Record Review: “Lost in Tajikistan” by Mekon’s Lu Edmonds

Mekons’ Sally Tims with Lu Edmonds. Edmonds describes his new recording as “just a tiny slice of the mountain music of Tajikistan

A glimpse of Tajikistan’s roots musical traditions and the new music Tajik musicians are developing .

By Andrew Cronshaw

Tajikistan bordering on Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan and China, is a mountainous country with a population of about ten million, the great majority of whom are Tajik. It became independent in 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed. This album is what British musician Lu Edmonds describes as “just a tiny slice of the mountain music of Tajikistan, whose rich traditions have soaked up the traffic of the Silk Roads and beyond for thousands of years.”

Lu Edmonds, a member of Public Image Ltd and at various times of 3 Mustaphas 3, The Mekons, Billy Bragg’s Blokes, Les Triaboliques and many more bands stretching back to and through punk times, didn’t so much get lost in Tajikistan as sucked in. At first, in 2004, it was as an interpreter for a biodiversity project. (He speaks Russian which, while Tajiks generally speak Tajik, is used as an inter-ethnic means of communication). But he got more involved, meeting and helping musicians create performances (which have now grown to include the annual Roof Of The World festival in the high Pamirs), get their instruments repaired with the help of London luthier Andrew Scrimshaw, and also surreptitiously digitising a mass of recordings of musical material from the old Soviet archives in the country’s capital of Dushanbe.

The recordings on this album aren’t from archives, though. They’re from 2008 when, with the help of Taneli Bruun of Helsinki’s Global Music Centre, Edmonds and key Dushanbe musician Iqbal Zavkibekov, put together a 16-track recording setup in Dushanbe’s Gurminj Museum of Musical Instruments, founded by Zavkibekov’s musician and film-star father Gurminj. We’re not talking Abbey Road here. It was -20°C outside, and although the museum was heated, much of the warmth came from the musicians who packed in to grasp an opportunity to record. It’s only now that those recordings have been cherry-picked and mixed (in London by Leo Abrahams) to make the album.


The first five tracks are by the group Mizrob, featuring Iqbal Zavkibekov on setor (Tajik long-necked steel-strung lute) and guitar, singer Davlat Nasri, who also plays harmonium and dotar (another long-necked lute), and percussionist Zarif Pulodov. In melodic form and sound it could broadly be described as having a middle-eastern feel, with a modal melody over drone and rippling darabukka or tabla-type percussion, but while a root drone is implied there are also harmonising lines. The first two tracks are instrumental; in the third enter Nasri’s vocals, perhaps comparable to some of the melismatic declamatory singing of the Indian sub-continent, while “Hurshedam,” with its winding harmonium melody line under Nasri’s singing, is in a flamenco-like mode. (I’m making these observations as description, not analysis). Continue reading

Letters to The Hobbledehoy, October 2022

Aedan writes:

Hi there! Thanks so much for doing the research on “Long Time Sun” and posting your findings. I was told it was an old Celtic prayer, but the way I’ve heard it sung by the yoga people didn’t make much sense. I specialize in Celtic music on Celtic harp, and am glad to finally know it’s origin. Interestingly enough, like Mike Heron, I use it as a closer to performances. After listening to his rendition, like it much better than what I’ve heard. Thanks again!

Hi Aidan!
Thanks for visiting The Hobbledehoy. The post on “Long Time Sun” remains one of The Hobbledehoy’s most popular. Very big fans of Mr. Heron and the Incredible String Band.

Don writes:

Are you aware that Fellini made a movie titled, I Vitelloni. It was translated different ways across the world. In the UK it was translated variously as, The Spivs and The Hobbledehoys! Thought you might like to know. I recently acquired a copy of a theater handout synopsis with that title listed. If interested, I will send you a pic. I will soon upload it to my Fellini website. Cheers

Hi Don!
Thank you for your letter. I did not know that bit about Fellini and The Hobbledehoys – excellent! Good luck with the website on Fellini. I’m a big fan of Nino Rota who contributed music to Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, as well as Coppola’s Godfather trilogy, for which he won an academy award in 1974.

Stella writes:

Hi there. I’m a retired American who just stumbled onto your webpage, and though it hasn’t been updated much lately, it doesn’t look like your dead. That’s a good thing.

I’ve been thinking of trying to do a pub tour of at least some part of the UK, since I’ve expanded my taste in beer and have always wanted to travel more. Searching tours mostly only brings up very costly and busily planned packages, but if I come alone it’s a bit daunting, and not just because you all drive on the wrong side of the road. You seem like a person with a wide enough range of interests to suggest some kind of idea. Would it even be feasible for a blue-haired lady (of the modern kind) to set out alone on this adventurous and liver-challenging quest?

Hi Stella!

The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated! The Hobbledehoy is once again being updated regularly.

