Review

Archive: 2004 – Reviews – Mozaik – Live from the Powerhouse

Music Review/Album: 27 May 2004

Rather fatuously billed on the CD sleeve as “the ultimate global stringband”, Mozaik are Andy Irvine, Donal Lunny, Bruce Molsky (USA), Rens Van Der Zalm (Holland) and Nikola Parov (Hungary), and this album was recorded live in Brisbane two years ago with the lads playing 18 instruments between them. The recording quality thankfully captures all the rapture of a terrific gig.

As with anything Irvine and Lunny get up to, there are exhilarating tracks here (‘Sandansko Oro’, ‘Mechkin Kamen’) in the kind of Eastern European time-signatures that would move your pocket calculator to meltdown. ‘Pony Boy’ boasts some terrific fiddle duetting from Molsky and Van Der Zalm, and serves as a handsome build-up to Irvine’s gritty vocals on his own zestful ‘Never Tire Of The Road’. The versions of both ‘A Blacksmith Courted Me’ and the complex ‘Smeseno Horo’ stand comparison with the Planxty covers of yore.

The latter is a veritable stringfest, with Parov’s kaval going head to furious head with the instruments of Lunny and Irvine. But perhaps the most touching of the material is Irvine’s heartfelt tribute to the legendary Willie Clancy in ‘My Heart’s Tonight In Ireland’.

The quintet on this performance may not be as pioneering as Lunny’s short-lived Coolfin project, but their unquestionable virtuosity and sheer joy in playing together makes this a memorable memento of what must have been a live gig to remember.

Jackie Hayden – Hotpress

source:hotpress.com


Hummingbird HBCD0036; 62 minutes; 2004

 According to legend, the term “World Music” was apparently coined by a group of record label marketing executives at a dinner held somewhere in London sometime in the mid-1980s. However, if such an event ever took place, none of those present could possibly have envisaged the existence of a band like Mozaik, even in their wildest brandy-fuelled, post-prandial deliberations.

 For Mozaik, dear reader, is that rarity, a truly international band which consists of the London-born of mixed Scots/Irish parentage Andy Irvine, Kildare alumnus Dónal Lunny, American old-timey fiddler and banjo player Bruce Molsky, Dutch multi-instrumentalist Rens van der Zalm and the similarly skilled Hungarian Nikola Parov. Add to that brew Irvine’s well-documented affection for the music of the Balkans and all manner of quirky time signatures and the fact that the Powerhouse in question is in Brisbane, Australia and those marketing executives would be chortling into their glasses and calling for trebles all round.

It was Andy Irvine, of course, who was behind the original Mosaic (presumably, someone else now has the licence for the name) which first appeared after the final break-up of Planxty in 1983 and featured, alongside Dónal Lunny and uilleann piper Declan Masterson, and various European musicians.

That band never recorded, but thankfully this one has, though the concerts from which this album are drawn took place in March 2002. Nevertheless, a recent conversation with Andy revealed his desire for the album to achieve some recognition and, on the evidence provided, you’d be well advised to take heed.

One of the attractions of Planxty was the band’s never to be replicated line-up of instruments – uilleann pipes plus the various stringed instruments of Irvine and Lunny and the bodhrán of Christy Moore – and this is equally where Mozaik’s innate attractions lie. Apart from Andy’s occasional harmonica and Nikola’s whistle and clarinet, this is very much a string driven band (though any connection with the lamentable 1970s UK progressive band String Driven Thing should be firmly avoided). Like Planxty, Mozaik seem to be masters of all they survey, although it’s a substantially different landscape – one in which they can move from Aegean Macedonia (Suleman’s Kopanitsa, in the extraordinary time signature of 11/16) to Bruce Molsky’s Tennessee-inspired version of The Rocky Road to Dublin which itself segues into a wild Kentucky breakout, with Nikola’s whistle blowing hell for leather, on Indian Ate the Woodchuck. And from there it’s off to a Dutchman, Rens, playing a Rumanian tune on the fiddle which Andy once heard on a tour of Italy with the Breton band Gwerz!

If this all sounds as though musical passports are an essential requirement, fear ye not! Every listening unearths gems which possess an inherent commonality, but it’s Andy’s songs which, ultimately, provide the coat peg on which this truly international  and thoroughly enjoyable musical exploration can hang its hat (and, as Marvin Gaye wrote, “Wherever I hang my hat is my home”).

So amidst all the musical exploration there’s a wonderful reading of A Blacksmith Courted Me and perhaps everybody’s favourite Irvine composition, My Heart’s Tonight in Ireland “in the time of Sweeney in the sweet County Clare”, to which Dónal adds Robinson County, learnt from Pumpkinhead, and Bruce finales with a splendidly exuberant Trip to Durrow. Then there’s the Macedonian song Mechkin Kamen and a stirring tribute to Woody Guthrie – Never Tire of the Road.

Naturally, the album has to include the tune with which Planxty opened ears to Eastern Europe, Smeseno Horo (in a bizarre mix of 15/16 and 9/16 signatures) and the CD aptly closes with an evocative clarinet-led rendition of the Hungarian tune The Last Dance.

