Martha Ffion – Head of Steam, Newcastle.

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Martha Ffion
Head of Steam, Newcastle.
27th May 2016.

Martha Ffion, the Irish singer-songwriter with an exotic Welsh surname’s first visit to Newcastle was on a cold and wet February day in 2015 and she was still unknown. Fast forward to the May Bank Holiday Friday in 2016 and she has a slight line-up change (due to a conflict of schedules) and the sweaty basement of Head of Steam pub and it’s a much, much bigger audience.

Sadly, this particular date had timing issues with the venue running behind on schedule’ which I tried to take advantage of to get a drink; but unfortunately meant I missed half of local support, Kate Edwards and my heart sank a bit when I caught the last few bars of Every Key, however I did see her use a loop pedal for her song Versions which was new to me.

For the second support Polo I got chatting to a friend, resulting in my missing all but the last song and a half of one. They were a three-piece full of electro beats and glittery eyes and more than impressed me in this short time, so much so that the next time I see them on a billing I am going to make even The Queen wait for me so I can catch a full set.

Third time lucky and my timing was spot-on for seeing Martha Ffion for the third time, albeit with a different drummer and only two guitarists instead of three. The packed crowd were buzzing with expectation during the strong opening song Sugarcoat and then Martha picked up her own guitar for Record Sleeves. I had heard that Martha plays guitar but mainly at the more stripped back shows, so actually seeing this was pretty exciting for me; but being the modest person that she is, Martha played it down but played very well until the fourth last number, when ‘tuning’ did not go in her favour. Her band though covered this up well and with no disrespect to Martha, her band are that good that we did not have noticed the missing guitar.

A lot more new faces were in the crowd tonight, which is credit to how far Martha has come in these past few months and just like last time she had scheduled a show the same night as some very popular local bands were playing nearby; so the packed crowd was a special surprise.
The energy in the room came from both the band and the audience; which was particularly evident when we got to hear a few new numbers, namely Real Love which guitarist Craig dedicated to Rafa Benitez (the current NUFC manager if you are not in the know!) A few muted laughs from the crowd proved that we were there for some real music and not football banter; but nice try Craig!

We then go into Take Your Name, which took the sound into a heavier direction to that I am used to from Martha Ffion. And it was brilliant that it was a shame it was then announced they only had a few numbers to go, as if you did not get the feeling earlier then definitely by this point you did not want Martha and her boys to stop playing. Unfortunately though just as their final song ended, Martha jumped off stage thanking Newcastle with each member following suit, the house lights and music came on, not even giving a chance for anyone to shout encore.

My only criticism of the night would be that there were times Martha’s vocals seemed slightly muffled. This was not by any means the bands fault as most of the evening you could hear everything perfectly.
The charisma of Martha and her boys exude was so captivating that it was only on reflection that I realised what another great performance I had witnessed on Friday.
In the three times I have seen Martha in four months she and the band have gotten tighter and tighter and I am already getting excited for the next Martha show and as it seems the local Martha Ffion fan base is growing daily, I believe she will be back and we will get that encore.

Courtesy Victoria Ling aka Lil Vik

Sofar Sounds – Alphabetti Theatre, Newcastle

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Sofar Sounds
Alphabetti Theatre, Newcastle
26th May 2016.

Established back in 2013 Sofar Sounds was on the idea for bringing musicians into your living room, although you don’t know who it’s going to be until the day before, or you turn up to the location. It a real treat for true for music lovers. There’s no bar, so no loud people talking over each other. You are there for the love of music and for the respect of the artist alone.

I have only been to one back in October 2015. We were actually in someone’s living room, but fast-forward to May 26th, 2016 and we are in the Alphabetti Theatre in Newcastle city centre.
Unlike the previous gig, I got a bit of inside info of the opening act so had known for a few months they were appearing; and it was so hard to keep the secret, even though I wanted to shout it from the rooftops.
I love music. I love discovering music. About this time last year I delved into all those music upload sites trying to find new sounds, then I heard an artist who I have now fallen head over heals for called Robyn Sherwell; and it was from one of her Sofar Sounds playlists that I discovered tonight’s opening act Oh Sister!

