Category Archives: UK

The Poetry of Louise Connell

Music & poetry have always been easy bedfellows, teasing each other with magic to create something wholly cosmic, wholly beautiful. Singers like Bob Dylan & Jim Morrison were choral bards whose words meant as much as the melody – to hypnotise with the tune, to penetrate the soul with the vision. Alas, in recent years, across the music scene, the lyrics of songs have been slowly descending into a sewer of indifference, with A&R folk more interested in social media stats than talent. How sparklingly wonderful is the appearance, then, of a young singer-songwriter who really cares about what she is singing.

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Louise & her band in Edinburgh

A few weeks ago I quite randomly found myself in the Voodoo Rooms one Tuesday evening listening to a young lady & her band. The lady has a name, Louise Connell, a quite bonnie & thickly-accented lassie from Airdrie. A shy performer, Louise has an ethereal voice which soothes the listener’s receptability, fooling us into mentally relaxing as she tosses her songs of spinning shuriken into our psyche. Louise, you see, is a poet. It took me a while to realise – the aforementioned thick accent is difficult to penetrate sometimes – but as the gig went on, & the words & phrases Louise chooses became steadily more transparent, I began to screw down, transfixed, into my seat, resting chin betwyx finger & thumb. It was as if the spirit of John Keats had manifested itself into this gentle & honey-tongued goddess from the Central Belt; but with an edge, for Keats could never have sung the opening lyrics of Connell’s self-penned Maria;

The wine glass slithers down the wall
The cooker’s on but the room is cold
Maria, where’s the girl who swallows lies,
And coughs them up as smiles?

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—-

Louise has just released an album, a collection of three EPs called Squall Echo Rale. The songs vary in style & entertainment, but it is in the lyrics that I have found the most pleasure. Louise writes from the other side, presenting us with the flawless dichotomy of silken-sheeted songcraft & spine-raking wordplay. The album consists of 18 set-piece songs, the second of which, Rope, reveals the true genius of Connell’s craft. Less song, more an abstract play, it begins with an impressive cynghanned-laden couplet which reads, ‘I’m forging quite a career in suppression / Whether passive agression or a spineless silence.’ Let us also examine the opening to the fourth song, Ilo, is a love paean delivered with calm lucidity, a majestic capsule of poetic insight & phraseology.

———

Spending my day’s trying to claim
No one was seeing any of me
Like I was total, embryonic potential
And zero kinesis
I’d feel my hand at the switch
With my mouth forming, “I lo…”

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Wandering through the rest of the lyrics for Squall Echo Rale, we have several songs of introspective romance-odes – there seems to be a broken relationship in the mix somewhere. A little of Baudelaire’s desperate Paris pops up from time to time; in Fruit, for example, we learn ‘There’s no garden, There’s no orchard, Fruit is trampled,’ while No Visitors contains the cooly observed, ‘She may be sunken treasure but no one’s ever / been holding their breath.‘ In Crossed the Line, my favorite tune on the album, we see Connell complying with the convention of the sonnet-turn, or something quite akin to it at least. Compare the standard chorus with a one-off later version & observe how Connell digs deeper into her muse-cave.
—–

I could have been a genius
But I crushed the brains out of my skull
I could have been a lover
But soft love would make my skin crawl
I could have been a monster
But the screams would fester in my mind
I could have been a good friend
But I always crossed the line
I always crossed the line

And I could have been a genius
If you’d tested me in my native tongue
I could’ve loved you gently, if it ever seemed much fun
I could have been a monster;
sure, I could have the person for you
But friends was just another game
that I was meant to lose
Like life’s a game I’m bound to lose

In ‘Get to Know Me,’ Connell takes on the gratuitous role of a male suitor, who ‘didn’t realise her father was a man of your stature / you intimidate me, sir.’ I mean, who in the music world actually does that? We also have track 17, Viscous Fear, a moody masterpiece which contains this a capella chorus, sang enchantingly;
——-
A nursery rhyme for the other side
A microcosm of my life
Coats a hundred glass slides
I creied eyelashes with my tears
My viscous fear
An eyelash tear
My viscous tear
—-
Louise Connell is a shiny jewel on the UK music scene, one to restore faith in songwriting’s ability to constantly reinvent itself & also remain true to itself. She also possesses a keen ear for melody, which she infuses into her lyrics with the ease of a summer’s walk. I wonder whether Connell will one day separate the words from her music, but one expects the extrication to be too bloody, too painful. For now, let us see her craft as a composite whole; the music coaxes the words to life, & the words invigorate the music. To listen to Connell sing her songs is a highly reccommended & sublime joy.

