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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)

113. HADFEST 2016, Little Hadham, Hertfordshire. Featuring: THE KAZANS; KNUCKLEFUNK; THE BIG BOYS; SARAH SYKES; MAX LAVERN; and ROB WHEATON. A charity event in aid of KAZFEST. Saturday 16th July, 2016.

(Pic: Hadfest)

(Pic: Hadfest)

Preamble: When Ray Boddy of Blues band The Big Boys asked me along to this year’s Hadfest in the Hertfordshire village of Little Hadham, I was of course interested. I went three years ago (before I started my website), and I remember it was a great family day out with some good local bands lined up; and a couple from further afield too. On that occasion, I went with some family  and friends – including Folk band Devonbird who were on the bill.

Little Hadham is a small, quiet village just West of Bishops Stortford, in Hertfordshire; just off the A120.  Its first musical claim to fame is for once being the home of Folk-Rock giants Fairport Convention; and they named their sixth album Angel Delight (1971) after the former pub, The Angel, in which they lived in the village until an out of control lorry infamously crashed into the late Dave Swarbrick‘s bedroom! The village’s second claim to fame, is the annual musical event: Hadfest …

Hadfest / Cazfest – a worthy cause: Hadfest has been running a few years now. I last went there in 2013 when the line up included a couple of the local bands that also appeared this year too – more on them anon. There was a stage at one end and stalls for food and drink along the sides. This year it was run in aid of the charity Cazfest (link below), which was set up in memory of local teenager Caroline Johnson (Caz) who unfortunately passed away in 2008 from an undiagnosed heart condition at the age of only 17. The charity is run by Caz’s Mum Lesley who we met on the gate. She aims to raise awareness and screening for teenagers. A great cause.

ROB WHEATON...He was there to tell us how to do it! (Pic: PTMQ)

ROB WHEATON…He was there to tell us how to do it! (Pic: PTMQ)

Let the fun begin! It was billed as a family day out, so I took some of the Quill clan along again – including baby grandson and dog.  As we made camp, my old mate Rob Wheaton of Folk band Devonbird, came over. Great to see him. He was due to play Hadfest in his own capacity this year as a solo singer/song-writer/guitarist; and was first on the bill. There were a lot of kids activities to begin with though – races and a Tug o’ War etc; and it all looked a lot of fun! So while that was going on, I had a chat to Ray Boddy of The Big Boys. Unfortunately, Ray seemed to be plagued by tiny spiders that were intent on crawling all over his head; and I had the unenviable task of helping him remove them! But hey; its Rock’n’Roll – anything can happen! I also bumped into Mark Sutherland of Café Music Studios (link below) in Bow, East London; haven’t seen him in yonks.

Then Rob took to the stage. He played a short set of five of his own numbers:- his amusing Deep Purple spoof ‘Bloke In The Water’; his imaginative ‘Tomorrow’s World 1978’; an old song of his that he has recently reworked ‘One Night Stand’; and the song about a man who blames his wife for everything he does wrong ‘You Weren’t There To Tell Me Not To Do It’. As an ex-resident of the village, Rob knew a lot of those present, and they of course called for encore. This was duly delivered with his song about where he now lives in Devon, the beautiful ‘Valley Song’. But I didn’t hear him play his appropriate and amusing ‘Festival Song’, unfortunately. There is some talk of a solo album from Rob which I think is long overdue, as he has been writing great songs for years… so come on Rob, get down that studio soon, mate!

Sweet Home Chicago Hadfest! (Pic: PTMQ)

THE BIG BOYS… Sweet Home Chicago Hadfest! (Pic: PTMQ)

Next on the bill was a young local lad, Max Lavern. He strummed through a couple of good covers – of Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’; and The Beatles’ ‘Eight Days A Week’. He didn’t seem too nervous and played them well enough. It’ll be interesting to see how much he will have improved if he plays Hadfest next year. And good luck to him; its always good to see young musicians having a go…. and he can say that he has played a festival gig now too! Max was followed by local singer Sarah Sykes. She sang along to backing tracks of West End shows. Not my cup of tea, but she was certainly very good indeed, I must say. At this point, my party and I – with the addition of Rob W – decamped to the local pub for some nosh…

The Nag’s Head is a lovely 400+ year-old pub in the village run by Paul and Natalie Arkell. It is only a few minutes walk from the venue. In fact three years ago it hosted Hadfest 2013 in the field opposite. I’ve visited it a few times in the past and have always been pleased with the food, the drinks, and the service – all at a reasonable cost too. This occasion was no exception; and was as good as ever. Our little party sat outside, enjoying the peace of the Hertfordshire countryside evening. The baby and the dog behaved themselves too! Half way through our meal, we heard some Blues drifting our way when the wind changed; alerting us to the fact that The Big Boys had begun their set. So meal finished, we strolled back to the arena.

