Skinny Lister – Live at Cambridge Folk Festival, Friday 31st July 2015

You had me at The Pogues! Our intrepid live folk lover picks up the pen to report back on six piece group Skinny Lister’s performance at the Cambridge Folk Festival.


“…….the world through the bottom of George’s glass”

Skinny Lister are that rare treat, a band you can see live repeatedly without tiring of them. This is true not least because they never seem to tire of seeing you. Whether feeding you rum from a giant flagon, or crowd surfing while playing the double bass, the Skinnies are here to entertain you.

“You must go and see them!” I tell Tony, my camping Neighbour at Cambridge Folk Festival. When he asks what they are like I hesitate, “think of The Pogues, but replace Shane McGowan with a pretty girl in a Laura Ashley dress.” Perhaps this is not entirely accurate but the comparisons are there to be made. Both bands are able to mix the undeniably raucous whilst being genuinely sensitive and lyrical. The band effortlessly shift between the machine gun delivery of Trouble on Oxford Street and the lilting Colours, a personal favourite of mine.

This contrast is best illustrated by Lorna (she of the flowery dress). When not belting out John Kanaka along with the others, she is variously dancing manically, crowd surfing – this time after borrowing Michael Camino’s double bass and flirting shamelessly with the crowd. “You look shocked” she says to a bemused folky, before promising him a change of tempo so that he’ll realise that “I’m a nice person really” a hush descends as she sings the gentle Bonny Away.

Perhaps this is their secret. They may look absolutely mad, “He’s going to have a bloody heart attack” somebody says of the free stomping Max, but there is none of the snarling disaffection of The Pogues. Sam “Mule” Brace may look like he could give you a hefty kick, but these people are your drunk best friends. That is you are lucky to have a group of brilliant folk musicians as your best friends and only then if they don’t mind you coming round all the time, drinking their rum and begging “Play Trawlerman again”

Review and live photos by Dominic Gillespie.

Skinny Lister
are still to be found at a live venue near you, whether that’s France, Germany, Reading/Leeds or a longer traipse around the US, all details to be found on their website.


Ruu Campbell – Heartsong

Mention Leftfield and the ears/eyes pick up, mention Ruu Campbell and you’ll be leafing through the seminal albums to find out which ones he appeared on (it’s a blank from me) and a website mention of Ken Thomas from Sigor Ros (wrong vowel!)…so we dragged in a guest reviewer to take this album on and it seems to have gone down well.

Ruu Campbell

Ruu Campbell may not be the most well known of artists but his music may be more familiar than we actually know. He has written the backtracks to advertisement campaigns for Vodafone and Lloyds and worked with Beth Orton and Cara Dillon amongst others. He currently writes music and songs which he shares whilst heading out on tours of Europe and the US, both as a solo artist and with the group Younger Brother. He has played all over the world – from the beaches of Brazil to the clubs of London via India (amongst many other places!) but home is where Ruu’s heart is and home is where – in a studio next to his house -this album was created.

From the first captivating notes of this album to the final notes played out on the …. this new album from singer-songwriter Ruu Campbell will resonate with listeners who enjoy the charm that those familiar with the folk genre will recognise and doubtless enjoy.

The often haunting melodies played out on the guitar, flute, cello and violin compliment Ruu’s rich and deep voice. Ruu uses his voice to beautiful effect and often relies on an acoustic performance to carry the song onward in giving each an organic and natural feel. Each track has been lovingly developed and the result is an album many will enjoy listening to.

The words of each of the 11 songs presented on this album, require the listeners full attention as each feels like a story, an emotional story needing to be told. Ruu uses the words and vocals to create, at times, an ethereal feel. The joy of the words being in the listeners own interpretation. Inspiration appears to have been drawn from Ruu’s love of the natural world and the beautiful world which exists around us. When listening one can place one self in that calming environment and leave behind the everyday problems that life holds for many. This is an album to be selfish with – take time out of your busy day, make yourself comfortable and allow yourself time to relax.

The 11 songs written for this album are easy to listen to, some might say perfect background music. Song three – Invisible Man – hints towards an influence reminiscent of Coldplay whilst the final two songs – Mathereal and Crystalline – leaves a lasting impression that allows the memory of the music to linger on within your subconscious.

Overall Ruu Campbell’s debut solo album was very pleasant and easy to listen to. To fully appreciate it, one needs to hear it several times over. Perfect for ‘escaping’ to (maybe with a book to read and a glass of something chilled) or playing in the background whilst working. An interesting debut album that’s worth engaging with to appreciate the nuances of the lyrics, this album will appeal to those who enjoy the gentler more ‘natural’ side of the folk genre.

