Friday 27 January 2012

Bridie Jackson and The Arbour: Three Tracks

Having already featured Bridie Jackson and The Arbour several times before, (most recently when they played a magnificent show at The Sage), readers should be well aware of my high opinion of their extraordinary music.
Bridie Jackson...
...and The Arbour, entertaining a sold-out Sage
Good news! You lucky people can now listen to three songs right here on this page, by simply clicking in the right place below. Please be aware that this is serious music and not background pop, so repeated listenings will be rewarded by greater understanding and appreciation.

Don't forget to visit Bridie's official website for the latest news and tour dates.

Wednesday 25 January 2012

Chess Reviews: 194

Me & Bobby Fischer
A film by Fridrik Gudmundsson

When Bobby Fischer Against the World was released at the cinema in 2011, it reignited discussions regarding the controversies and bittersweet memories of the eccentric World Champion. Even to long-term Fischer watchers, the film had so much of interest it was impossible to ignore.

Yet there was already another Fischer documentary available, standing in the shadows. The range of Me & Bobby Fischer is somewhat limited in comparison to the more famous of the two films. The bulk of it focuses on the extraordinary efforts of Saemi Palsson (Fischer’s bodyguard during the 1972 match) and the RJF Association to rescue Fischer from his spell of captivity in a Japanese police cell and his very uncertain future and his subsequent life – and endgame - in Iceland.

There’s historical footage of the 1972 Reykjavik match, which is concentrated at the start of the film. Some of it was new to me. Some of it is typical Fischer. After being presented with his gold medal by FIDE President Max Euwe at the official ceremony, Fischer eagerly takes it from its box to examine it. Clearly disappointed and confused, he cuts across Euwe’s presentation by asking, ‘Where’s my name? It should have my name, you know?’ Euwe rescues the difficult moment with a little joke. ‘We didn’t know it!’ Fischer smiles but still looks confused as he stands and waits for the orchestra to finish playing the American national anthem.

We then see some extraordinary footage of Saemi Palsson - a.k.a Saemi Rock – giving a virtuoso performance of dancing to rock music (before the 1972 match). It is quite extraordinary to see such a big man dancing so well!

The film's style of presentation is very different from the very user-friendly, fully narrated Bobby Fischer Against the World. Me & Bobby Fischer adopts a much more fly on the wall approach, putting the viewer directly into the story. Occasional explanatory captions appear on the screen, but the film expects a lot from the viewer, certainly in terms of pre-knowledge of the Fischer story.

There’s footage of meetings, phone calls and travelling around Japan as numerous people do their best to free Fischer from his incarceration. At times, things look desperate but then the feeling of positivity steadily grows as it seems that the red tape is finally being cut. Optimism sores. Maybe Fischer will even play for Iceland in the Olympiads…?

And then suddenly, half way through the film, the waiting is over and Fischer appears. His heavy beard and tramp-like appearance creates a shocking impression, even now, when it should no longer be such a surprise.

Whisked away from plane to car, we see a Fischer who should be exhausted but instead talks through the night drive with a tired yet very tolerant Palsson. The conversation switches from Fischer’s tales of his arrest to more relaxed matters, such as Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack. Fischer even sings some Dean Martin songs, followed by some Elvis Presley. He seems to be relaxing, but his customary controversy is never far beneath the surface and anti-Semitic comments bubble over at regular intervals.

Life with Fischer in Iceland wasn't quite as the rescue team expected it to be. There are scenes of an obsessed Fischer ranting about the same old fascinations as he does outwardly normal things, such as taking a stroll through the streets and eating a meal in a cafe. He comes across as a man who never switches off, making him virtually impossible to get to know and, frankly, embarrassing company.

When Fischer talks, he doesn’t like interruptions. He states everything as solid fact and is very dismissive of other viewpoints. He doesn’t like debating and claims that those who do have been to college to learn ‘how to superficially win an argument’ using nothing but ‘…debating society tricks.’ If anyone tries to side track him, he will throw in a few impatient and token responses of ‘yeah, yeah…yeah’ before seizing the earliest opportunity to return to his favourite topics: atom bombs, Jews and prearranged games.

He does occasionally talk about chess. He rather surprisingly agrees to be interviewed on the plane to Iceland and one question asks directly about whether or not he has any regrets about not defending his title in 1975. It’s a clash of perspectives. Fischer is adamant that the problem was that Karpov refused to play him, despite setting the challenger ‘…absolutely fair conditions; ridiculously fair conditions.’ Anything else, he says, is ‘all lies.’ 

He justifies his conditions by comparing them with the 1927 Capablanca v Alekhine match. Alekhine had to win by at least 6-4 to take the title; 5-5 would have left the Cuban on the chess throne. Fischer points out that under his proposed match rules, any challenger would have to lose nine times before his title dream was extinguished, making it much fairer than the 1927 match which ‘…nobody complained about.’ (In fact the tough conditions imposed on Alekhine did have an effect on the future of the World Championship and definitely contributed to the lack of a rematch for Capablanca.)

