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Thursday, 3 July 2014

Alun Parry Review

With being a Liverpudlian myself I felt it was about time to look closer to home to find what talent was hitting the folk scene. Liverpool does not seem to have quite as strong a folk connection as places like Shropshire but it is still up there. Liverpool does have a rich musical history generally a very strong Celtic influence from the old days of the ports. 

Whilst exploring one of the recent Fatea Showcases I noticed the name of Alun Parry and I was certain that it was a name I recognised, but I simply could not place where.  After listening to the song ‘If Harry Don’t Go’ and absolutely loving it. I felt that Alun deserved more exploring so I requested some CDs to take a look at.

It’s only after doing a bit of digging that I have realised why the name is familiar. Alun was the organiser for a Liverpool festival called ‘Liverpool Working Class Music Festival that ran from 2008-2011, not to mention he was also a big deal during Liverpool’s 2008 stint as Capital of Culture.
There is a lot more that Alun has accomplished so to find out more about him he does have a lengthy Wikipedia entry (I assume its all true Alun!) and his website

I think for me the real gold nugget of Alun’s music is that he has taken the traditional singer songwriting folk style but created three albums worth of something new. Each song is specially crafted and many are even full of modern and Liverpudlian references (‘You Are My Addiction’).
Each song is crafted separately with precision and this really helps each song to be special and not just as a tool to get another album out.

Alun has a great singing voice which is clearly perfectly matched with his song writing. He clearly has great moral and political ideas and this coupled with his vocals gives him a wonderful outlet. All three of his albums, ‘Corridors of Stone’, ‘We Can Make the World Stop’ and ‘When the Sunlight Shines’ really get across strong concepts and get you thinking as well as being very pleasant to the ears. 

Folk music of course has always been used as a political voice so it is nice that modern artists are re capturing this use for our changing modern times, particularly ‘Oh Mr Cameron’ but really the majority of his songs could be explored for some elements.  Alun reminds me in many ways of Damh the Bard in his variation of great songs just for the sake of them and for political and social messages. As well as his serious undertones there are some great lighter songs such as ‘The Ship Song’ and ‘Thursday Night Drinking Song’. Alun even mixes humour with his messages as the previously mentioned ‘Oh Mr Cameron’ is just hilarious and silly (with a kazoo solo to boot) as well as being completely serious.

I really enjoyed all three albums and Mr Parry deserves all of the recognition he gets, now I know he is on the Liverpool circuit I will certainly be keeping my eyes (and ears) open.

I keep putting ‘Oh Mr Cameron’ on repeat, makes me smirk every time!


Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Matlock the Hare Magician

With kindle use on the rise and children using computer gadgets before even really being able to walk, it is great to see a children’s book series that provides that little bit extra to really capture imagination and that creative flare that children have.

Some people believe that books are a dying form, but that is why that little extra spark can go a long way.

The Matlock Hare, or more specifically, ‘Matlock The Hare and The Riddle of Trefflepugga Path’ combines the two great forms of storytelling and art to give a great imagination boost to the children of today. Although many books strive towards this there are some major differences that Phil and Jacqui put into their book that makes it unique and on a different level.

The first thing you are greeted with in the book is a dictionary of special words used in this world. Words such as ‘Crumlush’ and ‘Saztaculous’ help to build a fantasy world but also gives children something they see as their own secret world, adults won’t understand these words, but they do because they are immersed in Matlock’s world.
There are admittedly a large number of these words to come to terms with upon first reading, but seeing them in context of story soon makes you fluent. Plus the words themselves are quite connected to their original meanings so ‘Saztaculous’ means ‘Fantastic’ which is close enough to work out, especially for Children who are still placing the world and getting to know it.

I think this special language is a great idea. As previously mentioned it helps the world of Winchett Dale to become their world rather than simply a world they are reading about. This sense of inclusion is of course very important for children.

