FEATURED SONG OF THE WEEK
Women: Daisy Chute
Most causes need an anthem and Scottish-American songwriter Daisy Chute has provided a poignant one to coincide with events surrounding International Women’s Day. Simply titled Women, it deals with the safety of women walking home at night and ‘our victim-blaming culture and how we talk about violence against women’.
I turn around, I see you there
Your vacant eyes behind a steady stare
Are you the last that I will see
Am I another number soon to be?
I summon up a part of me
That no one usually sees
To give my body what it needs
To stop the buckle of my knees
And wrap my fist around my keys
‘The idea for the song came to me as I was watching a documentary about women’s marches through the ages,’ Chute says. ‘It struck me that the phrase women unite, reclaim the night suggested it was down to us as women to change our situation, rather than focusing on stopping the perpetrators of these crimes or relying on our government and police force to deliver justice.
‘Whilst I realise this phrase is meant to be empowering, it's part of a wider messaging that somehow women need to change their behaviours – the clothes they wear, how they get home at night, learning self-defence techniques – instead of the people who are responsible for these actions learning what they’re doing is wrong and there are (or should be) consequences for their actions.’
That crucial point is addressed towards the end of her insightful single, delicately yet powerfully sung and composed in the wake of the Sarah Everard tragedy and other unspeakable incidents:
But who tells the guilty, to stop what they do
And who tells the silent, their words matter too
Who tells the dismissive, that this is assault
And who tells the victim, this isn’t your fault?
No they tell us women, women unite
And they tell us women, reclaim the night
It isn’t the women, who started this fight
‘This song is probably one of the most emotionally raw songs I’ve written and performed and I still find myself choking up when I sing it live,’ she says. ‘It’s about a subject I wish wasn’t so relevant as it continues to be. It is unfortunately inspired by personal stories from friends and family, and by attacks on women including Zara Aleena, Sabina Nessa and Sarah Everard and countless more around the world.’
Women appears on Maiden, Mother, Crone, a four-track EP, scheduled for release in April. The deeply personal songs about women’s experiences feature an all-female band with producer Anneliese Shaw playing various instruments and providing harmonies. Michele Stodart’s bass, Midori Jaeger’s cello and Elisabeth Flett’s violin dovetail delightfully with Chute’s acoustic guitar. The artwork was designed by her visual artist mum Alice Beberman Chute. Another song, the charming Mother, was released on Mother’s Day as a thank you to her and a tribute.
The Edinburgh-born, London-based Chute is due to release a full album later in the year following the success of earlier EPs spearheaded by Songs Of Solace, recognised by roots magazine Fatea. She has a grounding in classical music and jazz, recording her debut album Simply Jazz aged 15, and has been mentored by Karine Polwart, Chris Difford and Ray Davies on songwriting retreats. Davies opened doors for her and Polwart dedicated a song, Daisy.
The Americana multi-instrumentalist says her first composition entailed putting music to a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson. Now the poetry is her own. Her dual nationality and recent tours of Nashville, LA, New York and Chicago surely qualify her for a place on the sofa at the Transatlantic Sessions shows hosted by Jerry Douglas and Aly Bain. Lion Eyes (co-written by Tim Baxter), Parallel Roads (a duet with Crawford Mack), Troubadour Boy, Meet Me In The Middle, London’s On Fire all bear testimony to her writing and performing talent. The new single Women, with its stirring chorus, could be the finest yet. If Guy Garvey says you have a beautiful voice, it must be true.
A former chorister at St Mary’s Music School in Edinburgh, Chute was part of the classical-crossover vocal harmony group All Angels, releasing three platinum-selling albums, and has contributed to numerous film soundtracks. She gained her first stage experience as a nine-year-old when she played the part of Cosette in the touring production of Les Miserables and at 13 sang as a young Judy Garland in Stars In Their Eyes: Kids. In 2018 she appeared in the Danny Boyle-Richard Curtis film Yesterday. ‘I play ukulele and sing in it. It was a lot of fun. We recorded a lot of that at Wembley Stadium. We did the night shoots after Ed Sheeran concerts.’ Keen observers might even have spotted her in the choir behind Shaun Evans, the young Morse, in the final scene of the television crime drama Endeavour.
Collaboration is a crucial component of Chute’s approach to music. With actress and writer Rebecca Brewer, she produced the musical theatre project, Coven, inspired by tales of the 16th century Essex witch trials and those at Pendle Hill in Lancashire. Told in a medium-bending format interweaving folk-noir music and stories, Coven explores themes of belief, magic, mob mentality, gender and class. To celebrate Burns Night last year, she released an EP, Cradle Songs, with composer Michael Csányi-Willis, reimagining the work of three female Scottish poets and setting them to music. Cradle Song, a poem by Carolina Oliphant, is a haunting lullaby and a paean to the enduring strength and pain of motherhood.
Chute and harpist Cerian, who first met in the studio while recording vocals for the Radiohead album A Moon Shaped Pool in 2016, founded HEARD Collective, which aims to promote, support and celebrate women in music. ‘Instead of seeing the small space that women occupy in the music industry as a competition, we want to open the window of opportunity’ was their mission statement. Chute’s latest single continues the good fight. Their voices will be heard.
It All Comes Back: Fruit Bats
If the post-pandemic world requires an optimistic signature tune, Eric D Johnson, aka Fruit Bats, may have the answer to our prayers. The defiantly upbeat It All Comes Back, our Song Of The Week at herecomesthesong.com, is a sonic delight for all those in need of a shot of hope.
A swaying melody built on layers of guitars, synths and keyboards, wonderful chord changes and Johnson’s distinctive high tenor combine on a single that begs repeated listening. Fruit Bats is Johnson’s solo project, an indie rock band with one permanent member and a revolving cast since its inception in Chicago before the turn of the millennium. The wistful song appears on album No10, A River Running To Your Heart, scheduled for release on April 14. All together now: It’s like riding a bike.
We lost some time
But we can make it back
Let’s take it easy on ourselves, OK?
