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Sandy Denny – I’ve Always Kept A Unicorn

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Sandy Denny – I’ve Always Kept A Unicorn

Posted on 19 April 2016 by Joe

Often the best ideas are the simplest. Take this 40-track Sandy Denny compilation for example, which takes away her usual folk rock backing and instead focuses on her beautiful voice with the simplest of accompaniments of either acoustic guitar or piano. It’s such a simple idea but one that showcases the former Fairport Convention, The Bunch, Fotheringay and the Strawbs singer’s talents perfectly.

The press release says this “is the best album that the late Sandy Denny never made”. I’m inclined to agree.

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Compiled here are a range of live radio and TV recordings and demos, including three exclusive tracks recorded at Richard Branson’s Manor Studios in December 1971 for The Bunch’s 1972 rock and roll covers album. It’s a career retrospective as well, with tracks from various other bands and solo career.

Among the many highlights is a stripped back version of Milk and Honey, originally by her former boyfriend Jackson C Frank and released with fuller instrumentation on the 1967 Saga Records split album Sandy and Johnny, along with Johnny Silvo. This wonderfully emotive song really comes alive with just her vocals and guitar.

This notion of the acoustic Sandy Denny being the best Sandy Denny is a theme that is carried throughout this collection, especially on one of the best segments, a three song set of just vocals and piano recorded at the BBC Paris Theatre. The title track from her solo album North Star Grassman and the Ravens in this segment is real hairs tingling on the back of your neck stuff.

This is already my favourite Sandy Denny album, which showcases just how good a singer, songwriter and performer she was.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

Sandy Denny – I’ve Always Kept A Unicorn – The Acoustic Sandy Denny is released on April 22.

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Top 10 Albums – Here’s Mine, What Are Yours?

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Top 10 Albums – Here’s Mine, What Are Yours?

Posted on 10 July 2014 by Joe

We’ve covered our Top 100 alternative and independent albums, Top 10 debut albums and also compiled lists of our favourite folk and psychedelic albums. But I thought for a change I’d take away the restrictions of time and genre and present a list of my top ten albums as a way of finding out what your Top 10 Albums are. It’s a trickier task than you may think. I have constant nagging doubts that I should have included Lou Reed’s Transformer or Blondie’s Parallel Lines. You will face similar dilemmas. Feel free to tell us your Top 10 albums of all time in the comment box below.

10. Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique (1989)

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Following their huge debut album Licensed to Ill the Beastie Boys second album went in a more experimental direction under producers The Dust Brothers and became one of the best ever examples of sampling. From Public Enemy to The Beatles through to Curtis Mayfield and film soundtracks there are hundreds of snippets that make up each track. The end product is a tribute to music and modern culture and an outstanding album from start to finish. To find out more about the songs and riffs featured on the album click here.

9. Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band – Gorilla (1967)

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As a child, back when there were record players and cassettes and MP3s were the stuff of a mad man’s dreams, this was one of a handful of albums I used to beg my parents to play. This debut by art college psychedelic 1920s jazz mash up specialists is fun thanks to the humour of songwriter and vocalists Vivian Stanshall. But above all its got great tunes thanks to the involvement of Neil Inness, who went on to form the Rutles and has an outstanding ear for a good pop song. With tracks such as Cool Britannia, the Intro and the Outro and I’m Bored regularly used in advertising, TV and film this obscurity from a silly age will be surprisingly familiar.

8. The Mountain Goats – The Sunset Tree (2005)

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There are autobiographical albums and then there’s The Sunset Tree by The Mountain Goats and its frontman and songwriter John Darnielle. Here he lays bare an adolescence in the shadow of domestic abuse where he escapes into music, romance, drink and drugs. Its an album about survival and must have taken a huge amount of courage to write. Final track Pale Green Things, recalls the death of his step father and is so emotional and personal he can’t even play it live anymore. It is an impressive piece of work that shows the courage of young people and led me to become a fan of Darnielle and his band ever since. For more about The Mountain Goats read our Top Ten Bands That Changed Our Lives article here.

