk Club was bound to get a bit Bluesy. Add to that, Martin McNeill (the maestro of Monday Blues At Peggy Sue’s) contacted me the day before asking about the club, and I suggested he come along too. So with several of the regulars also getting into the Blues vibe, it was sure to be a memorable night.

The preceding Open Floor spots were very varied as usual – although rather Blues dominated. Best among them I thought were of course, Martin McNeill with his ‘Feel So Good’ and ‘Unchain My Heart’ (which I’ve heard him play several times at Peggy Sue’s); Jo Gregory‘s a cappella cover of ‘Cry Me A River’; and Jackie Gregory‘s fine version of ‘Matty Groves’. Of course, I played my ‘Mid-Life Crisis Blues’; and Vern Waldie asked me to accompany him for his own Blues number ‘My Love’ – which I didn’t know, but enjoyed playing.

Bluesman 2: Martin McNeill (Photo: G.Walker)

Introduced by Nora Kelson (MoC for the night), the man in black, Frank Statesboro took to the performance area and began with Crudup’s ‘That’s Alright’. His imposing physical presence was only outweighed by his gravelly vocal and aggressive strumming style, which is characterised by strong bass runs and loudly muted chords. He got through two great sets of Blues classics, including: ‘Got My Mojo Working’; and ‘Mean Ol’ Frisco’.

Other varied songs in his repertoire were ‘What A Wonderful World This Would Be’; ‘Handbags And Gladrags’; ‘Rockin’ Robin’; ‘If Loving You Is Wrong’; and ‘Heartbreak Hotel’.

Highlight of the evening for me though, was when Frank invited Martin to jam with him on a couple of songs. Now, these two are very experienced Bluesmen (albeit with very different styles); yet they had never jammed together before. No problem – they steamed into a pacey Rock’n’Roller: ‘Gone, Gone, Gone’, with Martin on bottleneck, duelling with Frank. They followed this with a fine cover of Greeny’s classic ‘Black Magic Woman’. Again extended improvised solos from both guitarists that is rarely witnessed outside of a Blues club. Excellent!

Statesboro and McNeill (Photo: G.Walker)

Frank also included an entertaining medley of disparate songs of various styles. These were segued within two halves of ‘King Of The Swingers’. They included ‘The Drunken Sailor’; ‘Mama Don’t Like No Music’; and ‘Valerie’. Bizarre – but it worked a treat!

Martin was invited to return to the floor then for a well deserved encore of Bo Diddley’s ‘Before You Accuse Me’. An excellent rendition it was too; and the show finished to great applause.

All in all, a great Blues dominated evening – one of the best Guest Nights I’ve seen at the club. I thoroughly enjoyed it; so a big thank you to Mr.Statesboro; Mr.McNeill; the club officials; and all those who took part in making it a memorable evening once again at RFC. PTMQ.

167. PATCHWORK SKIES “Go Outside” EP (2015)

(Image: Patchwork Skies)

I met singer/song-writer Charlie Limm at Loughton Folk Club recently, where she played a very good feature set as support for Kadia who had invited me to their gig. (See my review #166). She is part of a London-based acoustic Country-Folk duet known as Patchwork Skies, along with Emma Minihan (not present on this occasion).

I had a chat with Charlie and her roadie Sophie, and she kindly gave me a copy of the duet’s EP Go Outside. I said I’d have a listen on the way home from the gig (always a good time for me to listen to music); so by the time I arrived back at Quill HQ, I had the songs on the CD firmly embedded in my mind – and needing to write a favourable review!

It is a four track collection of original songs, all penned by Charlie (vocals/guitar/flute); and Emma (vocals/guitar). The tracks are: ‘Country Kind’; ‘Relentless’; ‘Through The Dark’; and ‘Star’. (You can buy or just listen from the duet’s website). I was struck by the nicely constructed songs, that are catchy and pleasant. There are a lot of  lovely well thought out harmonies; and the lyrics are good as well. I look forward to hearing more from these ladies.

The CD comes in a simple slip case with basic info/contact details etc; and nice artwork by Stella Limm. It is available at gigs or from the duet’s website). I haven’t seen the ladies perform as a duet, only Charlie solo, but I’ll keep an eye out for a gig some time. A nice EP for The Quill’s collection. PTMQ

Patchwork Skies website.

166. KADIA (with support CHARLIE LIMM + Open Floor) at LOUGHTON FOLK CLUB, Essex. Thursday 27th April 2017.

Kadia at LFC (Photo: PTMQ)

It’s always nice to get to see artists whose albums I’ve reviewed. So when I heard that Dorset-based Folk band Kadia were to play near to my home, at Loughton Folk Club, I was keen to get along to see them live.

