Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Friday, November 23, 2007
Marsha Swanson is talented singer-songwriter who is sure to be destined for much success and praise. Covering similar eccentricities and lyrical insight as Kate Bush or Suzanne Vega, there is no reason why she shouldn't enjoy similar levels of success.
My review of 'Sentient Stardust' has been published by Green Man Review.
Click here to read it!
Click here to visit Marsha Swanson's Web site!
Click here to visit Marsha Swanson's MySpace page!
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
'Y Ffordd I Aberystwyth' (The Road To Aberystwyth) is a beautiful album of Welsh triple harp music, from one of the instrument's finest exponents. A great way to continue my exploration of traditional Welsh music, and experience considerable serenity along the way!
My review of 'Y Ffordd I Aberystwyth' has been published by Green Man Review.
Click here to read it!
Click here to visit Robin Huw Bowen's Web site!
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Lisa Knapp is being hailed as one of the brightest new talents to emerge onto the folk scene in recent years -- praise that is even forthcoming from those outside the folk world, such as BBC Radio 1's Huw Stephens. My first encounter with Lisa was at this year's Celtic Connections festival. I'll admit to not being familiar with her music at all before this gig, but from the first few notes of her haunting rendition of "Blacksmith," she had me totally captivated.
Many of the genre's younger talents come from families steeped in the music tradition, and it is often little wonder that the offspring of such folk dynasties go on themselves to have successful careers in folk music. Other individuals discover traditional music for themselves and, driven by a passion for what they hear, find themselves on an exciting musical journey that can culminate with the most extraordinary of results -- Lisa Knapp is one such individual. Lisa's story is one that demonstrates the universal nature of music, and shows how easy it can be to traverse the boundaries of music that can confine so many.
As a child in South London, Lisa was taught guitar and violin at primary school but was almost put off music in her teen years when the teaching got a little heavy and classically oriented, feeling that this style just wasn't relevant to her as an individual: "I started playing guitar at primary school when my favourite teacher began to do after-school lessons in folk guitar. I was about 6 or 7 and I absolutely loved it. I was not encouraged to carry on playing once I started the 'music course' in secondary school, which was entirely based around classical music and so stopped playing for a few years." Still with a keen ear for music, it was the sounds of Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin that were to reawaken Lisa's interest and cause her to experiment with electric guitar, but their acoustic leanings and her inevitable discovery of Bob Dylan's early recordings inspired Lisa to go back to her acoustic guitar: " I took it back up when I got to about 17 and discovered Hendrix." Lisa was then to discover acid house and dance music, and was particularly attracted to the liberating environment of the illegal raves that were rife during the 1990's -- the very same outlook that Lisa was to eventually appreciate in traditional music sessions some years later.
At about the same time as The Waterboys were marrying their stadium rock with traditional influences on their landmark album, "Fisherman's Blues", Lisa had reached a significant turning point on her musical journey. Within the record collection of a friend's parents, Lisa was to hear sounds including Steeleye Span's "Please To See The King", Fairport Convention's "Liege And Lief" and The Chieftains' "Bonaparte's Retreat". In particular, Lisa was struck by the beauty of female vocalists such as Sandy Denny, Anne Briggs, Maddy Prior and particularly two albums, "The Sweet Primroses" and "Love, Death And The Lady," by Shirley Collins: "Also, as far as influential albums go there was Pentangle's "Basket of Light," and also some albums that I found in second hand bookshops; "13th Century English Music" by Hilliard Ensemble, and "Waulking Songs From Barra," a field recording album."
Following these musical discoveries, Lisa started going to her local folk club in Balham and returned to playing the violin that she had learnt in her schooldays. Attendance at a number of workshops and folk clubs meant that Lisa was able to quickly learn a few traditional tunes, giving her the confidence to play at a few sessions in London's burgeoning Irish music scene: "I first joined in with some of the local musicians at a folk club near me, then I went to some workshops by Pete Cooper, a fiddle player based in London, then I went to a few workshops in Wadebridge Folk Festival and some in Camden Irish Centre." It was the sessions that were to provide Lisa with the same liberating and welcoming environment that she had earlier experienced on the rave scene. The aspect that made the greatest impression on Lisa was the way in which all participants were well received -- "there was an openness about singing and performing." The allure of Irish traditional music proved to be a powerful influence on the direction of Lisa's music. She would again take up violin lessons, this time with County Clare musician, Brendan Mulkere, who would further cement Lisa's passion for traditional music. "I admired his reverence and connection with the music, and the way he understood what it was all about." Further immersion in Irish music would come from visiting the Willie Clancy festival in Miltown Malbay, where Lisa attended yet more workshops and sessions. Lisa's musical direction now seemed obvious and she started to play at a few festivals herself: "The very first one, a few years back now, was Redditch Festival. I was very chuffed then to have a gig all of my own!"