7. Fairport Convention- Liege and Lief (1969)

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A running theme of the albums I’ve selected is an admiration of the effort that has gone into their writing and production. Fairport Convention Liege and Lief’s was written and recorded following a tragic motorway accident in which their drummer Martin Lamble died and guitarist Richard Thompson’s girlfriend Jeannie Franklin also lost her life. What emerged was one of the most influential folk albums of all time as their mourning, painstaking research into traditional English folk and rock roots came together to create an outstanding set of songs. From Tam Lin to Crazy Man Michael this album is to this day one of the most exciting of any genre.

6. Highway 61 Revisited (1965)

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I came late to Bob Dylan. It was something about the voice, the Christianity and whole 1980s rock star image that put me off. Then I saw Martin Scorcese’s documentary centred around his mid 1960s albums and the time he went electric. From Bringing It All Back Home to Highway 61 revisited to Blonde on Blonde it remains my favourite period of Dylan’s music. Of the three Highway stands tallest, just. Like a Rolling Stone is its most well known track but the power of Ballad of a Thin Man and Desolation Row are among those that keep me coming back to this album time and again.

5. The B-52s – The B-52s (1977)

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When Rock Lobster, one of the singles from this debut from the Athens based band, was re released in the mid 1980s, I had no idea just how talented they were. I loved Rock Lobster but after getting this debut album I was awestruck. Ricky Wilson’s guitar playing is unique and in they were also blessed with three incredible vocalists, with Ricky’s sister Cindy particularly standing out. Her emotion on Dance This Mess Around and Hero Worship alone are worth the cover price alone. For more about The B-52s read our Top Ten Artists That Changed Our Lives feature here.

4. XTC – English Settlement (1982)

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On a monthly basis I kick myself for not including this in our Top 100 Indie and Alternative Albums list. Our XTC album of choice was the excellent Drums and Wires. But as the years have gone by it is English Settlement that I now believe was the Swindon band’s masterpiece. Sure it has the singles Sense Working Overtime and Ball and Chain, but it’s the lesser known tracks such as No Thugs in Our House and English Roundabout that really shine here. It was to have opened the door to fame and fortune, but sadly coincided with a chronic bout of stage fright for song writer Andy Partridge who was unable to tour following its release or indeed since. For more about XTC read our Top Ten Bands That Changed Our Lives article here.

3. The Clash – London Calling (1979)

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Of all The Clash albums none are so perfectly executed as their third London Calling. Steeped in Caribbean and US influences this manages to expertly show The Clash for what they were a London punk band with a global outlook. This topped our Top 100 Indie and Alternative Albums list and remains one of my favourite albums thanks to superb lyrics on tacks like Lost in the Supermarket and instant pop appeal of tracks such as Train in Vain. Listening again it barely ages and remains a timeless classic. Read our full review of London Calling here.

2.  David Bowie – Hunky Dory (1971)

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Last year I detailed my surprise discovery that David Bowie wasn’t just a silly man dancing in his pyjamas wth Mick Jagger. He was in fact the coolest man in music as albums such as Low, Heroes and this pre-Ziggy album clearly show. Of all his albums that I’ve recently discovered this is my favourite due to its sheer quantity of classic, inventive pop songs. Any album that has the tracks Changes and All You Pretty Things is deserving of a place on this list. But to add in Life on Mars, Queen Bitch and Quicksand as well makes this album one of the best pop albums of all time..

1. The Beatles – Revolver (1966)

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Hey what about Sgt Peppers, Joe? Well, what about it? This seventh UK studio album from the Fab Four is by miles and miles of old George Martin infused studio tape the best Beatles album and in my view the best album of all time. You want pop? It’s got it in Taxman and Dr Robert. You want stunning orchestral melodies? Well, why not check out Eleanor Rigby. Or maybe awesome rock rifts are your thing, in that case She Said She Said will appeal. It’s even got the children’s classic Yellow Submarine, and on Tomorrow Never Knows a track that quite rightly is used to herald the start of counter culture. And then there’s the production with Martin’s backwards loops redefining music. Sgt Peppers is good, but this was the real game changer for modern music.

by Joe Lepper

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Fairport Convention – Rising for the Moon (Deluxe Edition)

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Fairport Convention – Rising for the Moon (Deluxe Edition)

Posted on 03 September 2013 by Joe

Fairport’s trailblazing days were far behind them by this release and so were all their founding members. Like the Sugababes the band name continued long beyond the departure of all the original members. The Rock Family Tree for Fairport Convention extends to almost infinite dimensions.