Fischer tolerates no further discussion on that part of his life and is eager – as ever – to return to the safety of his specialised subjects. ‘Let’s get back to this prearrangement, OK?’ It leads to the familiar rant against Karpov and Kasparov and how they supposedly prearranged all of their match games. Fischer claims that it’s now the top priority in modern chess. His list of the three most important things looks like this:

1) Prearrangement

2) Memorisation

3) Creativity

‘Anyone can analyse my voice and see I’m telling the truth’.
And if the truth was acknowledged, ‘…you’d understand what a rotten game chess is’. 

Given his (in)famous earlier connections with religion, an interviewer  asks him: 'Is there a God somewhere?' He is quick to respond: 'I’m not into religion at all right now, no. I think all the Holy books are bunk.'

The DVD extras are well worth watching. Running at 125 minutes, they offer extended cuts of the feature material. It sheds even more light on Fischer’s state of mind and how far his paranoia reached. He even brings Michael Jackson (‘I think he’s a very nice person’) into the story, claiming he was victimised due to a supposed Jewish reference in a song, which led directly to the child molestation charges as a form of punishment. The plastic surgery wasn’t Jackson’s fault either, according to Fischer, because as Jackson was ‘…mentally and emotionally ill’ then ‘…doctors had no right to do this to him.’ Ironically, of course, Fischer’s refusal to allow doctors to treat him contributed to his own very painful death.

It's a tragic story, of course. This film will appeal to all Fischer fans, but the general viewing public will find it heavier going. At times, it comes across as a rough cut, awaiting the editing stage. However, I found it to be a fascinating account of a very strange period of Fischer's life and which holds the attention even on repeated viewings.

More information - including ordering details - can be found on the official website.

Sunday 22 January 2012

The Sara Dennis Interview: Part 3

The Sara Dennis Interview:  Part 3

Following on from part 1 and the recently published part 2 of our major interview with Folk singer/writer Sara Dennis, I am delighted to present part 3, in which Sara talks about her musical beginnings, her writing and return to music.

Photo © Gary Mockler

Let’s go back a bit further now. How old were you when you first became interested in music?

I can’t put an age on it because it’s always been there. My father and Grandfather were musicians and they were also music teachers, so for as long as I can remember music has been in my life. As a family, it’s just something that we all did. So my first influence was definitely my Grandfather – Billy. He made music accessible to me and made me want to do it; he was so encouraging.

Apparently, as a child, you used to go to festivals in Saltburn to sing…

…and play piano, yes.

Was that a duet with Billy?

No, it was me solo, really. He used to come with me and encourage me. I started learning to play the piano when I was six. When I was five, my Grandfather said to me, ‘Choose an instrument!’ I loved his piano and I was always playing on it. I fell in love with it – it’s mine now. So I said I’d like to play the piano and I had private lessons from the age of six and he would help me with my theory and I did my grades on the piano.

When I got to eight he said, ‘Look, you need to choose a secondary instrument. It won’t ever be the same as the piano, but you need a second instrument. Pick something different’. I’d say ‘another string to your bow’, but that’s daft, isn’t it! I picked the cello and I did that for about four years. He was a music teacher and he went to all the different schools in the area and he started the Eston Campus band as well, which my Dad took over. I think it’s called The Band of ’78 now, or something like that. 

Every time I went to his house he had something new for me. One day I’d walk in and there’d be a tuba. ‘We’re going to play the tuba this weekend, Sara!’ so we’d be out in the garage playing the tuba and then the next there’d be a trumpet, or a clarinet, or an oboe…by the end of the weekend he’d always have me playing something else. So my family were into music in a very big way.

What can you still play now? I know you can still play the piano, but how about the cello?

I can get a tune out of it. That’s the ethos I’ve got now – pick something up and I can get a tune out of it, because that’s the way I was brought up by him. ‘Don’t be scared of anything – just play it, and get a tune out of it!’ He used to say, ‘If you can play the piano, you can play anything’. But I had a break from it and didn’t do music for about 20 years.

How do you write your own songs? What comes first – the music, the lyrics, or does it change from song to song?

For me…it was always the words first. Then I’d go to the piano and I just try playing some chords to go with the words, or fit in with the rhythm of the poem. I think they all start off as poems, really.

We can talk about your poems now. There’s a selection on your website, mainly from the era 2009-2010. You must have a large number of earlier poems.

I do, yes. Some of them aren’t very good and some of them are OK.

Are you planning to add more of them to your website?

I’d like to, yes. I’d like to get a collection published but I’m not quite sure if they will fit in with what’s wanted today. My style is more embedded in Keats and Dickinson, the romantic poets and all the other 19th Century poets as well. When I’ve sent them off to places they say, ‘Oh, you’ve used too many archaic words’, but I just enjoy that type of poetry. Maybe that style will come back one day – who knows?

You could start the style off again! It’s best to set trends rather than to follow them.

Exactly, yes. Everything usually comes back around in a circle anyway, doesn’t it?

‘Unfurling’ is an interesting poem because sometimes I’ll just wake up with an idea in my head and I woke up and just wrote it straight down and that was it. With some poems I’ll pore over for months and months…

…one word at a time!...

…yes! And I’ll edit it and craft it, but that one just flew out of the pencil when I woke up. That’s why I called it ‘Unfurling’ because it really did just unfurl as I woke up.

