Band of the month : songs of war and peace

August 4, 2014


One handred years ago today war was declared. The lamps may not have literally gone out all over Europe, but they may as well have done, for it was to be one of the most appalling and barbaric conflicts in human history. Today the folk trio Coope, Boyes & Simpson released a 50 track 2 CD album In Flanders Fields, and I am ploughing through it right now.

Coope Boyes & Simpson

Coope Boyes & Simpson

Barry Coope, Jim Boyes and Lester Simpson were all successful musicians on the folk circuit before they started performing as a trio in 1993. Usually they sing a capella, a lovely blend of three male voices. Simpson explained in an earlier interview : “Outside folk, or barbershop, people are not used to hearing three voices just striking up and singing. We like the purity. We have an immediacy which is amazing, and it is more powerful than if we played instruments. ”  On the new album there is in fact musical accompaniment on many of the songs, and for me this was the right thing to do : it adds a lot without being too intrusive.

Whether singing traditional material or their own songs, they’ve always sung with a purpose. Simpson again : “Popular music is so bland and meaningless that I feel the need to sing more important songs to fill the void. The good thing about folk music is that you can do that. We are angry and cynical. And we are socialists — but with a green slant.” And they have always had a special interest in the First World War, having written songs and compiled entire shows about it, and performed at peace concerts and commemorations throughout their career together. In Flanders Fields is the culmination then of a long journey. I’m sorry, I’ve not yet listened to all the songs ! But I can report that this is a remarkable collection. A huge amount of research has gone into the selection of material; there’s a lot of variety with the sombre and the humorous, the satirical, the stoical, the tender and the reflective; and the well worked out arrangements of the songs help to emphasize their different moods. Most importantly, these are songs chosen to engage your mind as well as your heart, sung by men who really do want to end all wars.

Along the Menin Road (written about Jim Boyes’s grandfather)

Hanging on the old barbed wire (traditional)

When this blasted war is over (traditional)

Do you want us to lose the war (humorous song by R.P. Weston & Bert Lee)

Hill 60 (Jim Boyes’s song about a small mound in Flanders which was bitterly fought over for many weeks in 1915)

Marchlands (written by Lester Simpson for a show commemorating the 300th anniversary of the Franco-Belgian border in Flanders)

Only Remembered (Horatius Bonar, Ira D. Sankey & John Tams)

Peace to you all.


Rambling across the Mersey

April 14, 2014

14 April 2014 I’ve been listening to a lot of global music in recent months while researching for my book, but in the meantime let me bring you up to date with some of the best new local sounds.

Ian Prowse – The Murder of Charles Wootton

Charles Wootton’s death led to race riots in Liverpool in 1919. Ian Prowse links this to  Anthony Walker’s murder in 2005. This remarkable song is from the new album Who Loves Ya Baby.

Hughie Jones – Blow the Man Down

Former Spinner Hughie Jones still runs  a folk club in Liverpool. His love of Liverpool’s maritime history comes over in his latest album of songs about the sea, Maritime Miscellany.

The White Widows – Talkin’ to Yourself 

Brilliant debut single. They just launched their album on Friday so I’m looking forward to hearing that.

The Vibes – Rambling Man

One of my sounds of 2013 : they’ve been back in the studio and there’s a new EP in the works which they tell me will be “just as raw if not more so than the last EP”. Sounds good to me. Here’s a taster of it.

Electric Lips – Not Coming Back

Meanwhile The Vibes mates, rockers Electric Lips, have released their debut EP Snake Eyes, and have just expanded to a 4 piece. CDs are available at gigs, so you know what to do.

Evian Christ – Waterfall

Josh Leary, a young producer from Ellesmere Port, has a teacher training qualification and a credit on the latest Kanye West album. His new EP Waterfall was reviewed in Pitchfork (they gave it 7.3), and was the subject of a long feature piece in the Guardian.  Expect noise, technical wizardry and crashing bass.

Ninetails – Sinn Djinn 

From the EP Quiet Confidence. Electronic soundscapes aren’t really my thing, but this is a bit unusual, and worth a listen.

Stephen Langstaff – Home

Last month he was in America where he played three shows at SXSW, and toured in Texas and Nashville, and wrote this song.

Mark Pountney – Treat me Baby Like You Should

If you had to guess which of these artists also fronts a Beatles tribute band, you’d probably have got it right. While the new album Mark One is steeped in the 60s, it’s very much his own material, and let’s hope he stays away from the covers from now on, because this is great feelgood music.

Tear Talk – Parallel

According to their own record company, Tear Talk “is one of the most awkward, introverted and melancholic bands (their words) out there today”.  That endears them to me a lot ! On their 3 track EP Breathe they sound like New Order meets The Cure.

Matt Swift – Everton Songs

In the week in which Everton moved into a Champions League place, surely you can allow me a little indulgence.



1,000,000 !