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For this line-up Sandy Denny was back in the fold, raising high hopes for a return to form after a series of increasingly lacklustre albums.

In part the resulting album, released in 1975 and given the deluxe reissue treatment this year,  was a return to form, but as a Sandy Denny album in all but name. There are few traces of the folk-rock sound that Fairport Convention pioneered. Denny had already made a move away from that sound with her previous solo album Like an Old Fashioned Waltz. Many of the same lyrical themes are carried over between albums on the Denny penned songs, with a polished AOR production carrying touches of country rock in slide guitar lines.

At times the Denny led tracks sound very similar to the Christine McVie tracks from Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. If you dig mid-70’s AOR you’ll like this album a lot.

Sandy Denny’s husband Trevor Lucas was in Fairport at this point and he sings a couple of country rockers which are pleasant enough but mostly founded on train metaphors with little to distinguish them from each other.

Dave Swarbrick, violinist with Fairport since their third album, takes lead vocals on a couple of tracks which cleave closest to the folk-rock template, but his voice is something of an acquired taste and unlikely to win over any new fans.

It’s with the final track of the original album, One More Chance, that the band take flight with something which hearkens back to their glory days, everyone taking turns to solo and spin out in epic style. A final hurrah for this line-up which promised much but ultimately failed to deliver.

The deluxe reissue adds a further five tracks, a live TV performance of White Dress, studio demos of Dawn and What is True, home demos of After Halloween and The King and Queen of England. Stripped of their studio polish all these tracks come across more powerfully and are superior to the album versions.

Completing this deluxe issue is a whole set of this line-up of the band live at the L.A. Troubador. With a set list drawn from Denny, Dylan, Holly and Fairport’s own back catalogue the band spend a blistering hour demonstrating what an excellent live act they were. Often live albums are a ropey cash in but this one more than justifies the reissue. It’s often said that some bands struggle to translate their live ability to the studio and this was certainly the case with this line up had Rising for the Moon managed to capture more of this passion and energy it would certainly have been a more successful album, rather than a footnote to their tangled history.

by Garry Todd

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Richard Thompson – Live at the BBC

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Richard Thompson – Live at the BBC

Posted on 20 June 2011 by Joe

There are a lot of firsts for this box set, featuring three CDs and one DVD of Richard Thompson’s BBC sessions and live recordings from the early 1970s through to 2009.

It’s the first CD release for around 18 songs of his songs, and the first ever release of a range of acoustic and different arrangements, including a newly released version of  ‘Meet on the Ledge’ from his Fairport Convention days.

It is the first collection of BBC recordings to be sanctioned by Thompson and the DVD is the first approved by him that spans the bulk of his solo career and to feature his decade long work with his former wife Linda.

But while this box set, packaged rather nicely in a book, is certainly a must for Thompson fans it provides a more than welcome introduction to one of the UK’s greatest musicians, a true folk rock pioneer and certainly one of England’s most accomplished guitarists.

In essence the 3CDs of sessions and live recordings can be broken up nicely into three stages: his work with Linda covering the first disc, the second looking at the highs and lows of his 1980s solo work and the third focusing largely on his role as a folk music legend in the new century.

With over 80 tracks there’s a lot to take in so this segmenting works well allowing the listener to dip into say his 1980s electric guitar rock work or countrified twang of his work with Linda when the mood takes.

Among my highlights are the Andy Kershaw session from 1987 with just Thompson and his acoustic guitar on the second disc. This offers some wonderful versions of in particular ‘Valerie’ that showcases his acoustic guitar playing talents.