KNUCKLEFUNK... had us up dancing! (Pic: PTMQ)

KNUCKLEFUNK… had us up dancing! (Pic: PTMQ)

Back in the arena, When we got back, the Big Boys were in full swing; with Ray on harmonica. I’ve seen them a few times before – including this same festival 2013. They’re good. They mainly play well-known Blues covers like ‘Sweet Home Chicago’; with a couple of their own songs thrown in, like ‘The Big Boys Are Back In Town’. Being well known locally, they went down well; and people were up dancing. At one point they were joined by a trumpet player too. A great set.

Next up was a great Funk band called Knucklefunk. A similar band called Makossa played Hadfest 2013; and I’m not sure if there is a connection. Now Funk is not normally my thing; but I know a good band when I see/hear them. Musicianship and vocals were excellent; and they were tight; with good stage presence. More importantly, they had everyone up dancing. I didn’t know most of their stuff, but there was a great cover of an old Sly And The Family Stone number which I did know. A fantastic set!

THE KAZANS...They really got me! (Pic: PTMQ)

THE KAZANS…They really got me! (Pic: PTMQ)

The headline band were local Rock-Pop covers band The Kazans. They too have played Hadfest before and are well known locally. They played a great variety of songs from many genres; beginning with 60s rockers ‘You Really Got Me’; and ‘Honky Tonk Woman’; and The Beatles staple ‘Twist And Shout’. Various Pop songs followed including ‘Breakfast At Tiffany’s’ and even a Beyonce number.

By then it was rather late for the baby to be up and about, so we left the festival near the end of The Kazans’ set; and headed home. But all in all a great day out with some fine music. Sound and lighting were good throughout (far better than 2013!), and the event was well organised – although there wasn’t much on line about it beforehand. Anyway, it will be interesting to see who plays Hadfest next year. PTMQ

Links…

Click pic for Cazfest website

Cazfest

 

 

 

Click for Cafe Music site

Cafe Music

 

 

29. At the ‘ACOUSTIC WAREHOUSE’ Open Mic Night, PASSAGE HOUSE INN, Kingsteighton, Devon. 3rd November, 2014

Sophia and Rob of Devonbird  (Photo by PTMQ)

Sophia and Rob – Reels or jigs? (Photo by PTMQ)

To be honest, I was still suffering from the effects of a touch of Flu whilst on this visit to Devon; and although I was up for playing a couple of my songs at an Open Mic Night somewhere, I really wasn’t quite the ticket! However, I wanted to make good use of my time staying with Rob Wheaton, so we decided to drive over to the Acoustic Warehouse  at the Passage House Inn, Kingsteighton, for their regular Monday Open Mic Night. The day before, we’d been to  the exceptionally good Oxjam Folk Festival at Hope Hall in Exeter (See my previous Blog entry #28), so although I was fired up musically,  I was also knackered – you could say that the spirit was strong but the body was weak!

When we arrived at the place, we were warmly welcomed by Master of Ceremonies RICK LAWES, and two ladies called Janet and Mary – from whom we bought a raffle ticket.  We also met the founder member of the club, NIGEL DEE; and sound man MARTIN SIDEBOTHAM. The Acoustic Warehouse was founded two years ago by Nigel, who recruited old friends Rick and Martin soon after. The venue is an old pub, now used for functions and small gigs – the new pub is just across the car park where you have to go to get a drink as the venue is ‘dry’.  Such venues are frequented by many talented amateur, local musicians;  who are,  I find, almost invariably welcoming to strangers; and encouraging to passing performers.  The Acoustic warehouse is like that – friendly, cosy and informal. I liked it.

