For his debut feature, writer-director-cinematographer Mark Jenkin takes a parable about a contemporary fishing community under threat from wealthy outsiders and presents it in a style reminiscent of documentaries of the early 20th century, namely Robert J. Flaherty’s 1934 film Man of Aran. The result is titled Bait, a punky, pastoral little movie that draws from the mysticism and iconography of documentaries like Flaherty’s but with a narrative and ironic wit that is inescapably of the here and now. Put it this way: the director may have had those films in mind when he chose to shoot Bait on 16mm and have it processed by hand–for purposes of wear and tear–but perhaps less so when he wrote the scene in which a man on a stag party boards a boat dressed in a large penis costume. Continue reading
You really do get your money and time’s worth from a Martin Simpson album; there is so much variety in instruments used, musical cultures, tunes and musicians on Rooted, that it constantly surprises across thirteen tracks and fifty minutes. That said, it is clear that Martin and producer Andy Bell understand one another very well, because this is a very considerately arranged and recorded set that never feels crowded or over-loaded. Much like 2017’s Trails and Tribulations, which followed on with a fuller sound from the stripped back solo Vagrant Stanzas from 2013, Rooted takes care not to over-stuff and what we get instead are songs that celebrate music, instruments and players. In fact, Rooted feels very much like a continuation of Trail‘s journey, with Nancy Kerr prominent on the fiddle and John Smith and Andy Cutting also present, among others, but perhaps with a slightly lighter approach in parts, even when hitting on big themes.
Take ‘Born Human’, for example, written by Alaska based fisherman and conservationist David L Grimes partly in response to the Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster. Continue reading
Comprising six full albums and bonus tracks, all well remastered and housed inside the box in individually slip-cased mini-repros of the original LP sleeves. Plus a 24-page booklet setting the scene of those now far-off days that includes a sizeable chunk of memorabilia from the Folk Forum of Melody Maker and other sources. They’ve done a good job.
This was the era during which John Renbourn emerged as a scorchingly talented guitarist, with a diverse range of sources and influences – particularly Davy Graham, Wizz Jones, Blind Boy Fuller and Blind Willie Johnson – before slowly getting diverted in a faux Elizabethan direction.
The three Renbourn solo albums here are his eponymously titled Transatlantic debut, its follow-up Another Monday and the oddly titled Sir John Alot Of Merrie Englandes Musyk Thyng & Ye Grene Knyghte. Another Monday is the best of that trio: gobsmacking though his playing was on his debut compared with most other things around at the time, it had got much more assured by his second outing and his rather haphazard singing in a notably dodgy London-American accent was slightly more on the case too. The oboe on One For William is also rather nicer than the flute on the next album, Sir John Alot… by which time he’d abandoned singing altogether. Continue reading
‘Wild Rose’ is more than just an underdog story about a single mother with Nashville dreams—it’s a breakout movie for its star. Our review.
It’s a standard-issue plot: A young, single, Scottish mother of two, recently paroled from prison, harbors dreams of country-music stardom in Nashville. Don’t be fooled. Wild Rose is anything but the same old underdog story. And chances are you’ll fall fast and hard for breakout star Jessie Buckley. This classically trained Irish singer and actress was a runner-up on a BBC singing competition and won roles in film (Beast) and TV (War and Peace, HBO’s Chernobyl). She’s a skyrocketing talent — and the full range of her gifts are on display here.
As 23-year-old Rose-Lynn Harlan, an untamable bundle of impulsive energy, Buckley lets it rip. The ex-con is a comet slowed in her flight by a court-ordered ankle bracelet, an interfering mother (Julie Walters), and self-destructive tendencies with both drugs and men. Working from a script by Nicole Taylor, director Tom Harper makes a few by-the-numbers stops with Rose-Lynn getting it on with boyfriend Elliot (James Harkness) and showing little aptitude for mothering her children, who are five and eight years old. Fortunately, the script takes an intriguing twist by focusing not on the men in Rose-Lynn’s screwed-up life, but on the women who challenge and provoke her. Walters is reliably superb as Marion, the mother who’s tired of taking shit. It’s Marion who pushes Rose into a housekeeping job for Susannah (the outstanding Sophie Okonedo), a free-spirited Brit whose Scot husband (Jamie Sives) has put her and their two young kids in a pumpkin shell that looks like a mansion. It’s Susannah and the kids who hear Rose singing around the house and decide she’s star material.
They’re right. The movie knows it. And you’ll know it, too. Harper directs a terrific scene of Rose-Lynn singing as she cleans house, backed by an imaginary band scattered around the premises.. Buckley can sing country like a honky-tonk angel (she also co-wrote most of the songs) and her stage presence is electric. She’s a hellraiser on stage and off, preferring not to pour herself a whiskey when she can swill it right out of the bottle. Rose-Lynn’s voice is as emphatic as her strut in white cowboy boots and fringed leather jacket. But it’s the way Buckley digs into the bruised soul of her character that makes her incandescent.
Rose-Lynn’s country goal seems out of reach until Susannah sparks a crowd-funding project to send her to Nashville and the film sets us up for the usual rags to riches finale. That things don’t happen that way is a tribute to the creative team behind Wild Rose. If country is, as Rose-Lynn says, “three chords and the truth,” she is slow to accept the harsh realities about herself and incorporate them into her music. But when she does, sneaking onto an empty stage at Nashville’s fabled Ryman Auditorium (former home to the Grand Ole Opry) to sing a capella, prepare for an emotional wipeout.
Live at Leeds Left Bank 23rd May 2019
The Unthanks’ voices are a wonderful thing and tonight’s crowd sat in rapt awe. In the resonant acoustics of an old church, the harmonies acquired additional depths. The combination of the flat Northern vocals and close harmony work makes for a captivating ninety minutes and that may come as a surprise to some as they had no instrumental accompaniment at all.
The Unthanks never play it safe and their career is a list of projects – whether it is musical theatre, songs to a theme, collaborating, working with a brass band or digging up historical pieces. Tonight is not only a solo piece but two of the trio having one year-old babies, probably quite a challenge against sleep deprivation and reaching the stage with clean clothes. The Unthanks tonight are sisters Rachel and Becky plus Niopa, the newer member.
They worked their way through a dazzling mix of material. The lovely Weary From Sleeping Alone, Doo Wop stylings of Honey Bee, a grisly ghost story inspired by Australian bush ballads. Chat between songs is always good humoured and suggests a real enjoyment in performing. Babies are mentioned a couple of times and a small run of lullabies featured. The Sandgate Dandling Song is a highlight and one that turns up in different shapes in other places (even one of Cilla Black’s hits). Its fusion of pride, love and desperate sadness makes it perfect for The Unthanks. The very loveliest harmony work is with the well-known Magpie and the audience melts.
The encore sees the sparky music-hall figure of their support act join the trio for a gospel song. Tim Dalling helps it swing hard before we are quietly eased out with Underneath The Blackthorn Tree and it’s hypnotic “the wind, the wind, the rain the rain”. It has been an almost religious experience with an awe-struck audience and focussed attention on beautiful sounds and thoughts. Always different, always fascinating, The Unthanks are an act that carries the very best of the folk tradition into the twenty-first century, alive and relevant.