The alarming discovery that Lisa had a brain tumour would sharply apply the brakes to her blossoming musical career -- a condition that continues to be monitored to this day. A break from music ensued and Lisa gave birth to her daughter, Bonnie, settling down with her partner, the London-based Irish musician, Gerry Diver.
Though Lisa's musical career was now left simmering on the back-burner, she would eventually record a couple of tracks on Gerry Diver's 2003 album, "Diversions." Notably, she recorded an evocative vocal for the traditional song, "Blacksmith," and fate would intervene to swing the spotlight decisively on Lisa's musical talent. Whilst Gerry was playing back Lisa's recording in his Scorching Sun studios, it was heard by the renowned musician and album producer, Youth, who has worked with a string of successful mainstream artists, including Kate Bush and Paul McCartney, and was also named 'producer of the year' in 1998 for his work on The Verve's album, "Urban Hymns." Youth was immediately attracted by Lisa's enchantingly stark vocals, and re-mixed her rendition of "Blacksmith," which is included on a compilation album, "What the Folk," released this year on his own label, Butterfly Recordings.
Youth's remix of "Blacksmith" is also the opening track on Lisa's debut album, "Wild and Undaunted," an album that contains a couple of self-penned tracks alongside an impressive selection of traditional English songs -- perhaps a little surprising given Lisa's previous fascination with Irish music. Lisa explains, "Irish music was an important part of the evolution of my music, and has shown me the way to things in my own culture." What this has meant in practical terms for Lisa has been many hours spent in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library at Cecil Sharp House, discovering exactly what her own tradition is all about and letting her discoveries fire her off on various musical tangents: "I love to just go and ponder over the books and music there. It's a place where you can just get lost amongst diamonds and jewels of songs, music and imagery of folk history" One interesting tangent that this resulted in has been the exploration of selling songs, as demonstrated by her desolate interpretation of "Lavender," a selling song that evokes scenes of a busy London market scene: "I just came across it one day and nearly fell over, as it actually mentions a place near to where I grew up (Mitcham). Though there is no lavender there now, it really filled me with a sense of the past of that place, as my Nan remembers coming up from Hampshire in her youth to come and pick the 'Mitcham lavender.' I always think these songs are part of the fabric of a place -- that they float around in the air somehow, and this one really brought that home to me. It was collected in Battersea, another place really near to where I grew up, from a mother and daughter called Florrie and Janet Penfold who were probably among the last people to actually use this street cry."
Lisa has a fairly casual attitude to the music business, and her focus remains resolutely on the music itself. "There's a uniqueness about everybody in music… it's not about one being better than the other or more successful. It's about the music, it's about being creative." Lisa's approach to recording her album was certainly very laid back -- "Wild and Undaunted" wasn't so much made, it seemingly evolved, over a number of years. As one may expect when bringing up a small child, disappearing into the studio for weeks at a time to record an album just isn't a realistic option. Some of the tracks were recorded by Lisa at home straight onto her Mac, whilst others would take shape in Gerry's studio when time allowed. Whatever the merits, or otherwise, of this approach, it's worked well for Lisa and the resulting recordings offer a good reflection of Lisa's intimate live performances. A similarly pragmatic approach is taken by Lisa with regards to her song writing, "I'm at an early stage with writing, with no specific agenda." One co-write with Gerry that appears on her album, "There u r," started out life as a collection of Gerry's guitar hooks and fiddle stabs that Lisa fleshed out with a melody and lyrics.
Lisa has now emerged as a well-rounded performer of traditional material, retaining much of the bohemian nature that characterised her early interest in raves and acid house music. Lisa performs without restriction or inhibition and with a child-like joy that makes her passion for the music absolutely contagious. Another London lass that discovered folk music for herself and emerged from the underground scene to take the folk world by storm, was the much missed Sandy Denny. Whilst it is de rigueur to compare every female English folk singer with Denny, this is perhaps a well warranted comparison in Lisa Knapp's case. For this listener at least, the sheer magnetism and excitement of hearing Lisa Knapp tackle songs such as "Blacksmith" recalls the same feeling I got upon first hearing Denny's glorious vocals on "Sailor's Life" with Fairport Convention. Both leave you with that same sense of anticipation as to what direction they might next take. Lisa Knapp -- the folk world may well be her veritable oyster!
(This article was published in issue 76 of The Living Tradition Magazine)