It’s like riding a bike
And I wish you were here to see
See it all rushing back
Yeah, you know it all comes back
Johnson came up with the name Fruit Bats when he was making home-made cassettes before joining experimental group Califone as a multi-instrumentalist in 2000. He described it as ‘this dumb fake punk rock name that I put on a four-track tape’. It could have lived alongside Moby Grape and Tangerine Dream in the Sixties. Fruit Bats started touring in 2001 and released their debut album Echolocation. Twenty years later came a two-album retrospective with a mouthful of a moniker, Sometimes A Cloud Is Just A Cloud: Slow Growers, Sleeper Hits And Lost Songs.
Fruit Bats’ shelf life could have ended in 2013. Johnson decided enough was enough. ‘I had been wanting to change the name for a while because I felt like with those first few albums I was telling a different story, and I was eager to turn the page, and become a new persona,’ he told Folk Radio UK in 2021. ‘I realised after the fact that I was a bit wrong on that. It’s all the same story, it’s just like those are the early chapters. I had gone through stuff in my life. The thing of growing up. I changed the name, and then it killed my career. I couldn’t get shows, I couldn’t do anything.’
Two years later Johnson resurrected the name and the project. It was as though the hiatus had never happened. A sixth album followed, the enigmatically titled Absolute Loser, which contained the hugely popular Humbug Mountain Song. Johnson had gained valuable experience as a hired hand in Vetiver and The Shins and learned to love the travelling: ‘It was not only getting to work with a brilliant songwriter [The Shins’ James Mercer] and going around the world with your friends, it was also an incredibly life-changing event for me, because it made me able to shift over to just playing music full-time for a living, which was incredible.’
Johnson’s other impressive project is the folk band Bonny Light Horseman who he joined in 2018 at the invitation of producer and multi-instrumentalist Josh Kaufman and Anaïs Mitchell. Actually, Johnson jokes he invited himself when he heard his friend Kaufman talking about working with Mitchell whose songwriting skills he admired. The Grammy-nominated success of their eponymous debut album in 2020, a selection of imaginatively reinterpreted traditional songs, has been followed by a record closer to Fruit Bats territory, Rolling Golden Holy. The way the vocals of Johnson and Mitchell blend is magical, so much so it is sometimes hard to differentiate between them – Exile is a perfect example of their synchronicity.
‘The first album was old stories made to sound new,’ Johnson told Paste Magazine. ‘This new album is new stories made to sound old. They’re both like ancient love songs, but also the soundtrack to a John Hughes movie.’ Rolling Golden Holy featured all original material ‘but these new songs seemed to involve the same characters, centuries apart, in the same world’. It left him with the feeling that ‘I finally did the thing I was trying to do back in 2000.’
Johnson’s 2019 album Gold Past Life, produced by his old cohort Thom Monahan, contained timeless tracks such as Cazadera and A Lingering Love, with the late Neal Casal on guitar. Two years later Kaufman was at the dials for Fruit Bats’ last album The Pet Parade, about the beauty and absurdity of existence. It included one of Johnson’s finest lines in a lament to friends lost entitled Here For Now, For You: ‘Whether I’m a man or a whisper in the mist, I will always love you.’
Much of that sentiment is also reserved for his wife Annie Beedy, a visual artist and photographer, who directed the Cabaret-inspired video for the album’s most celebrated song, The Balcony. The theme of that prescient album was connection and dislocation though most of it was written pre-pandemic. ‘The Balcony is a song about patience in isolation, waiting for the world to change while staring out at an empty street. So, in Annie’s words, we created an alternate world – in our basement – where crowded clubs, real live crushes, and chance encounters still exist.’
Johnson’s nomadic life as a touring musician – he has been based in Portland and other locations around the Pacific Northwest – has meant that motion and his view of the world from a van window have been at the heart of his writing. ‘It weighs heavy on me – the notion of place,’ he says. ‘The places I want to go to.’ In his love songs places and people often merge into one as he navigates what he calls ‘the geography of the heart’.
‘Over the years there’s been a lot of geography in my music, a lot of landscapes. Sometimes the places are real, sometimes they’re emotional. My songs are all pretty much tributaries of the same river. Which makes a lot of sense because my path has been long and winding and often slow and muddy. But always moving to the sea. There are roads and rivers between these songs.’
Talking of rivers, Beedy was the inspiration behind Rushin’ River Valley, another advance track from the new album he co-produced with Jeremy Harris at Panoramic House studios north of San Francisco. Johnson explains: ‘When I first met my wife she kept referring to a Rushin’ River Valley near where she grew up in West Sonoma County, California. I thought she was leaning into a folksy colloquialism, dropping the g in rushing. It took me a while to learn that she was actually talking about the Russian River Valley, a beautiful area known for redwoods and chardonnay wine and biblical-level flooding. This song is about true love, and the question of whether we are fated to be together or if it’s all just universal chaos tossing us around. It’s also about ghosts and bad dreams and trying to move forward and climbing over a mountain and hoping to glimpse the other side.’
Coming back to It All Comes Back, the Los Angeles-based Johnson sounds world-weary but infectiously buoyant at the same time: ‘We lost our way/ We lost our sense of place/ I don’t even know where I am today/ But it all comes back/ It’s like riding a bike.’ The rest is geography.
Paperthin: Lucy Farrell (featuring Kris Drever)
Judging by the three advance singles released so far by Lucy Farrell, her debut solo album We Are Only Sound will be well worth the wait. We’ve been treated to beauty in triplicate but our Song Of The Week choice is Paperthin for its delicacy, its intricacy and its dreamy vibe. The melody lingers long.
The Kent-born, Canada-based musician, embarking on a UK tour this month, has long impressed with her contributions to traditional folk via collaborations with Eliza Carthy & The Wayward Band, Modern Fairies, The Emily Portman Trio, Dark Northumbrian, Gluepot and Carthy, Oates, Farrell & Young, not to mention her own group Ogres. There have been duo projects with guitarist/pianist Jonny Kearney and accordionist Andrew Waite and in 2017 she won the BBC Radio 2 Folk Award for best group with The Furrow Collective. Now she turns to a more contemporary, electronica-sprinkled sound with a dozen self-penned tracks.