I think ‘Unfurling’ is my second favourite, just behind ‘Redcar Scars’. Actually, it’s difficult to say ‘favourite’ in some ways when it comes to poetry. Often they are very deep and sometimes about not very nice things, so the word ‘favourite’ doesn’t really seem to suit.

Was there a particular moment which inspired you to return to music after so many years away?

I met Daniel Pettitt, a local folk musician in February 2010 when I was planning the Middlesbrough Literary Festival, he introduced me to the Saltburn Folk Club where I met Andy Broderick and many other local musicians. I started reading poerty there and Andy bropderick asked if I could sing. I said I could but hadn’t sang in public since school. I gave it a go, people enjoyed it and I fell in love with musical performance again. It was just like going full circle back to doing what I always wanted to do.

Are you a happy person?

Very happy. VERY happy now, yes. I’ve got such fantastic friends and a great life. I’m very lucky; I enjoy what I do for a living and what I do at a semi professional level. I’ve cut my hours down so one day a week I can concentrate on my writing, my music and things like that.

Following the successful launch of ‘Time and Tide’ and your new website, what are your future plans?

So far I’ve got some new songs that I’ve been writing. There’s about five that I’d like to do for the next project, so I’m on the ball with that. There’s going to be a bit of a change because I want to do more of my own thing. I’m working on some traditional songs. There’s a version of Scarborough Fair which will be interesting and I found a lovely traditional song called ‘The Blacksmith’; it’s beautiful. There’s a link with that to Nordic mythology which I found and I like the story element of that. There’s a song called ‘Frozen Charlotte’ which is based on a poem; the poem was based on a newspaper article.

It was in 1840 and a young girl had gone to the ball but she’d refused to wear a coat because she didn’t want to spoil her dress and one the way to the ball she froze to death because it was one of the coldest winters that year. So I’ve written a song about that. It’s kind of interesting now that I’m a little bit older; I see young girls and I think, ‘Where’s your coat!?’ and it made me laugh that this happened in the 19th century and it still happens now. Nobody ever learns!

I’ve written a song which is very much on a traditional folk style about a young girl who…what I find with folk music is it always seems to be young girls who are portrayed as quite stupid and are lured by gentlemen who take them off and they end up dying. So I thought it would be interesting if we had a girl lure a young, naïve boy off to his death instead. So that’s one of the songs – I tried to shake the idea up a little bit.

That would be shocking, 200 years ago. Which is why their songs were all the other way around.

That’s true, yes. This one is quite a ghostly one. So all of the new songs are going to be about people and done in a traditional style. There’s one about my Great Grandmother, called Mary Ellen, who was from Ireland. She came over here to work and she married a German who was never naturalised and he was interned in the First World War and went to the Isle of Man to the internment camp and never came back. She remarried – to a Lithuanian! It represents Middlesbrough at the time for me. Everyone came here for the industry and the work and the iron ore mines and the steel works and everything. She had a shop that apparently sold everything from tin baths to eggs and ham and all that type of thing. She could sell anything to anybody! She was a prevalent figure in South Bank at the time. She used to play all these Irish folk tunes on the melodion, so I’ve written this song about her and the people who lived at that time and tried to bond through music. I’m working on a song about the Eston iron ore mines as well.

You’re extremely productive, aren’t you? All of this material pores out of you.

It’s like it’s all been stuck and is now finally coming out, just like a cork has been released from a bottle. I’ve got work as well course, but luckily my job is quite creative.

It helps doing a job you love, of course.

Yes. And I get to meet interesting people. It’s a lovely job.

What about the projected release date for your next CD?

I want to take more time with this one, so I would say about the middle of the year – June or July. Oh – not June, because that’s when we have the Literary Festival…

Well, you could time it to coincide with the festival, so you could launch your CD there. You will be on all of the brochures! 

Image © Sara Dennis

Time and Tide is a kind of statement of where I am now and I think all of the songs on it reflect something I’ve just come out of and been through.

...and what a statement it was; full of promise and hope, with one eye on the future and the other glancing backwards to the disappearing past. How has Sara's music and career developed since the interview was recorded? We'll found out soon, as a full update is currently in the planning stages...

Meanwhile, keep an eye on our special event page for news of a very special live appearance!

Wednesday 18 January 2012

More Mongoose


Mongoose Newsletter No.7 is now available for your perusal.

Don't miss the new Mongoose Contest. As usual, a book prize awaits the winner and this time it's this one...


Tuesday 17 January 2012

The Sara Dennis Interview: Part 2

The Sara Dennis Interview:  Part 2

Photo © Gary Mockler

Some time ago, we presented the first part of a major interview with singer/songwriter Sara Dennis. A second part was promised, covering Sara's influences, but it took a little longer than originally planned.

As Sara will be performing at our forthcoming musical evening, it seemed a good time to resurrect the interview. There will be a part three too and it will follow very soon. Then there will be a brand new interview to bring Sara's story up to date.

I’d like to talk a little bit about your influences now. You’ve name-checked a couple already: Nick Drake, Natalie Merchant. I’ve got a list here which I found on your website which I’d like to talk about, one at a time. Let's start with Paul Weller…why does his work strike a chord with you?

