Jun 162022

Craig Chisholm reviews Pictish Trail and Savage Mansion at The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen.

A Pictish Trail show isn’t your run of the mill concert.

It’s a glorious mish mash of one man and his acoustic guitar, a band playing electro-indie-psych-rock and some of the funniest between song anecdotes and asides to the crowd that’s guaranteed to bring a smile to your face and a spring to your step.

Pictish Trail is better known to his Mum as Johnny Lynch. He’s a resident of Eigg, a prolific song writer, the head honcho of the Lost Map record label and, as cliched as it sounds, one of the best live acts around just now.

But before he and his band entertain the crowd, it’s the turn of Lost Map signees Savage Mansion to warm up attendees.

The Glasgow based band play an infectious brand of shambolic indie pop that’s a treat to the ears. There are shades of Pavement in there, a hint of Lou Reed in the vocals, all of which combine to create an enjoyable and listenable experience.

Keyboard player Kate is from Aberdeen and, when put on the spot, is asked to name something good about her hometown. She opts for the number 19 bus, which is given a shout out by singer Craig Angus.

Shout out to Savage Mansion too, for a great set.

Headliner Pictish Trail bravely starts the show with two solo acoustic tracks – ‘Easy With Either’ and ‘Nuclear Sunflower’ before being joined by “Eigg’s sexiest man 2009, Joe” on guitar for another track.

Pictish Trail, of course, moved to Eigg in 2010.

Whereby Joe won the award again, apparently.

This sort of quip is just a precursor for the between song banter and shaggy dog tales, including a tale about a near death experience involving a log filled truck with his passengers, comedians Josie Long and James Acaster.

But the humour and laughs are only a small part of an eclectic and joyful set that shows the breadth and depth of Johnny’s talent.

Songs are well crafted, catchy, and clever. Folkie, indie, danceable but draped in a pop sheen.

As he dances through the crowd at one point, still singing, you’re transported to a place of happiness, an escape from the world and its troubles.

Pictish Trail is no stranger to Aberdeen and hopefully he’ll be back soon – if you can’t wait then be sure to catch him in Glasgow, Dunfermline, Arisaig, Oban, Lockerbie and, more local-ish, Findhorn in August.

Set List:

Easy With Either (Johnny solo)
Nuclear Sunflower Swamp (Johnny solo)
Slow Memories (Johnny and Joe)
Double Sided
Island Family
Far Gone (Don’t Leave)
It Came Back
Melody Something
The River It Runs Inside Of Me
Fear Anchor
Turning Back


Natural Successor

Dec 082017

By Fred Wilkinson.

“Aaaah Grasshopper, you still have much to learn … you must first try to listen … and feeeel!”

Once upon a time there was a young man who fancied himself as the rebranded Anarcho Dennis The Menace.

Unfortunately, he did not have the means to put enough calories into his person in order to avoid being laughed and sneered at by the bespectacled Walter and his crew of ‘softies’.

So he developed a defiant, unflinching pose in order to look hard.

He got a punk band together and generally scared the crap out of folk … his relatives mostly,

Then he got a wee job doing sound for a band called Mabel Meldrums Ceilidh Band.

Working alongside his chum, and punk band colleague Frank Benzie, nephew of Mabels’ guitarist and vocalist, Ian F Benzie, the young man in question came to know and refer to the Benzies as ‘Frunk an’ Unc’ – which neither ever objected to.

But their influence on the stoic, stripey one was not only significant, but equal and opposite!

This brought about much confusion. Whilst Frunk would lead young Dennisesque astray, and goad him into strange and perilous situations, Unc would be much more a source of a calm and enlightenment – particularly with regard to the realm of music. 

Words of wisdom were dispensed freely:

“If the music is ‘at loud ye canna hear yersel think, then how d’ye ken yer actually listenin tae music?”

“The words ‘I love you’ should be spoken close up, and whispered ….. if ye scream them oot til there’s snotters comin oot yer mou’, yer likely tae get a blind date wi fower or six coppers wi big sticks in the back o’ a van”

“It’s nae jist the notes min, it’s the space in atween”

And ither such hippy stuff and fluff.

However, it sunk in eventually, to the point that young hardened cynic began to appreciate the understated and the subtle alongside the “in yer face wi a big slab ya ****” aspects of music and art.

But then, not long after, Ian F Benzie, along with Mabels’ bassist/banjo plucker Buzzby McMillan parted company with Sandie Wyles (fiddle/mando/vocs), Andrew MacDonald (keys/concertina/caller) and Ian Wilson (Bodhran/ percussion/whistle), and went on to form the notorious Old Blind Dogs.

Sandie continued playing with a new Mabel Meldrums line up with a very different approach and sound.

As for that defiant, unflinching, skinny, stoic, cynical, spikey, stripey, cartoon character wannabe, tribute act? Well that was me (still is I suppose) …. your Aberdeen Voice editor.

Which brings me to the purpose of this one off spontaneous and unusual Aberdeen Voice article.

In the last few hours, I discovered a forgotten, presumed lost (or borrowed and not returned) cassette tape which was recorded by myself and Frunkie B from the mixing desk we were charged with the task of operating … or at least, preventing teuchters from plonking/spilling their beer, or stubbing their fags out on.

And so, 30 odd years later, I decided, if I had gone to sleep when I should have … like about an hour before I found that ‘lost’ tape … it might become ‘lost’ again ….. maybe forever!

And so, instead, I lashed a load of wires and boxes together, and now have a digital copy of the whole gig, which I hope to share soon.

However, I felt, when listening to one particular track, which was not part of the band’s set, but performed ‘off the cuff’ while some technical problem was resolved, that there was a wee bit of magic which transcended the background noise and the tape hiss.