Elephant Sessions

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Perth Horsecross
31st May, 2019


An acquaintance recommended Elephant Sessions live to me. I’d listened to their latest album and liked it, but somehow never managed to get to a gig, especially since they seem to be gigging all over the world these days. Their music is a bit like the electro-trad of Celt-fusion Simard & Gagné, Melisande or Ashley MacIsaac’s fiddling. But there is more than a hint of the progressive electronica of the likes of Boards of Canada in there too. I was interested to see when presenting a full set live, if, like the mythical Kelpie, they were a beast of two natures – would the two sounds that they marry so well on vinyl come undone, or worse, go a wee bit cotton-eyed Joe?

The audience in the cosy Joan Knight Room at Perth Theatre had been suitably warmed up by Perthshire’s own funksters Bohemian Monk Machine. Stank faces aplenty to some nasty grooves, the lads went though some soul-funk classics and a few licks of their own with real attitude, getting the audience in the groove like the wrong sized underwear. Phew!

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Elephant Sessions entered on an airy synth atmosphere that easily slipped into the, by now characteristic, progressive elevator fiddling from Euan Smillie and mandolin (yes, mandolin) from Alasdair Taylor, over a driving drum and bass line from Greg Barry and Seth Tinsley. Repetition, mesmeric, of a simple phrase is at the heart of electronic dance music. These guys get to the same place with traditional instruments. It’s infectious. Even this teuchter’s feet got tapping.

A selection of grooves from their first album “The Elusive Highland Beauty” and their acclaimed sophomore disc “All We Have is Now” demonstrated how the band have perfected their style. The track “Summer,” in particular, demonstrates a beguiling simplicity that is truly uplifting. To say that the audience thrilled to it would be a measured claim. “You guys are f**king brilliant!”, exclaimed someone at the end of one song, which got a roar of agreement. A few tracks from their new album “What Makes You” showed the guys just keep getting better. The track “Colours” was yet another crowd pleaser.

Elephant Sessions brought a real vibe to the room. Perhaps overall their set wasn’t as varied as their studio work, but it was driving and hypnotic, and fresh. Pasty Scottish folk can’t really dance, but the whole joint was jumping. Spectacular.

Mark Mackenzie

The Young’Uns – The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff

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Perth Theatre
23rd May 2019


Twice winners of best group at the BBC2 Folk Awards, The Young’Uns’ latest offering tells the tale of Johnny Longstaff, a working-class hero who grew up during the Great Depression, marched in the 1934 Hunger March to London and volunteered to fight in the Spanish Civil War. The lads, Sean Cooney, Michael Hughes and David Eagle, interweave the recorded voice of Longstaff with witty and touching ballads, bringing his story alive and serving a timely reminder that the evils of poverty and Fascism aren’t that far in our past that we can be complacent.

In 2015, after a gig in Clevedon, Somerset, the Young’Uns were presented with a sheet of paper by Longstaff’s son, describing the main events of his father’s amazing life. Longstaff had also been interviewed and recorded by the Imperial War Museum Archives in 1986 and recordings form the heart of a unique series of songs that paint a moving portrait of a heroic individual who challenged the inequalities he saw and fought for a better tomorrow, both at home and abroad.

The trio sing some fine harmonies, sometimes a cappella , sometimes accompanied by squeezebox and piano. The lyrics are bold, often hilarious and always performed with warmth and humanity. The songs take us on Johnny’s journey from the backstreets of Teeside, down-and-out in London, sleeping on the Embankment, standing against Moseley’s blackshirts in the ‘battle of Cable Street’. Then, as an underage volunteer in September 1937 Longstaff walks across the Pyrenees into Spain to defend the Republic against Franco’s Fascists, fighting in appalling conditions, but never losing his resolve. Throughout his journey, Johnny meets some remarkable characters, fondly brought to life again in the Young’Uns’ songs.