I’ve liked Paul Weller for a long time; since I was seven or eight. That was back in his Jam days. My cousin was a mod and a big Jam fan, so I heard it through him. I had all the Mod gear and things – a little Mod! I just loved his music. I followed him when he went into The Style Council and when he went into his solo career. 

I met him once. In 1991 I was working in Lloyds drugstore. I had a Saturday job there. One day this guy walked in and I thought, I don’t believe it – it’s Paul Weller! He came walking down with a toothbrush. I asked him: ‘Are you Paul Weller?’ and he said, ‘Yes! Did you come to the show last night?’ and I didn’t even know it was on. He said, ‘Oh - it was great!’ He was lovely. I asked him for his autograph and he said, ‘Of course!’ He waited while my friend got a pen. His Dad was there, and he was quite important in his career and he was talking to me too. Paul Weller said, ‘What’s your name?’ and I said ‘Sara – with no ‘h’ ’ and he looked at me and said, ‘Weird!’ That was a great day. 

I’ve seen him a few times and whenever you go and see him it’s kind of like he’s playing in your living room; it’s all chilled and laid back. There’s no pomp and ceremony. He’s such a nice guy.

Which era of his work do you prefer?

I loved the stuff he did with the Jam. He was very much ahead of his time – very talented. 'Down in the Tube Station at Midnight''English Rose' is a beautiful song…I love loads of stuff that he did in that time. And then his solo stuff he did a while ago, like 'Stanley Road', that was really excellent stuff. He still does good stuff now but I think I prefer the stuff from the early 1990s really but every now and then he’ll bring out a gem.

Jeff Buckley…

He was just a genius, who again wasn’t that famous at the time. He only made one album and then sadly he died. His voice can just bring you to tears and I think he’s quite underrated as guitarist as well. But in terms of song writing, with a song like 'Grace', it’s just a stunning song.

How did you discover his music?

I can’t remember…I don’t think I discovered it until after he died, actually. Probably in the late 1990s. I came across ‘Grace’ and I loved it. There’s no other song in the world like 'Grace' – it’s such an unusual song. It’s an amazing falsetto voice and there’s no words to describe his range, it’s just amazing. He can sing quite ‘rocky’ songs and then he can sing beautiful, tear-jerking songs. One of my favourite live albums is 'Live at Sin-é'. He used to play in a small Irish club in New York and he’d literally just go there with his guitar and just set up and play in the café bar. They recorded him one evening. There’s so many great songs on there – covers of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen songs and it’s a truly moving piece of work. His Dad was famous too – Tim Buckley – but he didn’t really have a relationship with his Father and his songs reflect that. There’s quite a lot of angst in some of them.

You like sad songs, don’t you?

Yes – I’m a misery guts!

Michael Stipe is next on the list.

Oh, yes! We’re getting higher up the list now. REM are one of my favourite bands. I’ve been a fan of them for 20 years. I love the songwriting, his style, their music…everything about them, really. He’s an influence on me because I love his singing style. I came across them just before they became really famous in the UK. I used to get the NME when I was at school and I was reading about this interesting band in America called REM and that got my interest going. Then I heard some of their music and obviously the broke big in the very early 1990s. I became a big fan, collected bootlegs…I’m still a big fan now. I didn’t get to see them though until 2003, which was a big occasion for me.

Was that the only time you saw them?

So far, yes.

So they’ve never been in to buy a toothbrush?

No – if Michael Stipe came in I wouldn’t know what to do!

Maybe one day you will sing a duet with him…?


Natalie Merchant.

I came across her in the 1990s, from when she was in the 10,000 Maniacs. But when I heard 'Tigerlilly' I thought she’s just amazing. I remember when I heard it I thought, if I was a singer, that’s the style I’d want to emulate. She’s not famous in this country, is she? She’s such a great songwriter and she’s got an amazing voice.

I agree with everything you say. There’s an enormous quality about her and some of her songs really get the emotions going; they seem very personal to the listener. It was an amazing concert she did at The Sage…

I couldn’t believe it! When she came on started doing that…it couldn’t have been more perfect for me: 19th Century poetry and Natalie Merchant – it’s just too good for words! That’s the first time I’d seen her as well. I was really pleased with the response from the audience. They all seemed to enjoy it. It’s funny isn’t it, when you to a gig and everyone in the room has heard of her and knows her work - it’s just such a lovely feeling, isn’t it, when you’re with people who know the work of someone who is maybe not as famous in the mainstream. I loved the way she was just so laid back and said, ‘Right, what would you like?’ She was just so professional that anyone could say, ‘Oh, do ‘Wonder’’ or something and she would just do it. To have rehearsed all of the songs just in case somebody asked was just fantastic.

Natalie Merchant at The Sage

It was remarkable. I can’t imagine anyone else getting away with what she did, coming out and giving a history lesson before each song. It’s hard to imagine any other artist doing that and risking losing the audience.

No, absolutely. I’ve got some gigs coming up and I’ve been researching all of the songs and I’m going to talk a bit about them. Not for as long as Natalie Merchant did! Just a little bit about each song, where it come from and the story behind it. I’d quite like to do that.