Rob and I had arranged to meet fiddle player Sophia Colkin there, as she lives not too far from the venue.  As she wasn’t able to stay for long, MoC Rick put her and  Rob on stage first. Being well used to each other musically, due to them both being members of the local  folk band DEVONBIRD, they played a very impressive couple of reels – or were they jigs? – well, whatever they were, they obviously had been well practiced, and I think everyone present enjoyed their turn.

Me and RW (Photo by Sophia Colkin)

Me and Rob W. doing ‘Tomorrow’s World 1978’ (Photo by Sophia Colkin)

I joined Rob then; and we did his thought-provoking song  ‘Tomorrow’s World 1978’; which went down well with the small audience. Next we did my folk song ‘Golden Boy’. I’ve played this live before (see my blog entry #12B); but I managed to fluff the thing up at several points on this occasion – I seemed to be all fingers and thumbs! I felt much better seated for my next song ‘Mid-Life Crisis Blues’ (which just about sums me up these days – and a lot of other blokes I know too – that’s why I wrote it!) This was performed a lot better (I’ve played this before too – see entry #12A). Rob played excellent lead for me on both of my songs  – thanks mate. Then I left the stage while he did his second number alone: his excellent ‘Essex Song’; which is about growing up in Dagenham.

Next on the agenda was mandolin player, MARC WOODWARD who played a couple of excellent pieces. Several varied turns – which were either good or very good – followed: a man called John did a couple of songs which included a Neil Diamond cover. A fellow known as ‘Owly Dave’ (so called because of his work with owls) played a long-scale bouzouki; and another John did two excellent blues covers: Big Bill Broonzy’s ‘Glory Of Love’; and Memphis Minnie’s ‘What’s The Matter With The Mill’.

The boys of the Acoustic Warehouse also performed. Martin played a couple of his own numbers – the names of which I unfortunately can’t recall (for which I apologise), but which were very good.  Rick played two of his own too: ‘Can’t All Die Down Here’ (about a mining disaster); and ‘Swine Flu Blues’; both of which were also very good. And Nigel played a couple of covers; one of which was an excellent rendition of Reg Meuross’  ‘And Jesus Wept’.

Later on, Rob and I were asked to do another number each. I chose to do my mellow Blues song, ’40 Years, 40 Days, 40 Nights’  (otherwise known as ‘The Face Book Song’) with Rob, of course on lead as he is familiar with it.   He then elected to do his celebrated ‘Festival Song’. This went down very well, as I expected; but I was surprised to receive a couple of compliments for my ’40 Years…’ song – a relief after my ‘Golden Boy’ fluff-up! Further success was to come my way too, when I then won a bottle of red wine in the raffle that we’d entered earlier. I think everyone else did a further turn too. Then some blokes from Birmingham turned up, and one of them did a good cover of Paul Weller’s ‘You Do Something To Me’ on a borrowed guitar.

The final act was another turn by Marc who recited a funny self-penned poem about a lady who bizarrely kept a pair of man’s hands in a box!  All in all, a good little session. When I get back down to Devon (next year sometime), I’ll definitely think about returning to the Acoustic Warehouse. My thanks to all staff and performers; and especially to Nigel for filling me in on some details.  PTMQ.

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.

22. MILTON-FARROW SKIFFLE ‘n’ BLUES BAND “Skiffleodeon” (Right Track Records, 2014) + a few words on their PHOENIX FM radio session, 9th October 2014.

MILTON - FARROW's "Skiffleodeon" (Photo: PTMQ)

MILTON – FARROW’s “Skiffleodeon” (Photo: PTMQ)

I’ve been quite familiar with the music of BILL FARROW for 20 years or more now. In fact since our mutual friend, ROB WHEATON (a one-time member of Bill’s BONNEVILLE TWINS, and currently the guitarist in folk band DEVONBIRD) lent me some of Bill’s CDs (including the quirkily named “The French Can’t Make Mangles Like We Can”); plus a recording of a Radio Essex session that he’d done in the early ’90s.

So I was pleased when Bill popped round to my place recently, along with his current collaborator RICHIE MILTON, en route to do another radio session (this time at PHOENIX FM, in Brentwood, Essex), and handed over a copy of their latest EP entitled “Skiffleodeon” (Right Track Records, 2014. RTR-S 08014).  I was honoured when Bill asked me to review it on my blog. ‘Be kind’ he asked – well, I’ll be honest, Bill!