Therefore, I felt compelled to ‘splice’ it out, and with the bare minimum of processing, offer it here without any further delay. 

Westlin Winds by Ian F Benzie. Live at Premnay Hall, 86/7 … as part of Mabel Meldrums’ (ceilidh band) show.

Apr 202017

Young fans pack The Garage out for a triple bill of rock. Review and photos by Craig Chisholm.

The Garage on Windmill Brae was the place to be for rock fans where they were treated to a triple bill of British rock bands as part of their extensive UK tour.

First up, at the very un-rock n’ roll time of 7:15pm are Scottish rockers Fatherson.

The band are no strangers to Aberdeen having played The Lemon Tree, The Garage and, most recently, Café Drummonds at Christmas time.

Their folky rock is similar to fellow Kilmarnock band Biffy Clyro with shades of Frightened Rabbit thrown in for good measure.

Despite the line of people that are still queued up outside the venue there are diehard fans pressed hard against the barrier and already a good crowd have filled the dance floor to see the band.

Their short seven song set is over in a flash and leaves the crowd wanting more. In all honesty, bottom band on the bill does them a disservice – a recent headline performance at Glasgow’s iconic Barrowland’s Ballroom show they are capable of bigger things.

However, there’s no time to mourn Fatherson’s short set time as Cambridge band Lonely The Brave are next up after the briefest of switch overs.

The band are an altogether heavier proposition than the openers whilst still retaining a stadium rock commerciality to it.

The five piece are tight and heavy throughout their set which, again goes down a storm with the packed venue’s crowd.

Vocalist David Jakes is actually the least animated of the band – he stands to the rear clutching his mic stand for dear life whilst spitting the lyrics out to each song.

Between songs, however, the hardcore image is slightly punctured as he fills a mug from a kettle he has sitting in front of the drums. It’s an unusual sight and provides a bit of light relief to the bands otherwise hard sound.

Headliners Mallory Knox take their name from Juliette Lewis’ character in Natural Born Killers – however their sound isn’t as hard, or indeed downright violent, as the character in question. Instead they provide a hook laden, hard rock that appeals to their legions of fans.

By this point, the barrier has a high number of young females pressed against it and they sing along to every word of every song and cling to each bit of between song banter from frontman Mikey Chapman.

Their latest album, ‘Wired’, released only a week or so earlier, provides a fair chunk of the set –  from opener ‘Giving It Up’ to the final encore track ‘Better Off Without You’. Despite the album being out for only being out for 10 days the young crowd are familiar with the tracks and receive each rapturously as if they’d known them their whole lives.

Overall the three bands provide an entertaining, lively and good value for money night that will have left the crowd satisfied on their way home and probably wanting even more.

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Mar 022017

David Innes reviews ‘The Wren and The Salt Air’ – a new E.P. release by Jenny Sturgeon on Fit Like Records.

In September 2016, commissioned by The National Trust for Scotland, Donside’s own Jenny Sturgeon visited the abandoned North Atlantic Hebridean archipelago, St Kilda, to derive inspiration for a musical release to commemorate this wilderness’s thirtieth anniversary as a World Heritage site.

The Wren and The Salt Air, a four-track EP, inspired by the island’s bird life and history, is the impressive result.

Maintaining the distinctive writing and performance style of recent release From The Skein, Ms Sturgeon imbues haunting Celtic melodies with her trademark natural imagery and unobtrusive, custom-fitted arrangements.

‘Seabird’ is a word painting describing the majestic movement of the colony’s thousands of birds in flight, and at rest, in almost architectural terms, and the title track takes on the vibe of an ancient folk tale, as the juxtaposition of unforgiving weather and the frailty of a tiny St Kilda Wren paints a vivid picture of the stoicism of living creatures “where salt air pinches skin”.  

The bird life of St Kilda assumes co-billing with Jenny, Jonny Hardie and Pete McCallum, to the extent that on the final segment of ‘St Kilda Set’, after some fine, evocative blue-edged Hardie fiddle-led tunes, the local Kittiwake and Leach’s Petrel are given a featured ninety-second solo spot. The St Kilda Wren’s urgent song too, provides unusual but fitting counterpoint to the melody of ‘The Wren and The Salt Air’

With 10% of the profits of the CD sales going to support conservation work on St Kilda, The Wren and The Salt Air is even more worthy of your small investment.

The Wren and The Salt Air
Fit Like Records

This review was originally posted on the reviewer’s own website www.bluesandmoreagain.com where the old fool gamely attempts to be some sort of tastemaker.



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Sep 012016

A well-respected member of NE Scotland’s impressive and eclectic musical community, united in its determination to preserve and enhance the area’s cultural heritage, Pete Coutts’s solo debut album Northern Sky, sees him dig deep into Doric melodic and vernacular traditions. David Innes reviews.

pete couttsNorthern Sky falls almost naturally into the complementary spheres of song and tune, with the track sequencing naturally alternating between both, pleasing on the ear, avoiding the intensity of instrumental overload, and giving the contents welcome breathing space.

It’s no surprise given the collaboration of the cream of NE traditional musicians on Northern Sky that there is ensemble playing of great aplomb throughout.

‘In & Oot’, with Coutts’s own scintillating mandolin, Jonny Hardie’s fiddle and Brian McAlpine’s accordion, is a sumptuous traditional piece, whilst ‘Allathumpach’ impresses in its instrumental precision and interplay as the melody winds itself around a punchy rhythm.

‘Villa Rosa’ serves up much of the same, its stabbed rhythmic punctuation supporting an angular, almost-geometric spiralling tune. And whether intended or not, the sparkling coda of ‘Strichen Gala – The Road To Aikey Brae’ has the precision and spikiness of that other Pete’s ground-breaking ARP parts on Who’s Next.