Farrell, who plays viola, fiddle and tenor guitar, lists Richard Thompson, Kate Bush and Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker among her songwriting influences. There are echoes of Lenker’s vocal style in Paperthin where Farrell’s phrasing is exquisite (‘Memories are like sins that we hide in the back of our minds/ Bringing air to our defence, blurring in between the lines’). That vulnerable, crystalline voice is supplemented by the warm harmonies of Kris Drever whose guitar work throughout is a joy.
The song, like the rest of the material gestating over the last eight years, is deeply personal, poetic and bittersweet. ‘I think these themes and ideas are universal,’ she says. ‘They would resonate for other people too. The album is about being at home and working stuff out – relationship stuff, and then working out being a mum. I find it hard to articulate my thoughts in sentences – it’s much easier to muse through them in songs. It’s how I work through my feelings. There’s a lot of wonderings in them, but no answers.’
You can hear the ache…
We took hours off my heart and spent them on the days away
Playing grown-ups in the dark
And promising always to stay
You never really meant more to me than I did to you
But I loved the moments when you told me you’d never love anyone else
I know that all this
We could argue that
The natural reverb of the subtle, stripped-back sound is explained by the majestic recording setting, the medieval Much Wenlock Castle, home of Nick Drake’s actress sister Gabrielle. Indeed, Nick’s old piano and guitar have been used on the album. The songs were recorded in one room and in one take. Completing the backing band were Ben Nicholls on double bass, Tom Lenthall on piano, Neil McSweeney on electric bass, MG Boulter on slide guitar and producer Andy Bell on synth and percussion.
The other two tracks in a delicious drip-drip are But For You and Suddenly (Woken By Alarms). The first is an exploration of mythical Britain that emerged from the Modern Fairies project in which academics and folk musicians, visual artists, poets and storytellers gathered to exchange ideas. ‘The whole idea was to bring those old fairy stories into a modern time – to move them forward. I just got stuck on the Selkie. There are some beautiful ideas about mirror selves and about leaving your space fully to enter into someone else’s world. There will always be something missing. It started out as a lullaby for my daughter, but it evolved.’ In the blink of an eye, Farrell can create a rich tapestry out of a hand-me-down.
Suddenly is the latest beguiling single, one of the songs she first aired in her live shows as Suddenly Still. Her tour won’t be entirely solo; she prefers a fuller backdrop and will be accompanied on stage by guitarist and piano-playing husband Jake Charron of the Canadian indie folk band The East Pointers. We Are Only Sound, due for release on April 21, promises songs of elegance and eloquence. Between the whispered lines, a blissful sound.
Soldier Of The Modern Day: Jenny Colquitt
Jenny Colquitt, the Widnes-born singer-songwriter, not only possesses a soul-stirring voice but is a creator of thought-provoking imagery. Soldier Of The Modern Day, the outstanding track on her new EP, Lost Animals, is our Song Of The Week at Here Comes The Song. There is desolation in the central line – ‘This heart of mine is frozen inside’ – but out of melancholy springs hope.
When Colquitt, a power balladeer of rising stature, decided to depict the human struggle as a battlefield, her emotions were probably driven by the memory of a world in isolation. The fact that the song was coincidentally written on the eve of Russia's invasion of Ukraine adds to the potency and poignancy a year on. The soldier in the title is universal; we are the everyday fighters in these dark times.
Is anybody out here?
Is anybody hearing us?
Is anybody round the corner?
Is anybody in love?
I wanna be a soldier
Soldier of the modern day
But I don’t wanna be your martyr
Is everybody OK?
It is as if the narrator is peeping out of the pandemic. The song builds powerfully, with quiet, pleading reflection gradually giving way to a soaring, high-octane crescendo. The ‘frozen’ metaphor is her favourite lyric. ‘It’s probably the saddest on the track,' she says. ‘It represents the idea that the human heart has frozen in time to prevent itself from inevitable damage. It also represents that, as time goes on, our hearts freeze to protect those more youthful and innocent.’
I don’t mind
Please take my body, put it on the line
Take my life, don’t take my children
Leave them all behind
Soldier Of The Modern Day was the EP’s first advance single in the afterglow of her well-received debut album, Something Beautiful. Now she has produced something even more beautiful as she marks a fresh chapter in her writing and production style. ‘The song offers a glimmer of hope and togetherness which voices my longing for tranquillity. It means a great deal to me as it is an expression of my internal feelings that humanity is by nature good and capable of peace.’
The guitarist-pianist, Fatea female artist of the year in 2020-21 and lead singer of Americana band ELY, explains the theme of her latest set of six captivating songs: ‘It describes how as humans we can feel lost, we aren’t always in control of our path and our journeys can be led by our heart, luck and environment. The message is that although this is the case, this is exciting and we shouldn’t be scared. We should be ready to embrace what is around the corner.’
Haunting melodies abound as Colquitt tells of the anguish of not always being in control of our own destiny. I’m Just Lost, the opening piano-led song and second single, sounds bleak but the singer is determined to summon the inner strength to carry on: ‘I’m not scared at all/ I’m just lost.’ The delicate, hypnotic introduction to Open Pages offers little clue to the turbo-charged gear change that we should have known was coming.
David Gorst’s production and multi-instrumental stamp is at its most striking here. Colquitt regards him as ‘a special person in my journey', a game-changer in transforming her career. She says it might have been tempting to quit until she heard how good he could make her sound. In truth, they’ve inspired each other.
The gorgeous Paradise deals with what has been lost rather than regained with the caveat that difficulties can be overcome with sufficient resolve. The title track, which has a more unbeat rhythm despite its underlying sadness, emphasises her lyrical gifts:
We’re not only in this place
We are vagabonds running round this lake
Take me where the broken break
Take me where the broken break
The subject of mental health is negotiated more directly on Feel Inside where a fragile vocal again builds to a storm-force finale bathed in strings with an exquisite falsetto full stop.
Are you with me? Are you running out of fight?
Is it over? Have you lost your sense of light?
There’s a hurricane out there and it doesn’t have the time
For how you feel inside
Colquitt’s website biography compares her formidable singing style with the clarity of Eva Cassidy and the passion of Alanis Morissette. We would also point to the intensity of Brandi Carlile, and you might wish to add Kate Bush after last year’s rousing cover of Running Up That Hill which showcased the range of that precious voice. A whispering Jenny or a wailing Jenny, both are breathtaking.