Review by Claire.

Heidi Talbot – Angels Without Wings

So, another folk album. To be fair it’s a good ‘un, but I am beginning to wonder just how many folk chanteuses can be dragged out of relative obscurity to be thrust at the portals of Grumptowers.

Heidi Talbot is one of the talented pool of current folk singer-songwriters that many a record company are suddenly realising they have on their books and after a quick look at the charts and the success of the insipid Mumford collective, think to themselves ‘we’ll have some of that’.

Now, to tar Heidi Talbot with that brush may be unfair; she is a talented singer-songwriter as this album showcases but I do fear that some talentless record company corporate nobodies are digging through their catalogues of artists they previously haven’t been arsed to promote properly hoping to chance upon gold. And let’s face facts, if Mumford and Sons can win best British Group at the Brits, there is hope for everyone. And I do mean absolutely everyone!

Heidi herself returns to home territory after heading out of County Kildare to America via Irish-American supergroup Cherish the Ladies (no me neither) in this new solo album backed up by husband John McCusker and several noteworthy others including Mark Knopfler.

Lead track Angels Without Wings has a little of everything chucked in there including some accordion to give a little French feel for all you Europhiles. The rest of the album hits all the right folk notes and is genuinely a nice little listen. I have not at any time considered listening to this album a chore in preparation for this review; every album deserves a number of listens to give it a fair chance. Tracks like Will I Ever Get To Sleep and the rather excellent I’m Not Sorry are very radio friendly and if you only have time to listen to three tracks, listen to those.

So, all in all, a very nice album from Heidi Talbot. It won’t convert you to all things folk but if you like that kind of thing and in particular female singer-songwriters, well, you can’t go wrong with this album. Have the record company struck that elusive gold? Probably not but there is a huge market out there for good music and albums like this deserve the push as much as any other.

Reviewed by D-jaysea.

Jack Savoretti and the Dirty Romantics – Live at The Scala, London

Like many who don’t listen to Radio 2, my path to Jack Savoretti has been a slightly obscure one. Last summer, wandering round the Wilderness Festival in the dark after putting the entire family to sleep under canvas, I heard what sounded like a great Eagles cover band. Ambling over I found some sweaty short bloke playing a fantastic fusion of poppy folk with some thinly veiled country influences in there.

With no idea who he was (and nobody else present did either, like me most of the audience had been drawn by the music) it took a bit of google-fu on a couple of lines of lyrics -“when the sun came up and the shit went down” – to find out who the Dickens this was.

From reading a few reviews of the album Before the Storm that Savoretti is currently touring, it becomes apparent that most of the uninitiated reviewers have variations on the theme of how have I never heard his music up to this point? It’s fair comment because unless you’re a Radio 2 aficionado, Savoretti hasn’t had tremendous exposure. If you’ve never heard of Savoretti but watch a lot of American telly, you may find yourself surprised to recognise a few tracks; he’s been featured on shows as diverse as One Tree Hill, Greys Anatomy and the Vampire Diaries but he has largely slipped under the radar.

Savoretti has said in interviews that he was a poetry nut from an early age, and this certainly comes across in his lyrics. They’re well thought out, evocative and quite clever in places. It’s probably this love of poetry that’s brought about the Simon & Garfunkel comparisons – we can all just about forgive what Paul Simon did to Carrie Fisher because he is a lyrical genius.

On tour, Savoretti is joined by the most cosmopolitan band you’re ever likely to see. A Croatian Michael Elphick look a like on double base, a Russian keyboard player, an Irish drummer and a Brazilian electric guitarist who gives a real Latino vibe to a lot of the tracks. It’s an eclectic mix but it works very well.