Loughton Folk Club is held every Thursday in a pleasant upstairs room at The Loughton Club, a social centre in Station Road. (Check LFC’s website for details). It is run by Steve O’Donoghue (MoC for the night), and Carol Woodward, who are very welcoming (They had both recently come along to my Feature Night at Romford FC. See review #162). The club book a special guest every week, and have attracted some very well known artists. This particular night there was also a support set by singer/song-writer Charlie Limm. Floor spots are also usually available, and I was asked to do a couple of my songs too.

There were some very good Floor Spots; best of which I thought were Steve O’Donoghue singing his ‘Accident Of Birth’  – the second time I’d heard this in two days (See my previous review #165), but this time by the writer himself. And John Harris who sang and played a fantastic song about an Irish sailor (which I’m afraid I didn’t catch the title of, but I’m sure I’ve seen him play it somewhere before – RFC or Haverfolk perhaps?). I played two of my songs: ‘Nan’s Bread Pudd’n’ and ‘Mid-Life Crisis Blues’. Seemed to go down OK.

Charlie Limm (Photo: PTMQ)

Support Charlie Limm played two short but very good sets. Along with Emma Minihan , she is one half of a duet called Patchwork Skies, but tonight she was accompanied only by her roadie Sophie. Charlie, accompanying herself on acoustic guitar, played some charming songs; including two from the duet’s EP Go Outside: ‘Through The Dark’ and ‘Country Kind’. Other songs were: ‘At Your Side’; ‘Farewell Lullaby’ (sung acapella); ‘In This Time’ (which I particularly liked); ‘Forget-me-Not’ (her favourite flower, and a song that we were encouraged to join in with); and she finished with Richard Thompson’s classic ‘Beeswing’. Lovely songs and very effective. Sweetly sung too. The LFC audience were certainly appreciative. Maybe we’ll see Charlie play there again, with Emma too next time, perhaps? Later, before she left she gave me a copy of the Patchwork Skies’ EP Go Outside, which I enjoyed listening to on the way home and shall review on this site soon (see my following article #167).

Headliners Kadia also played two excellent sets. The trio consist of: Chris Bailey (guitar/vocals); Lee Cuff (cello/vocals); and David Hoyland (uke/mando/vocals). (For a review of their wonderful debut album East Of Alexandria, see my review #91). They are making quite a name for themselves on the Folk circuit, for their quality musicianship, their impressive song-writing, and their superb harmonies. I have recently reviewed their new EP of trad songs – The Outlandish Collection (see my review #158). They are currently working towards a new album of original material.

Steve O’Donoghue with Guthrie-esque guitar slogan! (Photo: PTMQ)

They played many of the original songs from their debut album, and all five songs from the EP; beginning with the acapella ‘The Keeper’. It was a magnificent display of the three part harmonies for which they are becoming well-known – therefore they set the bar high for themselves from the very start.

Earlier, I’d had a chat with them before the evening’s entertainment began. I’d been playing their debut album whilst driving to the gig, and I mentioned that I particularly enjoyed ‘The Beast Of Bodmin’, so they kindly incorporated it into their set for me; seguing it into the trad song ‘The Wraggle-Taggle Gypsies-O’. A faultless performance it was too. Thanks lads!

Included in their two sets were songs from the Alexandria album such as ‘Silver Linings’; ‘The Navigator’; and ‘Origin Of Fire’. From Outlandish: ‘Captain Ward’; the instrumental medley ‘Cricketers Set’; ‘Randy Dandy’ and the wonderful ‘Lady Isabel And The Elf Knight’. Other songs played were: ‘Your Side’; ‘Sounds Of Earth’; ‘Rose In April’; ‘Annabel Lee’;  and ‘Old Dun Cow’.

Throughout the show, individual musicianship; tightness; vocals; and harmonies were, to be quite honest, faultless and impressive to say the least. In fact, a perfect display of their collective talents, and I’d highly recommend attending one of their gigs if you haven’t already.

I very much enjoyed the evening at Loughton Folk Club and I plan to get there again soon for a Daria Kulesh gig, among others. Thanks to all performers and LFC personnel for a memorable evening. PTMQ.