I Saw Her Standing There: The Beatles
Listening to the opening track of The Beatles’ debut album 60 years on is just as thrilling as it was to my young ears back in 1963. I Saw Her Standing There, our retro Song Of The Week at herecomesthesong.com, is regarded by its principal songwriter Paul McCartney as among his finest work. It was the start of a magical history tour.
Credited on Please Please Me as a McCartney-Lennon composition rather than the trademark Lennon-McCartney employed from their second album With The Beatles onwards, it became a rock ’n’ roll standard. Its one-two-three-four introduction, cut and pasted from a different studio take, gives the album the live feel sought by producer George Martin.
Ten of the 14 tracks (eight originals and six covers) were recorded during a marathon session on one February day at Abbey Road Studios, with Twist And Shout saved until last for fear that John Lennon’s voice would fall victim to the heavy cold he was suffering. As Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn remarked: ‘There can scarcely have been 585 more productive minutes in the history of recorded music.’
McCartney’s vocal owes a debt to the Little Richard records he loved, particularly on the falsetto climax of the bridge, and he admits borrowing the impressive bass line from Chuck Berry’s I’m Talking About You. The song was originally titled Seventeen, the age of a girl Paul was dating at the time and referenced in the opening line. When McCartney first played it at his father’s house in Forthlin Road, a laughing Lennon winced at the rhyme ‘Never been a beauty queen’ which was soon changed to the rather cryptic ‘You know what I mean’.
The lyrics were written in a Liverpool Institute school exercise book. In those formative years a remarkable synchronicity and synergy was building. Paul and John would work on melody ideas with their guitars and trade, discard and rework lyric ideas. ‘The joy of that was I was left-handed and he was right-handed,’ says McCartney. ‘So I was looking in a mirror and he was looking in a mirror.’
Well, my heart went boom
When I crossed that room
And I held her hand in mine
In his fascinating tome Paul McCartney: The Lyrics, the author writes: ‘I was loaded with all the tunes I’d heard. Hoagy Carmichael’s writing, Harold Arlen, George Gershwin, Johnny Mercer. I hadn’t written much myself but it had all gone in. Then at school I’d heard my English teacher, Alan Durband, talking about the rhyming couplet at the end of a Shakespeare sonnet. I don’t know where beyond compare came from but it might have come from Sonnet 18: Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? I may even have been conscious, as a child, of the Irish song tradition – of a woman being described as beyond compare. In any case, it’s not what you would expect in rock ’n’ roll. And like I say, I don’t know where I dredged it from, but in the great trawling net of my youth, it just got caught up like a dolphin.’
McCartney points out that the metre of the verses echoes Stanley Holloway’s recorded version of the Marriott Edgar comic poem The Lion And Albert. ‘Singing it now – and this happens with all the Beatles songs I sing, particularly from the earlier period – I realise I’m reviewing the work of an 18-to-20-year-old. This is very interesting because it’s got a naïveté, a kind of innocence, that you can’t invent.’
Two singles were released ahead of the album, Love Me Do and what would become the title track, their first No1 hit. Lennon’s composition appealed to his growing love of wordplay. ‘I was always intrigued by the words to a Bing Crosby song that went, Please lend a little ear to my pleas. The double meaning of the word please.’ McCartney says he and Lennon sang a slower, bluesy version of Please Please Me, convinced that it would have suited Roy Orbison. Martin, despite the songwriters’ reluctance, urged them to attempt a faster take. ‘I think this could be your first No1,’ he told them. ‘Grudgingly, we lifted the tempo,’ writes McCartney, ‘and it was indeed our first No1. That collaboration made The Beatles a very lucky little group to be in.’
I Saw Her Standing There, or rather Seventeen until it was changed before the album’s release, again probably on Martin’s say-so, had been part of their stage act for months before recording began. Like that couple on the dance floor, the track has a magnetic attraction and captures the high energy that made their live shows from the Cavern in Liverpool to the Star Club in Hamburg an invitation to raw excitement. Martin had been in the audience at the Cavern: ‘I’d seen what they could do, I knew their repertoire, and I said: Let’s record every song you’ve got, come down to the studios and we’ll just whistle through them in a day.’
Neil Young covered I Saw Her Standing There at a charity concert late last year, with McCartney in the audience, and used the original ‘beauty queen’ line. The Canadian had obviously stored the story about the lyric change Paul had told him about months before. ‘That’s Neil. He had to do that. Sounded good, I must say. But I like the revised lyric better.’ It’s also the only song all four Beatles performed live after the split.
I never did catch the Fab Four live; I nagged my mum and dad to see them at nearby Litherland Town Hall in the early Sixties, where they were supported by bands such as The Searchers, Gerry And The Pacemakers and The Deltones, but this Liverpool moptop was too young – even for that bottle of pop and packet of crisps era. I went to dances there in later years in the hope of hearts going boom but The Beatles had long skipped the Mersey beat. At least my parents bought me the LP. I’d said please, please often enough.
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John Pearson on Strawberry Fields Forever
This Is How We Move: Billie Marten
Billie Marten describes our Song Of The Week at herecomesthesong.com as ‘the relationship dance’. This Is How We Move is about ‘finding the natural rhythm and pacing between two people. Working together and flowing as one. Different wants and needs, catering for each other’s happiness. Deserving to be loved’. A beguiling introduction to her April release Drop Cherries.
You may not have heard of Isabella Sophie Tweddle but her performing alias is attracting a wider audience in indie folk circles and beyond. The 23-year-old North Yorkshire-born Marten possesses a naturally warm yet vulnerable voice, an ear for infectious melody and a gift for engaging lyricism.
I wasn’t well before him
My bones were awful cold, and it was
Too dark for healing
Did what I’m told
But this is how we move
You will be my muse
I got what I was asking for
And I dug myself right up
The earth was pouring on my brow
And I knew I was enough
The album title was a friend’s idea. ‘Dropping cherries is such a strong, visceral image I tried to channel throughout recording in Somerset and Wales to capture the vibrancy, unpredictability and occasional chaos one experiences within a relationship,’ she says. ‘Imagine stamping blood-red cherries on to a clean, cream carpet and tell me that’s not how love feels.’