This segment on the second CD also follows the worst part of this collection, but that is down to my taste and dislike for this 80s rock phase. The offending two sessions are  tracks from a 1986 concert at the Hammersmith Palais that sounds like dated middle of the road rock , a little bit Waterboys, a little bit Dire Straits.  The problem is that while his fender strat work is a marvel, this type of music was not his strength. The other offender is a 1985 session for Kershaw in which tracks such as ‘You Don’t Say’ just sound like a poor man’s Police.

The first CD is also with faults. The production on the earliest sessions for John Peel is a bit ropey. Also towards the end of his partnership with Linda their performances suffer from some dated chorus effects on the guitar. Nevertheless this first disc has some of this box set’s most interesting moments, in particular versions of ‘”Dragging The River” and the excellent “Modern Woman” which have never been released before.

Perhaps the best CD for me is the third focusing on the last ten years and  featuring his renaissance as a folk legend amid a growing popularity for folk music in the new century.

This CD shows the breadth to his appeal as it features sessions for the BBC’s new music station 6Music alongside sessions for long time fan  Kershaw and veteran DJ Bob Harris. His versions of ‘Old Thames Side’ and ‘Let It Blow’ from Front Parlour Ballads, recorded for Tom Robinson on 6Music, are among my highlights. ‘Meet On The Ledge’ also provides a fitting end, originally a 1968 Fairport Convention single it is given a breath of fresh air on his Hub Session for the BBC in 2009.

What is perhaps most interesting about this box set is it shows how Thompson is such a bizarre mix of contradictions. While peculiarly English he has a distinct global outlook  and is happy to embrace different styles. He has expertly revisited and reworked traditional,  pastoral folk  but feels curiously urban and intrinsically influenced by his own London upbringing. It’s a prolific career that is far from over and given the high quality of the more recent BBC sessions in this box set, clearly still has much to offer.

8.5/10

by Joe Lepper

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Sandy Denny – The North Star Grassman and the Ravens

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Sandy Denny – The North Star Grassman and the Ravens

Posted on 16 June 2011 by Joe

As an introduction to the talents and flaws of the late English folk singer Sandy Denny this reissue (release date June 20, 2011) of her debut solo album does a pretty good job.

It also offers  a chance to look back on the start of a solo career that never quite took off in the same way as many of her male peers, such as Richard Thompson, John Martyn and Bert Jansch. A career that also failed to bring Denny the same commercial appeal of other female singer songwriters such as Carole King and latterly Kate Bush, who was emerging as a major recording artist shortly before Denny’s death in 1978.

For many Denny’s greatest achievement was not as a solo artist, but as part of the 1960s Fairport convention line up that created the ground breaking folk rock album Liege and Leif. It would be a foolish music fan indeed though to dismiss her solo work. To do so would miss out on some of her best vocal performances and song writing. But equally it would also be remiss to get too misty eyed about her talents. Denny as a person and a recording artist was a mess at times and this album is not without its faults.

Recorded in 1971 after she had left Fairport Convention and her follow up band Fotheringay had come to an end, The North Star Grassman and the Ravens offers a range of styles from blues, to folk to King-esque piano ballads. It marks a transition for Denny from her folk roots to forging a career as a  female British singer songwriter, unheard of at the time.

In terms of the folk and folk rock tracks on this debut she is peerless as a vocalist. Her electric version of the traditional ‘Blackwaterside’ is wondrous. The title track , her own composition, is another and one that is heavily influenced by folk tradition, of sailors never returning and imprisonment in towers, which was a particular theme throughout Denny’s songwriting.

But it is her more personal  ballads were this album really comes alive. ‘Late November’, about the death of former Fairport band member Martin Lamble, and ‘Next Time Around’ about former boyfriend, the tragic Jackson C. Frank, are real standouts here. ‘The Optimist’ is another wonderfully written track and the more low key production of ‘Crazy Lady Blues’, reportedly about her friend Linda Thompson,  is another treasure.