Sara and I were both at the concert, quite coincidentally

I think it’s a fascinating approach. We’ve seen that it works, so why not? How many Natalie Merchant songs are in your repertoire?

I do a cover of ‘Wonder’ which is a beautiful song and quite a few off ‘The House Carpenter’s Daughter’ which aren’t her songs, admittedly, but it’s where I heard them first. And ‘The Letter’.

I think the song ‘Tell Yourself’ is one of my favourites of hers. Have you ever considered doing that one?

I can’t remember that one…which album is that off?


I haven’t got 'Motherland'.

Haven’t you?

No, I need to get Motherland. I must pick it up. But somebody said to me once – and I totally understand it – it was something about Shakespeare we were talking about and they said, ‘Don’t read everything at the same time, because he’s obviously not going to write any more. Take your time reading them’. And I love discovering things, so I’ll purposely not read something so I can spread things out.

It’s an excellent idea, but there’s a slight problem that we are not here forever either.

Well that’s true, yes.

So you might miss out in something.

True! But people have said to me – with books as well – ‘I’m just reading so-and-so for the first time’ and I think, oh, I envy you so much! You are reading that for the first time!

Top of your list: Eddie Vedder.

He’s my musical hero. He’s an amazing songwriter and again, I’ve found not so well known in this country, I don’t think. In America here’s really famous but not so much over here. He’s just been such an influence on me because I can really relate to what he sings about. I think he’s got the most amazing voice and I like the way he handles himself; to me, I don’t think he’s ever sold out. I like the way he just seems so down to earth. Pearl Jam are my favourite band and their music just really resonates with me. He’s an icon for me as a singer.

Have you seen Eddie Vedder live, with or without Pearl Jam?

I’ve only seen them twice so far. I saw them at the Leeds Festival in 2006 and I saw them in 2009 at Manchester. They were amazing. They don’t tour the UK a lot and when they do it’s only one or two gigs.

It seems to be a running theme through the people you like – they don’t come here very often.

Oh yes – that is true, isn’t it! Or they are dead…

Yes, that is also a slight problem.

That’s a sad thing. I’ll never see Jeff Buckley play.

That’s why I think it’s very important when people do come around, to make the effort to go and see them, otherwise the chance could be gone for good. In addition to those influences, there are some non-people influences in your life. For example: the colour purple. Why purple?

I don’t know. It’s always been my favourite colour. It sounds daft but I always say that purple is an experience, not a colour. You have purple friends, I say…there’s some people I know who love purple; everything they have has to be purple. There’s just something about the colour. I think it’s quite a spiritual colour. It’s just one of those things!

The sea and surf appears to be a recurring theme in your life.

Whenever I’m sad or just need time to think I’ll go to the sea and if I’m writing I’ll sit on the beach and write to get the influence of the sea. I love the smell and the atmosphere there. I think there’s something quite special about the sea; the rhythms, the ebb and flow and the links to the moon. It’s just such an inspirational thing for me the sea. A lot of the songs on my album are linked to the sea in some way.

And your poems, which we’ll talk about a little bit later on.

I’ve written a lot about the sea; I do love the sea.

Flock wallpaper is the next influence on your list.

I love the black and white flock wallpaper. I don’t know if it’s something that reminds me of my childhood; it’s something that my Grandmother always had. I love the feel of it and I love the way it looks. I like black and white things. It might just be the pianist in me!

Black, white…and purple! Pretty notebooks…

I’m really, really terrible for stationery. I’ve got hundreds of notebooks. I like the penguin-themed ones as well.

So you have a house full of notebooks?

Yes and they’re all filled with bits of writing, poetry and all types of thoughts. Everywhere I go I have to buy a notebook.

You’ll have to hide them all in a writing desk…

…until I die, yes!

…but tell me where they are first! Do you use one notebook per job? One just for music, one for poetry…?

Yes, I do, but sometimes there’ll be a crossover; I might turn a poem into a song. So I do, yes. I’ve never thought of that before actually!

Asparagus soup?

That’s my comfort food. Asparagus cup-a-soup.

Fast cars…?

I love fast cars.

Do you drive fast cars?

I’ve got a Mazda RX-8, which is pretty speedy. It’s a very nice car.


Yes – I’ve been there twice; it’s like living in a fairy tale. The first time I went, I was 15. I went with my Grandmother. I probably wouldn’t rush to go back there; there’s other parts of I want to see.

Violets. Is that just the purple theme continued?

No, it’s just…I love the smell of violets and I love Parma violets. Oh – and violet crèmes.


I laugh all the time. I laugh when I’m happy, I laugh when I’m sad, I laugh when I’m nervous…

Why when you’re sad?

I just laugh all the time! It’s like a nervous laugh, I think. I always think my laugh will get me into trouble because I’ve got a really loud, quite raucous laugh, really.

Your piano – we’ve talked about already. We’ll talk about your Granddad again later on when we talk about your life. A few of your influences are connected, such as cards, runes and crystals. Do you live your life by the turn of a card?