Well, once they’d gone, I tuned into Phoenix FM and listened to the session. Their appearance was linked to another article running that day about the scandal of so many English pubs closing down lately. Farrow’s song ‘Pulling All The Boozers Down’ (from the new EP) was then, very appropriate. They’re performance was very good; demonstrating plenty of experience of playing live. Some amusing banter ensued; and later they played another track from the new EP: Milton’s ‘BBQ Chicken And Wine’. A good little session. I enjoyed it.

Later I played the EP. It is a collection of six new songs: three from Milton; and three from Farrow. Well I said I’d be honest; so here it is….. To be fair it was pretty much what I expected (but that’s not a criticism) – I think its a great little collection of original material. Anyone who knows me, knows that I like skilful guitar playing (regardless of genre), and interesting, clever, and/or amusing lyrics. I got all that with this EP, so I wasn’t disappointed.

The opening track ‘That Rock Island Line’ (penned by Farrow) is a kind of potted history of Skiffle; based on the oft-covered classic ‘Rock Island Line’. The lyric cleverly mentions many a famous British musician who cut his teeth as a Skiffle man in the ’50s and ’60s. Its a foot tapper – a good start. The same vibe continues on the second offering; ‘Chicken In The Yard’ (also by Farrow). It must be a tough ol’ life down on the farm in Dagenham, Bill! Its another good song with effective guitar work.

The next two songs are Milton’s: ‘Don’t Know Where I’m Going’  has some fine acoustic guitar; and Masters’ bass is very good. A great song.  And ‘Ms.Sippie Brown’ is a lively little rag. I haven’t heard a rag for ages, so it made a nice change for me to hear. Its a good’un too; made me smile in appreciation. Once again lovely acoustic geetar!

Feeling a little peckish? I recommend some ‘BBQ Chicken And Wine’. This is one of Milton’s too. This is another enjoyable song. I particularly liked Cotton on the  ‘Jo-anna’; the ‘cluckin’ guitar; and the retorted backing vocals.

Finally, the highlight of the disc for me is ‘Pulling All The Boozers Down’, by Farrow. It actually covers a very serious subject (as I stated above): the decline of the good ol’ English ‘watering hole’.  But its actually a lot of fun, with a simple but effective sing-a-long chorus –  the sort of song that is at its best, played live in a pub (assuming you can still find one open!); and the more real-ale you quaff, the more you’ll enjoy it!

The Milton-Farrow Skiffle’n’Blues Band consists of: Richie Milton (Guitar and vocals); Bill Farrow (Guitar and vocals); Alan Glen (Harmonica); Eddie Masters (Upright bass); Graham Hollingworth (Drums); and Roger Cotton (keyboards). Competent musicians all. Production and recordings (at Roundel Studios, Kent) are very good too. It has a simple sleeve with good basic info. I’m recommending this EP to anyone who has a broad interest in Skiffle’n’Blues. Best get down the pub now, before last orders!

Now, where did I leave me ol’ Mum’s washboard? PTMQ

Richie Milton’s website is here…… http://www.richiemilton.co.uk

Here’s a vid of the band in the studio playing ‘Pulling All The Boozers Down’…….

12A. OPEN MIC NIGHT at ‘THE FAMOUS OLD BARREL’, Exmouth, Devon. Monday, 19th May, 2014

Me doing 'Mid-Life Crisis Blues' with Rob Wheaton on lead guitar. (Photo by Big Mac)

Me doing my ‘Mid-Life Crisis Blues’ with Rob Wheaton on lead. (Photo by Big Mac)

I was glad of the chance to get back to THE FAMOUS OLD BARREL in Exmouth, Devon, once again for one of their regular Monday ‘Open Mic Nights’. This is, of course, where anyone can turn up and put their name on the list to play a couple of songs – either their own work, or covers (anything goes really). The last time I was there, in September last year, my old friend ROB WHEATON and I played a couple of covers: I did Peter Green’s ‘Merry-go-Round’; and Rob did The Stones’ ‘Wild Horses’; then he did a couple of his own excellent songs. This time though, I planned to do two of the blues songs that I’d written recently. We spent some time during the afternoon at Rob’s place practicing my songs, and he agreed to play lead guitar on them for me. I listened to his informed opinion of my work, and tweaked the songs accordingly to make them more effective.