Where the album falls down though is on the more bluesy numbers. Denny was an accomplished blues singer, but her take on Bob Dylan’s ‘Down in the Flood’ and Charles Robins ‘Let’s Jump the Broomstick’ just sound weak and unadventurous in comparison to tracks like ‘Late November’. Crucially it is also hard not to compare her with one of the greatest and most popular female blues singer of the period, Janis Joplin, on such tracks.

Clearly in producing the album discussion took place as to whether this Joplin-esque blues style should be more prominent, with ‘Honky tonk Woman’ among tracks rejected.  Thankfully her more personal style won through. Nevertheless the mix of styles leaves an album that is uneven when held up against say King’s ‘Tapestry’ or even Bush’s ‘Kick Inside’.

The extras on this reissue, featuring some BBC live recordings as well as demos,  are a welcome addition and just as interesting as the original album. The low key demo of ‘The Optimist’ is among the best, revealing itself to be better than the finished article. Free from the polish of a mixing desk and a full band the song writing of Denny is allowed to shine on this track.

Denny was an undoubted talent that through her unique English folk voice managed to evoke a sense of melancholy, drama and realism to her songs that few others can match. But her voice was perhaps ultimately the undoing of her solo career, with its strong folk style never accessible enough to achieve a global audience even if it influenced many.   She  also hated being on her own and found solo touring difficult at times. She died in 1978, of a brain hemorrhage weeks after a drunken fall onto concrete at her parent’s Cornwall cottage, a much loved cult figure but not the star that this start of her solo career promised.

8.5/10

by Joe Lepper

See Also: Top Ten Albums from the Golden Age of Folk Music

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Jóhann Jóhannsson  – The Miners’ Hymns

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Jóhann Jóhannsson – The Miners’ Hymns

Posted on 26 May 2011 by Joe

In Rob Young’s excellent book Electric Eden, which charts the history of modern English folk music, the lines between the genres are blurred from the outset. The folk music of Young’s vision crop up in rock, mainstream pop, traditional music, dance and classical music. Whether it be the pastoral classical music of Ralph Vaughan Williams or the folk rock of Fairport Convention these musicicans take on traditional music share the same goal of respecting the past and creating something new.

It is this vision of English folk music that  Jóhannsson is continuing with this soundtrack to  Bill Morrison’s documentary  of north east of England mining communities, which uses original footage to show the brutal hardships of mining and the chaos of the miners strike of 1984.

Jóhannsson’s score, which is released on the indie label Fatcat,  was originally recorded live at the film’s premier at Durham Catherdral. It is a venue that Jóhannsson returned to for this live recording that once again features the magnificent catherdral organ and members of the union NASUWT Riverside Band, the colliery brass band that originally formed in 1877.

The results are quite simply breathtaking as Jóhannsson takes those traditional colliery band brass sounds and morphs them into a powerful, emotional and contemporary piece of music. At times the brass drones in the background but is constantly uplifted by a lone trumpet or the whole brass ensemble’s voice reaching out as one. Whether it’s a battle with police in 1984 or emerging from the mine into the sunshine during the 1930s depression the music beautifully fits the mood.

But it goes further than its original mining source. After the mines closed communities were left with nothing as the polices of Margaret Thatcher conveniently forgot to replace  the jobs and careers they had dismantled for whole communities across England. This could be the soundtrack to the lives of the call centre workers, who are timed and ticked off if they take too long going to the toilet, or the generations of unemployed families whose hope has been sucked out of them.

It is not out of place to consider this remarkable album alongside some of the great protest songs of the 1960s and certainly alongside Elvis Costello’s  Shipbuilding’, his bitter account of the demise of Liverpool’s shipbuilding industry and the Falklands war during the 1980s.

Even the messages contained in the tracklisting of the importance of community have a timeless political feel. ‘An Injury To One Is The Concern Of All’ and ‘The Cause of Labour is the Hope of the World’ are as relevant now as they were when England’s mines first opened.

This album comes at a time when the Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron’s Big Society seeks to recreate these ideals of community. But Cameron’s vision is weak in comparison, it has no emotion, no money to back it up and from a political party that caused the urban decay and generations of unemployment that the Big Society seeks to redress.  I hope Cameron hears this at some point, sheds a tear and realises how hollow his words are. I doubt it though.