I was in Edinburgh a few years back and there are daily tours available featuring Scotch whiskey tastings. Not sure about pub tours, however I’d recommend a night of pint pounding at The Royal Oak (try a pint of “Heavy” a dark Scottish beer.) The Royal Oak is also a great venue to hear folk music. Among those to have performed in this 200 year-old Edinburgh pub have been legendary Scots Billy Connolly, Dick Gaughan, and Hobbledehoy recent favorite Karine Polwart. I would say most Edinburgh pubs would be safe travels for a blue haired lady, though Glasgow – not so much.

Check out this article written by travel authority Rick Steves, Britain’s Pub Hub. We’ve been in Rick’s company many times and enthusiastically recommend his tours. Here’s Rick’s advice for seniors traveling in Europe

Eliza Carthy: ‘Folk music is sexy and filthy and at the end of the night you fall over. That’s how I live’

She was the pink-haired fiddler who punked up folk, but Covid almost sank her and her famous family. Eliza Carthy talks about going broke, bereavement and the healing power of boozy, bawdy music

By Dave Simpson

At the start of this year, things did not look good for the Waterson-Carthy folk dynasty. It was, as Eliza Carthy put it, “struggling to survive”. Her mother, the celebrated singer Norma Waterson, had been unable to tour for a decade after falling into a coma that left her having to re-learn how to walk and talk. She’d never returned to full health and had recently been hospitalised with pneumonia. Meanwhile, Covid lockdowns had deprived the MBE-awarded Eliza and her father, the revered singer-songwriter Martin Carthy, of their means of income. Being self-employed, like many artists, they didn’t qualify for furlough, just a small business grant that lasted six months.

“By the third lockdown,” says Carthy, “we were looking at selling our instruments.”

Then an old agent friend in the US suggested Carthy launch a public appeal for help. “You wouldn’t believe the people who gave us money,” she says. “It’s been comforting and heartbreaking.” Sadly, Waterson passed away in January, aged 82. “We weren’t allowed to see her until the last day,” says Carthy. “And she was gone by then. But we’d been FaceTiming and I got to tell her how much was in the fund. She looked at me and just said: ‘The children are going to be safe. The house is going to be safe.’ And that’s the first time we’d felt like that for a decade.” She reaches for a tissue, to wipe away the tears rolling down her face. “I’m sorry,” she says, “but it’s been really hard.”

We’re sitting in the kitchen of their congenially cluttered family home in Robin Hood’s Bay, a fishing village on the North Yorkshire coast. At the back door, her 81-year-old father – who influenced Bob Dylan and taught Paul Simon to play Scarborough Fair – is feeding chickens. Carthy moved back in 2011, becoming a “part-time carer and single mum”, as well as running her own band. On the wall are posters for NormaFest, the festival she set up in 2015 so her mother could at least perform locally. “She was a classic matriarch – loving but firm,” says Carthy, brightening at this happier memory. “When I moved back, she wanted me here but didn’t want me to touch anything.” She laughs and gestures towards a laptop plonked on a kitchen worktop. “She’d say: ‘This isn’t your office! It’s a food preparation area!’”

Lately, Carthy has thrown herself back into music. This month, she releases Queen of the Whirl, an album of fan favourites chosen by a Twitter poll and re-recorded with her crack band the Restitution, to celebrate the 30 years since she skipped her A-levels to become a professional musician. Her parents led the “folk revival” in the 60s, but Carthy is seeking to refashion the genre for a modern world, fusing traditional and contemporary music with rock guitars, reggae rhythms and sometimes edgy subjects, mixing in the bawdiness and vulnerability she displays in person.

“I object to the Brit-centric definition of folk,” she says, “which is very white and safe and fixated with acoustic instruments.” In her role as president of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, she has been keen to shake things up, diversity-wise. “To me, Ariana Grande is folk music. Bohemian Rhapsody is folk. I define folk as whatever you can sing in a pub – and for people to be able to join in and be as shit as you like. Folk music isn’t clean. It’s sexy and filthy and at the end of the night you fall over. And that’s how I like to live.”

Quite literally, in some instances. The song Blood on My Boots describes the night her friend, the comedian Stewart Lee, invited her to the premiere of Jerry Springer: The Opera, which he co-wrote. After four glasses of champagne, Eliza hit the cold night air and took a tumble. “They found me under a bridge,” she says with a laugh. “I literally had blood on my boots.”

She recalls the first time she picked up the fiddle, in her case one that had belonged to her grandfather. In the nicest possible way, she says: “I didn’t want to be my dad.” Female fiddlers – give or take a Kathryn Tickell or Helen O’Hara – were rarer in the late 80s and 90s, never mind sporting bovver boots and a buzz cut. “Someone said: ‘You’re trading on your youth and beauty.’ I was like: ‘You wot?’” She dyed her hair pink and blue and toured the folk clubs, getting by on four hours’ sleep on couches. “In some ways, it was punk,” she says. “At one point, I woke up in a bed and it was snowing on my face.” In another incident, when her vehicle broke down, she tested the old wives’ tale about sealing a leaky radiator with a dozen eggs. “It didn’t work. We just got a radiator full of scrambled eggs.”