All told, this is a stunning confection and an extraordinary collaboration which should be valued and cherished. More treble brandies all round!

Geoff Wallis – 11th May, 2004

source:www.irishmusicreview.com

Advertisements

Archive: 02 Feb 2006 – Setlist & Review “Folk Britannia: Which Side Are You On?”

About the Performance

2 February 2006 / 19:30 – Barbican Centre, London, England
Tickets: £15 £20 £25 – Sold out

Hosted and curated by Billy Bragg this concert focuses on songs of social engagement and commentary.

Special guests include English folk legend Martin Carthy, Scottish stalwart Dick Gaughan, Maggie Holland and singer-songwriter Robb Johnnson.

From the radical folk protest of luminaries such as Ewan McColl to the more contemplative songs on the role of the individual in society. Social and political commentary has always played a key role in the British music scene reflecting on many aspects of social life from industrial strife to anti-war protest, to general disaffection, alienation and opposition to repressive governments.

Produced by the Barbican in association with BBC Four.


Live at Barbican Centre, London, England

Concert featuring Billy Bragg, Martin Carthy, Donovan, Dick Gaughan, Maggie Holland, Andy Irvine, Robb Johnson, Neill & Calum MacColl, Karine Polwart & Chris Wood supported by Martin Barker & Simon Edwards

Andy’s Setlist

Do Re Mi (Billy Bragg, Andy Irvine… more )
The Ballad of Tom Joad
Never Tire of the Road

Encore:

Hard Travelin’ (Woody Guthrie cover) (Singalong with all performers)

In Review

WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON? BILLY BRAGG AND COMRADES

The Barbican, London, February 2nd, 2006

I sometimes wonder what we did to deserve Billy Bragg. I mean don’t get me wrong, I’m sure he’s a nice guy (or should I say bloke?) and I don’t question the sincerity of his views, and I would be the first to confess that he can write a decent song or two, but doesn’t his brand of simple minded and sanctimonious schoolboy socialism just wear you down after a while? It’s the sort of naïve and haplessly enthusiastic amateurism that would only be tolerated in Britain, where (judging by his audience tonight) he is held in high esteem. But I’m sorry, and if I may use a comedic metaphor, I have to say that for me he’s the Harry Worth of revolutionary socialism.

But then maybe I’m the sort of disenchanted, middle-aged, comfortably-off cynic that Dick Gaughan (one of the stellar list of performers who joined blokey Billy in this BBC 4 sponsored evening of songs of protest) sang about, preferring an easy life of material pleasure to one of continual struggle. Well perhaps. But I don’t see why I have to put up with patronising primary school lectures from Billy the Bloke about the p’lyikul folk tradition, what it means to be English (a subject which, god help us. Billy Bloque is writing a book), the English p’lyikul folk tradition, Billy’s role in the p’lyikul English struggle of the traditional folk – well, I think you get the picture. We’re here to listen to some outstanding talent (on a good day I might even put BB in the lower quartile of that group) celebrate the songs of Woody Guthrie and Ewan McColl in particular, not to suffer the Blokeoid bouncing around the stage like a podgy Leninist Labrador pup with pitiable posture. Enough!

To be frank when I booked these seats the line up was only about half complete. So I was as surprised as anyone when, after Billy and his two accompanying blokes first kicked off with a couple of tunes (including Florence Reece’s ‘Which side are you on’, which gave the evening its title) and then with Robb Johnson sang Woody Guthrie’s ‘I guess I planted’, Donovan walked on the stage. Looking like a portly pixie who’d spent the last thirty years in the magic pie shoppe he briefly presented his credentials – “It was out of Glasgow that I came, and my father was a socialist” – and then, sadly, croaked his way through his mega-hit, Buffy St Marie’s ‘Universal Soldier’.

Martin Carthy

But the evening got better – Martin Carthy, (who I have come to regard as truly outstanding since I saw him last year, having revisited some of his old stuff that I had hidden away, and explored his newer material) gave us a master class in two short sessions of how English folk music should be played and sung. His well chosen songs were MacColl’s ‘I’m champion at keeping them rolling’ (yikes – a song about British truck drivers?), the moving ‘Company policy’, an angry lament for the lost British sailors of the Falklands war, and the even more moving ‘18th June’ , about THAT famous battle at Waterloo in 1815. If you haven’t listened to Carthy then you should – his droning, picking guitar style is almost unique. But it does remind me a little of Dick Gaughan, son of Leith, with a spine shuddering voice and an astonishingly aggressive and staccato guitar style. In addition to giving us complacent ones a sharp dig in the ribs, Dick sang ‘Outlaws and dreamers’ and Peggy Seeger’s ‘Song of choice’. Frankly I could have listened to him all night and wouldn’t have got too cross about his unyielding dialectic – for a debunking of the romantic myths of Scottish History as refreshing as Michael Marra’s, try and find him singing ‘No gods and precious few heroes’.We got history of a sort from Maggie Holland singing her award winning composition ‘A place called England’ (BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards “Best Song of 1999”). This England, so much admired by Radio 2 listeners, is one where freedom and liberty is assured to all good and true providing we set about growing nasturtiums and runner beans on the land occupied by disused steel works, shipyards etc. Yes friends, it was predictable that this had to be followed by an ensemble performance (Bragg, Gaughan, Holland) of ‘The world turned upside down’, a celebration of the short lived Digger movement of the English Civil War, much feted in a book of the same name by the great Marxist historian Christopher Hill, who like all good scholars never allowed facts to get in the way of an argument. It’s all Golden Age nonsense really, and only goes to confirm my suspicions that all Radio 2 listeners live firmly in a fantasy world. Ironically when I typed ‘The world turned upside down’ into Google one of the first references I got was to a popular song from the seventeenth century lamenting the defeat of King Charles at the Battle of Naseby, and the subsequent suppression of festivities (English good and true) such as Christmas by the radicals and Cromwell’s New Model Army. Strangely this song of protest didn’t get onto the set list.