When it comes to Coutts’s songs, he displays masterful understanding of folk and bothy ballad structures, sentiments and feel. ‘Belhelvie’ documents a motor-age agricultural tragedy voiced in Coutts’s Doric phrasing and timbre with Ali Hutton’s bluesy whistle underscoring the mood. There is a stamp of authenticity too, given that the ballad’s protagonists are the singer’s own direct ancestors.

‘Sail & Oar’ is carried on a fine melody, sweetened by co-writer Jenny Sturgeon’s harmony and it evokes the atmosphere of Peterhead’s labour-intensive fishing industry, with well-crafted instrumental passages honed to the narrative.

‘Casting The Peat’, celebrating the endeavour employed in cutting fuel in Coutts’s own Cyaak (some say New Pitsligo), the global epi-centre of peat production, is narrated in the farm bothy tradition, but Coutts’s obvious affection for his subjects on both land and sea makes these arduous and dangerous operations sound almost pleasurable.

And whilst the life of a farm servant was tough, and bothy ballads written for local entertainment often coarse, Pete’s original ‘Will Ye Byde’ touches on the familiar tale of the unscrupulous farmer, but its theme is tender and caring as the worker, departing at the term end, gently declares his passion for the quine he’s leaving behind.

Nick Drake’s ‘Northern Sky’ provides both the album title and the opportunity for a faithful interpretation of a landmark song, but subtly-added Celtic inflections and flavourings ensure that it fits seamlessly with Coutts’s theme on an album which will prove to be a worthy addition to the cultural library of NE Scotland.

This review was written for the reviewer’s own webpage/blog (he’s not really sure which – it’s an age thing) www.bluesandmoregain.com

May 052016

RURA. One of the most exciting folk-based bands to emerge from Scotland in recent years

With thanks to Bob Buchan.

Live Act of the Year at the 2015 Scots Trad Music Awards, RURA will appear at The Lemon Tree on Monday 16th May.

With their second album, Despite the Dark, accompanied by extensive UK and international touring, RURA have well and truly reinforced their reputation as one of Scotland’s most powerful folk-based bands.

Their exquisitely rugged, yet refined, blend of fiddle, Highland pipes, whistle, flute, bodhran, guitar and voice has proven a resounding hit across the board.

The five-piece’s fire first ignited in 2010, as award-winners at Glasgow’s world-renowned Celtic Connections festival, where they have now appeared on a remarkable seven consecutive occasions.

Since then, Steven Blake, Adam Brown, David Foley, Adam Holmes and Jack Smedley’s powerful instrumentals and haunting songcraft has been a highlight of many of the world’s leading folk festivals – including Cambridge, Tønder, Winnipeg, HebCelt and Shetland, amongst countless others.

They are undeniably one of Scotland’s most sought-after, universally appealing acts. One listen – live or recorded – and it’s easy to see why.

“one of the most exciting bands on the Scottish folk scene” – Songlines (5 stars)

“accomplished musicianship, expressive vocals, flawless composition…supremely impressive” – FolkWords

“genuinely stirring stuff… there’s something very exciting about RURA” – Fatea Magazine

“a brilliant fusion of the old and the new” – The Herald

“Despite the Dark is a truly remarkable album… Rura are definitely heading in a huge direction.” – Bright Young Folk

“an album of its time for Scotland” – Folk Radio UK

“Rura are just what every festival needs. Barnstorming instrumentals and songs of exceptional quality. The Scottish music scene has never been stronger and these guys are right out in front!” – Bruce MacGregor, BBC Radio Scotland’s Travelling Folk

Despite the Dark Tour Dates – May, 2016:

13th May   Eden Court, Inverness. 8.00pm / Tickets £12 -£14 / Box Offfice 01463 234 234

14th May   Ullapool Village Hall. 7.30pm / £13 /

15th May   Incheberry Hall, Fochabers. 7.30pm / £7.52 – £13.85 /

16th May   The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen. 7.30pm / £14.20 incl bf / 01224 641122

17th May   The Mash House, Edinburgh. 8.00pm / £13/

18th May   The Atkinson, Southport. £10-£12 + £1 bf / 01704 533 333

19th May   Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury. 8.00pm / £15 / 01743 281 281

20th May   Shepley Spring Festival /

21st May   Otley Courthouse, Burley in Wharfedale. 8.00pm / £11-£13 / 01943 467466

22nd May   The Convent, Stroud. 8.00pm / £11.25 incl bf / 01453 835 138

23rd May    Colchester Arts Centre, 7.45pm / £10-£12 / 01206 500 900

24th May   The Witham, Barnard Castle. 7.30pm / £12 in advance–£14 on the door
Tel. 01833 631 107

25th May   Eastgate Arts Centre, Peebles. 7.30pm / £12-£14—£6 (schoolchildren)
Tel. 01721 725 777

26th, 27th, 28th & 29th May   Orkney Folk Festival.

Much more info at www.rura.co.uk

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Apr 222016

Hamish Napier’s debut album The River is now on general release. Duncan Harley reviews.

hamish-napier-the-river-1280For the past three years Hamish has
been Musical Director of big folk band Ceol Mor at Aberdeen International Youth Festival.

This year at Celtic Connections Ceol Mor celebrated the music of the North East with a programme of ballads, Scots songs, storytelling, and braw tunes by Scots fiddle and accordion legends of past and present.

What is the The River all about?

“Well,” says Hamish, “growing up next to the Spey, I spent many hours of youth practicing to the roar of the river in the background, so it’s always been there in my music.

“The River brings to the surface vivid sonic images of occurrences, past and present, along the mile-long stretch of the Spey that flows past my childhood home.

