Posts Tagged ‘UK Folk’

Heron – S/T

This is one of those reissues that’s always high atop my list of necessities. The originals are scant and likewise expensive and I, sadly, missed out on a 500 press reissue about seven or eight years ago. Yet, now it seems that Trading Places is stepping up to fill the need for lovers of English folk out there in the crowd. The band formed among friends in Maidenhead, Berkshire, in 1967 with a sizable creative debt to The Incredible String Band, though they’d begin to carve out a more unique identity by the time of this eponymous debut. They were signed by Donovan’s A&R rep/producer Peter Eden to Essex Records as songwriters, following a stint opening for larger bands in their college circle. This then led to the band issuing their debut album on PYE subsidiary Dawn.

Most renown for its recording quality, this LP has long found favor with collectors for its natural feeling that’s only bolstered by the gentle songwriting of Roy Apps and Robert Collins, and the auburn vocals of Tony Pook. The band was notably studio-averse, having found the trappings too stiff. So, like any band with folk leanings in Britain in the ‘70s, they split for the countryside to write an album in a someone’s remote family farmhouse — in this case Pook’s. The writing lead to recording, as they had a mobile studio with them on the trip and the recordings captured the kind of communal spirit that had been threaded through the the prior years of folk and psychedelic boom.

Alongside their resplendent folk rock, the songs are flecked with birds and insects from the meadows behind the farm. It’s probably as close as any have come to capturing the sound of porchlight sessions and true woolen commune warmth. The record itself didn’t catch on, though the band did tour with Comus and Demon Fuzz as part of Dawn’s promotions. They also caught the ear of John Peel and set up a less homespun follow-up single that received a fair amount of airplay, but was sabotaged by a vinyl supply issue. Later tours with David Bowie kept them on through a second album that was billed as a double LP for the price of a single LP, though even Pook has noted it probably would have made a solid single album, but wound up a very poor and haphazard double LP. It does boast Mike Cooper on slide in places, so its not a total loss. The band reformed in the late ‘90s, but this debut remains their true masterwork. Great to have it back in print once more. I wouldn’t let this one slide away.




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Trees – Trees (50th Anniversary Edition)

Now there’s quite a subset of catalogers of the past that would relegate Trees to the cutout bin and 2nd or 3rd tier in their essential releases of the ‘70s. While the band filled a similar swath as Pentangle or, more closely Fairport Convention, to discount them as merely a photocopy is to do the band a grave disservice. Comparisons between Fairport and Trees often come at the expense of Celia Humphris, who may not have the range of Sandy Denny, but hers is a more wounded delivery and in turn gives Trees an imperfect veneer that’s to their advantage rather than their detriment. Where the band truly excels is in marrying the wan English past to (at the time) the acid-peaked present. Folding out of primrose paths, the band expands on traditional songs with a keen ear for when and how to let the psychedelic flame burn and when to let the troubadour impulse carry them further down the wooded path.

This is exactly where Humphris shines, between the knotted riffs and the hallucinogenic tension she’s the common villager to Denny’s noblewoman. The band lays beneath her a tapestry that’s alive with visceral wonder and heady twists and turns. The older tales spin out as they did among many of their peers burnt through with a Wiccan wink that pulls them from the past and into a fevered dream of medieval fantasia. The moves they practice on their debut, The Garden of Jane Delawney set the stage for the originals that would populate the follow-up On The Shore, a record that might be more familiar to some for its Hipgnosis cover than its content. The band creates an imagined trove of traditionals on the follow-up, creating a schism in history with an extended renaissance that’s feels pulled from pulp novels and opium dreams.

With this 50th anniversary collection, Earth rounds up a complete picture of the band, finally elevating them from psychedelic curio into something more deserving of a deep dive. In addition to the band’s two albums, restored and remastered, the set collects two new discs of alternate mixes, early demos, BBC session tracks and 2018 live recordings in London. No doubt there will still be plenty who will see them as only a footnote in the psych-Nuggets column, but I think this collection makes their case quite nicely.



