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April 2017

JOSIENNE CLARKE AND BEN WALKER

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JOSIENNE CLARKE AND BEN WALKER
All photos by Nick Barber

12th April 2017: Biddulph Up In Arms welcomes BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winners Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker, and I find myself lucky enough to join them as a support act.

Held at The Biddulph Arms, the night is actually one part of Josienne and Ben’s tour, as they head up and down the country over the next month or so. It seems that the local folk enthusiasts of Biddulph are out in full force as the doors open for the evening and the small room is soon brimming with 100 people, claiming seats at the front to make sure they’ve got the perfect view for what hopes to be a promising night.

Once everyone is comfortably seated with drinks in hand, I make my way to the stage where my piano sits patiently waiting to be played and listened to. I open the night with what I call my ‘most upbeat’ song, A Year From Now, letting the audience know that the rest of the set will be melancholy so it’s best to make the most of this song, which gathers a nice little chuckle from the crowd. I’ve taken to playing my favourite Joni Mitchell song A Case of You when I play solo so I thought it would be the appropriate setting to include, before I continue to play my other originals Abigail, Drown and With Time. It’s a wonderful feeling to play to a full room of appreciative ears, sitting in a somewhat eerie silence to listen to what I have to say and sing. The audience continue for the rest of the evening to be as equally welcoming and warming for Josienne and Ben.

A folk duo, Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker have been writing and covering folk songs since they formed in 2011. Ben’s talent as a guitar player is mesmerising and combined with Josienne’s haunting mournful vocals the perfect folk sound is created. A couple of songs into their set I am gripped by the first cover of the evening, The Banks of The Sweet Primroses. A traditional English Folk song, it has been influential to the folk scene especially since the 1950’s and it fits perfectly into their set. It is also the song they recorded live for BBC Radio 2’s Folk Awards in 2015 to which I shall leave a little YouTube link here! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BCWTHwUlyRw

Not only is their sound captivating and beautiful, but as the night unravels Josienne lightens the melancholy mood with her funny and sarcastic wit that she uses in between songs to explain the reasoning and meanings behind her song writing. These stories are as much part of their set as the music itself, maintaining an audience full of giggles, chuckles and laughter in contrast to their mournful songs. Throughout the night, the stories add another depth to their stagecraft and I find myself absorbed in it, especially with the more unusual and humorous tracks of the evening. Half way through the first set Josienne comes to explain the thinking behind their song The Waning Crescent from their latest album Overnight. In a dry tone, she describes how very often in folk music the narrator is found talking and expressing their problems to the moon in hope that it will help solve them. So, Josienne decided that she would include the humour she uses on stage to reverse this idea for her song. Written from the perspective of the moon, Josienne writes as if the moon is listening to the world’s problems,taking on a whingy, complaining and sarcastic manner, to image how the moon really must feel when nobody listens to it’s own problems!

Throughout the night, they use their melancholic sound to their advantage. Josienne expresses that she has tried on many occasions to write a happy song, but has failed in doing so (which I can definitely relate to!) and has accepted that it is something she will probably never be able to do. However, she explains that the song Silverline is the closest she’s managed to get to writing something more joyful, letting us know that the song is actually about the fact she can’t write something a little more cheerful. The irony works perfectly

Later on in the set Josienne (who by now you may have grasped, does all the talking) gives us an insight into their latest album Overnight. This is actually the third album by Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker, this time taking on a concept role, with the songs ranging from the evening, through to the morning with each song representing each part of the night. After filling us in on this concept, the next song they glide into is the title track Overnight, which is supposed to represent midnight with the common mentality that things will be better in the morning.

After about an hour, the duo take a short break and join the audience who swarm over to them, now feeling as if we know them both (Josienne especially) inside and out. However, it’s not long before they are back on stage, this time experimenting more with covers, like Fairport Convention. At one point, they even bring out a loop pedal and a drum machine, taking a brief step away from their traditional folk sound. And just to top things off, Josienne shows us that she’s “more than just a mouth” (as she likes to put it) and that actually she’s a very talented saxophonist too! What more could we want!?

There is something about this duo that makes the night very special, is it the story telling, the song writing, the mesmerising guitar playing that is impossible to turn your eyes away from, or Josienne’s beautiful voice, I don’t know. But what I do know is that all these wonderful elements make for an exceptional night of amazing raw music.