Gradually, after encountering some resistance from the more traditional folk camp, she earned their respect as other younger musicians emerged, such as Seth Lakeman and Jock Tyldesley. “I credit the folk scene for that,” she says. “I think they realised that if they didn’t get new blood, it would just be a case of them waiting for the phone calls telling them another old artist has died. Instead, they let us in and said: ‘Show us what you’ve got.’ Sometimes we fell on our arses and sometimes we didn’t, but the great thing about folk clubs in the 80s and 90s is they held folk up and that’s why my dad still plays the clubs. These people weren’t professional promoters. They were social workers, nurses, teachers – decent people who built stages that kept us all alive.”

After 1998’s Red Rice, often called her “drum’n’bass album”, was nominated for the Mercury prize, as was Anglicana five years later, Warners signed her up, hoping for “a cross between Joni Mitchell and Judy Garland”. They perhaps weren’t expecting such songs as The Company of Men, which begins: “I’ve given blowjobs on couches / To men who didn’t want me any more / Why didn’t they tell me before?”

She laughs at the memory. “It’s interesting encountering your early 20s self. There are certainly things that I’m not prepared to do any more.” As she tells it, she’d been inspired by Ani DiFranco’s songs about “abortions and stuff” which gave her the desire to be “completely honest” about a real life incident. She’d had her heart broken and the line “I don’t want to be one of the beautiful people” is pointed. “I was still in love with him and he said: ‘It doesn’t matter, because we’re the beautiful people.’ I thought: ‘No. I’m a scrubby little asshole from Yorkshire and I don’t like you very much. I’m a punk and you’re an arsehole!’” Her mighty cackle fills the kitchen. When the time came to record the song, she says, another musician walked into the studio. “I thought: ‘Oh Jesus, it’s Nick Cave and I’m singing about blowjobs!’”

She now describes herself as a “carer”. When her band got ripped off and didn’t get paid, she recorded a solo album, 2019’s Restitute, in her bedroom and sold it on the web to compensate them. Lately, she’s been planning her father’s Covid-delayed 80th birthday gig at the Barbican in London, writing her next solo album and – after being further waylaid by the virus – teaching music at her old school in Robin Hood’s Bay. “You can’t put a value on the emotional and spiritual awareness that music brings from an early age,” she says. “Music is mathematics. You can actually learn about the science of how arpeggios affect your nervous system. Music is so undervalued. It can be life-changing.”

By playing it – and reaching out to people again – she’s starting to put this year’s sadnesses behind her. “I found coming out of the pandemic traumatic at first,” she says, “because it reminded me of all the pain and isolation. But whenever we’ve performed, I’ve felt that collectivism again – and laughter and people. The pandemic’s brought up a lot of stuff and I’ve thought: ‘Maybe I should call so-and-so.’ And that’s been really lovely.”

Source: Eliza Carthy: ‘Folk music is sexy and filthy and at the end of the night you fall over. That’s how I live’

Music Remembrance: Singer-songwriter Nanci Griffith (1953-2021)

There were no performers who possessed more talent than singer-songwriter Nanci Griffith in the 1980s and early ’90s, when she was at her remarkable best.

By Daniel Gewertz

Nanci Griffith, the Texan “folkabilly” singer-songwriter, died in August at the age of 68, after fighting two different cancers for 25 years. In my decades of writing about contemporary folk music, I’d venture to say there were no performers who possessed more talent than Griffith in the 1980s and early ’90s, when she was at her remarkable best. Her single Grammy win was in the Contemporary Folk category, for Other Voices, Other Rooms, a guest-star-laden 1993 project of folk gems written by others. That she never won a Grammy for any of her own compositions is an injustice. She was both a stunning songwriter and a savvy song-finder. And as a singer, she gave “precious” a good name.

Boston took to Griffith earlier and stronger than any American city outside her native Texas. I got to interview her for the Boston Herald many times, starting right before she signed with the locally based Philo/Rounder Records in 1984; I felt I knew Griffith as well as a Northern journalist could. She was a tightly wound tumble of conflicting instincts: both forthright and private, both steely and prickly, proud of her achievements and openly hurt that she was not more widely rewarded for them. I saw a lot of gigs, many of them solo. But there was a single show in the mid-’80s that best displayed Griffith’s indomitable strength. It was at the Harvard Square basement room then called Passim Coffeehouse.