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Alison Cotton – “Shirt of Lace”

On her latest record Alison Cotton (The Eighteenth Day of May, The Left Outides) continues her descent into some of the more secluded reaches of psychedelic folk. As the title suggests, Only Darkness Now is stark, hushed, and somber, but the true moment of clarity appears as the record draws to a close. Cotton covers outsider folk icon Dorothy Carter’s “Shirt of Lace,” completely recasting it as a dip much farther into the bell jar than Carter dared to go. The original is by no means an upbeat affair, but Carter’s dulcimer gives the song a stately brush of English folk. For her rendition, Cotton balances synth drone that resonates in the listener’s bones with her own spectral delivery. Draped in a cavernous capture, Cotton’s voice seems to pierce the veil between another plane and our own. The song is still echoing the English folk traditions, but now it seems to be caught between the echoes themselves. The album is out now Bloxham Tapes.



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Owen Tromans

Been a while since Owen Tromans has popped up in these pages, but that’s on me, not him. Tromans last caught my ear trading covers with Wooden Wand on a 7” back in 2011, but he’s had a solid clip of singles and tapes since then. 2019 sees the UK singer-songwriter surging back with his most complete statement to date. Between Stones is a winding exploration of driving folk tipped with a heavier heart that dives into progressive impulses and dresses in the tatters of American indie. Tromans retains a sense of grandeur that pays homage to the UK folk form — fanciful characters and lyrical runs open into an appetite for progression that see him open up latter half stunner “Grimcross” into gnarled, prophetic darkness. In many ways though he’s simply channeling the restlessness of these lost bards through a modern lens.

Tromans echoes Johnathan Melberg’s expanse under the wings of Shearwater, who in turn borrowed a lot of it from Talk Talk. “Vague Summer” toughens his take, driving a thread of ‘90s colors through a sound that tumbles close to the crumbs that Bob Mould or Jay Farrar left behind. He’s not one to ruminate too long though, and those flashes all melt together as the record winds on. Tromans has stitched this together into a beautiful, yet tough record. He lilts with the wounded soul of a man hurt but not hung, churning his tales into windswept epics fit to be carried on the wind. Its been a long time coming, but hearing Tromans thrive on Between Stones feels like a triumph for the songwriter. 2019’s packed, but you’d be foolish to let this one slip away into the fray.




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Red River Dialect – “My Friend”

Theres a shadow of Fairport on the new LP from Red River Dialect — knotted folk that seeps into harder forms and latches onto experimental moorings. It’s the most prominent shadow over Abundance Welcoming Ghosts, but on “My Friend” the specter of John Martyn seems to loom larger for just a moment. David Morris channels the furrowed lines and nimble grooves of the veteran UK folk icon, specifically finding his footing in the mode of Martyn’s seminal Solid Air. Like that record, the song saddles celebratory ripples with the burnt cedar smell of regret. Morris is aided in no small part by slide guitar from Tara Jane O’Neil, who is a welcome addition to the band for this track. Prior to the album Morris had sequestered himself away for nine-months of meditation, and the results build stories upon stories above last year’s Broken Stay Open Sky. This is Morris at his most focused, etching his tale in the rock and painting it across the walls with the pigment of earth and wood. He’s at his most pastoral, but also his most potent on this one.



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Michael Chapman

For those already combing through the tributaries of seminal UK folk – running into the likes of Jansch, Harper and John Martyn – Michael Chapman is already dug in as a hero. For those less inclined to dig the history of British strings, perhaps he needs yet another introduction. Like Harper he’s more a product of mythical inspiration than a staple of the stereo shelf, but as he eases into his status as an elder statesman of the form, he should be carving out that space in your stacks more than ever. For every kid that learned about Roy Harper from the back cover of a Led Zep album, there’s an ever more introverted version of that kid tracking Chapman through connections to Mick Ronson or Thurston Moore. As of late the connection has spun out to seasoned and now indie anointed slinger Steve Gunn. Gunn produced Chapman’s last album 50 and likewise pulled in a slew of his own collaborators to give the songwriter a fitting accompaniment – everyone from Nathan Bowles to James Elkington and Jimmy SeiTang. Chapman’s longtime friend, Bridget St. John lent her voice to the record as well, knitting the folk family ever tighter.