“One of my brother’s fishes it, the other canoes it, my Uncle Sandy photographed it, my mother paints it, and there’s my Father’s daily fascination with its erratically changing water level. It will always symbolize home and a strong connection to nature. No mortal’s relationship with the river can ever be truly harmonious, its ever-changing micro-climate, mysteriously dark depths and unrelenting power are both merciless and enchanting.”

The themes of The River range from the epic journeys of the Atlantic salmon to the river as home to local characters including fishermen, bailiffs, spirits and children. Hamish grew up on the banks of the Spey and spent many hours practicing to the roar of the river in the background

“Its always been there in my music … and brings to the surface vivid sonic images of occurrences, past and present,” says Hamish.

“For this piece I wanted to make use of all my musical resources … I am a huge fan of every one of the musicians on this project.”

Alongside Hamish on piano, clavinet and harmonium the album features Martin O’Neal on bhodran, Sarah Haynes on alto-flute and James Lindsay on base. Pitcaple born James was winner of the 2014 Martyn Bennet Prize for Traditional Music Composition.

Using backing vocals from natural sources including Oystercatchers, Heron and Curlew this is a groundbreaking album reflecting, says Hamish on the rivers “mysteriously dark depths and unrelenting power.”

A crackin’ album, The River is available from digital download stores and direct from Hamish at http://www.hamishnapier.com/

Sep 252015

With thanks to Annie McKee.

Old Blind Dogs 2

The finale of this exciting Food and Music Day will be a concert with world-renowned, local folk superstars, Old Blind Dogs.

Tarland is well-placed for local produce and a thriving music scene, which will both be showcased in our second Tarland Food and Music Day. This festival will be held on Saturday 26th September (with events kicking off on Friday 25th September), at venues throughout the village, including the wonderful two year-old community garden (recently featured on the Beechgrove Garden).

A weekend of fantastic music is planned, with performances all around the village.

World-renowned local fiddler Paul Anderson will kick off the activities on Friday 25th September with a guided local walk, featuring musical interludes and local heritage tales (2-5pm, advanced booking required by emailing: tarlandfoodandmusicday@gmail.com).

Paul will also feature in the exciting evening concert with popular Perthshire fiddler, Patsy Reid and friends, including the pianist Andy Thorburn, Shooglenifty guitarist Ewan MacPherson, and drummer Signy Jakobsdóttir (£12/£10 MacRobert Hall, doors open from 7.30pm; Deeside Brewery bar). Local musicians are invited to join Patsy and friends for workshops in the Upper Hall on Saturday morning (10-12; £5 per hour).

The Food and Music Day itself will open with the established food and local produce market in the MacRobert Hall (10am – 12 midday, free entry), featuring Crannach Bakery, Mortlach Game, Deeside Brewery, Cambus o’ May Cheese, Wark Farm, Tarland Community Garden produce and much more. Morning teas and cakes will be ably provided by Cromar Senior Citizens Association.

An exciting game cookery demonstration will be provided by award-winning Chef Raj from India on the Green, Ballater, sponsored by the Scottish Natural Heritage initiative, ‘Scotland’s Natural Larder’ (2.30-4pm; free entry). Lunch will be provided by H.M. Sheridan Butchers, firing up the barbeque at Tarland Primary School, with India on the Green providing curry, rice and pakora lunch boxes in the MacRobert Hall (12 midday – 2pm).

Visitors can learn to put the ‘oomph’ back into their day with a talk by Torphins-based nutritionist, Dr. Chris Fenn (£3, Upper MacRobert Hall, 1 – 2pm).

Druminaboot workshop - Tarland Food and Music DayTarland Community Garden will be open within ‘Scotland’s Gardens’ scheme, including music by singer/songwriter Megan Albon, plus talks by James Reid from Tap O’ Noth Permaculture and Yvonne Davidson from Tarland Bee Group (£3, 2-5pm).

Aberdeen’s-own African drumming group ‘Drummin Aboot’ will be holding workshops in Tarland Primary School for both children and adults (4-6pm, £5 per hour), preceding a performance in the MacRobert Hall (6.15-6.45, free entry) – not to be missed!

The finale of this exciting Food and Music Day will be a concert with world-renowned, local folk superstars, Old Blind Dogs.

With a current line up featuring Jonny Hardie (fiddle, guitar and vocals), Aaron Jones (bouzouki, guitar, vocals), Ali Hutton (Border pipes, whistles, vocals) and Donald Hay (drums, percussion), the Tarland audience is sure to be in for a musical feast.

Ticket price includes hearty soup supper from Tillypronie-based chef Carol Eagles, and Deeside Brewery will be on hand with their tasty craft beers and ales (£15/£12; doors open 7pm, concert at 8pm).

The full programme of events can be found at www.tarland.org.uk (following links to the Food and Music Day) and all tickets can be booked by emailing tarlandfoodandmusicday@gmail.com or bought in person from Tarland Spar and Paper Shop and Strachans, Aboyne, at the Tarland Local Produce Market and on-the-door.

Please note that advanced booking is required for the music workshops and strongly advised for all concerts! The Tarland Development Group looks forward to welcoming you to the feasting and music-making on 26th September!

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Sep 162015

Richard Thompson returned to Aberdeen Music Hall, and as they say, ‘he owned it’. Biased devotee Suzanne Kelly reviews. Photographs by Julie Thompson.

It’s always a treat when Richard Thompson comes to town.  The Music Hall lobby was filled with fans before the show, speculating on what he might play, and comparing notes on when they’d last seen him.

Richard Thompson Music Hall (3) I only found out that The Rails were opening on the night; I’d long wanted to see them live.