From the very first second on hearing For The Dales by Oh Sister I knew I had found something special and I have now made three journeys on the Big Blue Bus to London and back specifically to see this act and I have been asking time and time again, ‘when are you coming to Newcastle?
Half of the band did come tonight and they were far from the ‘dire version’ of Oh Sister that lead singer Sarah described; but I may be biased.
But, I believe tonight was the first time most people in the room had even heard of Oh Sister, so they wouldn’t know any better yet I saw a lot of CDs being bought and can vouch that they witnessed something special as this performance was very stripped back and without the electro beats you hear on their debut EP Watch The Water. In place of the beats was a bit of audience participation. Sometimes these things can be a bit cheesy but there’s something about the way a Sofar Sounds audience gets involved with these things that made it very far from cheesy. In fact I think we could feature on the next EP!
Well, Sophie the other half of the half that made the journey up actually did some superb backing vocals; and she normally plays electric guitar but tonight she was without and she complimented Sarah to a T.

Normally a Sofar Sounds night has three acts, but unfortunately one act had to pull out due to illness but on hearing who was going to close the act most of us in the know got quite excited.

From the Southern most city in the North East, up and coming Sunderland act Lilliput were the headliners. Again, a few members were missing; but we still had five of the six members and they all squeezed into the tiny space perfectly. I have only seen Lilliput a few times with the last time being the summer of 2014, when they had a spot on a local festival stage so it was a totally different experience to tonight, which was a very stripped back sound full of harmonies. Plus Lilliput even managed to bring a little bit of funk to the room with added ‘coat hanger’ from Joe. We are told the songs were all from an imminent album that was recorded a few months ago in Liverpool and from tonight I will say I shall be one of the first buying this on release. There was a lot of banter between the band members and they made the audience feel very much part of it too as there was a lot of laughter in between the songs. I very much fell in love with their harmonies all over again like the very first time I saw them.

Although I have traveled a lot this past year to London to see some of my favourite new discoveries, this is by no means a reflection of the North East music scene. The North East has a vibrant music scene and it is special that we get to see them in environments like a Sofar Sounds and that local musicians that sometimes slip by me get put on the bill. Although Sarah from Oh Sister is now residing in London it was great to see her play the North and it was brilliant that Lilliput crossed over to the other side of the North East. This Sofar Sounds was a special night of some very special talent and a huge credit to the team for making this happen in boroughs of Tyne and Wear. Sofar North East is taking a little break over the summer and they could not have had a better send off than having these two acts on the bill.


Courtesy Victoria Ling aka Li’l Vik


Dan Walsh – The Mining Institute, Newcastle

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Dan Walsh
The Mining Institute, Newcastle
20th May 2016.

Folk music is becoming a bit of a regular thing with me these days – mainly more the mainstream faction but going back about six years ago the musician called Dan Walsh who performed at a variety show took me under his spell with his banjo magic. And that is what is was – magic – as he handled that banjo was simply spellbinding and since then I have tried my best to catch every show he plays when I am in the same city and his return to Newcastle on this tour saw him at The Mining Institute.

Local musician Simma opened the night’s proceedings with fellow musician Matt Johnson on guitar. We are told stories from his first meetings with Dan at open mic nights that he runs to stories leading into songs about drinking and living for the moment. The latter – The Time Of Your Life was very poignant as he tells us that many of us look back on the good old days when the good days are really now and we should embrace that.

After a mini break and time to take in the beautiful surroundings of this venue Dan tells us that he actually locked himself out of the building, but it is a relief he got back in as we witness his opening song Tune Set and get drawn into his banjo skills from the get-go. Stories are given to the majority of his set and like Simma, including ones of his time spent in Newcastle and reminiscing on the gigs he played on Simma’s nights at venues now long gone but there came a time when he had to leave to go back to his roots in Stafford which leads us to Time To Stay.

Dan is a natural storyteller and isn’t this what folk music is about? We have stories about his travels, as a musician to a hermit in Nova Scotia but most notably for me is Never Forget My Name, a cover of a band called Plumhall that he discovered playing a festival and powerfully performed by Dan. Another is Song Always Stays, which came about form his charity work with Live Music Now and is about Glen Mason, a former singer and actor who he met in a nursing home and as time went on Glen came to remember some of his own songs and Dan sings a powerful line to reflect that with, “I don’t know when I got here, It may have been a week ago or it may have been some years…but the song always stays.”

The night is not all doom and gloom as we have stories of him being noticed as a James Blunt look-alike, with one audience member saying that is why he seems to be at the wrong gig, to a roomful of laughter. There is the heart-warming story of how he came to play the banjo to the confusing acceptance of his parents to finding a music teacher specializing in banjo playing and tonight we even have Dan’s Year 6 music teacher in the audience. In the set there is also a song titled USA, which is about his dream of playing over in America and the confusing visa’s of trying to do so. In keeping with the happy mood and after an encore there is another cover song, with a nod to one of Dan’s biggest musical influences, which also influenced to the title of his latest release, ‘Incidents and Accidents.’ This also has a few audience members singing along with Paul Simon’s, ‘You Can Call Me Al.’
But seriously do not call him Al and do not confuse him with James Blunt as Dan Walsh, a master of the banjo (and also the guitar) is a true musician in his own right and will welcome you into the folk world of music if you are not already there.