This is the kind of history lesson that engages the heart and the head. The kind that kills Fascism. It’s the kind of history lesson that we should be taking our children to hear. I’m reminded of Orwell’s observation from ‘Looking back on the Spanish Civil War’, “…unfortunately the truth about atrocities is far worse than that they are lied about and made into propaganda. The truth is that they happen.” It’s important that the real witness of men and women who suffered and fought against despotism are heard. Viva the Young’Uns!

Mark Mackenzie

The Sixteen: An Immortal Legacy

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St. John’s Kirk, Perth
18th May 2019 


The Sixteen, under the direction of Harry Christophers, are in their fortieth year of bringing early choral music, as well as groundbreaking new works by the likes of James Macmillan, to an ever-growing audience. Their style combines technical perfection with a warmth of sound that has ensured the choir its place amongst the best in the world.

The Sixteen make a beautiful sound that soothes troubled souls. St John’s Kirk, in the centre of worship in Perth for nearly nine centuries, perhaps has seldom heard such sweet singing as this. “An Immortal Legacy” draws on five centuries of choral music from Tallis and Byrd to Tippett and Macmillan. Music for sacred occasions sits beautifully beside the secular in the programme, with the common thread being simple melodies wrought into complex interweaving sounds, whilst never losing brightness or clarity of expression. The Sixteen’s sound deserves the most careful listening.

The opening pieces, from Tallis’ ‘Tunes for Archbishop Parker’s Psalter’ are simple harmonies for whole choir, and recognisable to anyone instantly as the basis for Vaughan Williams’ ‘Fantasia”. This was followed by a ‘Salvator Mundi’ from Tallis, with the choir drawing the variations from the simple plainsong with a rich, organic flow.

Changing tempo, three secular pieces followed, from Morley, Gibbons and Tallis’s great pupil Byrd, that celebrated country pleasures and springtime. Morley’s ‘April is in my Mistress’ Face’, a popular madrigal, leads with soprano, which is then taken up in the round by alto, tenor and bass until it reaches its satisfying harmonisation. The Sixteen sound tight on this brief piece.

James Macmillan’s ‘Sedebit Dominus Rex’ from The Strathclyde Motets introduces an icy blast of caledonian discord from the outset. The first few bars are reminiscent of Celtic or even Byzantine music, and make the hairs on the neck stand to attention. This motto gets repeated, finally finding resolution in the last cord.

Tippett’s five spirituals from ‘A Child of our Time’ demonstrate some superb solo singing from sopranos Jessica Cale and Katy Hill, tenor Jeremy Budd and bass James Birchall. Of particular note, ‘Steal Away’ and ‘Deep River’ are superbly sung. These spirituals were collected by Tippett into his great work at the outset of WWII, and speak de profundis of suffering and hope. The Sixteen perform them with simplicity and sincerity.

The second half of the performance was highlighted by a selection of Britten’s choral dances from his opera ‘Gloriana,’ composed for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and depicting (somewhat unsympathetically) the life of Elizabeth I and her relationship with the Earl of Essex. Although the opera is rarely performed, these dances, sung brightly and joyfully by the Sixteen, are a fine piece on their own. In particular, ’Time’ is a whimsical cascade for voices that lifts the spirits after the solemnity of the Tippett’s spirituals. ‘Country girls’ is so typically English in colour, evoking a midsummer floral bouquet held by a May queen.

I went to the concert expecting something good; expectations were surpassed by this excellent choir.

Mark Mackenzie

Tectonics

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City Halls, Glasgow

May 4 – 5, 2019


It was a nice day when my companion and I arrived at the City Halls for Day Two of the Tectonics Glasgow Festival, annual showcase for all kinds of new and experimental music performance. Stepping in to the Recital Room, we were confronted with a large wooden floor paved with drawings that somehow constituted a kind of path. The four artists performing Lucie Vitkova’s installation, were standing together using their voices for a perpetual sound that varied from whale noises to some kind of prayer incantation. It appeared to have no structure to it and we stayed for a few verses, only to wander off, taking with us the impression that this had been all about the quality of sound.

Festivals always have their own character, and this one, though small, also had its own atmosphere of welcome and anticipation, not to say a slight feeling that we were at some kind of science convention! We stepped out to enjoy a chat between performances and readied ourselves for a performance at the Old Fruitmarket. It turned out to be a free-form improvisation of recorded and live breathing exercises that lasted about 45 min and was performed by Angela Sawyer, Alex South and Nicola Scrutton. With its focus firmly held on the crowd who were sitting together it proceeded into a lot of people making a lot of what I can only call farm noises.