Jóhannsson may be from Iceland but he may just have created the greatest English folk album for decades.

9/10

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Midlake – Late Night Tales

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Midlake – Late Night Tales

Posted on 29 March 2011 by Joe

Midlake’s influences across the folk rock scenes of the 1960s and 1970s are well known, so in many respects their role as the latest curator in the Late Night Tales series will produce few surprises.

As expected this 19 track compilation is dominated by UK folk legends from the past such as Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span, as well as some of their key US influences,  including The Band and Flying Burrito Brothers.

But there’s also a welcome acceptance that some modern acts are also influencing them. Bjork’s ‘Unravel’ gets a place as does ‘Silver Soul’ from Beach House’s excellent 2010 album Teen Dream.

There’s the odd curveball as well. Scott Walker does not immediately spring to mind when I think of Midlake, but his track Copenhagen is a welcome addition, adding some tranquil gravitas. The final carousel moment on that track is especially wonderous. Will Self’s story The Happy Detective is another odd choice, but one that works.

All good compilations need to stick to a theme, in this case to provide a set of songs to drift off to in the evening. Midlake achieve this perfectly. What better way to relax than to listen to the beautiful sounds of  one of the UK’s finest ever folk singers Sandy Denny.

Good compilations also need to provide some obscurities and the chance to discover your next favourite band. ‘Times the Thief’ by 1970s Edinburgh folk rock act Bread, Love and Dreams certainly fits that bill. This is especially as it features the unmistakable rhythm section of Pentangle’s drummer Terry Cox and bassist Danny Thompson.

Final mention must go to Midlake, who include an exclusive and well worked acoustic cover of Black Sabbath’s ‘Am I going Insane’ to the collection.

For fans of Midlake (whose album Trials of Von Occupanther is #80 in our Top 100 Albums of all time list) this compilation is  a must as they take you through their record collection. But it also acts as a pretty fine introduction to some of the best folk music to come out of the UK, with many of the tracks on this compilation featured within our Top Ten Albums From The Golden Age Of UK Folk feature.

8.5/10

by Joe Lepper

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Top Ten Albums From The Golden Age of UK Folk Music

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Top Ten Albums From The Golden Age of UK Folk Music

Posted on 07 March 2011 by Joe

From the mid 1960s through to the early 1970s the UK folk music scene was transformed with a legacy that continues to influence indie and alternative artists to this day.

From America’s Midlake and Sweden’s Tallest Man on Earth to the UK’s current diverse folk scene of the likes of Tuung and The Unthanks the influences of this golden age of folk music were immense.

We thought it was about time that we paid tribute to this time and showcase some of the best albums produced by some familiar and less familiar names. We’ve drafted in folk music expert Garry Todd to compile this list for us as we present Neon Filler’s Top Ten Albums From The Golden Age of UK Folk Music.

1. Fairport Convention – Liege &Lief


Moving away from being the English Jefferson Airplane, and throwing off their predominantly American folk-psych influences, the band concocted this strange brew of ancient folk songs retooled for the psychedelic mindset. Born out of the tragic road accident which killed the original drummer, Martin Lamble, and seriously injured the rest of the band, Fairport’s fourth album is the philosopher’s stone of British folk rock. The first to fully realise an electrified British folk music.

The band’s alchemical manifesto is set out on opening song Come all ye in which Sandy Denny sets out to ‘Rouse the spirit of the Earth and move the rolling sky’. When Richard Thompson’s guitar takes flight duelling with Dave Swarbrick’s electric violin on Reynardine, it’s no mystery why this album was so influential.

2. Incredible String Band – The 5000 spirits or the layers of an onion


Out of the fertile folk scene of Scotland’s central belt, ISB were tremendously gifted musicians with a beatnik/proto hippie sensibility, who drew from a deep well of ethnic music, little heard at the time. Strong melodies augmented with keen harmonies and exotic arrangements, complement lyrics that range from whimsical conversations with clouds, to meetings with death and all points in between. They sound simultaneously ancient and modern all within the same song.