Not really. I do enjoy them, just out of interest. Before I worked for the libraries I used to work for Adult Education and an interesting spin on basic skills was to do something based Tarot card reading and the origins and history of it. Numerology, which is based in maths, and runes, which used a different type of alphabet and things like that. It was all about reading, learning and listening. So I taught that for quite a while. It was mainly the history, the origins and the meaning of it; why people believed that type of thing, how people use it and how they used it in ancient times and things like that. I just like it out of interest, really.

So it’s more the historical side you are interested in rather than the mystical side?

Yes. But I do enjoy the spiritual side as well.

Fancy coffee. How fancy does it have to be?

Not that fancy!

A latte?

I like a nice, decent filter coffee or a nice, decent cappuccino and I like it with a bit of Amaretto syrup in or something.

Which of the many coffee shops in town would you recommend?

I usually just end up in Starbucks.

Red wine.

I love red wine; it’s my drink of choice. Especially a nice Merlot.

Nice people.

I think I’ve been surrounded by a lot of not-nice people in my life and as I’ve got a bit older I’m surrounded by more nice people than nasty people.

That’s a good balance to have. Are nice people hard to find or easy to find?

I used to think they were hard to find but I’ve met so many nice people over the last five or six years that I think I’d been stuck in the wrong world.

There are some recurring themes coming out of all this…

To Be Continued….

Part Three should be available in the very near future.

Meanwhile, to read more about Sara's music and writing - as well as keep an eye on her gig dates - pop along to the Sara Dennis website.

A full revue of the aforementioned Natalie Merchant concert can be found here.

Monday 16 January 2012

Bridie Jackson and The Arbour: Live at The Sage

Bridie Jackson and The Arbour
The Sage
12 January 2012

Bridie Jackson and The Arbour launched their extraordinary CD, Bitter Lullabies, in fine style at The Sage. The CD was reviewed earlier; consider this a pictorial celebration of a very memorable evening.

To sell out The Sage 2 is a remarkable achievement, but it was, without doubt, a fitting reward for the efforts Bridie and her group have put into their own unique brand of music over the years.

Two support acts added to the celebratory feel of the evening. First there was Nathalie Stern who played a very interesting set, complete with some live record and loop technique.

Nathalie Stern
The came Matt Stalker and The Fables, whom I have seen before, albeit in a smaller incarnation.

Matt Stalker and The Fables
There was a drummer to the right but I couldn't see him from where I was sitting. For the first couple of songs I thought the cymbal crashes were due to something very clever on the glockenspiel.

Then, at 9.30 p.m., Bridie Jackson emerged, resplendent in a new green dress. The audience responded brightly. There was, without doubt, a strong sense of love and support in the hall.

Bridie, experiencing a warm reception

The opening song was very well chosen. It was the slow-burning, delicate and moving We Talked Again, which I'd already picked out as one of the main highlights of Bitter Lullabies.

There followed a powerful and involving 60 minutes of Bridie Jackson and The Arbour on top form, with excellent performances all round. The set list included Aliens, Promises are Broken, and My Sister (full set list to follow).

There was the (very) occasional piece of sales talk, although it was presented with humour:

'We've done an album! It's about time, but it's here at last! And I hope you're going to buy it, because this dress did not come cheap!'

The sales looked to be going well at the merchandise stall, post-show, where a radiant Bridie happily chatted and signed for some time.
The dress!

Bridie Jackson and The Arbour in full flow
Everything is going well

Found the camera!
Sans instruments; exquisite harmonies
An Arbour trademark
Keyboards have been added to the repertoire
Flowers at the end of the main set
Petals rained down from above too

The evening represented the culmination of a sustained period of very hard work. As a focal point, it clearly revealed how powerful and unique Bridie's music is and how accomplished her performance.

What does the future hold? Great things, for sure.

Thursday 12 January 2012

Bridie Jackson and The Arbour: Album Launch

As mentioned a couple of days ago, tonight was the night which saw Bridie Jackson and The Arbour launch the new CD, Bitter Lullabies.

The Sage 2 was sold out and the launch received the support it fully deserved.

A proper review will follow soon, but here's a couple of teaser photos to be going on with.

Monday 9 January 2012

New Event Page

Please keep an eye on the new event page for all of the latest news regarding the forthcoming Rachel Lyn Harrington & The Knock Outs gig.

Support will be from Sara Dennis (photo © Gary Mockler).

Americana/Folk Evening

As already mentioned here, Rachel Lyn Harrington & The Knock Outs will be appearing at The Cleveland Bay (Yarm, Stockton-on-Tees, TS16 0JE) on Wednesday 28 March 2012, with support by Sara Dennis.

This promises to be an excellent evening and should prove to be one of the highlights of the year.

Further details about the evening will follow soon. Meanwhile, you can now buy tickets by following the link posted at the bottom of this page.

Saturday 7 January 2012

The Wiyos: Twist

Last March, I had pleasure of seeing The Wiyos live for the first time. They (perhaps slightly nervously) unveiled a number of songs from a special project they were putting together - a concept album based on The Wizard of Oz.

Back then, the title was still to be decided but 'We're Not in Kansas Anymore' was mentioned as a possibility.