 

165. STEVE & HANNAH O’DRISCOLL (+ Open Floor) at RFC. Tuesday, 25th April 2017.

The O’Driscolls at RFC. (Photo: G.Walker)

I always enjoy whatever father and daughter duet Steve and Hannah O’Driscoll come up with when they do their turn at Romford Folk Club. So as popular regulars, they were asked to perform a set at one of the club’s frequent Feature Nights; and I think I can speak for all the club members by saying that we were all looking forward to it.

Their two-part set was of course preceded by Open Floor spots. Best this week I thought were: Alan Gore‘s cover of Steve O’Donoghue‘s ‘Accident Of Birth’; and Trevor Attwaters‘ two songs: the trad ‘Black Waterside’, and his version of McDowell’s ‘Write Me A Few Of Your Lines’. I played my ‘Nan’s Bread Pudd’n’ at the request of Mrs.Attwaters!

The O’Driscolls were introduced for their first set and were warmly welcomed by the audience. Steve plays guitar with intriguing alternative tunings that give a very distinctive sound. Hannah is in charge of percussion and sits on her Cajon drum box. Their vocals are unique too, and characterised by an (often) melancholy vibe and some very fine harmonies. Their songs often have London or Irish themes, inspired by their ancestry.

They began with ‘Our Young Lady’. It was a great start and was followed by one of their self-penned songs: ‘Brave Boys’, which was the first song that they played together a year ago, at RFC. It is a wonderful song about the life of London dockers in the days of sail. Other songs from set 1 were ‘Thames Rose High’ which is based on an old folk tale; and ‘Mrs.Mary Smith’ about a Victorian knocker-upper from Limehouse. They finished the first set with ‘The Bow Bells Bride’ to well-deserved applause.

Set Two began with two tragic old Irish songs, ‘Old Woman In The Woods’ and ‘Well Below The Valley’. ‘The Good Old Times’ followed. It is about Steve’s Grandfather who moved from Ireland to Poplar, and was always harking back to his past. ‘London Beer Flood’ is based on a bizarre but, Steve assures us, true story from 1814 when a massive beer barrel flooded the St.Giles area, and killed several people – what a way to go! They finished their main set with ‘The Jolly Tinker’. It is a popular song from their repertoire, and they do it well. I’ve heard them play it a few times before. Great applause ensued as they finished, and encore was demanded. They gave this in the form of ‘Nelly Hang On The Bell’.

All in all really good set which was made the more enjoyable by Steve’s informative and funny spiel before each song. As far as I know their songs have not been recorded – but they need to be!  Another great night at RFC. Thanks to The O’Driscolls; all floor performers and club officials. PTMQ.

164. TANYA PICHE BLUES BAND’s debut album “Wolf Woman Blues” (2017) A pre-release review.

(Image: TPBB)

A few months ago I was privileged to be asked to sit in on the recording of three songs by the only female-fronted Blues band in Essex, the Tanya Piché Blues Band, at Basildon Recording Studio (see my article #111). The band cut three tracks that day towards their debut album; and I left with the conclusion that it would be a good’n. They have previously recorded a live EP Back at Ya! (see #111); and a couple of singles (see #80 & #116); but this is their first full album.

The clue is in the name with this unit: Tanya Piché Blues Band – they do exactly what their name suggests! But not only that; they play some of the most original and authentic-sounding Blues you are likely to hear from a band this side of the Pond. Formed in May 2015, they consist of the unique Howlin’ Wolf Woman herself, Tanya Piché (Vocals/harp); Nick ‘Smurf’ Sherreard (bass/harp/backing vocals); David Warne (guitar); and James Digings (drums). These are all well-seasoned musos. Tanya herself once spent some time hanging out with the late Robert Lucas of Canned Heat (see my article #65) – not a bad thing to have on her CV!

Blues purists they may be, but there is plenty of scope in their repertoire for originality too. Seeped in the classics of the genre, Tanya and her boys have certainly been doing their homework over a long period of time. When I listen to these recordings I hear the echoes of Waters, Hooker, Dixon, and of course Burnett – the original Howlin’ Wolf himself. In fact the album is dedicated to Burnett and Lucas – Tanya’s mentors. It is earthy, gritty, and authentic stuff – yet far more than a rehash; being fresh and interesting too.

Wolf Woman Blues is a ten track collection of mainly original numbers penned by the band themselves. The three songs I saw being recorded last year were ‘Big Joe’s Place’, ‘I Gotta Leave This Man’ and ‘I Said Please’. (For a description of these see my article #111). ‘Wolfhound Woman’ and ‘London And L.A.’ are a lot of fun; whilst the slow and moody numbers ‘Why’ and ‘I Said Please’ made me smile and nod in appreciation. But most of all I love ‘Clawing At Your Door’ and of course ‘Blues For Chester’. All in all, a good selection of some fine authentic Blues styles. There are a few sound effects included, like wolf howls and police sirens, and a soundbite of Burnett himself, which I think add to the enjoyment of the album.