Let me set the scene. The late Bob Donlin was introducing her from the tiny Passim stage in his usual charming yet wooden way. Nanci was standing still in the back of the tightly packed little club, aware that most eyes were already upon her. Continue reading

Letters to The Hobbledehoy, May 2021

Hall of Fame Letter from Terri:

Hi Mike ! I’ve just discovered your website and Yeh, I love it! Do you know what I DON’T love??? I really REALLY don’t love having that orange douche bag in my Direct peripheral vision while watching a video. There’s no such thing as a good Trump pic….. but that one! Omg! Seriously?? Please please please please….. AT LEAST move it down the page … Because THAT MOUTH. It’s like my cats assh@le. Worse!

 Thanks for your time & Happy Monday

Hi Terri!
Thanks for visiting the website. You are so right – it’s time to move that cat’s asshole from the homepage. The link for “Trump’s Covid Timeline” will no longer be accompanied by an image of Trump.

Lisa writes:

Hello, Just checking that you got my previous email regarding a broken link on your site, and just to confirm that this isn’t some weird spam message but an actual person trying to bring a broken link with a potential replacement to your attention 🙂 Here are link details: Your Page: Dead link title: ’15 days’ Dead link: Working link:
Stay safe, Lisa

Hi Lisa!
Thank you for your perseverance on this issue. Corrected – finally! You are an editor’s dream.

As for Covid and Trump’s responsibility for American deaths – “The first time we ha(d) an excuse,” said Dr. Deborah Birx. “There were about a hundred thousand deaths that came from that original surge. All of the rest of (the deaths), in my mind, could have been mitigated or decreased substantially.”

Rory writes:

Hi, I have come across the use of my name on your website in an article completely unrelated to me or the content you have quoted. Article can be found here: How did historic alehouses, taverns and inns evolve into the pubs we see today? Can I please ask you to remove this at the earliest convenience. Thank you.

Hi Rory!

So sorry about that odd mistake. Of course we will remove your name. I honestly do not know how it happened! With the curated content on The Hobbledehoy (which accounts for 99%) we don’t factcheck quotes or who the quotes are attributed to by the source. That piece (now removed from the Hobbledehoy) originally appeared in The Morning Advertiser. Cheers!

Richard writes:

Love your blog! It often creates a portal for me to go deeper, like Centralia today. I am so curious about where you live – in the UK or USA? I live where one of your links resides – Edmonds WA (Rick Steves). Great guy.
Cheers, Richard

Hi Richard!

I live in the smallest state in the union, Rhode Island, an hour south of Boston. I have had the pleasure of visiting Edmonds, Washington on several occasions. You are fortunate to live in such a warm, friendly, beautiful town with such a gorgeous view of the mountains and Puget Sound. Perhaps I will see you some evening at the Church Key Pub – which might be my favorite pub in the USA. Cheers!

Emma writes:

Hi there, I saw your page An abuse of power’: alarm grows over top Trump lieutenant’s military masquerade, and I wanted to thank you for supporting the Black community.
The events of last summer (BLM protests and COVID-19) saw many people rally to support Black-owned businesses. Sadly, since summer ended, people forgot to keep sharing and supporting these businesses.
I just found a new article with links to more than 150 Black-owned businesses. I was so happy to see that people still care about helping these companies thrive!

The link is here

I think sharing this link on your page would be a great way to help your readers keep supporting Black-owned sites and stores. I think it will be a great addition to your site and that your audience will love this new resource!

Thank you in advance for your support, Emma

Hi Emma,

The Hobbledehoy believes Black Lives Matter and we hope our readers do as well. I’m pleased to share the link of 150 Black Owned Businesses.

Chris writes:

Hello Michael,

The Hobbledehoy is a marvelous haven for folk music and is responsible for introducing me to so many artists I had not previously known, or whom I had forgotten with the passing of time. It was on The Hobbledehoy that I first heard Little Nora Brown and for that I am forever grateful. A short time ago I fired off a track from BARDE’s 1977 album ‘Barde’ called ‘Fanny Power’. You kindly posted it on the HH site, for which many thanks .
It occurred to me to send the first two albums au complet for you to kick around as you see fit [ . . . ]

Hi Chris:

Always appreciate your comments and feedback on The Hobbledehoy. With the past year of Covid, the death of a parent, and moving from my home of 20 years, I got a bit behind on our scheduled posts. Soon I’ll be adding clips from your ‘Barde’ 1977 and ‘Images’ 1978, as well as your track notes.
Thank you very much for introducing your music to me and followers of The Hobbledehoy. And happy to read you enjoy the banjo of Little Nora Brown.

Sister Marie writes (in caps):


Hello there, Sister Marie!

My guess is that you are not the same Sister Marie I had in my 3rd grade Catholic School, as she was more discerning with her use of capital letters, and certainly did not regard me as “better than anyone.”
Nonetheless, it appears you did “pray the demon out of office,” and for this The Hobbledehoy are eternally grateful