Courtesy Victoria Ling aka L’il Vik


Luke Whittemore – Northern Town (EP)


Luke Whittemore
Northern Town (EP)
gold ship records

Earnest and Passionate Americana From the English Heartlands.

We reviewed the opening and title track, (Nothing Beyond This) Northern Town late last year and screamed our praise from the highest rooftops; so it was with great anticipation that I placed the disc into the car stereo.
That song still sounds as powerful today as it did then; and the message; if anything has become even more poignant as the months have gone by. The tale will or should resonate around the working class areas of Europe and North America as every time a factory or shop closes another piece of our collective Soul dies; and young Mr. Whittemore expresses those feelings very eloquently ‘ain’t nothing wrong with a fire in your heart/it’s your unsatisfied mind that holds the key’.
The next track; If It Weren’t For the Rain is a quality piece of ‘Road Weary’ Americana with a neat mandolin (?) solo in the middle while Luke’s expressive voice goes straight for the heartstrings.
Lonesome Level Crossing has a sweet melancholy ‘swing’ to it and Whittemore’s way with descriptive words are as clever as anything I’ve heard out of Nashville or Austin in the last year.
Have Mercy is/was the B-Side of that original single; and now that I listen to it again it sounds a lot less Dylanesque and a lot more Dom Williams; and that’s meant as a compliment.
As this is an EP there are only 6 songs here; and each one is certainly worth its place here; with the bitter-sweet So Far Apart yet again tugging at the heartstrings as Whittemore sounds on the edge of tears as the words filter out of the speakers; while the closing track Cold On The Hills conjures up images of wooden shacks on the wind swept prairie and the abject loneliness of star-crossed lovers.
Yet again some of the finest Americana music you will hear this year doesn’t come from America….but England; and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Released June 10th 2016

Susanna Rose – Snowbound

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Susanna Rose

Beautifully Crafted Sad and Brittle Modern Folk Songs.

Susanna Rose is actually from Rochester in New York State and wrote her first song in London, England, but if I didn’t know any better I would have guessed she was a key part of the burgeoning Canadian music scene; such is the haunting quality of this; her second album.
The mood is set from the beginning of opening track Working Girl; when Susanna virtually sighs her way through the story of a young woman doing ‘the right thing’ by getting an office job that wears away at her soul and leaves her exhausted; both physically and mentally.
Rose’s deceptively complex ‘rolling’ guitar work that interplays with Gabe Schliffer’s moving violin make for a very atmospheric opening.
I guess if one song was to some up the album, it would be the title track Snowbound which was written, alongside all the other songs during the long, cold winter of 2015. Susanna’s voice still sounds tired but with a warmth that comes from deep inside the heart; as she pours her heart out over a backing that builds and builds until…..well you will have to listen for yourself.
Susanna Rose has a canny way with words and her guitar; which is why songs like Lullaby and Benediction make this album stand out like a bright red poppy in a very crowded field.
If you listen carefully there are two very brave songs here.
Ancient History deals with the intimacy and heartbreak you get in families; but very few people can put into words; and the other is my favourite song here, and one that both made me smile and actually brought a tear to my eye when I listened on headphones.
“The marriage of the man I used to love/of the man I used to love” opens Old Broken Heart and while you will know what’s coming; but Susanna’s totally open hearted story of an affair with a married man will tear at your heartstrings and have you mentally shouting….”Run, Susanna….Run…leave him.” But life and emotions aren’t that simple, as she sadly explains in line after line.
For what it’s worth this is a really, really good album with that one totally outstanding song that deserves not only to be heard, but to win Awards when that time of year comes around.

Released North America January 2016

Released UK & Europe May 1st 2016

Rod Melancon – LA14

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Rod Melancon
Blue Elan Records

Friday Night Small-town, Blue Collar Alt. Country.

