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Cropredy 2018 – as eclectic as ever

DSC02718It is not often you come across a Gaelic rapper, a musician in 1970’s knitted jumper surfing a crowd in an inflatable boat,  and, well, The Beach Boys. But it does happen.

This year’s Cropredy festival (officially Fairport’s Cropredy Convention) wrapped up on August 11 after presenting just such spectacles. Par for the course for one of Britain’s most eclectic musical events.

The festival, which is hosted annually by folk rockers Fairport Convention, leans heavily towards folk and folk rock. But it is not against a bit of reggae, prog rock, hard rock and world music.

The 2018 edition was a bit more folky than previous years. Among others, singer Kate Rusby charmed the crowd of around 16,000 with her down-home Yorkshire lullaby voice; The Oysterband belted out their particular brand of folk-punk;  and Le Vent Du Nord added a rollicking set of updated traditional music from Quebec.

But elsewhere different sounds could be heard. Thursday night’s headliner was ex-Beach Boy Brian Wilson, who presented his ground-breaking “Pet Sounds” album in its entirety as well as a broadside of other Beach Boy classics.

Now, I have to be honest here. Wilson is well, well past his best. His voice is no longer there and a few songs (especially “God Only Knows”) were very off. But the band made up for it. Ex-Beach Boy Al Jardine still has it in spades and his son, Matt Jardine, has somehow inherited Wilson’s old voice and finished off what the great auteur himself DSC02722could not. There was also Blondie Chaplin driving his guitar all over the place (in a good way).

“Sloop John B” almost brought this reporter (as poncey American journalists like to say) to tears it was so beautiful.

The headline band on Friday night was The Levellers. To judge by some of the comments on Twitter, not everyone was happy about what was a turn of style from folk-rock to a more orchestral progy sound. But I loved it. This was possibly because I was not familiar with their earlier work. But it mainly had to do with the incorporation of members of the under-appreciated Moulettes as a sound wall. Hannah Miller’s cello was, as always, a glorious treat.

A rain storm on Saturday evening made listening to the  exciting Afro Celt Sound System  a little less exciting, but the band was amazing and the fact that thousands of people stayed huddled under umbrellas and ponchos to hear their world music mix speaks volumes for the crowd’s love of music and the band’s pull.

Rod Stewart showed up — at least in the form of Cregan & Co, whose frontman Jim Cregan wrote or co-wrote many of Rod’s classics. They were delivered with panache and  Fairport Convention itself delighted the audience by providing the mandolin section of “Maggie Mae”.

Similarly, there were roars of approval for The Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican, musical humorists who were rude about everything, crowd surfed in an inflatable dinghy and had the crowd shouting “Donald Trump is a Cock Womble”. What’s not to like?

Other standouts were Police Dog Hogan, who rocked; folk-singer Will Varley, who brought a welcome burst of lyrical poetry to the event; and the harmonious Smith and Brewer, who at times guitar-picked like Doc Watson. (Watch out for these two).

And of course, the wonderful Richard Digance returned to warm up the Saturday crowd with funny and poignant songs, leading to the world’s largest Morris Dance with thousands upon thousands of fluttering handkerchiefs.

Time well spent, for sure.





A new/old offering from Irish folkists Clannad

Unknown 15.50.00It is said that old music is only old if you have heard it, otherwise it is new. So it is with the latest release from Clannad, the Irish folk ensemble whose various versions date  back to 1970. “Turas 1980” is a double album available in CD and vinyl of a Clannad concert in Germany in, well, 1980.

But it is new. The recording by Radio Bremen was never broadcast or released, much to the disappointment of the band at the time.

So here is it — and very nice too.

I confess I was hesitant when I got the album. I had loved an early Clannad I once owned, but then bought another years later when it had all gone a bit New Age (which is just one up from elevator music in my humble opinion). This though is the old stuff – solid Irish folk with all the emotion, poetry and bathos that goes with it. Flutes, whistles, mandolins, harps – all there.

Most of the songs are very traditional. There is , for example, the haunting  lone flute of  “Paddy ‘s Rambles Through the Fields”. Then there is a rollicking (and somewhat naughty) “Gathering Mushrooms”.

This is one for anyone who likes traditional Irish folk. And given its age — 38-years since 1980 if you can believe it — the recording is remarkably fresh. In fact, it could be new.

Stumbling across the Singing Nun

DSC02627I confess I have not thought about the Singing Nun for years, although occasionally that tune does get stuck in my head. (It is now – “Dominique, nique, nique “) So imagine my rather twisted musical joy at having the convent of the Missionary Dominican Sisters of Our Lady of Fichermont (above) being pointed out to me on a visit to Belgium.