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Dave Smith, Chris Hobbs, Catherine Laws and Paul Kean in ‘Diabolus Apocalypsis’ by Dave Smith at the Old Fruitmarket

For the next part of our festival journey it fell to the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra to perform for an hour in the Grand Hall. We were treated to two orchestra pieces by Juliana Hodkinson (All Around) and Mauro Lanza (Experiments in the Revival of Organisms). This was followed by the world premiere of The Gay Goshawk by Martin Arnold which had Martin himself on melodica and Angharad Davies and Sharron Kraus on highly sensual, traditional and beautiful vocals about the trappings of love and life.

By this point we were both very relaxed and in a mood to continue absorbing everything we could. We found ourselves back at the Fruit market, that famous old market hall with a large, high space for the Symphony Orchestra to perform Sarah Davachi’s Oscen, a large scale work all about textures and harmonies. The place was transformed as the music took us along a slow melodic journey telling a story of Consort and Disunion.

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Nichola Scrutton and Alex South in ‘Rough Breathing’ by Alex South & Nichola Scrutton at the Old Fruitmarket

My impression was of a day full of the tonality of music, the experience of being human, what is important and what perhaps is not.  A day showcasing theory itself, turning it into a solid phenomenon that can take you to marvellous places that are there for all of us if we would but listen. An experience uniquely offered by the BBC Symphony Orchestra over a very enjoyable and successful weekend.

Review: Daniel Donnolly

Photography : Alex Woodward

The Divine Toyah

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Photo: Liam Rudden

The Thunder In The Highlands Tour

Edinburgh Liquid Room 25.04.19


Back in the olden days, when I were a lad. Music was everything to me it was a natural progression of my inner Superhero and I held my first musical inspirations in the same light. It was the costume that I loved and Toyah matched that in real life. Bringing fantasy to life through theatre, Rock N Roll, make up and style. I loved Toyahs first three albums. Sheep Farming in Barnett, Anthem and The Changeling. The Changeling was my fave, a Pixie concept Album that brought Miss Wilcox’s magical creativity to life.

I was 14 at the time and best mates with Jengerisers, my partner in crime and musical sparing companion. At that point in my life “1982” I had only ever been to WMC Gigs. Toyah was coming to town, to Bradford St Georges Hall, I saved up my dinner money and bought a ticket. Jengerisers did the same. As you can guess I was very very excited as this was my first proper gig ever and I was about to see Toyah in real life. It was fantastic performance art that still resonates with me 38 years on. The Changeling brought to life while visiting all her earlier hits. I fell in love with the big gig experience that night. The morning after the gig, Me and Jengerisers bunked off school and headed down to the Norfolk Gardens Hotel to see if we could meet Toyah and her band. Our mission was successful Toyah was Lovely and we got autographs from all of the band, It was then that I became a fan for life.

This was when the evolution of Makeup began for me too Toyah set the benchmark for looking brilliant. I soon learned that looking that good took a lot of time and effort to achieve. It was The Its A Mystery EP and Toyahs makeup on the cover that was what I was aiming for. Both Toyah and Steve Strange enthralled me for the same reasons. Where faces became canvases for rich expression of Temporary Art. The style that easily transcended gender and looking as good as possible was an evolving process.

Bradford, back in the early 80’s was a pretty grim place, still held in the fear of The Yorkshire Ripper, 3 day weeks, unemployment and being in the hell hole of a school called Grange. Toyah, Gary Numan Bowie and Visage gave me the escape that I needed. I never adhered to be a rock star. But I did adhere to looking that good. That was the key inspiration. It didn’t come easy, the makeup I mean, it took many years and countless hours of practice, I even did a beauty therapy course to perfect the look. Dressing up became a full-time occupation. A big colourful fuck you to Thatchers Britain and an education system that failed me. , Dance, Style, Makeup, Music and making love, were my reasons for living and escaping in equal measure.