Having said all this to call this work or any of the series a ‘children’s’ book is not really appreciating just how much anyone could enjoy it. The creativity and imagination makes for a great tale for anyone to become a part of. Some elements of the story had me laughing about how based on real life occurrences they are. The first meeting with the ‘krate’  has brilliant similarities to certain street preachers. This is certainly a comparison that adults would enjoy and be highly amused by. There seems to be lots of elements of social and political commentary which are nicely metaphoric and inserted into the story.

The tale itself is no quick bedtime story, there is a full world to be explored and gone into depth and the book does a great job of spreading out the storyline whilst taking a gander at all the little nooks and crannies as well as keeping things interesting. Even little bits of Lore such as Matlock’s past and the history of the world is hinted enough to peak curiosity and the desire to find the whole series to see if more pieces can be put together.

A lot about Matlock and his adventures reminds me of a magical, less depressing version of the Animals of Farthing Wood and I do think these stories would be an amazing TV show, but only if Phil and Jacqui had complete control of every aspect, which I’m sure for Jacqui’s artwork in particular would be exhausting.

The art work of the book is just beautiful and goes hand in hand with the story to pull people further into this magical world and keep them hooked.

I won’t give much more of the overall storyline away as I implore you to see for yourselves!


Thursday, 22 May 2014

Ragged Staff review- Kiss the Shore

You only get one chance to make a good first impression and generally speaking the first track of an album is the key indicator for a listener on whether or not they’ll enjoy the style of music put forward. This doesn’t always mean putting your strongest track first, but it certainly means putting a track that summarises your musical style and gives the audience a clear indication of what you are about.

Ragged Staff are another I got from a Fatea Showcase, ‘Magnetism’. Their introductory track from ‘Kiss the Shore’ is ‘The Blacksmith’ and this is also the track featured on Magnetism. Now this track does exactly the job these first tracks are supposed to do.

Ragged Staff are self described as Traditional and Contemporary Folk and ‘The Blacksmith hits us straight away with a mystical Traditional sound to immediately grasp hold of you and tie you down so that you listen. Next in this song a lovely set if vocals take over and sing a wonderful ballad about... well I’m sure you can guess. A lovely surprise in this track is about three quarters in when another powerful voice jumps in and takes you completely off guard.

There are of course a lot of bands that do traditional music and many may wonder if you can have too much of a good thing but I believe Ragged Staff have added another version of ‘Raggle Taggle Gypsies’ that just proves this isn’t the case. As well as the exciting music and great variety in sounds that just blast you in this second track the vocals of Caroline Riches and Ned Lawton really hit you with such enthusiasm that you could never get bored of the track.
It is also nice to see that though Ragged Staff’s style is generally fast paced, like ‘Keys of Canterbury’, foot stomping type folk they are not a one trick pony and you get nice varieties of pace even within songs such as ‘Rosebud in June’ and the wonderful ‘Si Bheag Si Mhor’.

Folk music is also of course a tool for storytelling and Ragged Staff have certainly captivated this element perfectly. If you listen to ‘The Nightingale’ and then ‘The Whaler/ The Wren Hornpipe’ then not only do these two tales flow into each other, but they are so completely different from the slow paced ‘Nightingale’ to the faster ‘Whaler’. Even the choice of changing from Caroline to Ned is a great decision as it really shifts the gear at this point in the album.
There are a lot of wonderful tracks on this album, a fine addition to any collection!


Monday, 19 May 2014

Kelly Oliver

I first discovered this lovely lady on Fatea Showcases. I always enjoy these as they are great to cast your net out and discover brilliant talent that you may have otherwise missed.  The most recent editions ‘Chemistry’ and ‘Magnetism’ have introduced me to at least three artists that I felt I should explore further.

The first of these is Kelly Oliver who has her debut EP ‘Far From Home’ now available both as downloadable and physical copies. The EP is a standard 5 tracks and the first song I heard was the title song from the EP ‘Far From Home’.

This tune is a very gentle, soft tune with a pleasant guitar strum setting the scene of a young lady eagerly awaiting the return of a young man of which she is pretty smitten. Despite her mother’s warnings and the way the chap decided to spend most of his time away from the central character is still devoted to his return. And they say long distance relationships are difficult.