This has been sitting in my ‘to do’ box for quite a few weeks; and last week I received a second copy as there is about to be a UK release too; so, as I likes it… goes!
With the help of former guitarist with Dwight Yoakam, Brian Whelan producing, this is Rod Melancon’s third foray out into the big bad world;following two full-length albums – ‘My Family Name’ (2012) and ‘Parish Lines’ (2014). If opening track, the fist pumping, dark and heartfelt Perry is anything to go by, he has a huge future ahead of him.
The song is draped around some very punchy drumming and Melancon’s gruff voice won me over after less than a minute.
With only 5 songs here; I can discuss each one in all its glory; so track #2, the Bromance Dwayne and Me dives deep into Steve Earle territory with its evocative tale and powerful imagery conjuring up images of swamp lands of South Louisiana where Melancon grew up.
I will deftly squeeze past track #3 and tell you about Lights of Carencro; a real left-fielder of an Alt. Country song; with Melancon using a distorted mic to deliver a ‘talking Blues’ not akin to a CB Radio; filling the backing with crazily fuzzy guitars, dark bass and deceivingly thumping drums to combine to make a scary and great track. Honestly. Think Jim White, fronting the Scorchers and you will get my meaning.
Then; just as you are recovering from that onslaught Melancon shows his sensitive side on the beautiful love story, By Her Side which closes the EP.
Remember track #3 which I missed; well….everything you need to know about this rollicking song that rips the Alt. Out of Country is in the title A Man Like Me Shouldn’t On a Gun! A great story and some smokin’ hot fiddle playing make for the stand out track; bar none on a cracking sampler of Melancon’s work.
There are a million comparisons I can make…..but won’t. Rod Melancon has the talent to be a big star in our small pond; you heard it here first!

UK & Europe Release June 17th 2016
USA Release May 9th 2016

Eric Clapton – I Still Do

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Eric Clapton
I Still Do
Bushbranch Records/Surfdog Records

Slowhand Rides Again Along The Blues Highway.

Eric Clapton eh? WOW; he’s been a mighty big part of my musical journey over the last 45 years. Without playing ‘Top Trumps’ I guess the first time I heard him play would be around 1971/2 when I started ‘borrowing’ my brothers ‘grown up’ LP’s aged about 13; and Goodbye Cream was definitely one of the first I played and enjoyed.
Subsequently 5 Live Yardbirds is my favourite Live album of all time; and Layla the only Double LP worthy of two discs; plus when 461 Ocean Boulevard came out; I nearly wore my copy out, it got played that much.
But that was all a very long time ago; and a lot of things have changed for both of us; and his last 10 (or more) albums have been received with less than flattering praise, so I approached this with caution last week.
The title of the opening track Alabama Woman Blues intrigued me; and yeehaw….this dirty Country Blues, with enough slide guitar to scare to an alligator is rather damn fine, so I settled back and let the Maestro entertain me for the next couple of hours.
Can’t Let You Do It, which follows slip, slides seamlessly back into JJ Cale territory; with some neat guitar interplay for the first minute or so; then Eric purrs the words to a bittersweet love story as only he (and JJ Cale) can do.
OK; there’s no surprise Hip-Hop or Grime tracks here; why should there be and who would want them anyway, apart from Hipster London critics; this is Eric Clapton for Gods Sake and there are more than enough songs like Catch The Blues and the slow-handed Bluesy drawl of Little Man You’ve Had a Busy Day; to satisfy existing Clapton and Blues Music fans from dawn to dusk.
Eric sort of pours his heart out to the critics and fans alike on the smouldering Spiral; with the opening lines ‘You Don’t know how much this means/to have this music in me/I just keep playing these Blues.’ Damn Right Eric’s still got the Blues!
While most songs are self-penned (and he can still write a good song) there are a couple of covers here; of which I love this slightly Cajun inspired version of Dylan’s I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine; with it’s Accordion and keyboard thread complimenting some lovely soft guitar work.
While never breaking sweat, Clapton and friends take us back to our collective youth on the slow and heavy Cypress Grove (Skip James) which could easily be an out-take from some long lost Cream sessions; truly it’s that good….and cool.
But; for me the stand out track here; and one worthy of any future Clapton retrospective is the awesome I Will Be There, which is pure Classic Clapton; but who is Angelo Mysterioso on acoustic guitar and vocals? Surely not? It can’t be, can it? No….
Re-united with the legendary producer Glyn Johns for what is Clapton’s 23rd studio album, the old guitar-slinger can still show the new kids on the block how it’s done!

Released May 20th 2016

Ian McNabb – Respectfully Yours

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Ian McNabb
Respectfully Yours
Fairtrade FAIR CD14

Our Favourite Liverpudlian Delves Through His Record Collection.