As I write this preview and look back at the photographs of Toyah that I fell in love with as a kid, I can still feel the inspiration to be creative that gripped me 38 years ago and completely understand why I was so excited and inspired. Its been a lifelong inspiration, even now at 52 years old I put just as much effort into doing my makeup as I did when pushing the boundaries of Northern Working Class Culture, Back in the early 80’s Homophobia was rife and this was one of the reasons that made my school life hell. This all started before I began wearing makeup, I never have been Gay, men and cock never has done it for me so I would have made a crap puff. However, I found the strength and courage to start a personal transformation that would indeed give people cause to think that I might have been Gay. The funny thing was that the more makeup I wore, the more girls wanted to get off with me. This turned my tormentors blue with fury. And the echos of “Calvert ya Queer” echoed around my consciousness for the best part of a decade. It certainly opened my eyes at a young age that being Gay was not a bad thing. I always felt safe in Gay Clubs and Bars. The torment and abuse did have an effect on me, I knew I might have looked femme but I knew I wasnae gay, so I set about proving that I wasn’t and that involved getting off with as many beautiful Ladies as I could, I guess to prove to the world that I wasnae gay. I loved sex and there was a lot of it. When one looks that fabulous it goes hand in hand with having a Good Time ❤ Toyah shaped my life. I love her. ❤

Investigating Toyah has been a rich experience in understanding what makes a person be themselves in the face of absurdity. Indeed looking amazing seems to go hand in hand with healing the inner child. Beginning her life with a physical disability and a lisp. Both of which Toyah overcame to become a fully formed successful artist and pioneer. How Toyah has the healing power of the Divine. and Spirituality came to her at the age of 4 with the realisation that we are all just a speck of dust in relation to the vast infinity of the Universe. What an inspiration she is. ❤ Make up, Divinity, Creativity and Performance Art. My first inspiration and the longest lasting. It is only just now that I realise why. Toyah had the answer. Toyah is a Spiritual Healer too. Make Up and fruity coloured hair has Powers. beyond being Punk As Fuck.

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I got to The Liquid Rooms in time to see the support band Gothzilla. A local Edinburgh Goth Band that got me boogying straight away, Gothzilla are like a Veteran Sisters Of Mercy, Three guitars and a drum machine. Aye they really rocked tonight the perfect warm up for Toyah. I was having such a Good Time. Once the support band had finished, the place was rammed in anticipation of The High Priestess Of Punks return to Aulde Reekie. She looked marvellous and I was much closer to the front of the stage than I was at St Georges Hall, back in the olden days. Toyah looked Marvelous with a tight-fitting mirror ball dress, she looked strong and majestic. The penny really dropped tonight, Toyah set the benchmark for my ideal Woman back in 1982. and she still has it, fit as fuck, with Punk Rock attitude.

She performed a balanced set of classics and songs from her new Release. In The Court Of The Crimson Queen, perfect for live performance and taking its lead from classic Led Zepplin. There were a few first-night gremlins and on the whole I think the performance was too big for the club, The Sound even cut out completely on Good Morning Universe, apart from the vocals and only briefly, as you can guess Toyah was more than a little miffed.

She really wrestled with the sound all night. Not that it hampered our enjoyment the sound was perfect for the audience. My favourite moment was Brave New World. Indeed it was Brave New Worlds art that I fell in love with as a kid, as she sang I could see the picture disc that I had when I was 14. I think I lived that song more than any of the others. Aye Awesome Stuff.

Toyah still held the same beauty tonight as she did back then. She was just as sassy and sexy. Robert Fripp is one lucky man. Toyah eventually got over her sound issues and ripped into the classic singles. Ieya, Its A Mystery, I Want To Be Free, she did a marvellous rendition of Martha And Muffins Echo Beach and some really nice album tracks like Danced and Angel And Me from The Changeling. It was fantastic, Toyah had me completely, I couldn’t stop singing it was really really good fun.

Slipping in a new song called Come, Toyah got all sexy and I fell in love with her that little bit more. the last time I saw her live was 38 years ago and Toyah thrilled me tonight just as much as she did back in the olden days. My guess is that the sound glitches will have been worked out over the rest of The Thunder In The Highlands Tour. If you get the chance go and see Toyah. A True Divine Nemesis.

Mark ‘Divine’ Calvert

Roy Harper on Flat Baroque and Bezerk

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Flat Baroque and Berserk (1970) is the fourth album by English folk / rock singer-songwriter and guitarist Roy Harper


‘Flat Baroque and Berserk’ was the first record of mine to go into the charts. For the first time in my recording career, proper care and attention was paid to the presentation of the song. Peter Jenner was assigned by EMI Records to produce the recording. Peter and I got on really well and he was a better overseer of my work than anyone I have been involved with before or since. I had also had a Studio upgrade. EMI Studios, Abbey Road was at that time the most advanced studio in Europe, and over the next ten years I was to record in near-perfect conditions.