The ballad, as some have pointed out, has a Marling-esque vibe but there are also echoes of a 2001 favourite, Half Acre, by Brooklyn band Hem from their landmark album Rabbit Songs. Sally Ellyson’s affecting vocal, the imaginative instrumentation and the beauty of the chord changes are recalled here. On This Is How We Move, cello, violin, viola and French horn embroider the guitars of Marten and Holly Henderson and Nick Pini’s bass to wonderful effect.
‘When I’m trying to write,’ says Marten, ‘the creative door is closed most of the time. When it briefly opens, I know I’ve stumbled across moments of true emotion and insight; they give no warning and are often unpredictable. I can’t force the process, something I’m realising more with each album. That’s why I know Drop Cherries is a collection of songs expressing genuine intuitive feeling.’
The Ripon singer-songwriter, a YouTube discovery at 12, released her first EP, Ribbon, at the age of 15 with another, As Long As, quickly in tow. Her debut album Writings Of Blues And Yellows was well received in 2016 as was the gently introspective Feeding Seahorses By Hand three years later. Her last record in 2021, Flora Fauna, represented a genuine breakthrough; especially Human Replacement, an angry torch-bearing song about a woman’s right to feel safe walking the streets at night, and Liquid Love which revealed a new-found optimism after the dark days and years of anxiety and her split from Sony (I kiss the lips of every sun comin’/ Wanting to wake up as a human every mornin’ ).
She had joined Sony the day before her GCSEs, with her revision notes tucked under the table at her signing photo session. She was ferried to and from London, but was determined to keep her two lives separate. ‘I wouldn’t talk about school when I was in London and I wouldn’t talk about music when I was back being a normal person,’ she told The Independent in 2021.
Marten spoke in the same interview about her departure from Sony after four years and two albums: ‘That was the best day of my life. I got dropped. I went to see Big Thief at Shepherd’s Bush. Everyone at drinks was asking if I was OK. I was like, I’m really good. This was my saving grace. I’ve always felt a bit skew-whiff.’
This Is How We Move and another new single from the forthcoming album, the piano-led Nothing But Mine, confirm the growing maturity of her writing. But don’t talk to her about precocity. Marten thinks she was born a Beatles fan. She was laughing when she said before her 22nd birthday: ‘I’m pitifully young. It’s disgusting. It’s the one thing I don’t recognise. It feels like I’m lying. My mental age is mid-50s. I like the quiet, slow pace of life, and talking about old things.’
We had our time much too soon, she sings in This Is How We Move, the first time Marten has both written and co-produced (alongside Dom Monks) an album of her own. We have a strong feeling that the bond with her aficionados, their relationship dance, will endure.
Strangers: Nickel Creek
It was as if they had never been away. The return of Nickel Creek after a nine-year hiatus was joyously received. Our Song Of The Week is Strangers. It didn’t take long for any feelings of unfamiliarity to pass.
We saw Nickel Creek on their second sell-out night at London’s Union Chapel, the new material sparkling among the old jewels such as This Side, The Lighthouse’s Tale, Destination and their beautiful cover of Tim O’Brien’s When You Come Back Down. Strangers was unveiled late in the evening, full of conundrums, oscillating from doubt to hope:
There’s no more to get
In this together
(You came here because of me)
No more to get
Only to give into
(And I’m me because of you)
When I forget won’t you
Help me remember
Frontman Chris Thile, who occupied himself with piling up the albums, five and counting, with Punch Brothers and presenting his Live From Here public radio show among a host of projects across the genres, said of Strangers: ‘This song is an exploration of the ostensibly rewarding but often awkward, even excruciating act of catching up with an old friend. Can the connection be reforged? Should it be?’
Of course it should, and their devotees are delighted the past could be relived and a new future contemplated. Guitarist Sean Watkins, the glue in the band with his gift of a guitar from Jackson Browne, and his fiddle-playing sister Sara have been busy with their sibling project Watkins Family Hour. Sara’s collaboration with Aoife O’Donovan and Sarah Jarosz in the outstanding trio I’m With Her was a case of one folk-roots supergroup following another. She released solo albums and has contributed to the work of many artists from Phoebe Bridgers to The Killers.
Nickel Creek, whose music spans wider territory than the pigeon hole of progressive bluegrass, have announced a comeback album, Celebrants, due on March 24, their first since 2014’s A Dotted Line and their fifth since Alison Krauss produced their eponymous debut record in 2000. When you replay Sara’s vocal performance on The Hand Song, you understand why Krauss helped them on to the recording ladder.
Celebrants, more like a double album with its 18 tracks, was recorded at Nashville’s famed RCA Studio A and produced by long-time cohort Eric Valentine. Newgrass, as their vibrant sound was renamed, is alive and picking.
‘This is a record about embracing the friction inherent in real human connection,’ say the band, augmented by Mike Elizondo’s stand-up bass (Jeff Picker on the video and on stage here). ‘We begin the record yearning for and pursuing harmonious connection. We end it having realised that truly harmonious connection can only be achieved through the dissonance that we've spent our entire adult lives trying to avoid.’
The single Strangers, in trademark Nickel Creek style, has myriad melodic twists and mood turns: Thile’s unmistakable jazz-infused mandolin, the call-and-answer interplay between Sean and his partners in rhyme, impeccably tight harmonies and a scintillating violin break by Sara. How the tall, wiry Thile manages to play such intricate patterns while dancing elastically around the stage is a challenge to science.
Thile is a champion of talent and it was generous of him to introduce the support artist Lau Noah, a classical guitarist and storytelling songwriter from Catalunya who blends baroque, folk and jazz. Special guest Jacob Collier, London-born musical prodigy and Grammy-winning multi-instrumentalist, joined her for a couple of songs and then brought the house down when invited back on stage by Nickel Creek to conduct the audience in a display of harmonising that had to be heard to be believed. We were the church choir on a humdinger of a night. We shall be moved.