The Wiyos successfully appealed for support to fund the new CD and it is to be officially released this month. The title is confirmed as Twist, which sums things up nicely. With The Wiyos, there always seems to be a twist.

The track list cements the Wizard of Oz heritage firmly into place:

Yellow Lines
Jolly Roger
Poppy Fields
Farewell Weather Bird
Scarecrow 2
Sally May
Penny Arcade
The Lion
Mother Witch
Home (The Ballad)

From the first line on the CD ('Last night my house came down on the witch') to the last ('Yeah, I wanna go home...') The Wiyos continually defy the odds and pull off a remarkable musical achievement. The Wizard of Oz is such a well known, respected piece of work that it could easily have been a messy misfire to weave an innovative set of songs around the story. Yet it succeeds - magnificently.

This is far more ambitious than merely being an attempt to create a modern day soundtrack to L. Frank Baum's eternally popular story. The Wiyos have added huge slices of their own imaginations to create something fresh and adventurous. As usual, the only predictable thing about The Wiyos is that they will always be unpredictable.

Some of the songs have the familiar Wiyos sound (Yellow Lines, Tinman) and others are much more experimental (the driven Jolly Roger, complete with unexpected mid-song organ and guitar break; Mary). There's plenty of changes in tempo over the course of the 14 songs (sometimes it changes several times per song). Just listen with an open mind and enjoy the experience. Try guessing which instrument will be heard next - it will be quite a challenge!

Standout tracks include Tinman, Sally May and The Lion, although it's such a complex piece of work that it will take some time to become fully acclimatised to the extraordinary musical journey The Wiyos have invited us to take.

Back in March 2011, The Wiyos held the Cluny audience spellbound with the small selection of new songs they debuted. Twist has been hugely anticipated ever since and I am delighted to say that it has been well worth the wait.


Michael Farkas: Vocals, harmonica, accordion, percussion

Teddy Weber: Vocals, guitar, steel guitar, cornet, alto horn

Sauerkraut Seth Travins: Double bass, bass guitar, organ

Kenny Siegal: Keyboards, vocals, guitar
Brian Getlner: Drums and percussion
Adam Matta: Vocal percussion

Further information, including the forthcoming UK tour dates, can be found on the official Wiyos website and on the relevant Brookfield Knights page.

If you have the opportunity to see them live, I urge you not to waste it. It will be one of the most entertaining and unusual gigs you'll ever see.

Summary of recent reviews:

Wednesday 4 January 2012

Bridie Jackson and the Arbour

Continuing our series of reviews, the third part of our quartet of exciting new releases focuses on an artiste already familiar to regular visitors to Marsh Towers.

Bridie Jackson and the Arbour are all set to release Bitter Lullabies, a brand new CD which is very likely to bring their music to the attention of a much wider audience while at the same time providing guaranteed satisfaction to their existing fanbase.

The suitably mysterious cover art is indicative of the contents. The music lies somewhere in the Folk world, but buried deeply within the genre and unafraid of cross-pollination into other worlds, with Gospel being an obvious example. Alt-folk, post-folk, psyche folk...? The labels aren't particularly important (are they ever, even in real life?). On playing this CD, the listener will definitely experience something new, buzzing with understated power and vitality.

Track list

We Talked Again
Bitter Lullaby
Promises are Broken
The Burden of Survival
The Woman with Milk Teeth
Please Forgive me my Human Ways
All You Love is All You Are

All bar one of the songs (Promises are Broken, by Sue Kane) were written by Bridie. The Arbour consists of seven people, excluding Bridie. Instruments include guitar, cello, mandolin, bassoon, piano, violin, glockenspiel and bell plates. An unusual ensemble - and a very effective one. Five people have 'backing vocals' on their credits too, and this aspect shouldn't be underestimated. The angelic, choral background to the majority of the tracks is a Bridie Jackson trademark, giving the songs a rich, textured background to counterpoint the obscure, challenging lyrics.

Stand out tracks include We Talked Again, Aliens and All You Love is All You Are, but there's nothing I don't like. The up-tempo Mucky hints at a potential new change of direction, or perhaps broadening of the repertoire. Either way, it would be good to hear more of the Spanish guitar-driven style.

I've been familiar with - and enjoyed - all of Bridie's work to date and I can honestly say she's never sounded better. I found it's no good as background music, as the songs demand attention and won't let go until they get it. Multi-tasking while absorbing a Bridie Jackson number is not an option. There's far too much of interest going on to tolerate distractions.

Fittingly, the CD launch will take place at The Sage (12 January). Some of it was recorded there and virtually everybody who performs at The Sage is quick to praise the wonderful acoustics, so I'm absolutely certain that it will be a night to remember. A review will follow here, naturally.

My advice is to try and snap up a ticket for the launch without delay. It was almost sold out the last time I checked, but you may be lucky.

For further information about this remarkable artiste, pop along to the official Bridie Jackson website and there are some buying options for Bitter Lullabies here.

Tuesday 3 January 2012

Hillfolk Noir

Continuing our review of some of the most interesting new music, it's time to look at Hillfolk Noir and their CD, Skinny Mammy's Revenge: The Gage Street Market Sessions.