Quality of musicianship is very high: characteristically unique, gritty vocals from Tanya; impressive guitar from David (especially some lovely slide work); with solid and reliable bass and drums from Nick and James.

At time of writing I do not have a CD copy, but I’m told it comes in a de-luxe tri-fold card case. Tanya is looking sexy, wolfish – and just a bit scary on the cover! I love the band’s logo and the claw marks too! There is plenty of info on the back cover (see image below).

This is a howlin’ good album, and I felt privileged to be present when some of it was recorded last year. It’s a big thumbs up from The Quill. Highly recommended if (like me) you love authentic-sounding Blues. The album launch gig will be at The Mill Beach PH in Maldon, Essex on 14th May. Check the TPBB website for more info. PTMQ

(Image: TPBB)

 

163. RUBY AND THE REVELATORS “Walk With Me” (2017)

(Image: O.Stevens)

It’s always nice to hear what Ruby Tiger has been doing with her band The Revelators. So I was delighted when she sent me the download to her debut album Walk With Me recently, followed by a CD copy.

I can’t believe it’s been nearly three years since I was invited to Ruby’s Vistas EP launch back in July ’14 (see my review #16). Since then, she and the band have released a couple of singles (see #62 and #138) and a live EP (see #81), but Walk With Me is their first full album.

Ruby And The Revelators are now a five-piece band consisting of Ruby Tiger herself, of course (vocals); Louise Maggs (guitar); John Whale (bass); Frazer Wigg (keys); and Paco Muñoz (drums). Various other fine musos were brought in as necessary for particular songs.

It is a ten track collection of songs that have been part of their live set for a while now, and therefore were honed to perfection before recording began. Most of the songs I didn’t know, and I was struck by the musicianship; the quality of the song-writing; the recording of them; and the sheer variety included – as Ruby herself says: ‘I didn’t want to be a slave to genre, I wanted the songs to come first, and the emotion behind them’. The excellent lyrics apart from the title track (which are by ex-band member King Rollo) are written by Ruby herself; and music penned by Ruby and various band members.

It is a mix of Soul, Blues and Funk with more than a little Jazz influence – yet a bright, fresh take on all of them with nothing jaded or rehashed. Above all it is a work of undeniable quality and class. These are well written songs that’ll either make you dance, cry, or just nod your head with approval.

Ruby’s vocals are exceptionally good, with her characteristic nuances and subtleties having got even better, and are a joy to listen to. Guitar work by Louise is eye-brow raisingly impressive I must say (I knew she was good but she really shines brightly on this album!)  Keys, bass, drums and other instrumentation are all excellent too, and contribute to a very impressive album.

I particularly liked the opener ‘When I See You’, but there are a lot of possible favourites to chose from in this collection. I love the Bluesy ‘Pity City’; the smoky Jazz club vibe of ‘Cold Cold Winter’; and the fun Blues-groove of ‘Find Me A Man’. I found the laid back ‘By My Side’ very pleasing too with it’s wonderful harp work; and the King Rollo penned title track ‘Walk With Me’ finishes the collection in a pensive mood with heart-felt vocal and beautifully sympathetic guitar. But let’s face it, the whole album is a winner!

The CD version comes in a standard Jewel Case with a booklet stating all the usual credits and thanks etc; plus great pics and all lyrics. Nice cover art too. My copy was signed and contained a lovely personal note from Ruby. It’s one of the best albums I’ve heard so far this year and I’m recommending it highly – worth the wait! Check the band’s website for more info. PTMQ

 

162. PHIL ERICSON (aka PHIL THE MUSIC QUILL) AND FRIENDS at RFC. Tuesday 28th March 2017. A review by Gemma Boyd.

Phil Ericson’s Feature Night at Romford Folk Club, The Sun pub, Romford, East London – 28 March 2017

From left to right: Nora Kelson, Phil Ericson, Jackie Gregory and Jo Gregory. Photograph by Charlie Martin.

Better known by some as Phil the Music Quill, singer-songwriter, guitarist and music journalist Phil Ericson’s feature night marked the last performance after 24 years at The Sun pub for Romford Folk Club members before their migration to a new venue; The White Horse pub in Chadwell Health.