The appetite for a Nickel Creek reunion was whetted by a series of livestream shows by the Californian band during the pandemic. Strangers taps into that sense of dislocation and yearning for reconnection. But it ends on a defiant, optimistic note: ‘Too long coming to be gone.’ We can now answer the question posed by their 2005 album Should The Fire Die? Definitely not.
Dreaming In Another Language: Arborist
Belfast-based musician Mark McCambridge, aka Arborist, explores the sacrifices and pain of the songwriter’s art in Dreaming In Another Language, our Song Of The Week at herecomesthesong.com. Psych folk-rock at its most melodious and mysterious. Hypnotic, in a John Cale-Weather Station kind of way.
The single is an early taster for Arborist’s third album, the intriguingly titled An Endless Sequence Of Dead Zeros, due out on April 21. The accompanying blurb describes it as ‘a spiralling, looping trip of a song, an experimental slice of kaleidoscopic, psychedelic Americana which meditates on dreams and our submission to a dreamlike state’. We couldn’t have put it better.
The lyric is perceptive and melancholic, revealing a frustration descending into exasperation…
I’m drowning in the clutches of a crippling debt
Yet in some ways I hold it as a mark of success
I’m producing my best
They just don’t pay me for it yet
That last line will resonate for many of the struggling musicians I follow. The Wilco-esque tale echoes philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s Eternal Return, his theory of endless repeating cycles. The Ballymena-born McCambridge says it taps into the song’s guitar loop. ‘There are three different versions of myself seemingly condemned to repeat the same actions over and over; from birth to death to rebirth, colliding with each other along the way.’
And if you’re searching for the revelation that your songs don’t bleed
Well there are worse ways to find out than to hear it from me
They’re not human you see
They won’t set you free
Sam O’Mahony, director of the stunning video, says: ‘The visual reflects the lyric without representing it literally. It invites the listener to disappear into their imagination and crosses the boundary between fantasy and reality.’ It will be fascinating to find out how O’Mahony reimagines two other standout tracks: the poignantly personal O, Margaret about McCambridge’s mother (‘For all the songs I’ve sung/ I’ve never dedicated one/ To a love I had already won’) and the beautiful Dewdrop, Cherry Oak, from which the album title is borrowed.
We’re propping up dead bodies to sing to them
For we folk have no meaning without an audience
The nine-track album, which follows 2020’s acclaimed A Northern View and Arborist’s 2016 debut Home Burial, was produced by Matthew E White at his Spacebomb Studios in Richmond, Virginia, during eight March days last year. McCambridge, who had been wistful of the classic American studios such as Motown in Detroit and Muscle Shoals, Alabama, managed to attract assistance for his latest project from the PPL Momentum Music Fund to finance his trip to the US.
The accomplished Spacebomb house band includes guitarist Alan Parker, Daniel Clarke on keys, Cameron Ralston (bass) and Pinion Chanselle (drums) and draws on Trey Pollard’s rich scores for strings, brass and woodwind. ‘Trey’s work was one of the main appeals of taking these songs to Spacebomb,’ says McCambridge. Pollard’s orchestration is lovingly lush throughout.
McCambridge was euphoric when he heard the tracks played back on the final day of recording with Pollard’s supplementary players embellishing the sound. ‘Because you’re working so fast, you don’t get to hear much. You’re making decisions fairly quickly as you go. So that was the day when I got to sit back in the control room,’ he told the Belfast Telegraph. ‘An element of self-doubt creeps in but I was delighted with what we had done. Then you get the luxury of having these supreme arrangements, played by supreme musicians, over the top of it. A 10-piece orchestra. It was pretty surreal but incredibly fulfilling. It made it all worthwhile.’
The mesmerising closing track, Alabaster Skin, is tattooed by the Irishman’s piercing observations. It tells of the 2021 Belfast riots and ‘the older, bitter generation stoking hatred in the young, only to realise that they are not of the same mentality, their minds not as poisoned’. The final line brings us back to our Song Of The Week: ‘Honey, I’ve been dreaming of an awful rage/ In another body/ In another language.’ Like life’s cycle, these songs will be on repeat.
I Think I: David Crosby
The extraordinary twilight surge of creativity enjoyed by David Crosby over the last decade of his life matched the quality of his earlier output before rock ‘n’ roll excess took its toll. For Free in 2021 was his fifth solo album since 2014’s return to the studio after a 20-year absence. Our Song Of The Week at herecomesthesong.com is I Think I as we honour a man who provided the soundtrack to millions of lives. RIP, Croz.
A wiser Crosby is looking back on his younger, self-destructive self: ‘There’s no instructions/ And no map/ No secret way past the trap/ It’s so confusing, we keep losing our way.’ But a new beginning beckons: ‘I think I, I think I found a way.’
I hear people singin’ in the rain
And I start walkin’ towards that sound again
I keep using this path
It’s really only simple math
The former Byrd and CSNY veteran, who has died at 81 after a long illness, had told his fans that year: ‘However much time I’ve got isn’t really the significant thing – it’s what I do with that time. And it looks to me that the only contribution I can make, the place where I can help, is to make more music, do it well and make it even better.’ He was true to his word.
Crosby’s longevity seems miraculous when you consider the liver transplant, the heart attacks and diabetes, the years spent battling drug and alcohol abuse. For his renaissance he had the guiding hand of a long-lost son, James Raymond, a multi-instrumentalist and producer. The boy had been given up for adoption by his mother; Crosby wasn’t aware he had a son until James was 30. Raymond had been a musician for 20 years before he discovered who his father was, and decided to track him down.
‘Can you imagine what it’s like to connect with your son and find out that he’s incredibly talented – a great composer, a great poet, and a really fine songwriter and musician all around? I wear it like a garland of flowers on my head. We’re such good friends and we work so well together, and we’ll each go to any length to create the highest-quality songs we can.’ The pair also recorded with The Lighthouse Band; a track from their Live At The Capitol Theatre album, 1974, appeared in my Here Comes The Song colleague Phil Shaw’s 30 favourite songs of 2022.