I ended up putting this song on repeat for almost an hour as each time the beauty of Kelly’s voice and the musical foundation really just builds and builds on you. The occasional harmonica intermission also did a great job of breaking up the song and keeping the variety going so the listener doesn’t get bored in any way, and this keep going throughout other tracks as well.
The next tune, ‘Keilan are you Coming?’ has some nice differences, being much faster paced with a louder strum on the guitar and a lot more fire in the voice. In a way, it’s quite a similar song, but they display two totally separate emotions, the first on ‘Far From Home’ is one of patience and then this one seemed a little more like an excited child struggling to hold back that excitement. This is a nice variety then from a later track ‘He Walked on the Side of the Sea’ which is calmer.
Kelly has been influenced a lot by Irish traditional music and this certainly comes across her music, but luckily that’s all it is, an influence. Kelly does a fantastic job of keeping her music so wonderfully individual and simple. I am often impressed by musicians who make their music stand out with original ideas are bizarre combinations of vocals and instrument, but what is even more impressive is to find individuals who can be original but give you an air of familiarity so that their music is comfortable and soothing. Kelly has certainly gotten this balance spot on.

I loved this EP and I wish I had made it to Folkstock last September (I was supposed to go but alas last minute couldn’t make it) as I would have seen her live! Kelly has certainly made the list of live performances I must find.

I wonder if Kelly would make what I like to call a ‘wildcard’ track when she does a full length album, as she certainly has a secure sound. Wildcards are songs that are quite different from the rest, usually shorter bizarre tracks that many artists are now attempting. Although risky for people I believe Kelly could certainly pull it off, although to be honest she wouldn’t need to.

A lovely singer, to find out more follow these links and be sure to follow Kelly on Twitter @kellyoliverfolk, and me @paulrawcliffe

Kelly -

Folkstock -

Fatea Magazine/ Showcases –


Sunday, 6 April 2014

Top 10 2014

So here is my top 10 bands/artists for 2014! These may well be older bands but just ones I have discovered in the past year :)

10. Blazin' Fiddles:

The name sums them up perfectly!

9. VAMM:

Three ladies who bring their own backgrounds and taste together to build one fine musical soup!

8. Ross Ainslie:

The piper from Treacherous Orchestra really does know what he's doing, and he doesn't need a huge band to back him up either, he is just as talented working on his own!

7. Steamchicken:

Listen to 'There ain't nobody here but us chickens'. Done it? Your welcome.

6. All Blacked Up:

This Morris Dancing group have released two albums and both are really great to listen to, fully of bouncy dance tunes, it is simple but really effective and definitely puts a smile on my face.

5. Matt Quinn:

Funny chap with great box playing skills, I only wish I could play the box half as well. 'No More Wabbits' from the 'Banquet of Boxes' collection and 'Katie the Conqueror ' are fantastic and fun!

4. Red Shoes:

Amazing music and amazing people. Very soft gentle music to help calm and relax you. perfect with a bottle of wine after a stressful day!

3. Monster Ceilidh Band:

A great bland of folk, electric and rock this band has some great albums that really get you in the mood to party. 'Red Jack' is an amazing tune that instantly makes me want to hit the clubs no matter what time of day it is.

2. Bartram, Brookes and Weatherall:

I discovered these through the March edition of Froots magazine and I can't explain why but after reading the article I was intrigued so decided to invest in their album. I was very pleasantly surprised and taken with them. Their older, traditional style has been nicely balanced with being catchy and entertaining. 'The Campernero', 'John Barleycorn' and 'Lavender Trousers' were on repeat on my play list for days!

1. 3 Daft Monkeys:

I have only heard two of their albums so far but getting the others is my top priority when I am finally in paid employment again. I first reviewed them for FATEA with tunes like 'The Tale of the Laziest Pirate' and 'World on its Head' from the album 'Of Stones and Bones' really roping me in. This folk/rock/indie style moves away from the traditional elements to have their own take on the genre. The story lines and comedy elements of the tunes are what really rope me, that and the tunes and entire sound is just amazing.