The Smoke Fairies – Blood Speaks (Epic #297)

The Epic 2017 Project #297: 1701024

The Smoke Fairies – Blood Speaks (2012)

Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies (aka The Smoke Fairies) met at school in Chichester, West Sussex during the late 1990s. They spent 2002 in New Orleans, where they absorbed American blues music.When they returned to England they discovered British folk music at the Sidmouth Folk Week Festival while working as car park attendants. They later settled in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, for a year before returning to London to start performing.

In 2007, Smoke Fairies toured the UK in support of Bryan Ferry and the following year they released their debut single, “Living with Ghosts”, on Music for Heroes. Richard Hawley was an early supporter of the act, saying they were “frankly the best thing I have heard in years”. They supported Hawley on his Truelove’s Gutter Tour of the UK in October 2009.

In December 2009, Smoke Fairies became the first UK act to release a single on Jack White’s label Third Man Records. The double A-side single, “Gastown” / “River Song”, was produced by Jack White who also played guitar and drums. Smoke Fairies performed at the 2010 South by South West (SXSW) festival in Texas and supported Laura Marling on a month-long tour of the United States.

They signed to V2 Records/Cooperative Music and released their debut album Through Low Light and Trees in September 2010, latterly self-released in the United States in June 2011 via Year Seven Records. The album was produced by long-term PJ Harvey collaborator Head and recorded at Sawmills Studio in Cornwall.

To promote the album the band was invited to record a live session for Marc Riley on BBC Radio 6. And invited back for another session a few months later. The duo also recorded a live session with their band for John Kennedy’s “X-Posure” on XFM. In November 2010, Smoke Fairies’ recording of Neil Young’s “Alabama” appeared on a special Mojo album to mark the approaching fortieth anniversary of Young’s Harvest LP.

The band embarked on its first headline tour of the UK – a sell-out – in January–February 2011 and performed at several festivals that summer, including Primavera Sound in Barcelona.Before heading to the United States in June 2011 to perform at North by Northeast Festival and their own headline shows, returning again in August 2011 Jessica & Katherine toured the U.S. with Rasputina. Smoke Fairies again returned to the US in October to play support for Blitzen Trapper and Dawes making their second coast-to-coast tour of the year.

Smoke Fairies’ follow-up album, Blood Speaks, was released on 21 May 2012, again with a delayed release in the US of 23 April 2013. Produced by Head,Blood Speaks was recorded in West London’s Eastcote Studio and is inspired by London and by travelling. Here’s the title track.

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Stornoway – Bonxie (Epic #274)

The Epic 2017 Project #274: 171001

Stornoway – Bonxie (2015)

Bonxie was the third and final album from Oxford’s Stornoway, released in April 2015 on ‘Cooking Vinyl’.

Stornoway were essentially singer, lyricist, and guitarist Brian Briggs; keyboard player Jon Ouin, bassist Oli Steadman and his brother Rob Steadman on drums. Their sound incorporated an ever-changing selection of stringed instruments and keyboards, supported by a typical pop backline of guitar, drums, and bass guitar.

Briggs and Ouin met during Freshers’ week at Oxford; Briggs thought Ouin looked like a member of Teenage Fanclub, a band both of them liked that became a topic of their first conversation. Soon after, the two began playing music together. They advertised for a bass player, and Oli Steadman was the only person to respond to their advert. Oli Steadman’s younger brother Rob Steadman later auditioned for the role of drummer.

The band is named after the Scottish town of Stornoway on the Hebridean Isle of Lewis, which appears on all British televised weather reports and shipping forecasts. The band had never been to Stornoway when they decided to name themselves after the town. They played their first gig there on 9 April 2010 and also signed their contract with label 4AD, a British independent record label part of Beggars Group, there as well.

In a 2010 interview with British music blog ‘There Goes the Fear’, Brian Briggs described the band’s hunt for a name…

“We were looking for somewhere that sounded a bit distant and remote and coastal. And it was a very long process, and quite a fun process that I think every band goes through trying to get the right band name. And we had a massive list, pages and pages, and the only thing that they had in common was that they were all slightly coastal or maritime-themed. So we were looking in books about knots and, I dunno, guides to natural history of the seashore. And we tried quite a few out and they all failed, and this was the only one that stuck, and it was reinforced by the fact that if you see at the BBC weather forecast, Stornoway is up there … so we get this wonderful free promotion every time there’s a weather report.”

In October 2016 the band announced that they would be splitting up after a farewell tour during spring 2017. Primarily because Brian Briggs was off to become the head warden on a nature reserve in Wales.

Stornoway played their final show in Oxford on 12 March 2017; we were fortunate enough to see them in Brighton two days earlier on 8th March.

Robert Plant – Band of Joy (Epic 2017 #233)

The Epic 2017 Project #233: 170821

Robert Plant – Band of Joy (2010)

Robert Plant’s ninth solo album and the first with his new band, the Band of Joy, released on 13 September 2010 in the UK and 14 September in the USA.

In addition to the song “Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down”, which is the opening theme for the now-concluded Starz television series Boss, the credits of BBC 1’s Luther for an episode aired on 16 July 2013 and the season two finale of the Syfy series Defiance, the album is particularly notable for the song “Monkey”, originally of the band Low, which is slowed-down to a grinding, spooky Gothic Rock tempo and mood that is vastly different from Low’s version. It is arguably the least similar to other tracks on the album (except for Satan), which for the most part carry folk rock or progressive rock moods. This version of “Monkey” also may be the first Gothic Rock track Robert Plant has ever recorded, and although it is not a staple at Plant’s live performances, there have been instances where he has performed it.