Raymond co-wrote songs on Crosby’s For Free album, which he helped produce. It is a showcase for a high tenor of majestic delicacy that remained remarkably youthful. He told The Guardian after the album’s release: ‘That really mystifies me. I did everything wrong. Well, no, I didn’t smoke cigarettes. Maybe that’s the key.’ The jazz phrasing also adopted by his favourite band Steely Dan (Donald Fagen wrote the words with him in mind for one of the tracks, Rodriguez For A Night) and his love of unorthodox tunings and subtle melodic twists remained undimmed.
For Free bears comparison with the finest songs of his Sixties and Seventies heyday – Everybody’s Been Burned, I See You and Draft Morning with The Byrds, Guinnevere, Long Time Gone and Wooden Ships with Crosby Stills & Nash and Déjà Vu, Lee Shore and Triad with CSNY, Laughing and Traction In The Rain on his first solo album, If I Could Only Remember My Name. Now it’s déjà vu all over again.
The Californian produced Joni Mitchell’s first offering, Song To A Seagull, having discovered her playing in a Florida nightclub in 1967 and helping her secure a recording deal. Romance briefly flourished. Crosby regarded her as the greatest songwriter (‘I don’t think anybody comes close’), covering Amelia on his Sky Trails album and the title track on For Free, a duet with Sarah Jarosz. His live cover of Joni’s Woodstock with The Lighthouse Band is spine-tingling. Anything CSNY can do…
Neil Young and Graham Nash were two of many old buddies to feel the sharp end of the cantankerous Crosby’s tongue. But many found him warm and generous. At least there was a rapprochement with Stephen Stills. ‘David and I butted heads a lot over time, but they were mostly glancing blows, yet still left us with numb skulls. I was happy to be at peace with him. He was without question a giant of a musician, and his harmonic sensibilities were nothing short of genius. He was the glue that held us together as our vocals soared, like Icarus, towards the sun.’
We can forget the schisms and the volatility now. Just replay those otherworldly harmonies. Young described Crosby as ‘the soul of CSNY’, his voice and energy at their heart, while Nash was indebted to ‘the pure joy of the music we created together, the sound we discovered with one another, and the deep friendship we shared over many long years. David was fearless in life and in music’. And relevant to the end.
The achingly poignant I Won’t Stay For Long is an appropriate final track of a long studio career. Crosby confronts his mortality, staring down the decades:
I’m standing on the porch
Like it’s the edge of a cliff
Beyond the grass and gravel
Lies a certain abyss
And I don’t think I will try it today
I’m facing a squall line of a thousand-year storm
I don’t know if I’m dying or about to be born
Written by the son, sung by the father who was the intended narrator. ‘It’s my favourite song on the record. I’ve listened to it 100 times now and it still reaches out and grabs me, it’s so painfully beautiful,’ said Crosby. Even more haunting now. The baton has been passed.
She Speaks In Colours: Thea Gilmore
Thea Gilmore described it as her scariest ever gig: presenting a song she had written about the loss of a beloved teenager to her still grieving family. She Speaks In Colours, our Song Of The Week at herecomesthesong.com, is a moving tribute to the memory of Ellen Raffell.
The Oxfordshire songwriter met Delyth Raffell from Blyth to hear about her extraordinary daughter who died after an acute allergic reaction to a food additive at the age of 16 in 2019. Delyth and her family set up a charity in her honour, Ellen’s Gift Of Hope, to support other children who face challenges in life due to health issues, special needs and disabilities.
Gilmore’s commission was to write a song about Delyth and Ellen and perform it to the Raffell family, including Ellen’s twin sister Abbey, and friends as part of BBC Radio 2’s 21st Century Folk project, in which singers write new compositions capturing the essence of life in the North-east, a modern take on the classic BBC Radio Ballads created by Charles Parker, Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger during the late 1950s that weaved the voices of working communities with traditional music.
Dry eyes were an impossibility at Woodhorn Museum in Ashington, Northumberland, when Gilmore played it acoustically. ‘I was shaking, you can hear it in my voice,’ Gilmore told Folk Show host Mark Radcliffe. ‘I couldn’t look the family in the eye because I knew how much it meant to them. It was such a responsibility to make sure every line counted in representing both Delyth and Ellen. They are a family full of grace. I wanted to put Ellen’s hope in there and bring in all of Delyth’s care and warmth.’ The recorded version, with its subtle effects, loses none of the intimacy or tenderness of that first showing.
She speaks in colours to me
Even through the pain
She speaks in colours to me
She’s holding up the rain
She speaks in colours again
Heartbreak comes quickly as an earthquake
Quiet as a snowflake, heavy as the sky
‘It was such an honour to be a part of this project. I don’t think I have ever felt such a heavy weight of responsibility as a songwriter to capture a person and a mood as I did with this song. It has been a privilege to listen to Delyth and her family remember Ellen. It has been a privilege to try to do justice to Ellen’s life in song. They’ll all be with me forever.’
Ellen, full of hope, life and compassion, had dreams of becoming a space scientist. She had visited the Life Science Centre in Newcastle and had organised work experience there; she met astronauts and was due to start a space engineering course at Loughborough National Space Academy the following year. Delyth told Gilmore of her love of rainbows and colours, which informed the title of her poignant song. Eva Cassidy’s version of Over The Rainbow had been Ellen’s favourite growing up; she played guitar too.
The four other songs in this memorable BBC folk series offer great variety in subjects and song styles. Cardiff songwriter Martyn Joseph delivers an exquisitely observed homage to Andrea Bell and the soup kitchen and food bank she runs in Sunderland, made even more essential during the cost of living crisis. Andrea was overcome by the song’s humanity: ‘Albert’s Place has seen it all/ The meat and coal when the big ships called/ But maybe now its greatest day of all/ Brings tea, in a cup of love.’ Andrea’s team of helpers do so much more than provide food to the voiceless, homeless and disadvantaged. Politicians should be made to watch the video of Albert’s Place; that such a service is so vital shames the nation.
The inspiring story of Katie Toner, who has autism and ADHD, was skilfully picked up by multi-instrumentalist Angeline Morrison whose song A Dream For You was arranged and performed by Northumberland ensemble The Unthanks. Toner, who found it hard to enjoy typical children’s parties, runs an events business, organising accessible parties and sleepovers for neurodiverse youngsters and tailoring each celebration specifically to the needs of each child. ‘The heart of this project was bringing the community together,’ she says, ‘so for Radio 2 to bring me and Angeline from opposite ends of the country, and then me and the Unthanks, from literally a 12-minute drive away… it’s just brilliant.’ The song was written for two voices so was perfect for Rachel and Becky Unthank; pianist Adrian McNally made it three.