I thought for some time about how to sum up the sound but I couldn't produce anything more pertinent than the official word:

'Filtered through a half-century of folk, country and rock 'n' roll, and fed by family history and an affinity for acoustic mountain music, medicine show culture and Depression-era string-band blues, Hillfolk Noir's latest recording is raw and real, captured ''live'' around a single mic in a series of on-location field sessions in various log cabins.'

Or, to cut a long description short, there's the single word answer the band themselves have devised: 'Junkerdash'!

Skinny Mammy's Revenge was '...recorded with one microphone to 1/4'' tape at the old Gage Street Market' and that certainly comes across in the very earthy, roots sound. It's raw and blatantly unpolished; the sort of music one can imagine being played in the backyard or on the doorstep. It's the immediacy which is appealing.

The track listing easily reveals the type of song to expect. Hope, Depression, lost opportunities, unrequited love and trains are all well to the fore.

Red Eyed Crow
Dying Bed Blues
Run, Mollie, Run
Washboard Blues
The Lord Will Come
Do It Again
Broken Record
Ragged and Dirty Blues
Choo Choo Stomp
Sail Away Ladies
The Love I Thought I'd Never Know
Before the Farm
Mr. Wilson's Lament
Charming Betsy
Jack of Diamonds
Coo Coo
Fast Train Blues
Train Comes Along

Personel-wise, there's husband and wife Travis and Ali Ward (Travis wrote all of the songs), plus Mike Waite and Jared Goodpastor.

The official division of labour reveals some unusual instruments:

Travis Ward: Resonator guitar, harmonica, singing

Alison Ward: Laundraphone, banjo, saw, singing

Mike Waite: Stand-up bass

Jared Goodpastor: Snare, tambourine, floor

It's always interesting to read the thoughts of artistes.

Travis says: 'We basically make the music for ourselves because we love it; we are having a great time and hopefully that is infectious. We sing and play our guts out - every song. We've definitely grown into what we are. Whether it's backwards or forwards, we're not real sure, but I guess we don't really care either.'

'None of it is really contemporary, but I think our attitude is,' says Ali.

'Part of the attraction also is that it's raw,' adds Waite. 'There's no pretentiousness in this kind of music, it's direct. I think people are kind of surprised that they like us, but that's rewarding.'

It's rewarding, too, to play the CD several times before judging the music. At first it's a little tricky to keep the songs settled in the mind and some of them sound similar before repeated listenings reveal the nuances and changes of mood.

For further details about Hillfolk Noir, head for their official website and this page on the Brookfield Knights site.

Monday 2 January 2012


New year, new music. Time to push the boundaries out a little further again.

This week I'll be reviewing four new CDs which may otherwise have slipped under the general radar. Hillfolk Noir, Bridie Jackson and the Arbour and The Wiyos will all fall under the spotlight over the course of the next few days, but I'll start with a look at Bard.

Named after singer/songwriter Theo Bard, the folk group has just released a three-song sampler CD ahead of the launch of their full album.

Rich in harmonies, the songs are very much in the traditional folk genre but with some surprising twists. The first of the three songs, 'Violets', starts off with a slow-building, almost simplistic combination of lyrics and structure but is suddenly elevated by the unexpected introduction of the clarinet, steering the song into a very interesting change of direction.

After a few more listens, it is definitely the combination of the clarinet and the more understated accordion, complimenting each other perfectly and adding a warm texture which consistently draws me into the songs and gives Bard a very fresh feel.

The second track, 'Beating of My Heart' starts slowly but soon explodes into action, becoming a real foot-tapper, again lifted by the clarinet(particularly the mid-song solo).

I found 'Born in London Town' to be the strongest of the fine trio of songs, with wistful lyrics, a sing-along chorus and bittersweet imagery of the capital.

Love, loss and personal history are the dominant themes across the three songs. I'm looking forward to hearing more of their material.

The full band line up is:

Theo Bard (vocals, guitar)
Ewan Bleach (clarinet, vocals)
Louisa Jones (accordion, vocals)

Nick Owen (percussion)
Jay Darwish (double bass)

The new album is all set to launch on 27 January as part of the famous Celtic Connections festival and a full tour is on the cards too. Hopefully I'll get the chance to see them live some time soon.

For further details, please pop along their official website and this page of the Brookfield Knights site.

Sunday 1 January 2012

Best of 2011

A New Year!

Time for reassessments, adjustments, plans and hopes. Worrying about the future isn't as important or as fruitful as enjoying the present moment.

Before we start the next 12 months in earnest, there's still time for a backwards glance. 2011 was a fabulous year. High on the list of magical memories are the concerts I was fortunate to be able to attend. After careful thought, I'd say these were my top 10.

Reinvention and resurgence for...

Bluegrass at its finest...

Angry old fighter...

Fun, blues and Rock 'n' Roll...

All-time great...

Angelic, ethereal folk...

Magnificent and mysterious...

Entertaining and extraordinary...

Powerful and pugnacious...

The most enjoyable of all...

What will 2012 bring? My diary is already filling up with potentially great concerts and shows. Reviews and photos will doubtless follow. Stay tuned...