That album was a rebirth for Chapman, a resetting of the map that had long gone askew. Chapman had by no means been quiet in the interim, but it gave a new notoriety to an artist that should have been ranking heavy on the radar of those who have been haunted by Gunn, Scott Hirsch, Wooden Wand, or Elkington’s solo works. For True North, Gunn returns to guide the gears, but leaves behind the ringers, though the accomplished slide work of BJ Cole finds its way in to the mix and St. John returns to add her signature touch. The album stands as an even stronger testament to Chapman’s enduring light. Largely just the songwriter and his guitar, the album is hung heavy with the wisdom of age – cut deep with the scars of decades, cascading like rings through wood and lacquered thick with the bar rag whiff of backrooms, green rooms, and broken mirror bathrooms that dot the stages of what passes as fitting for a folk career now and forever.

Chapman has a pathos, a humor, and a heft that doesn’t come cheap. There’s only one way to get the grey-eyed gut punch of truth into one’s music, and its not by avoiding the hard moments. Chapman is a conduit for pain and perseverance, standing on the edge of what society increasingly sees as mortality’s precipice, but while some of that baggage has hung about the artists shoulders there’s hardly a sense that he finds it a burden. True North is an album about not easing gently into anything, let along the night. Chapman, at just shy of 80 is still a beacon – grizzled, sure, but gleaming nonetheless. Whether this is your first step into Chapman’s view or pushing double digits, the record cuts deep, but sticks around to clean the wounds.



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Simon Finn – Pass The Distance

Superior Viaduct has already been handling a ton of great reissues and overlooked essentials, but with the addition of Antarctica Starts here they’re expanding their labyrinth of sublabels to rope in a bit more fun. ASH specifically mines the ‘60s and ‘70s, though they’re not restricting themselves to any particular genre within that time period, which leaves this endeavor pretty open ended. While it seems like opening up the Viaduct brand to older releases could have been easily accomplished without a new logo and name, I’m all in on the SV folks getting into the vast pool of labels scraping from the ‘60s and ‘70s. As it turns out they’ve chosen a crown jewel of psych-folk for one of their inaugural releases, so we’re off to a good start here.

Alongside the wooded weirdness of Fresh Maggots, Relatively Clean Rivers, Pearls Before Swine and The Incredible String Band, Simon Finn’s 1970 LP Pass The Distance stands as a necessary vision of stream of consciousness, cracked-mirror folk. Finn’s sole album was recorded with producer Vic Keary at his Chalk Farm Studios. Keary had helped Finn record an earlier single, “Butterfly” that was met with solemn indifference from UK labels at the time, but the pair sketched out time for a fuller session to follow, hoping for more success with a fuller vision in tow. Finn had just met guitarist David Toop and percussionist Paul Burwell at a local restaurant a few weeks prior and invited them into the sessions. The serendipitous meeting would help to add to the record’s mystique, with Toop’s sleepy guitar curlicues giving Pass The Distance almost as much shape as Finn’s own lyrical loops.

The record was originally issued on Keary’s own Mushroom Records imprint rather than finding a home among the major contenders of the time, but the label suffered quite a few legal setbacks right around the time of release and Pass The Distance was withdrawn almost as soon as it was issued. Finn then faded from music, teaching karate in Canada and focusing on farming with his wife. The ASH edition is not, however, the first reissue of this gem. David Tibet of Current 93 contacted Finn personally to inform him of the record’s cult status among collectors of ephemeral folk and issued it on CD in 2004, even prompting Finn out of retirement for some shows at the time. Little Big Chief followed in 2014 with a short run LP, but this presents the best chance of getting your hands on a vinyl copy these days. Fans of the aforementioned folk outsiders, or keystone touchpoints of the movement like Skip Spence and Syd Barrett would do well to look into Finn’s fevered folk. Its not the most high marquee name in the genre, but it’s a worthwhile listen to be certain.




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