March 24, 2014

Today this website reached 1 million hits !! It only just struck me, I should be doing some crazy giveaway to mark the occasion. As I’ve not planned anything here’s a promise : anyone who messages me this evening with their email address and the type of music they would like will be sent some mp3s.



My songs of 2013 Part 7 : Briticana

December 22, 2013

December 22 2013

I’m not proposing a new genre – there’s more than enough of them already. Last week’s list featured some of the best this year from American songwriters, so this week the spotlight is on the UK.  It strikes me though that not many of these songs could be mistaken for being American, and it’s not just the accents which are different. An exception perhaps is Billy Bragg’s wonderful Tooth and Nail : although his accent is instantly recognisable, the album is steeped in Americana and has done exceptionally well in the American roots music charts.  There’s a lot of female vocalists in this list, but maybe that just says something about me.

So that’s it : my songs of 2013 are now complete, and can all be viewed on this page.

All Things Considered – Gatwick  (Dance Through the Storm)

Babajack – Hammer and Tongs  (Running Man)

Billy Bragg – Goodbye Goodbye  (Tooth and Nail)

Billy Liar – Change  (All I’ve Got)

Blackbeard’s Tea Party – Rackabella  (Whip Jamboree)

Blue Rose Code – One Day at a Time  (Whitechapel)

Ed Harcourt – Murmur In My Heart  (Back Into the Woods)

Fabian Holland – Home  (Fabian Holland)

Hannah Sanders – Beware of the Kids  (Warning Bells)

Laura Marling – When Were You Happy? (And How Long Has That Been)  (Once I Was An Eagle)

Lisa Knapp – The Shipping Song  (Hidden Seam)

Liz Simcock – Blow Me Home  (Friday Night Train Home)

Ma Polaine’s Great Decline – Love Me Or Leave Me  (Suffer It Well)

Nancy Elizabeth – Desire  (Dancing)

Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin – The Nailmaker’s Strike pt​.​II  (Mynd)

Serafina Steer – Night Before Mutiny  (The Moths Are Real)


My songs of 2013 Part 6 : Americana

December 15, 2013

December 15 2013

The common factor this week is the songwriting. Fifteen magnificent songs from some of the top songwriters in the business. Most of these fall somewhere in the folk/country spectrum, there’s a bit of blues in here too.

Album titles are in brackets, with links where you can buy them.

Amber Cross – City Lights (You Can Come In)

Ashley Monroe – Morning After (Like A Rose)

Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite – All That Matters Now (Barnswallow)

Brandy Clark – Take a Little Pill  (12 Stories)

Charlie Parr – Motorcycle Blues (Barnswallow)

David Francey – Harm (So Say We All)

Guy Davis – Love Looks Good On You (Juba Dance)

Holly Williams – Waiting on June (The Highway)

Johnny Fritz – Ain’t It Your Birthday (Dad Country)

Lucinda Williams – This Old Guitar  (V/A The Music Is You – A Tribute to John Denver)

Luke Winslow-King – Ella Speed (The Coming Tide)

Robbie Fulks – Guess I Got It Wrong (Gone Away Backward)

Todd Farrell Jr & the Dirty Birds – My Currency is Doubt  (All Our Heroes Live in Vans)

Valerie June – Twined & Twisted (Pushin’ Against a Stone)

Vikesh Kapoor – Blue-Eyed Baby (The Ballad of Willy Robbins)


My Songs of 2013 Part 5 : Punky

December 8, 2013

December 8 2013

You’ve heard about supporting the underdog. Well this is a celebration of the ants and flies who crawl on the belly of the underdog. Most of these bands have little means of promoting themselves other than playing loud music in bars. Their rejection of all the slick packaging and production values of the record industry is intrinsic to their appeal. Their biggest assets are a DIY ethic and plenty of raw energy and attitude, and lyrics that matter. Because this is my list after all there’s a lot of folk punk here, but hopefully there’s enough variety to satisfy all you punk heads. Finally please support the artists : buy the music and go see your local bands.

Bass Drum of Death – Crawling after you
Garage rock band from Oxford, Mississippi.

Bastards On Parade – Drunken Haze
“Based in A Coruña (Galicia), Bastards on Parade was born in late 2007 and the idea was to combine their celtic roots with their loved punk rock.”

The Dead Rabbits – Feelin’ Regret
Celtic punk from Houston. Facebook status : “March tour plans are now underway! We’re headin’ East! Drop us a line if you’re in the market to have your booze decimated and your women offended!”

Dead Subverts – Economic Genocide
UK hardcore. “In Dead Subverts we feel that politics and the way in which we live is as much (if not more) important than the music … We all have our own ethics, our own politics and cover various issues depending on who wrote the song, but we all agree on the fact that fascism has no place in any society. We will play anywhere whether it’s a pub, house, field, cave, rave etc but will not play for fasicst promoters.”