Why oh why; isn’t Ian McNabb NOT a world renowned Star filling auditoriums the size of football pitches?
Well; sadly he isn’t but I will stop at nothing to promote his work until that day comes.
Following many requests over the years, Ian has finally created an album of cover versions; some were influential and others just songs that he loves.
Existing fans will know he has eclectic taste and will always throw a curve ball in concert; singing songs you’d never expect and also cliches that just happen to fit into that night’s body of work.
While I know and own 9 of the 10 songs here; there are surprises around every corner; none more so than the opening track Changes. The Bowie song? Of course not; Ian does a beautiful acoustic version of a Black Sabbath song! Honestly! Just like the night I watched Nirvana on the fledgling MTV Unplugged show; I never knew Ozzy and gang could actually write songs quite like this; and McNabb’s rendition is actually mind blowing.
The inclusion of a Neil Young song was always going to be obligatory; but which one? Neatly he follows that Black Sabbath song with a sensitive reading of Pocahontas; so much so I had a tear in my eye as it builds to a fantastic finish.
The accompanying booklet sets the scene for each song; and as we are ‘of a certain age’ his memory of seeing Randy Newman on OGWT then discussing it at school the following day the, rushing out to but the album on Saturday just as I and countless others did; brought back so many memories. The song is quite wonderful and Ian’s occasional rumbling and stinging guitar solos are just perfect too.
McNabb’s cheeky side comes through with the inclusion of friend/nemesis Ian McCulloch’s Echo and the Bunnymen’s Killing Moon; and again the words ‘sensitive’ and ‘beautiful’ spring to mind. Who cares what the other Scouse Mac may think; this version is gorgeous.
While the album is full of surprises; one song didn’t surprise me at all; but confirmed what a great singer and piano player McNabb can be when he puts his mind to it. Somehow he finds a whole new angle on Scott Walker’s Montague Terrace (In Blue) and harks at a new direction that could be a real ‘money spinner’ should he desire such a task.
Just like Bowie’s Pin Ups many moons ago; Ian puts his own spin on just about every song here; and who knew The Crystal Ship and the Stone’s Memory Motel could become late night ‘torch songs’ but they can; and indeed are, here.
The Rocking Magpie’s favourite; phew…not easy at all; probably the rocking and rolling Time Ain’t Nothing originally by house favourites Green on Red should be #1; but for the sheer chutzpah of recording Life on Mars the week the Grand Dame died; gives it the accolade.
To some degree the out-and-out quality of this album disappoints me somewhat; as Ian McNabb is probably my favourite songwriter of the last 30 years. I’m not saying he’s the best….just my favourite; but Respectfully Yours is by far his best album since The Gentleman Adventurer in 2002; and I urge you to buy it and check out his amazing back catalogue (solo and The Icicle Works.

PS This is only available from his own website in Disc form….no downloads and NO Free streaming. Support THE Artist.

You are welcome.

Released May 27th 2016


Charlie Faye and the Fayettes – self-titled CD

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Charlie Faye and the Fayettes


Hey, hey, hey This Is The Sound Of Summer 2016!

It’s only when I listen to the very occasional album like this I realise that my musical world normally takes itself far too seriously and usually wallows in abject miserabilism.
So; for the last few weeks this debut (?) album by Charlie Faye and the Fayettes has been like an in-between sorbet; delightfully masking the woes of the world around me.
Let’s start with the Album cover, a photo of three pretty girls; because if you or I were in a record shop (remember them?) I’m pretty sure the chic artwork would attract our attention and make us want to hear the contents.
Then when the snare drum intro to first track Green Light bounces out of the speakers; ears will prick then Charlie’s super-sweet voice and the catchy melody will instantly have your toes tapping and your lips smiling.
By track #5; the delicious ballad Heart you will most certainly be Googling the cost of a soft top car; to listen to this album in all it’s sunshiny glory.
Charlie and her Fayettes (Akina Adderley and the Rocking Magpie favourite BettySoo) wear their influences very proudly on their sleeves; from the Shirelles and Ronnettes through Dusty Springfleld; and they may not know it but also the Bangles and a handful of British girl groups from the 80’s on labels like Stiff but more importantly Londoner, Joe Meek’s legendary recordings in the 1960’s.
While sounding intentionally lightweight and frothy, some of the songs here are a lot deeper than you’d imagine; get a listen to Coming Round The Bend and Delayed Reaction to hear great songwriting in the guise of 3 minute Pop Songs.
If I have to point you to a stand out track as a taster; you won’t go far wrong with the bittersweet See You Again; or my personal favourite Sweet Little Messages which is just swoontastic.
Personally I think all my regular readers will love hearing these songs if they were to come on the radio (which they won’t) but if I’m correct I think this album will sneak into hipster coffee shops as an ultra-coll soundtrack; or those bar that sell craft beer to men with tattoos and beards and ladies in gingham dresses that want to look like Jackie Onassis.

Released June 10th 2016