M x

MARCH PLAYLIST 2017

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MARCH PLAYLIST 2017

Well, it seems we’ve soared head first into Spring. I’m currently sat inside whilst the sun shines brightly outside, and already the fleeting visit from the blossom trees is almost over. This means that it’s time to talk about some music I’ve been listening to throughout March.

March Playlist

FLEET FOXES – THIRD OF MAY/ ODAIGAHARA

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6GqgNebPm50

In my last playlist post for February I talked about a Seattle based band called Fleet Foxes, mentioning there was soon to be an album release. Little did I know that their first single from this new project would be released only days after I had chatted about it on here! Third of May/Odaigahara is their first offering from forthcoming album Crack-Up which is to be released in June. It seems that quite literally the 3rd of May is of importance to the band, as it is that day 6 years ago that they released their last piece of work Helplessness Blues. After this, much of the band went their own ways, personally and musically, but thankfully they have reunited and graced us with their presence once again.

This time Fleet Foxes have worked on something a little more experimental. The first half of the song keeps to an original Fleet Foxes vibe with its rural and pastoral sound created through the folk instrumentation and their well-known harmonies. During the second half of the nearly nine minute song however, the music twists and turns into a magical and mystical instrumental, enhancing their melancholy tone. This half of the song flutters between several sections conjuring feelings of chaos and excitement, with its dissonant string sections and the use of a classical guitar all the while still maintaining their unique sound. The changes in the song reflect heavily on the lyrical content of the track, exploring the changes in relationships in the band, combined with the changing of seasons, with a nostalgic ring to it. Upon listening to the song it’s actually hard to depict whether the track is indeed a sad or happy one, but this to me is what makes it exciting, as much as it is Fleet Foxes sounds it has evolved in a way that makes the listener uncertain where the song will take them. I hope that the album will follow the same path.

March Playlist

FIRST AID KIT – YOU ARE THE PROBLEM HERE

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0esbbnY5Xvw

For Internationals Women’s Day this year, Swedish folk sisters First Aid Kit released a new track, You Are The Problem Here. Taking a completely different direction from their usual sound, the song is an angry message to men who commit rape and sexual assault. On release of the single First Aid Kit explained themselves what the song is about:

“Its angry and direct. Its a song written out of despair. After reading about yet about another rape case where the perpetrator was handed a sentence which did not at all reflect the severity of his crime we felt upset and vengeful. We were, and are, sick of living in a society where the victims of rape are often blamed for the horrible thing that has been done to them. Our message is clear and should not be controversial in the least: if you rape, you are the problem.”

I was surprised when I first saw their release post as firstly, I did not know they had plans to release a new song, but mainly because I had not expected them to make a declaration so bold, but heck, I love them for it! The track is a powerful one, not only for its lyrical content and the message behind it but also the instrumentation itself. It’s clear to see they have taken on rockier influences, with the electric guitar playing power chords as the backdrop to the song. Their vocals, although still including their harmonies, are far more authoritative and angry to convey and enhance the strong message You are the problem here, no one made you do anything, and I hope you fucking suffer.” Indeed.

You Are the Problem Here is available digitally and a portion of the proceeds will go to Women for Women International

March Playlist

LAURA MARLING – SOOTHING

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eCS4OTgaHeM

I know that only recently I talked about British Folk songwriter Laura Marling when I attended her gig at the Albert Hall in March, but I still wanted to give her a little mention today. Soothing from her latest album Semper Femina is a song that has grown on me over the past month. The album concentrates on the perspective of observing women,which she originally intended to write from the male’s gaze until she realised she could admire them as a woman herself, and so her sixth album was born.

It’s the double bass that holds this piece of music together, and is really the hook of the song. The verses are almost angular in sound, slightly jilted weaving around the tribal and spacious drum sections, and its the rhythm that plays a large part in this track. The chorus takes a step back from this as it reaches a smoother and ‘soothing’ sound when the string instruments glide in. Her voice is both haunting and calming, slinking and slithering over the instrumentation,  on occasions sounding as if she is speaking the words as opposed to singing them and it sits perfectly with the prowling rhythm sections. The soundscape is almost sparse yet proves to be dramatic, moody and alluring and it’s strange that the song is so much like Marling, and yet in so many other ways not at all.

What’s your favourite song at the moment?

M x