We arrived at The Old Barrel just as the organiser, MALCOLM HORTON, was setting up the gear for the night’s activities. I’d met him last time, and we had a brief chat. After a sound-check, he and his band-mates kicked-off the evening with a couple of his own psychedelic/ progressive rock pieces, including ‘Flying Through The Universe’, which I’d heard last time and really liked. Both of his songs were very good – if a little lengthy (but that’s prog-rock for you; and I love it!)

Our old friend Big Mac and his missus turned up at around this time too. Mac is a big music fan and it was great to see him and his wife turn up to support us – haven’t seen them for donkey’s yonks! Cheers, you two – most appreciated!

As I’d expressed a desire to Malcolm to go on early; Rob and I were up next. I started our little set off with my tongue-in-cheek song lamenting middle-age and shift-work: ‘Mid-Life Crisis Blues!’. Next I played my mellow 12-bar blues song ’40 Years;40 Days;40 Nights’, which is about a friend of mine who joined Facebook deliberately to track down his teenage sweetheart from the 70s! This was the first time I’d played these songs publicly, but in spite of making a few little mistakes, they seemed to go down quite well. Rob’s improvised lead guitar work was very good too. Thanks, mate!

Rob Wheaton (Photo by Big Mac)

ROB WHEATON Essex Man! (Photo by Big Mac)

I left the stage then, but Rob stayed up to do two of his own songs solo: ‘The Essex Song’, about growing up in Dagenham; and a fairly new one of his, the thoughtful ‘Tomorrow’s World’ in which he compares the vision of the future as seen in 1978, to the realities of today. His performance and presentation of his own songs was very good as usual. They went down well.

Several good and varied acts followed. Regular performer MARTIN WELLER was up next, and played a set including ‘Gobshite’ – a song which he tailored to the forthcoming Euro elections! Next was a talented young lady called LUCY who played acoustic guitar with a jazzy feel and sung in a Maria Carey vocal style. I’d seen her last time I was at The Barrel. A very good boy/girl duo followed called GABRIEL AND HANNAH, but we unfortunately had to leave before they’d finished their set. Rob had seen them before locally and had been impressed. At least one other act was waiting in the wings to go on as we departed, but we sadly never saw him perform.

A minor complaint is that we didn’t think that the sound was quite mixed correctly, although I’m not a sound engineer! I remember we had this trouble last time too. On stage I could hear Rob’s guitar better than mine; and we thought it was too loud, and distorted, in the public area. Still, it was a great night nonetheless, and I debuted my two new blues songs. Musicians get a free pint of beer too – can’t be bad!

Big thanks to Malcolm Horton; and to the hard-working bar-staff.

Cheers! Phil The Music Quill

4. ALL ABOUT DEVONBIRD

DEVONBIRD at HADFEST 2013

DEVONBIRD at HADFEST 2013 (Photo by PTMQ)

Being a friend and big fan of folk band DEVONBIRD, I feel I want to help promote them as much as I can – especially now as their career is starting to take off after the release of their excellent, highly acclaimed debut album, ‘Hangman’s Daughter’; and their nomination for ‘Best Folk Act’ at the South-West Music Awards last year. They are starting to gig further afield than their West-Country heartland now too – having played a few dates in Wales and appearing at the excellent HADFEST 2013 in Much Hadham, Hertfordshire.

DEVONBIRD’s website showing band profiles, gigs and other stuff is at:
http://www.devonbird.co.uk/

My review of ‘Hangman’s Daughter’ can be viewed on Amazon, where you can also download the album:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Hangmans-Daughter-Devonbird/product-reviews/B00C3VMNEK/ref=sr_1_1_cm_cr_acr_txt?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=1

The title track from the album ‘Hangman’s Daughter’ can be viewed on You Tube along with many other excellent DEVOBIRD videos:

I’m now eagerly awaiting the 2nd album from the band; hopefully this year.

Good luck DEVONBIRD! Phil The Music Quill