The Scala is a small, intimate venue, in the environs of Kings Cross in central London. This made it easy enough for the Radio 2 brigade to find and for the most part they seem to make up the more fanatical side of Savoretti’s following. This meant the crowd was exceptionally well behaved: one chap who elbowed his way to the front two minutes before the main act came on was moved on by a group of 40 something ladies and a gang of youngsters who were talking during the middle acoustic set were roundly shushed by almost everyone. It was a wonder that the crowd didn’t tidy up before they left. That’s not to say they didn’t enjoy themselves; they did but in a self aware and jolly proper

Savoretti’s music works exceptionally well live and the band hit the ground running with some popular favourites from his new album like Vagabond and Before the Storm. With the audience whipped up into a middle aged tizzy, Savoretti slowed things down by dispatching his band and performing a slower acoustic set, starting with Crazy Fool and ending with a strangely apt cover of Ring of Fire. Savoretti has a gritty big voice, that comes as a surprise from such a slight frame but it’s as at home with a bit of classic country and western as it is with some of his more rambunctious numbers. When the Dirty Romantics re-appeared (presumably they’d decided to watch Only Connect or something to pass the time; the crowd had probably Sky Plus’d it), the pace upped a notch from the opening session. Not Worthy which got the second full on part of the gig going was definitely a crowd favourite. It was followed by The Proposal, which pays homage to the Eagles’ Take it Easy. Savoretti said he was intentionally aiming for a 60’s Californian vibe, and it could pretty much slip on to any of the Eagles early 70’s albums. It got the crowd bouncing and singing along nicely.

Savoretti has an easy going stage manner, he is comfortably riffing with the audience and attune to its mood- from the odd quick chat with the drummer, it was obvious that the set list was altered on the fly on more than one occasion. The band was tight enough to take this in their stride and it kept the audience bouncing right up until the final encore.

12 quid wont get you an enormous amount in terms of live music any more but that’s how much it cost to get in to see Savoretti at the Scala. There are still 6 gigs left on the UK leg of his tour, if you’re quick you’re going to have a great night out.

Guest Review by Alex.

You can read more of Alex’s musings over at his Daddacool blog.

Gregory Alan Isakov – This Empty Northern Hemisphere

Atmosphere and a sparseness of both music and words abound in Gregory Alan Isakov’s newest body of work creating at times a beautiful soundstage for the listener to drift away into.

But drift away is often what I found myself doing. There are some beautiful pieces here but I often found myself looking for the hook to grab me and drag my mind back to the music. GAI has a good voice, well matched to Brandi Carlile who appears on five tracks and with whom GAI closes out the album with an excellent version of Leonard Cohen’s One of Us Can’t Be Wrong. His song writing is also well honed and musically everything is top notch. Several tracks were recorded in his apartment which adds to the atmosphere that oozes through the album.

All sounds very positive, doesn’t it? And it is. Evelyn, Virginia May and Big Black Car are really good tracks with GIA drawing images in your mind with his words letting you play out these little scenes he describes so well. These tracks follow the very atmospheric opening of Dandelion Wine and Light Year. This Empty Northern Hemisphere brings back the atmosphere by the bucket load with tales of late night radio listening. “Words mean more at night” opens Words and it’s true that this album comes into its own when listened to after dark.

The country influences are played down, thankfully, surfacing only to add to GIA’s wide repertoire of vying folk influences. Appropriately, I suppose, Idaho is tinged with country slide guitar and Fire Escape brings in Isakov playing the banjo in a very short “sepia toned” track. If I Go, I’m Goin is possibly the best song on the album for me, a slow ballad with Isakov’s vocals, backed by Brandi Carlile leading you into the already mentioned cover of One of Us Can’t Be Wrong.

According to the PR blurb Gregory Alan Isakov was voted Best Acoustic Folk Artist by Denver publication Westword in 2008; an appropriate tag, though I would stretch it to acoustic folk/country as the country influence here is hard to ignore. To be fair GAI did move to Colorado in 1999 to study horticulture so the influence of country music will have been hard to ignore. But being born a South African and raised in Philadelphia, these are influences, rather than ingrained from birth. The Isakov family were, evidently, big attendees of folk festivals during young Gregory’s formative years and ‘folk’ always does seem to be his starting point and basis for his work. It does, however, show that blurring of folk and country that seems, to this listener at least, to be almost unavoidable with American folk music.

I like this album but it doesn’t ‘grab’ me. I did venture into Mr Isakov’s previous work with The Sea, The Gambler but there was no feeling of ‘I must have everything this guy has done ‘cos it’s so good’. This is a classy album that will for some be the work of art it probably is but isn’t quite to my ears. Every time I listen to this album I feel it falls short in some way and it’s that something you can’t put your finger on when listening to music. For some it happens but for others it doesn’t.

I love the warmth that comes through Isakov’s work in This Empty Northern Hemisphere, the atmosphere and particularly the visual constructs some of the tracks bring with them are quite vivid and skilfully crafted so the final score may seem rather harsh. However, there will be no apologies from me; this is a good album but it’s not a great one and it won’t bring converts to American folk music.

Reviewed by D-Jaysea