Richard’s daughter Kami Thompson and her husband James Walbourne are giving us pure folk music, beautifully arranged with haunting harmonies and beautiful playing. You’d expect no less though.

They explain their new CD has been delayed, or they’d have it for sale tonight.

Happily, you can get more info on The Rails and their CD here.

They seem relaxed and seem to be enjoying it – but it can’t be easy opening up when your father – or father-in-law is basically a living benchmark.

“We still keep falling for the same old lies. Times are tough, times are tough, but that’s enough.”

Thompson opens with the rousing call to protest song ‘That’s Enough’. He explains it’s from the family album, and that he intended it for Occupy Wall Street but ‘was about a year too late’ with it. The night’s going to be filled with astonishing music, but a piece like this reminds you that aside from the 200 mile per hour riffs, haunting acoustic melodies, straightforward honest rock, it’s not just the guitar you come for, it’s the writing.

You have to love the directness and simplicity of a piece like this, but when it’s performed with harmonies supplied by his daughter and son-in-law filling the Music Hall, you remember what live performance at its best is.

Richard Thompson Music Hall (5)Genuinely, the impact of this song as performed was immense. I hope someone’s going to get a recording of this piece with all three musicians. Genetics. The stuff that gives you a family of Bushes or Kardashians. Or, if you’re really, really lucky, a family of Thompsons.

Now that we’re all riled up and ready to start a protest there and then, the music is taking us elsewhere. ‘All Buttoned Up’ leads with its uptight staccato tension leads into folky ‘Sally B’.

We hear a new piece, ‘Broken Doll’ – slow, haunting, touch of menace – in the way Richard makes wholly his own. As he does.

‘Al Bowlly’s in Heaven’ is introduced and explained by Richard. It’s the tale of a veteran who feels forgotten (lack of support for veterans sadly is still a huge issue and the UK fails its service people badly). The protagonist, a down-on-his-luck veteran remorsefully muses on the death of his musical idol. Al Bowlly’s gone to heaven, but our veteran is in limbo.

‘Guitar Heroes’ is an amazing voyage through the styles of the artists who inspired Richard including Les Paul and Chuck Berry. In this piece, the guitar tech is brought on to provide acoustic rhythm guitar support. “Sorry it’s for the same money,” Richard tells him.

The song is an extraordinary piece seeing Richard channel Les Paul to such a degree that I get teary; it was just like listening to Paul again in person like I did, enrapt, over 25 years ago.

To play this song, jumping in and out of styles, is a phenomenal workout. Everyone in the audience is loving the exhilarating, perfect work; it gets massive applause. I’m exhausted for them by this point; but they’re keeping on.

Clearly no one’s going to get onto a bill with Thompson if they’re not the business, but the bass and drums are such you’d have to go far and wide to find talents anything like these. I’ve heard percussionist Michael Jerome before touring with Thompson, but tonight he’s absolutely on fire.

Richard Thompson Music Hall (7)The range of techniques; the variety of the playing, the expressiveness is on particularly great form.

If it seemed like, if Thompson was channelling Les Paul, then Jerome was channelling Krupa and Bonzo.

A solo he’s got about halfway through the night has Davey Faragher making his bass speak like I’ve never heard anyone do before. Other than when his bass takes the lead, it’s always just right – never dominating, always creatively underlining; always felt. We’re liking this line up an awful lot.

The guitar solos exceed expectations. Maybe he has six or seven fingers? How’s he moving that fast? Why did they call Clapton ‘Slowhand?’ A few frivolous thoughts like that come quickly to mind and go. The greatest metal lead guitar players would have a hard time doing this material justice. The music and the material has me thinking and feeling some wonderful things; I’m finding this exhilarating, battery-recharging, and empowering. And I want to go and protest things even more.

Then he slows it all down with If Love Whispers Your Name ‘next time I promise I will be ready, ready to move when the clouds roll apart

It ends too soon. Afterwards, over a quick drink or two (the road manager is celebrating his 60th birthday – though he seems more like 20 to me), Richard’s got an effortless nonchalant demeanour; ‘down to earth’ doesn’t even quite do it justice; he’s just being a top bloke.

What others said:

Gemma Louise Cook said:

“it was a fantastic night and a real treat to be there – RT Electric Trio and The Rails gained two more very enthusiastic fans in Scott and I Thursday night.”

Portrait artist Keith Byres said:

“Blistering performance! Richard Thompson is a musician who doesn’t believe he’s a guitarist…. He just knows!!!!! This is true art!!!”

and Shaun Young said:

“great performance loved the new album too. enjoyed the rails too. great vocal. , the drummer from the electric trio was incredible couldn’t take my eyes off some of his drum beats very impressive.”

On a personal note:

Richard Thompson Music Hall (2)There was this particular point, maybe it was a solo early on in the proceedings, but I realised that something was missing – then I realised that someone was missing. Her name was Ruth MacPherson; she loved Richard’s music, and one year I was going to take her along, but on the night she was just too ill from her fight with cancer to make it. She’d have loved being here tonight.

Most musicians gracefully sign photographs and pose for photos as if they were an exhibit; I generally try to avoid asking them for any such favours when I could just be talking with them.

On that long-ago night though, I got Richard to sign a backstage pass or some such for Ruth. I slipped it under her door one day with a copy of ‘Electric’. She was ecstatic. I wished she was here.

I also got slightly teary like a silly girl when Richard’s ‘Guitar Heroes’ got to the Les Paul section. You try not to be disappointed over the many ‘would have/should have/could have’ moments. Still, the last time I had the opportunity to hear Paul play, I got conscripted against my will into something I didn’t want to do instead.