Over those years, the studio buzzed with four separate Beatles, some Stones, The Pink Floyd, Cliff and the Shadows, Gracie Fields, three of four musical knights, Kate Bush, Olivier Newton-John, The Hollies, Yehudi Menuin, Stefan Grapelli, The Plastic Ono Band, Eric Clapton; you name them, they were all there. Jimmy Page and I were in there three or four times together.

It was a creative hotbed where the technical staff, headed by Ken Townsend, were second to none.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I was very pleased with my first record made in such elevated surroundings. The song that I was best known for in those days, ‘I Hate the White Man,’ was recorded live for this album, and still stands as a testament to my lifelong devotion to espousing equal rights for all humans. I have long since wondered about the wisdom of stating that you have the capacity to hate your own race for it’s misdemeanours, but as a polemic it has been both an effective tool and somewhere of a place for a humble humanitarian to stand.

‘Another Day’ is probably one of the best love songs I ever wrote, and much of the rest of the record is on a gentler level, although ‘Hells Angels,’ recorded with ‘The Nice,’ is raw and was very eventful.


TRACK LISTING

1. “Don’t You Grieve” 5:43
2. “I Hate the White Man” 8:03
3. “Feeling All the Saturday” 1:56
4. “How Does It Feel?” 6:29
5. “Goodbye” 5:42
Side two
No. Title Length
6. “Another Day” 2:57
7. “Davey” 1:30
8. “East of the Sun” 3:02
9. “Tom Tiddler’s Ground” 6:48
10. “Francesca” 1:19
11. “Song of the Ages” 3:52
12. “Hell’s Angels” 7:46

Personnel
Roy Harper – vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar on “Hell’s Angels”
David Bedford – arrangements[8][9]
Skaila Kanga – harp on “Song of the Ages”
Tony Visconti – recorder on “Tom Tiddler’s Ground”
Keith Emerson – keyboards on “Hell’s Angels”
Lee Jackson – bass guitar on “Hell’s Angels”
Brian Davison – drums on “Hell’s Angels”

The album contains some of Harper’s best-known songs – Tom Tiddler’s ground especially.  “I Hate the White Man”, in particular, is noted for its uncompromising lyrics, and Allmusic described the song as certainly one of his most notable (and notorious) compositions, a spew of lilting verbiage that’s hard to peg. It could be irony, it could be ironic self-hatred, it could be muddled reflections on the chaos that is the modern world, or it could be a combination of all of them. Harper described the song as, ‘a testament to my lifelong devotion to espousing equal rights for all humans. I have long since wondered about the wisdom of stating that you have more than the capacity to hate your own race for it’s (sic) misdemeanors, but as a polemic it has been both an effective tool and somewhere of a place to stand.’

Skinner’s Rats

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A retrospective look at life in a band in the 1970s by one of the Mumble’s top writers …


In late 1971, I joined a band. What kind of band was it? Well… a folk band… no, a ceilidh band… no, a… um… well… Basically all of those and none. We would open our set with the intro to Richard Strauss’s ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’, which would then segue into the theme tune from the BBC’s ‘Music While You Work’, which would in turn segue into a medley of Irish and Scottish reels. Oh, the second half of our performance, after a beer break, would always start with the beginning of the 2nd Movement of Haydn’s ‘Surprise’ Symphony. It got the attention of the people in the pub.

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When I first joined, I played mouth organ. The rest of the band were Rick West (guitar), Peter ‘Blossom’ Currie (accordion), and Barry Laing (fiddle), and we had got together through vaguely knowing each other at Goldsmiths College. We had a residency at the Walpole, a pub in New Cross, SE London, and our boast was that we would go for a whole evening without repeating a single tune. That meant we played every jig, reel, and Strathspey we could think of, sung every English, Irish, and Scottish song we could remember, and then resorted to South African Voortrekker tunes and comedy fox-trots – Blossom had been a session musician for the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, and also had spent time in Africa. I can remember Barry standing on a bar stool, singing ‘We Are The Bold Gendarmes’. Barry had one of the clearest, most distinctive voices on the folk scene, and you can hear it on this recording of the New Zealand song ‘Shanties By The Way’.