It is nearby Waterloo (where Wellington and Blucher gave Napoleon his comeuppance) and it there that one Jeanne-Paule Marie Deckers of Brussels entered as Sister Luc-Gabrielle in 1959.

The sister could sing and in 1963 put out a single that went to the top of the pop charts in 11 different countries and turned her into a global celebrity. (She went on The Ed Sullivan Show and is still the only Belgian to top the U.S. chart. Surely a candidate for the “Name 10 Famous Belgians” game.) The song was recorded in English, French, Dutch, German, Hebrew, Japanese, Korean and Portuguese. I seem to remember it mainly as being in French.

Deckers was widely known in English-speaking world as the Singing Nun and in French as Soeur Sourire (Sister Smile). But her story was not a happy one. She had a nervous breakdown, left the convent and moved in with a girlfriend from her youth with whom she appears to have been a lover. (Not that it matters, but rough for a nun.)

She and her friend got into financial difficulties — back tax to Belgium etc — and ended up killing themselves in 1985. They are buried not too far away from the convent (my next visit). Her grave stone says, in French, “I saw her soul flying through the clouds”.

There is aways music somewhere, Tbilisi edition

Ten days in Georgia (the country) and not much to report on the music front — except that the locals in Tbilisi, the capital, seem to have good taste. The soundtrack at one restaurant was Dan Patlansky, a South African bluesman of whom I was shamefully ignorant. The taxi to the airport eased our sadness at leaving with some Chris Rea (the good stuff).

But of actual Georgian music, nothing I’m afraid. Probably my fault. For once, I did not look.

There is always something, though, so please feast your eyes on this (below).


A splendid collection of old instruments from the region was tucked away in the quite fascinating Georgian National Museum. Not totally clear from the signs what each are, but — all from the second half of the 19th century — they include:

A two-string bow instrument called an Apkharta from the northwestern Apkhazia region (now run by Russia-backed separatists).

A changi, or harp-liked stringed instrument, from Svaneti (high in the Caucasus mountains).

A tabourine, from Tbilisi, decorated by Hungarian artist Mihaly Zichy. The painting (from the 1880s) depicts mediaeval Georgian poet Shota Rustaveli presenting a poem to Queen Tamar.

A stringed, oriental lute made of wood and mother-of-pearl.

So, as I say, there is always something.




A Vodun video to make me smile

A bit of papa-pride in this video. Made by my son Joshua and his partner Noomi. Please feel free to repost.

Genre-bender from Hatful of Rain

UnknownFrom the first banjo pluck on Hatful of Rain’s new album “Songs of the Lost and Found” you are dragged into the Appalachians. Then Chloe Overton starts singing and it all feels a bit Nashville. But there is something not-quite-American about it. Is there a tad — just a tad — of British folk in there?

This third album by Hatful of Rain delivers what it promises — a combination of “English, Celtic and American inspirations”. So “Start Again”, the first track, is Appalachian/Nashville. The third track, “Devil’s Dyke”, is laid-back British folk about World War I. Further down the list you get “Ponderosa Pine” – a bit of gentle bluegrass.

Before that, though, is “Gathering Wood”, a haunting Celtic(-ish) instrumental that turns a bit Appalachian, which is hardly surprising given the relations between the two styles – different but the same.

In some ways it is all summed up by a track called  “Won’t be Druv ” which will have American listeners (and some Brits) scratching their heads. It is American banjo and fiddle all the way – but the title is the  unofficial motto of the English county of Sussex.

It means “we won’t be driven”, which is certainly clear from this very satisfying album of  complementary genres that go together is very very well.

Trump and Pink Floyd

DbgAmvZVAAAJZRUFor a glorious few hours on April 23 the world of Donald Trump and Pink Floyd collided — and it wasn’t a bad trip. It all began with the very, very bizarre White House picture above and a man named Hunter Lurie.

“Which Pink Floyd album is this” Mr Lurie ,  or @hunterlurie tweeted, triggering an onslaught of magnificent musical imagination and — shall we say — less than flattering appraisals of the Trump presidency. Here are some of the best:

Dark Side of the Goons

Obscured by Clowns

A Momentary Lapse of Treason

Wish You Weren’t Here


The Division Bellends

The Delicate Sound of Plunder

A Dossierful of Secrets

A few people took the remit beyond what Mr Lurie had suggested and proffered song titles and lyrics:

The Lunatic is on the Grass

Careful with that Shovel, Emmanuel

See Enemy Play

Just Another Prick Builds a Wall

It was all rather wonderful and just 14 hours in Mr Lurie’s tweet had 1,500 comments, 11,000 retweets and 32,000 likes/hearts.

It is a very strange photo. The two women in high-heels moving away from their husbands in opposite directions as if in a separate frame make it particularly eerie. Twin Peaks and Six Feet Under got a lot of references.