The album debuted at No.5 on the Billboard 200 chart and at No.3 on the UK Albums Chart. The first single released from the album was “Angel Dance”. But here’s ‘House of Cards’

John Martyn – Solid Air (Epic 2017 #168)

The Epic 2017 Project #168: 170617

John Martyn – Solid Air (1973)

Solid Air was the fourth studio album from the late folk singer-songwriter John Martyn, released in February 1973 by Island Records.

The album was recorded over eight days and features instrumental contributions by bassist Danny Thompson and members of Fairport Convention.”Solid Air”, the title track, was dedicated to a friend of Martyn’s, Nick Drake, who would die of an antidepressant overdose 18 months after the album was released. Martyn said of the track

“It was done for a friend of mine, and it was done right with very clear motives, and I’m very pleased with it, for varying reasons. It has got a very simple message, but you’ll have to work that one out for yourself.”

The album features an avant-garde cover of Skip James’ “Devil Got My Woman,”here retitled “I’d Rather Be the Devil” and performed with heavy use of Martyn’s Echoplex tape delay effect.

“May You Never” became something of a signature song for Martyn, becoming a staple of his live performances. Released in November 1971 as a single in an early form, the song was re-recorded during the Solid Air sessions. Eric Clapton covered “May You Never” on his 1977 album Slowhand. When Martyn was presented with a lifetime achievement award by Phil Collins (a collaborator of Martyn’s) at the 2008 BBC Folk Awards, Clapton sent a message saying that he was “so far ahead of everything else it was inconceivable” and acknowledged the extent of his influence on “everyone who ever heard him.”Martyn and his band, including John Paul Jones on mandolin, played “May You Never” and “Over The Hill” at the Awards Ceremony.

A remastered CD was issued by Universal Records in October 2000. This CD was packaged in a card slipcase, and featured a remastered version of the original album with the addition of a live version of “I’d Rather Be The Devil”. Solid Air was given a further remastering and repackaging when a double CD reissue curated by John Hillarby was released in 2009, and which included several alternate studio and live versions.

The album cover is an example of schlieren photography demonstrating the ‘solid’ nature of air.

Lindisfarne – The Legendary Christmas Show (Epic 2017 #161)

The Epic 2017 Project #161: 170610

Lindisfarne – The Legendary Christmas Show (2014)

This is my signed copy of the limited edition recording of Lindisfarne’s 2013 Christmas show at Newcastle City Hall. Underneath the CD is a signed copy of the programme for the gig.

I had the privilege of seeing Lindisfarne live back in the day in 1978 and 1979, although sadly not in Newcastle.

However, I have the good fortune now to have a very good friend who not only knows Ray ‘Jacka’ Jackson as a personal friend, but was also asked to write both the sleeve notes for the CD and the intro to the programme.

And, although I wasn’t able to get to the 2013 Christmas show, here’s an extract from the CD sleeve notes penned by Kevin Lindoe, which sum up what it really was always all about…

In the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s the Lindisfarne Christmas shows at Newcastle City Hall became the stuff of legend in the North East of England. People came from all over the world to attend the shows and to see a band performing to capacity audiences on their home ground inside one of the most beautiful civic concert halls in the UK. The words ‘Lindisfarne’, ‘Christmas’ and ‘Show’ became synonymous with each other in an astonishing way. Almost everyone in the North East of England was aware of the shows taking place, even if they were not attending themselves. They truly became a North East cultural phenomenon and established themselves in modern folklore

There are so many Lindisfarne tracks which do admirable justice to the band and their musical prowess but ‘Fog on the Tyne’ has to be one of the best.

Jethro Tull – Songs from the wood (Epic 2017 #122)

The Epic 2017 Project #122: 170502

Jethro Tull – Songs from the wood (1977)

Songs from the Wood is the tenth studio album by British progressive rock band Jethro Tull, released February 1977. The album signalled a new direction for the band, who turned to celebrating British pagan folklore and the countryside life in a wide-ranging folk rock style which combined traditional instruments and melodies with hard rock drums and electric guitars.

The album is considered to be the first of a trio of folk rock albums: Songs from the Wood, Heavy Horses (1978) and Stormwatch (1979). On the album cover appears an extended title line: “Jethro Tull – with kitchen prose, gutter rhymes and divers – Songs from the Wood”. The title track of the album contain two of these phrases in its lyrics.

The UK music-paper adverts read: “Jethro Tull present ‘Songs From The Wood’. A new album of Old Magic. Songs From The Wood. It’s inspired by the thought that perhaps nature isn’t as gentle as we’d like to believe. And it takes as its theme the natural and supernatural inhabitants of the woodlands of old England. Warm and friendly, harsh and bitter by turns, it includes ‘Ring Out Solstice Bells’ as well as Tull’s new single ‘The Whistler’ and seven other songs. Find a quiet spot and listen to it soon.”

First Aid Kit – Drunken Trees (Epic 2017 #085)

The Epic 2017 Project #085: 170326

First Aid Kit – Drunken Trees (2008)

Drunken Trees was the debut release by Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit. It was released on 9 April 2008 in Sweden via Rabid Records, followed by a UK release via Wichita Records on 23 February 2009. The UK release features the band’s cover of Fleet Foxes’ “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” as a bonus track, in addition to videos of “Our Own Pretty Ways”, “Jagadamba, You Might” and “You’re Not Coming Home Tonight”