The wonderful Squeeze lyricist Chris Difford teamed up with composer and singer Kathryn Williams for Foyboatmen, a song about Michael Dodds, a fifth-generation foyboatman in the port of Sunderland. Since moving to the UK from Pakistan, Dr Ifti Lone has served the same Teesside community, administering thousands of Covid vaccines during the pandemic; after contracting the virus himself, he ended up in intensive care. Sean Cooney and The Young’uns dedicate their song Doctor Boro to Dr Lone’s selfless work and devotion to Middlesbrough FC.
The last word should go to Delyth Raffell who described Gilmore’s voice as ‘beautiful, almost haunting’ when she dipped into her back catalogue to discover more about her family’s champion. She hoped the song would reach people’s hearts in the same way as her daughter did. It has. ‘Thea does sad well.’ Sad and yet so uplifting. Gilmore sings during a celestial middle eight of the place in their home where a young life was snatched away: ‘There’s a star on the stairs/ It will always be there/ There’s a star on the stairs/ She will always be there.’
To The Edge: Nigel Wearne (featuring Lauren Housley)
Here’s to another year of inspired collaborations. Our Song Of The Week at herecomesthesong.com is a delicious slice of Americana noir, To The Edge, from Australian singer-guitarist Nigel Wearne and South Yorkshire native Lauren Housley. Edgy indeed.
The blues-smoked duet is described as ‘a potent lament to fate gone wrong, two lovers by the riverside grappling with truth’. Wearne’s song about a relationship unravelling and his strong vocal fit tongue and groove with Housley’s rousing, soulful style.
Imagine Nick Cave had teamed up with Marc Ribot and late film composer Ennio Morricone of spaghetti western fame and you get close to the vibe of this brooding minor-key triumph. Wearne hails from Gunditjmara country in south-west Victoria, a luthier, a craftsman of songs and multi-instrumentalist who contributes Hammond organ as well as gorgeous, reverb-bathed Gretsch electric guitar. By the end of the song you feel as if you’ve been sitting in one of those high-ceilinged Cuban cafés.
Listen up honey
Listen up real
We needed truth
But now there ain’t time to heal
We had each other
We had our song
Never mind that
The timing was wrong
Wearne and Housley first crossed paths in early 2019 at the Arts Café in Montreal when they were both in town for the Folk Alliance International, the world’s biggest talking shop for musicians. Discussing the future of folk music and their mutual admiration of John Prine, they became instant friends. After reconnecting in New Orleans in early 2020, they began working together remotely during the pandemic; To The Edge was the resplendent outcome.
‘I’m honoured to have Lauren sing this duet with me,’ Wearne told his Facebook audience. ‘We met at Folk Alliance International in 2019... but little did I know how she could sing. I caught her phenomenal live show in New Orleans the following year and we’ve been scheming to do something ever since. I’ve no doubt you’ll be a fan once you hear her magnificent voice.’
We have been singing the praises of that voice for some time. Two memorable tracks from Housley’s Girl From The North album in 2021 – Stay Awake To Dream and Why Are We Making This So Hard? – were Songs Of The Week on this website.
The Morricone-style horn section lifts the music higher still with Aurélien Tomasi’s alto sax, Blaise Margail’s trombone and the trumpet of Jérôme Dupuis-Cloutier driven by Isaac Gunnoo’s swampy double bass and drummer Danny McKenna. Wearne profited from another chance meeting while on tour in Canada when he heard Tomasi’s clarinet pierce the night air while waiting to board a plane. Oh to have been a fly on the wall at that airport jamming session. A French composer living in Quebec, Tomasi later hooked up with Wearne in New Orleans and another magical alliance took flight.
Wearne has never concealed his admiration for Cave and Tom Waits and you can hear the connection on his previous single, the blues shuffle Black Behind The Blue, inspired by the swagger of New Orleans jazz. He acknowledged to the Melbourne-based roots music blog Unpaved that his guitar playing had been influenced by Ribot. ‘Since Rain Dogs, he’s been integral to Tom Waits’ sound. There’s a jagged mystique and rustic dexterity to his playing that adds so much theatre to his work. It’s certainly rubbed off.’
He expanded: ‘Artists that I like most take musical traditions and work well within them or Frankenstein them into something new. I dig Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell, Nick Cave, Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, and Ry Cooder to name a few. I find myself naturally diving into roots genres and writing songs with different flavours. This isn’t so much planned as it is musical osmosis. What I’ve explored in my writing of late is something I’ve coined Americana noir. There doesn’t appear to be an existing genre that captures it succinctly. I guess at the end of the day, storytelling is at the core of my songwriting.’
Wearne, a champion of Aboriginal rights, joined forces with Luke Watt last year to form Above The Bit, a duo project that ‘shines a light on true tales of mutiny and civil disobedience in Australian history’. Their eponymous album, featuring painstakingly researched tracks such as Exile and Wind Of Realisation, was released to coincide with Australia’s National Reconciliation Week. ‘There’s hardship and sadness in a lot of these stories, but I find it really inspiring,’ Wearne told Unpaved. ‘From the ashes of these stories has come what is, and should continue to be, an amazing country. But it’s a country with contradictions, inconsistencies and ongoing confusion about how we reconcile our chequered history.’
The dark tales continue to chill and thrill. ‘Western Victoria is good at keeping its secrets, but the more time you spend here, the more the land reveals itself,’ said Wearne about the accompanying video for his latest song. ‘It’s this river, the Merri near Woodford, that inspired To The Edge.’
The Australian is touring here with Housley this month, including an appearance at UK Americana Music Week in Hackney, London. Each will perform separately before teaming up for a joint set. Housley and her guitarist partner Thomas Dibb took time out for the birth of their second child; now with a new album or EP on the horizon, they are back on the road with The Northern Cowboys. We’re on the edge of our seats.