‘I’ll just go see him play next time’ I thought. There never was a next time, and there won’t be one. Maybe I finally learnt my lesson about following my instincts and appreciating what is available in the here and now. I’d like to hope so. But when I closed my eyes, it was just like being back in Fat Tuesday’s, sitting a few feet away from Les, and hearing those golden tones that no one else can match (Richard did it though).

On a less maudlin note, I would have liked to hear ‘Fergus Lang’ at the Music Hall, like Thompson did last year. That was the first time I’d seen it live, and I’ll try and make sure I see Richard perform it again. I hope RT realises that for a good number of people, that song is pure tonic (Trump not being one of them).

Aug 252015

Koozie Johns has a musical career spanning decades and genres; he’s worked with a wide spectrum of the UK’s top talents. His latest offering is the recently released Folk Grinder album, ‘The Devil’s Mariner’ produced by Kirk Brandon. A second single, ‘Captain Johnny Clash’ is set for release shortly. Koozie talks to Aberdeen Voice’s Suzanne Kelly about music, muses, outlaws, his personal battle with Fibromyalgia and more.

Koozie Johns (4)Koozie Johns sounds pretty happy and relaxed when I phone. What I thought would be the 15 minute interview I normally do turned into 40 minutes, and could have gone on longer if not for my having another appointment. Johns has been in and out of various bands and musical projects for many years.

How do you get from a childhood near the Forest of Dean to creating punk rock songs of the sea for the 21st century?

Folk Grinder’s website http://www.folkgrinder.com/ describes the music:

“There are songs about pain and addiction, love and loss, songs that will embrace you with nautical tales of the sea and far away shores, sailor dives and dancing girls. Songs to redeem your soul to, to start over to, Songs for fallen comrades and long lost loved ones, songs to drink and be merry to or drown your sorrows to, you choose in fact there’s a song for everyone.

“A blend of upbeat shanty rhythms, punk folk, skiffle rock’n’roll, shades of rockabilly and Americana tremolo.’Skulls and bones stitched and sewn all by the hand of a drunken sailor’. HEAVE HO!!!”

The recent material seen in the two Folk Grinder albums is where a traditional sea shanty gets into bed with punk, folk, rock, cabaret and a bit of country. But how/why/how did this unique genre spring to life?

Koozie, how did sea shanties come to inspire your writing?

“Some years ago from 2005-07, I was living in Los Angeles – a place called Redondo Beach – in a lovely old 1920s wooden beach house. From the porch I could see the ocean and I used to sit there, play guitar and I’d drift off into a fantasy world of 18th century sailors, to the time of sail and tall ships.

“I wrote a batch of shanty-esque style songs like ‘England Dreaming’ which is on the first Folk Grinder album, a song I wrote about missing home my beloved, and dear old Blighty. Before I knew it I’d ended up writing an album’s worth of shanties and songs of the sea . I was inspired, living within the sound and sight of the ocean. 

“In some ways the life of a musician is not that dissimilar to being a sailor I guess, with regards to being away from home a lot, missing one’s loved ones or sometimes not….. looking for the unexpected or escapism and I’d say drinking certainly plays a part at some point. Every voyage, tour and show an adventure that holds something new just like a sailors tour of duty.

“When I was 17 I worked as a house painter with a former WW2 naval veteran a character by the name of Blondey Jackson a cockney that spoke old school rhyming slang which I had to learn fast in order to keep up with conversation. Every lunch time he’d tell me sailor stories of shore leave adventures, show me the faded tattoos on his arms and old faded war time photos, I look back on that time very fondly I learnt a lot from him and remember the stories well.”

The album is mainly songs of lost and found loves, and Johns’ personal experiences seem to inform most of it. I mention this and comment ‘you must have been busy.

“I’ve had quite a colourful life. With every relationship I have I do on average get about three songs out of them. [ We have a laugh over that]. 

Koozie Johns (3)“It’s not what I wanted. I wanted to meet the right girl and be with the right girl, but it’s never worked out for me for whatever reason.

“It’s hard having relationships being a musician and I guess I ain’t that good at them or easy to live with [laughs].

“I’m better off with a dog I think, if only human beings had the hearts of dogs …..  forever pleased to see you, loyal and total unconditional love …… maybe the next album will be an album of sea-dog songs.

“When you’re in a band and in that world you’re in a bubble – your own universe – sometimes it can be very hard on your partner as well as hard on yourself stepping in and out of two worlds so to speak.

“The trick is to find the right balance and the right girl I suppose ….. but not all the songs are about a failed love life ….. there’s other types of songs to drown your sorrows or rip it up to like the new single release ‘Captain Johnny Clash’ which is an upbeat folk punk shanty dedicated to Joe Strummer and other artists I’ve been inspired by that used to dress in black a lot.”

 I ask him about Folk Grinder’s live line up

“We’re a trio at the moment but the fG crew changes about sometimes pending on the type of voyage and who’s available at time of enlistment. On skiffle snare, percussion and bv’s there’s my old friend Chris Musto; who I’ve played with in a number of bands, working with him before with former Sex Pistol, Glen Matlock in a band called The Philistines as well as in past bands Shot and Sinnerstar.

“Chris is a very talented musician, drummer, artist in his own right. He’s played with Joe Strummer, Kim Wilde and Johnny Thunders to name a few and currently plays with The Bermondsey Joyriders who I really like. The man’s even been blessed by the Rock’n’Roll legend ‘Little Richard’ now how cool is that?

“On accordion, trumpet and bv’s is Helen Kane – who has recently come on board taking over accordion live duties from Folk Grinder’s Miro Snejdr. Helen was a former Marilyn Monroe cabaret performer/singer and session player a very talented lady indeed. Then of course myself on acoustic guitars and lead vocals.