3. Roy Harper – Stormcock


Harper developed his idiosyncratic guitar style through years of itinerant wandering through Europe. On Stormcock he floats free from conventional songwriting, in a good way. His eddying fingerpicked guitar swells and rises over four long songs, bolstered with an orchestral arrangement and even Jimmy Page on one track. Often multitracking his voice into a epic chorus, Harper shifts register throughout in service of his songs. Throughout the album, Harper’s rails against religion, hypocrisy, power and it’s abuses with a sharp tongue and wit, with an occasional slide into low humour. The beautiful closing track, Me and My Woman, is where he finds some respite.

4. Bert Jansch – Rosemary Lane


Of all Jansch’s superb early albums, Rosemary Lane is the finest product of this purple patch. During a break from working with Pentangle, Jansch recorded the album at home with producer Bill Leader, as he had with his first few albums. Jansch makes these traditional songs truly his own, and the resulting ambience is intimate and immediate, as though the gentle melancholic lilt of Jansch’s hushed delivery were solely for you.

5. Shirley & Dolly Collins – Love, Death & The Lady


Dark, austere and forbidding, this beautiful, spare setting of traditional songs, is probably the peak of Shirley & Dolly Collins work. The arrangements of pipe organ and medieval instrumentation untether the mainly 19th century songs from their origins, setting them adrift in a melancholy world of their own. Shirley Collins has described herself being a conduit for the music. Her voice has an immediacy and purity, such clarity lost now, in an age of auto-tune and endless vibrato. The effect can beheartbreaking, as on Are you going to leave me?

6. Nick Drake – Five Leaves Left


It is hard to appreciate now that Nick Drake’s songs were once a precious secret. His albums reportedly sold less than 5000 copies each on original release, and were not widely available until released on CD in 1989. A fine guitarist with a strong lyrical style, his quiet, breathy delivery is supported on a bed of strings, adding drama and pathos to songs like River Man. Long overshadowed by the knowledge of his suicide, his music was sweetly introspective with a gentle melancholy often undercut by sly deprecative humour, as in Man in a Shed, or Poor Boy on his next album BryterLayter.

7. John Martyn – Bless The Weather


Bless the Weather was Martyn’s fifth album and his first solo album in what would  become his classic style, playing his guitar through an echoplex. Martyn develops his blend of Jazz, Folk and Rock into a spaced out hall of mirrors on Glistening Glyndebourne. His semi-slurred delivery only thickens from this point on, giving his songs a narcotic edge, even at their most romantic.

8. Comus – First Utterance


Murder ballads are a strong component of the folk repertoire. Comus took the murder ballad into the pagan wild woods and sacrificed it.  Although mostly acoustic the arrangements have a manic energy and intensity, which leaves most extreme rock looking puny and underfed. Roger Wooten, the lead singer and main songwriter sounds demonically possessed, throwing himself into the roles of rapist, murderer and asylum inmate with glee. The cover image of a twisted pain wracked man is fully representative of the lyrics. There are lighter moments but these are brief interludes before plunging back into the darkness. Step carefully into the forest.

9. Steeleye Span – Please to see the King


Ashley Hutchings left Fairport Convention after Liege and Leif, and founded Steeleye Span as a vehicle to delve deeper into traditional song. On their second album, Martin Carthy came on board and they went electric. With Carthy and Tim Hart the band had two strong male singers, but on the majority of songs Maddy Prior took the lead. All three harmonised terrifically throughout. Without drums the rhythm is carried through the interplay of guitar and bass, with violin often taking lead instrumental voice.

10. Lal & Mike Waterson – Bright Phoebus

Half of The Watersons make an original record with almost every significant musician in the British Folk Rock scene, it just has to be good, doesn’t it? Luckily, Bright Phoebus is a fantastic record with superb guitar work from Richard Thompson and Martin Carthy. Brilliant vocal harmonies from Lal and Mike are the centrepiece of glistening arrangements. There’s an eerie quality to most of the songs, listening to The Scarecrow will genuinely give you the shivers.

Compiled and written by Garry Todd

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