Left to right: Dick Gaughan, Billy Bragg and Andy Irvine

But some cracking ones did. A real surprise to me was the foursome of Chris Wood, Karine Polwart, and Neill and Callum MacColl – the two sons of Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger. They performed three songs written by their father, the stunning highlight of which was Chris Wood singing the touchingly cynical ‘The father’s song’. I read that Wood’s 2005 album The Lark Descending is a real cracker – put it on your list, it’s certainly on mine. But before these guys we had, in my opinion, the star turn of the night, Andy Irvine of Planxty fame. Readers may recall my enthusiasm for Irvine from last year’s Planxty gig at the same venue – apparently Irvine is a great Guthrie scholar, and much admired by Mr Bragg. This evening his short performance alone was worth the cost of the ticket. With Bragg and Gaughan he performed Guthrie’s ‘Do re mi’, and solo, playing bouzouki and harmonica a simply jaw-dropping version of ‘Tom Joad’, followed by his own song about Guthrie, ‘Never tired of the road’. Just wonderful. And Billy didn’t do too badly towards the end as he sang his lovely ‘Between the wars’…

But then of course it was time for the dreadful bit when the stage was filled (at least when Gaughan and half the performers could be lured back from the smoking room) and the assembled cast stumbled their way through MacColl’s ‘Dirty old town’. Of course by this time we were all bursting to rush for the barricades, so as soon as the fulsome and largely deserved applause died down we scrambled for the fenced-in taxi rank. “Anyone like to share a cab to the revolution in W4?” – Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate).

source: whiskyfun.com

The Australian: Album Review – Ushers Island

FOLK
Usher’s Island – Usher’s Island [Vertical/Planet]
4 stars
Making Waves – Luke Daniels [Wren Records]
3.5 stars

Go-to flute/whistle man Mike McGoldrick and acoustic guitarist John Doyle link new albums from opposite flanks of the Celtic spectrum. Whereas British button accordionist, composer and producer Luke Daniels takes an experimental approach with Making Waves, the self-titled debut release from Usher’s Island — veteran multi-instrumentalist and singer Andy Irvine’s latest Irish supergroup — is fairly conventional. While Daniels follows the footprints of the Canadian-Scottish sound sculpting visionary Martyn Bennett, who married jigs, reels and airs with archival sound bites and electronic elements, Usher’s Island follows the pathway paved by previous Irvine projects such as Planxty and Patrick Street.

Recorded in a rural cottage, Usher’s Island is as well delivered as Irish traditional folk music can be, even if it’s a tad lacking in invention. Not that Doyle’s recasting of Irish pub staple The Wild Rover isn’t infinitely more mellifluous and sophisticated than the versions rendered with drunken gusto on St Patrick’s Day. Two excellent Doyle originals draw on fascinating historical narratives. Heart in Hand centres on a Galway man captured in the late 1600s by Algerian pirates; Cairndaisy concerns an Irish immigrant fighting for the US during 1898 Spanish-American War. Irvine also dips into the military archives for Felix the Soldier, a song from the mid-18th-century French-Indian War. The relatively insipid As Good as It Gets alludes to Irvine’s unfulfilled romantic aspirations during the 1960s. Bean Phaidin benefits from Donal Lunny’s bottom register singing and the appending of slip jigs. A converted Munster pipes tune (The Half Century Set), in which Paddy Glackin’s fiddle and McGoldrick’s flute combine symbiotically, sets the bar high for the medleys that follow.

Daniels’s modus operandi, which involved processing, layering and looping hundreds of audio samples before getting his guest players to independently record their acoustic parts live, means Making Waves lacks the intimacy and fluency of Usher’s Island. The first half, in particular, features a cornucopia of strange sounds that compete with acoustic instruments for ascendancy.

In The Larks and The Jolly Tinker, the overall effect is discombobulating, with Daniels’s traditionally inspired melodies taking too long to emerge. In Retro Reel, button accordion struggles to cope with extraneous clatter, bleeps and burps. When the producer adopts a more judicious approach, as on McCrone Jigs and Wester Kittochside, Daniels’s accordion — as well as his vintage Polyphon music box — and Aidan O’Rourke’s dancing fiddle sparkle in harness with Doyle’s guitar and bouzouki.

Tony Hillier

source: theaustralian.com.au