When I saw Folk Grinder play in May, it was something of a first – a girl singing backing vocals and playing accordion with a three-piece doing updated sea shanties. “There’s definitely something special about her,” I suggest, “well, with the whole act.” Koozie agrees:

“Yes, we all have a good chemistry together that works very well. On both Folk Grinder albums produced by the legendary Kirk Brandon of Spear of Destiny/Theatre of Hate fame, the albums feature female backing vocals on many songs.

“Kirk introduced me to the idea of having female backing vocals on the recordings and so a trio of talented sirens were brought on board in the form of singer Tracie Hunter (daughter of Mott the Hoople front man Ian Hunter) Former Westworld singer Elizabeth Westwood and singer songwriter and gospel singer Phoebe White collectively known as The Rebelles.

Koozie Johns (6)“The female backing vocals and harmonies really added and complimented to the fG skiffle stripped back sound , they did a fantastic job on the recordings. So when the delightful Helen Kane came on board to play accordion and showed off her vocal talents it was a perfect addition for the live shows with having the female backing vocals in place.

“We all vibe off each other very well, which is especially important with a small live line-up.”

Fibromyalgia, the incurable nerve disease with uncertain cause and unpredictable symptoms hit Koozie Johns not long ago. Inevitably it has impacted every aspect of his life including his music. I offer to leave the subject out of our talk, but he had quite a bit to say on the matter. It seems to me that his comments are useful to sufferers and their friends and families.

“I recently played a charity event to help raise awareness and research funding for The Fibromyalgia Association, where I chose to speak publicly for the first time about my dealings with the illness. I got diagnosed at the end of 2009 and I hadn’t heard of it before. I knew nothing about it, so it’s been a bit of a journey. It’s a very debilitating illness with no cure and I’d wish it upon no one it’s life changing and robs you of so much. Doctors tell me it’s a mystery as to the cause. Apparently something traumatic or an intensive stress situation can trigger it.

“Fibromyalgia is basically chronic widespread pain with chronic fatigue, my everyday normal is like waking up with the aches and fatigue of a heavy bout of flu only it’s not flu, you don’t get better. The nervous system constantly misfires wrong messages around the body to and from the brain causing horrendous levels of pain in joints, muscles and nerve endings and if that isn’t bad enough there are up to 200 other symptoms on top. 

“Every day is a roll of the dice to see how well you can be. You caught me on a good day; it can affect my speech, my walking, balance and concentration a thing that’s called brain fog as well as there are severe sensory overload problems. I probably get around 60 other symptoms on top of chronic widespread pain and fatigue.

“My exhaustion rate is five times that higher than a normal person. It’s a very difficult illness to cope with; very tough. I’m learning about it more everyday and one thing I’ve learnt is how important it is to have a focus and to try and keep a positive drive is essential for survival. No matter how hard never give up.

“I’m in and out of pain clinics trying various treatments and learning how to manage an adapted life whilst in constant severe pain 24/7 – 365 days a year. In 2011 I woke up one morning and my legs wouldn’t work properly and for a while wasn’t able to stand, I then lost the ability to play guitar which was even more devastating and sent me off somewhere very dark. I thought my career was done and finished I thought I was finished too. 

“I figured I could either lay there cry and give up or fight back and so i fought back and relearned to play guitar. I did it a chord a day then a few chords building it up slowly until I could play a verse then a chorus and then eventually a whole song it took me eight months until I could manage around ten songs and slowly I improved from there. 

Koozie Johns (2)“My hands can sometimes feel swollen or even be swollen they can feel like they’ve been hit with hammers sometimes it feels like I have gloves on so the touch sensation has changed for me, as well as having stiffness and pain in all joints in my fingers and wrists and hands.

“Same went for singing I had to totally relearn breathing control whilst singing, because when you’re in pain all the time you breathe differently, you tend to hold breath a bit and of course your fighting fatigue too. I decided to book two shows to work towards for the autumn of 2011. One in London and in one in my home town of Gloucester, thinking at the time they could possibly be my last shows. 

“The first show was at the world famous 12 Bar club formally on Denmark Street London WC2H.

[I sigh; it’s about 10 days since I saw the bulldozed space where one of my favourite London venues used to be near Tottenham Court Road tube. A few chain restaurants and stores will take its place. Just what we need]

“After the London show my friend and peer Kirk Brandon who was in attendance came up to me and said ‘I love your songs Kooz and want to produce you’. 

“I was gob smacked and totally honoured. He was unaware of my health condition at the time and the journey I had just undertaken. 

“He told me about when Mick Jones of The Clash approached him back in 80/81 and produced Theatre of Hate (achieving the hit single ‘Do you believe in the Westworld’) Kirk spoke of how that had helped and enabled him to have an ongoing career that led on to Spear of Destiny. Kirk said he’d reached a point in his life where he wanted to return the favour, I was so taken aback.

“He said to me ‘You’ve played with lots of artists, but you deserve to be out there in your own right doing your own stuff, and I want to help you’. We’ve now done two fantastic albums together and he’s taught me alot. He threw a lifeline to me when I really needed it for which I am eternally grateful. I am lucky to have some good people around me – lovely, lovely people – and very talented friends and guests feature on both Folk Grinder albums.”

On the new Folk Grinder album ‘The Devil’s Mariner’, singer, song writer Koozie Johns’ lead vocals, acoustic guitar and tremolo guitars are joined by:

Guest backing vocals – Tracie Hunter, Phoebe White and Elizabeth Westwood collectively known as The Rebelles.
Guest guitar – Will Crewdson (Adam Ant/Rachel Stamp/Scant Regard).
Skiffle snare and percussion – Chris Musto (The Bermondsey Joyriders/Joe Strummer/Johnny Thunders/The Philistines) and shipmates Darrin Stevens and Igor Marjanovic.
Double bass – Kurt Barnes (King Kurt/The Grit).
Guest harmonica and Gothic saw – Jules Lawrence (Fat 45’s)
Violin – Sharon Forbes.
Accordion and piano is performed by fG shipmate Miro Snejdr. 