One day I turned up at the Walpole to find they had bought me a drum kit. “I can’t play drums!” I said. “You’re a musician – you can play anything!” they said. The kit they had bought me was an ancient 1930s dance-band set, with a huge, thin bass drum, a set of ‘Chinese temple blocks’, what must have been the original Zildjian cymbal mounted on a spring (and it seemed to have had a bite taken out of it), a rattle, and a stuffed parrot. I made do. I painted a big ‘The Who’ logo on the front, in honour of Keith Moon. A few months later, when I returned from a holiday, they told me, “We sold the drum kit… but we bought you a double bass!” I looked at them in disbelief. “I can’t play a double bass!” I said. “You’re a musician – you can play anything,” they said. I struggled with the bass for three months or so. We used to travel everywhere in Blossom’s short-wheelbase Land Rover, Blossom driving, his girlfriend in the passenger seat, and the rest of us plus the double bass and all the other instruments crammed in the back. At one stage we had a gig every night for a week, and my fingers were raw. I gave up and left the band shortly afterwards. I spent some time as a solo artist, singing, playing melodeon and anglo concertina, on the folk club circuit in London after that, but that’s another story.

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Skinner’s Rats 6 1981: The band in trio formation.

The band had several changes of personnel – at one time various members found their way temporarily into The Cray Folk, who were sort of a rival band, and various members of the Cray Folk defected to the Rats, which made things rather confusing. I seem to recall once playing melodeon in an ad-hoc line-up that went by the bare name of Skinner’s Rats, but of which I was the only original member… or was it the Cray Folk with no original members? I can’t recall! At one point, during a time when Barry was absent, the band was joined by a Scottish fiddler called Kenny Logan. He played a Hardingfele – a Norwegian fiddle with a set of sympathetic strings – and he taught the band the wonderful Irish jig ‘Banish Misfortune’.

The band had a couple of tracks on a compilation album of folk acts from Kent, and then brought out an album called ‘My Boy’s Can Play Anything’, which was the boast of their manager, the landlord of the Bull Inn at Farningham, when people rang up to hire the band for a wedding, a funeral, a Bar Mitzvah, or whatever. I also got in on one recording session, which resulted in a single. It was a rather lacklustre version of ‘Granny’s Old Armchair’ with ‘Tramps and Hawkers’ on the B side – it was always on the jukebox at The Bull, but I am glad to say it has otherwise sunk without trace. If you do happen to come across a copy, let me know! Lead vocals were by Pete Hicks formerly of the Cray Folk, and I can be heard plunking away at the double bass and joining in the choruses. But the last I heard Skinner’s Rats is still going, with the core members of Barry and Blossom. Here’s Blossom half way up Mount Etna in 2012!

I think our greatest moment came when we played the Roundhouse in London. It was the night of the ‘Greasy Truckers Party’, 13th February 1972. We arrived late and were told we had missed our spot and couldn’t perform; however, part way through the evening there was a power cut, and the organisers realised they had an acoustic band ready to go, so under battery lights we were ushered onto the stage. My ‘The Who’ drum kit drew cheers, but when we launched into ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ the crowd of bored hippies went wild! At that time Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey was a popular movie to drop tabs of acid to. The London Chapter of Hell’s Angels was in the audience too, and I seem to remember they took Blossom on as a Prospect. Of course we never made it onto the album, except as the John-Cage-like track ‘Power Cut’, though the album cover has a picture of us. Good grief – this was all nearly half a century ago!

Paul Thompson

An Interview with Steve Arnott

8


Steve Arnott had a dream; then he got a bus; then he got on the telly – The Mumble absolutely adore the guy…


Hello Steve, where are you from & where you at?
Hi Mumble I am from Kingston upon Hull and I am still here.

Where did your love of music come from?
My love for music came from hearing singers such as Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson played by my mum. Then I discovered hip-hop culture at the age of 9 through breakdancing.

You’ve got three famous singers from history coming round for dinner. Who would they be & what would you cook; starters, mains & dessert?
Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and India Arie… Yazz could then cook 🙂 Starter: Fallafel and Houmous; Main: Stuffed Wild Mushrooms and for Pudding: Lemon Cheesecake.