Club regulars were out in force to support Phil, whose two sets featured a well-assorted choice of original songs penned by both Phil and others of his songwriter friends, much-loved classics such as ‘Wonderful Tonight’ by Eric Clapton, and a world premier! Especially warming was how Phil invited an array of his artist mates up on stage to join him, then served bread pudding to all with the introduction of his song (a personal favourite), ‘Nan’s Bread Pudd’n’’.

First up was ‘Mid-Life Crisis Blues’ by new retiree, Phil on vocals and guitar. His work is hallmarked by amusing but simultaneously poignant lyrics about his life and family, and for this number he was accompanied by Neal Price on Dobro. Neal’s stripped-down slide guitar solo added an authentic blues feel reminiscent of American Delta blues guitarist and singer, Booker White’s 1940 recording of ‘Aberdeen Mississipi Blues’.

Phil’s easy banter with the audience paved the way for his first ever performance of love song, ‘Two Hearts Become One’ (lyrics by Jose Gallindo-Herrador and music by Phil). This contained some pleasing modulations, an intriguing time signature, and was performed with real feeling.

For his song, ‘Grandad’s Seven Hats’, Phil added yet another layer of interest with his inclusion of comedian and author, Nick Barrett, who placed grandad’s seven hats on Phil’s head as he sang. You could hear a pin drop as the audience concentrated hard on, and resonated with his words: “Now I am a grandad and I wear an old flat cap. I look just like my own dad….”

‘Riding Thumb’ by Phil’s songwriter friend, Tony Partis, chugged along enjoyably, aided by Neal Price and Monzur Rahman on percussion. It’s a song about picking up a blonde hitchhiker who has “never-ending thighs” with a great twist at the end: The blonde turns out to be a mugger who pulls a gun on the narrator!

Following a round of cheering and thunderous applause from his audience, Phil concluded the evening with a fitting commemoration; his ‘Romford Folk Club Lament’, sung alongside Rod Standen on guitar and Glyn Protheroe on percussion. A ‘wet paint’ sign was hung on the wall behind them signalling the end of the club’s time in this soon to be commercially let basement.

One thing’s for sure, though – Phil Ericson and his music really put the ‘folk’ in Romford Folk Club, whose members will continue to meet every Tuesday at 8 pm to play acoustic folk, country and blues for years to come.

Gemma Boyd

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)

160. MIKANORA (+ Open Floor) at RFC, “The White Horse” PH, Chadwell Heath. Tuesday, 11th April, 2017.

(Photo: G.Walker)

I have known the duet Mikanora (that is Mick Turner and Nora Kelson) for some time, as they are regular performers at (and involved with the running of) Romford Folk Club – now resident at The White Horse PH, Chadwell Heath. (For a description of the venue, but not the club, see my review #78). As is usual with RFC, regulars are often asked to perform an occasional Feature Night, and tonight was the turn of this popular duet.

The featured artists played a two-part set preceded by various Open Floor spots. Best of those this week I thought were The Rom Shanty Crew (now expanded to a six-piece vocal group) with their ‘Last Of The Great Whales’; and Gemma Boyd‘s newly written violin piece ‘The Boatman’s Mumbles’. I played a song by my friend, song-writer Tony Partis called ‘Riding Thumb’ with Rod Standen assisting on percussion.

(Photo: G.Walker)

Mikanora as usual had arrived armed with an array of diverse instruments: guitars; mandolin; mandola; concertina; bodhran; and low-D whistle. They began their set with ‘The Rout Of The Blues’, and included two of their amusing originals: ‘The Hermit’ and ‘South Of The Border’ (about US President Trump). Covers included: ‘The Bonny Ship The Diamond’; ‘Nancy Spain’; ‘Mantelito Blanco’ (a Spanish song about a tablecloth); ‘Donkey Riding’ (which is not about riding donkeys, but about logging); two Richard Thompson numbers ‘Crazy Man Michael’ and ‘Dimming Of The Day’ (‘You can’t have too many Richard Thompson songs’ said Mick!); and a fine version of ‘The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald’ on which Nora shone with concertina. A well deserved encore was called for, and given in the form of ‘Whiskey In The Jar-O’ which was performed with the aid of Gemma on fiddle.

It was another very entertaining evening at RFC thanks to Mikanora. Their set choice was varied, interesting and at times amusing. Thanks also due to MoC Smolowik; all the Open Floor performers; Garry Walker for the photos; and everyone at the club for organising the gig. PTMQ