“I’ve discovered Playing music actually lowers my pain levels by about 40%: the adrenalin and serotonin levels go up as I play– it actually helps; it’s something that keeps me going but I do have to pace myself and be careful as there can be quite a physical payback afterwards.

Koozie Johns (5)“Having the focus of music enables me to battle the illness a lot better than without. I had to learn to adapt because I became unable to work with loud guitars and loud drums due to the severe sensory overload problems I get with the Fibromyalgia. In order to continue playing music I went for the skiffle stripped back acoustic approach I have with folk Grinder which I really love, I adore the simplicity of it.

“It’s been a difficult decision whether to open up or not publicly about my illness but the stress of trying to pretend and hide it all the time was making me more ill, especially when I started to use a waking cane due to having daily falls.

“People were thinking I was wasted all the time and drunk. Awareness is really needed, educate yourselves, educate others, anyone that will listen a cure needs to be found.

“I attended a seminar two years ago. A Fibromyalgia specialist Dr from Canada came over to talk; he discovered from his research that 70% of the deaths of Fibromyalgia patients was from suicide and that horrified me – absolutely horrified me. I understand the dark places you go to sometimes from the amount of pain you get.

“But when I found that out – about people killing themselves because of too much pain – I was just so upset I thought I have to do something very positive and show people with chronic pain and other chronic illnesses which are affectively invisible illnesses what can be achieved by having some kind of focus.

I’m stunned by these revelations, and while I had heard Johns had an illness of some sort, I’d no idea it was Fibromyalgia or much of an idea what the issues were. His descriptions of what it is like for him – and the importance of his focus – his music- to him in dealing with the disease provide an insight into this disease I hadn’t heard of before.

The talk turns to music again; We talk about the 12 Bar, and the diminishing number of live music venues. The 12 Bar on Denmark Street in London was a historic, centuries old forge turned into intimate music venue. A petition signed by tens of thousands failed to save this club – but has saved nearby buildings.

“I had a close connection with the 12 Bar club years before it opened as a club. The actual forge (that was the live room) dated back to the mid 1600’s was a store room/workshop, for the famous Andy’s guitar shop that was once next door and who had originally leased it. When playing in bands with former employees of Andy’s i used it as an occasional store room for the odd amplifier and speaker cabinet.

“I remember going in for the first time and thinking – ‘wow what a great little club this would make’. That was in the late‘80s and by the ‘90s it had become a little club that started off as a former gin alley back street word of mouth club and the actual bar was only probably about a metre long.

Koozie talks of old line-ups at the 12 Bar and tunnels underneath.

“[The tunnels] were used during the plague; they were transporting plague victims so as not to alarm people above; and buried plague victims in the area. At one time I was assistant manager there for a while and one day after lock up, we thought we’d have a look. We went down into the kitchen where in a store cupboard there was a piece of timber on the side wall; we pulled that off and behind that was an entrance to the tunnels.

Koozie Johns (1)“Part of it was bricked up and filled with rusty old fridges and stuff, but you could get quite a sense of what it was like.

“I had friends visit me this afternoon who made the documentary ‘The demise of Denmark Street’ and we were talking about the destruction of peoples communities that’s on the increase from all the redevelopments going on in London and one thing people don’t realise is there was a huge community that had its heart ripped out by the loss of the original 12 Bar Club and the music studios that once stood behind in Denmark Place.

“For myself and many others it was like a home from home and a bit of a safe house.

“Like many I miss it very much but have such great memories and a wealth of good friendships from it.

I realise too late I’ve not spent enough time talking about the new album. I think a second interview will be called for in the near future. We discuss some of the songs, and I mention the song from the new Folk Grinder album ‘Ballad of The Black Eyed Man’.

“ Ballad of The Black Eyed Man is a true story about a Texas outlaw by the name of William Longley. A friend of mine [Derry from EMF] his father Dick Brownson had studied and researched this Texas outlaw since the 70’s making several trips over to Texas talking with Longley descendants and then finally wrote this book about him called ‘Wild Bill Longley Texas Gun slinger’.

“He was responsible for getting a plaque put up for this outlaw finding his unmarked grave. William Longley came from a good family but after the Civil War like with so many, he couldn’t settle back into a normal kind of life. He killed a lot of people but in his words they were all bad people. Eventually he got caught, was imprisoned and sentenced to be hung.

“He was a very tall man with jet black eyes and a gallows sense of humour, he joked before he was hung saying to those stood to watch ‘Yes I deserve to die today for what I’ve done, but I am not a bad guy: I never stole a man’s horse’. I got really inspired by what I read and wrote the song which musically lends itself to an Americana genre. There’s been talk of it being made into a Hollywood movie.

The new Folk Grinder album ‘The Devil’s Mariner’ produced by Kirk Brandon is OUT NOW!!

Order your copy now exclusively from www.folkgrinder.com

I have to go; I hope I’m not too fast in closing out our call. If I didn’t have something else to get to – and if I wasn’t worried about taking up too much of his time – I’d have kept talking. I’ll make a point of doing so again sometime soon.

“No probs Suzanne hope this is okay for you and for the readers. I do hope not bland and that its an interesting enough article to read, a bit diverse in topics but hey that’s how life is for me.

I thank you again for your time and support I truly appreciate you listening.

Kind regards and a big Heeeeeeeeeeeave Ho!!!

Koozie x”