Disease – Mother Nature is dying
“Coming from the sinked, underground holes in Skopje (Macedonia) Disease started working in the middle of 2012 … At the moment the band is on hold, taking a break since Alex is serving prison sentence till February 2014.”

Foolish – Hangover
Skapunk from France.

Fur Blend – Pretty Good B-Side
Rhubarb Bomb : “While I failed to discover that elusive, original sound that popular music is crying out for, they succeeded in not being utter dogshit.” On the Wakefield label Philophobia Music.

Holiday – Missiles On The Roof
“Holiday are a new melodic punk band from the North West of England. They feature current and former members of bands such as The Autonomads, Grover, The Great St. Louis, Burn All Flags, etc etc and write happy songs about unhappy things.”

Hunx and His Punx – Mud in your Eyes
Seth Bogart called the new album Street Punk – “It’s exclusively for women and gay guys. I just think it’s funny to take something that exists and rebrand it … What I hope is that people who are really young and who don’t know what street punk is, will think that this is street punk.”

The Jack Ratts – Muirshin Durkin
“Founded in the sunny sea side town of Bournemouth in 2009, this small group of friends dabbling in banjos, mandolins & accordions, eventually evolved in to a regularly gigging & fully focused six piece band.”

LochNesz – Have Another Whisky
From Hungary, my December 2013 BOTM. “LochNesz plays Celtic punk music following the footsteps of their great predecessors in the genre: in addition to the basic rock band formula, they also play the great highland bagpipe, the accordion, the banjo and the violin.”

Los Dos Hermanos – Don’t Talk to Me
“Los Dos Hermanos are a garage duo, formed by Billy Dorados on white Stratocaster guitar and Carole Tweedlady on drums, based in Bordeaux, France.”

Rail Yard Ghosts – Train 45
They’re a “folk/bluegrass/punk band from all over the place” and they want to tour UK/Europe next year. Here’s why you should support them do this, and how you can.

Sketchy – Better Days
Lo-fi Brooklyn band whose interests include beer and pizza.

Spirit Of John – Atrocities
“Influenced musically by folk, blues, country, skiffle and punk, and thematically by industry, crime, folklore and local heritage, the Leeds duo have crafted a raw, earthy sound, defined by double bass slapping, guitar chopping and raspy hollering.”

Stramash – The Stramashannach
“Stramash are a Celtic Folk Punk band with Heavy Guitar Riffs, Celtic/Punk Rhythms, Folk inspired Vocal Melodies and Bagpunk Pipes and Whistles. Stramash are determined to push the boundaries within the Folk genre and give it a major shot of adrenaline whilst keeping true to their Scottish roots. “

Teenanger – Surveillance
Now Toronto : “These days, straying by going electro has become de rigueur, with plenty of indie bands capitalizing on the popularity of dance music to court new fans. Teenanger’s going the other way – getting nastier, punkier, sounding more like themselves, whether or not it $ells. Even their album release show is free. ‘Sometimes money comes to you and sometimes it doesn’t,’ says guitarist Jon Schouten. ‘We’re not gonna be like, ‘Oh yeah, we’re making so much fucking money.'”

The Tossers – Slainte
“Formed in 1993, the six-piece Celtic punk band of Chicago, IL has been proudly spreading their Irish gospel across the globe, with no plans of slowing down.”

Turncoat Collective – Living by Example
“we are a collective of artists, musicians, freedom lovers, pacifists, love-mongers, and revolutionaries. we were formed in november 2011. we are a completely DIY band, from packaging our own discs, to making our own shirts and patches, to booking our own shows. members come and go, but comrades are forever.”

The Wakes – Never Again
“The Wakes are a Folk’n’Roll band from Glasgow, Scotland. Their ambition is to make music with a social conscience. Music that matters. Their songs are songs, born from political and social struggle, of protest and of heartache and of the joys of life.”


My songs of 2013 Part 4 : Traditional folk

December 1, 2013

December 1 2013

In Parts 1 and 2 I’ve included a lot of traditional sounds from North America and Ireland, so this is a European list. I’m not sure if all the songs are traditional, but the instrumentation and the inspiration certainly is. If these songs don’t make you a fan of traditional folk music then nothing will.


Mick Ryan & Paul Downes – The New York Trader

Lady Maisery – Lady Maisery

David Gibb & Elly Lucas – Lovely Molly

The Rheingans Sisters – Sorry the Day


Le Tre Sorelle – Figghia mia tu n’esci a balla

Matilde Politi & Compagnia Bella – Festa della Borgata


Firil – Det er den største dårlighet


Janusz Prusinowski Trio – Mazurek Ciarkowskiego


Battlefield Band – Ceann Loch an Duin

Mairearad & Anna – Can’t Play a House

Frances Wilkins & Claire White – Rough Diamond

Breabach – The Poetic Milkman


Irmelin – En sjömans begravning

Mats Edén – Storpolskan from Bingsjö


DNA, Delyth & Angharad Jenkins – Casse En Lorient


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