Where & when did you get the idea for The Beats Bus?
I came up with the idea about 5 years ago as I used to do workshops with young people aged 16-25 in Hull city centre. The workshops were really successful, but there wasn’t a lot attending so it started me thinking why? I came to the conclusion that not a lot of families have excess money to give the children to travel to the city centre everyday, so I needed to make a travelling recording studio/workshop vehicle.

 

What kind of things do the kids say The Beats Bus makes them feel?
Confidence, a sense of family, proud to be part of it and they are excited about the future, which is great.

How did the documentary, A Northern Soul, come about?
I met Sean the director at the event “Made in Hull” that he created but previously. We had had a discussion through a mutual friend, Rebecca Robyns, about each other. Sean was looking for a character and I had a story to tell. Then we met we agreed to start filming and the rest is history.

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What was it like working with these particular film-makers?
It was a pleasure working with Sean, he is a very inspiring man and we are both from Hull. Sharing the same background we struck up a strong bond and friendship straight away.

How did A Northern Soul, change your life?
The documentary has changed my life massively; it has helped me fund my dream and also provide free workshops for young people in Hull.

Did being the City of Culture change Hull?
No, it never changed Hull, it has always been an awesome city. What it did do though is shine a light on our creatives and massively boosted our civic pride.

What’s happening right now with The Beats Bus?
In 2019 we are rolling out free workshops for young people who get stuck on their estates because they have no money to travel. We want to try and raise their aspirations. We are also working with the Police on a ‘no more knives’ campaign which is going to be an exciting project.

What would you say to somebody who has a dream?
Follow it with all your heart and going up, under or over to achieve your destiny. It is in your hands – choose a path and make a plan.

Have you thought about taking The Beats Bus further afield – perhaps even the Edinburgh Fringe?
Yes and we will, but at the moment we are concentrating on helping our community as they really need it.


www.beats-bus.co.uk

beats bus logo

Divine’s Hogmanay

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Stramash, Edinburgh
31.12.2018.


Having lived in Edinburgh for the greater part of my life now, Hogmanay I have experienced, the bells and the Fireworks, from just about every location possible in Edinburgh. On Princess Street, Calton Hill, Arthurs Seat, Blackford Hill, last years Princes St Gardens. With the frequency of mega firework displays in Edinburgh. The appeal for the OOOOoo Ahhhhhhh factor wains somewhat. So I wasnae sure what I was going to do this year., however good The Human League, Colonel Mustard And The Dijon 5 and Rag N Bone Man were at last years street party was baltic and not the most comfortable gig I have attended So the musical draw was nae there for me this year.

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The Muse was taking me to the Cowgate and Stramash to witness and groove Three local Bands that I have celebrated in reviews of past years. Sea Bass Kid, who I shared the bill with at Granny Radge’s Hogmanay Bash at The Backpackers in 2014. They were first on, so I made sure that I was on time.to experience proceedings with David Blair and our host Steven StramashThank you for the invite guys  . Sea Bass Kid were the perfect band to bring the Bells in. A Folky Stomp that cover everything from Reggae, Ska, Rock N roll Folk and traditional Scottish tunes. The dance was on and Stramash was packed to the rafters. at the Bells, Aulde lang Sign was the song of choice and everyone in Stramash Loved hugged and kissed. It was awesome. When they did a cover of Underworlds Born Slippy, performed in sea Bass Kids unique Folk Rock way, myself and the celebrating audience agreed, it was absolutely fantastic. 5 stars all round guys. Awesome 

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There were so many people in Stramash last night that I love and had nae seen for a while. there was a really good vibe perfectly created by Sea Bass Kid. The party was on. Bombskare are a local Ska outfit that have achieved great things in recent years becoming festival headliners, with an infectious blend of Rock N Roll and Traditional Ska. Its been a while They always bring my inner Ska Boy out and I was all Walt Jabsco for the occasion. Sea Bass kid had warmed the venue to fever pitch Bombskare set it on fire. Everyone was having the best time. fantastic Gig Another 5 stars.

By 2.00am on The First Of January 2019. I was knackered and my hip was nipping, my boots though, were supporting my sartorial elegance and thoughts of blisters were far from my mind. So my apologies to Jay Supa and his wonderful band for not staying for his performance, But they are a band that have created the funk in my world in years past and I know that you will have continued the delight in my absence. Love you guys.  Divinexx.

All in All 5 Stars All Round

Mark ‘Divine’ Calvert