mike davies - march


Recorded on the shores of Loch Fyne, VICTORIES AT SEA sail triumphantly through their second album Everybody’s Lost and All I Want Is to Leave, this time released under the auspices of Rotterdam-based Gentleman Recordings.

Still featuring the 2015 line-up of John-Paul (JP) White on vocals and lead guitar, Steve Edgehill on bass, and keys and drummer Nicholas Willes, it maintains their mastery in creating expansive widescreen soundscapes, established from the start with album opener When The Dark, whispery vocals underscored by a nervy repeated keyboards riff and pattering percussion that recalls Editors at their most atmospheric. The same holds true of Follow You on which they lock into a propulsive drive as JP’s vocals soar heavenwards, the track exploding into industrial fires in the closing stretch.

As befits the title, Quiet House opens in in muted form before the chiming keys and rolling drum rhythms take up the pace and gather the number into a heady sonic storm that continues to sweep across the album’s terrain with the building majesty of Late where you might hear echoes of classic Peter Gabriel.

There’s more of ethereal feel to Breathe Slowly, a number that is essentially a bridge into the second half, which gets under way with the hushed swirl, the vocals mixed back, of Don’t Waste Your Life until it too suddenly erupts, giving way to the opening skittering electronics of Ice Data Centre, another number chasing grandeur like a cloudburst into the mist and haze of the calm after the storm Midnight Song.

Static and a beeping pulse introduce the seven minute Exit, a number that build and builds with Floydian power although, perhaps a better comparison would be the climax of Ultravox’s Vienna spreading out into infinity. It ends with a mix of a repeated single piano pulse overlaid with deeper piano bass notes that herald In My Head building to a brief shimmering peak before quietly ebbing away. Designed to be listened to a single flow of sound and motion, it’s a masterpiece.


Their feet planted firmly in the same local folk soil as Jon Wilks, THE ROTUNDAS comprise Nick Comley on guitar and vocals and lead singer Ian Grafton, a couple of Brummies with Black Country roots who play industrial and social songs from the West Midlands and neighbouring areas.

They’ve recorded a full album of such, Simple Songs From Simple Men, currently only available as a Bandcamp download (https://therotundas.bandcamp.com/releases) that, like Wilks, both celebrate and keep alive the area’s folk song heritage. Their respective albums have two songs in common. The Brave Dudley Boys tells of the Dudley Colliers, a rowdy late 18th century bunch, and their rioting against high food prices around the end of the 1780s, given a. a simple voice and strummed guitar arrangement unlike the effects and of industrial inclination of the Wilks version. The other is I Can’t Find Brummagem, written in 1816 by music hall entertainer James Hobbs about finding the city greatly changed on his return after a lengthy absence. Wilks reworked some of the verses to give it a contemporary edge, but this is the original complete with its mention of Pudding Brook (a stream near Stourbridge) and jack-bannils (sticklebacks).

The album opens with A Drop of Good Beer, a drinking song obviously, followed by the swayalong New Navigation which Birmingham poet and publican John Freeth wrote to celebrate the opening of a new Birmingham canal, setting it to the tune of The Warwickshire Lands composed by Charles Dibdin for David Garrick’s 1769 production of The Shakespeare Jubilee.

Another song written in commemoration of the opening up of a waterway is the self-explanatory Dudley Tunnel Song, albeit of rather less traditional vintage having been written in 1966 during a trip through Dudley Tunnel by members of the then Dudley Canal Tunnel Preservation Society under the title Push Boys Push.

Another celebration is to be found in John Wilkinson, a traditional number from 1800 written about Cumbria-born 'Iron Mad Jack' Wilkinson whose skill in the manufacture and use of iron (including a blast furnace in Bilston) helped Britain become the leading industrial power of the 19th century.

Like Wilks, the duo draw upon Birmingham-born Irish traditional singer Cecilia Costello whose work was collected by the BBC in 1951 and 1954, and it’s from her repertoire that, sung unaccompanied, comes the Irish traditional love song Come Write Me Down.

Previously recorded by Chumbawamba, The Bad Squire is a setting of a poem by Charles Kingsley in defence of poachers forced into their illegal actions by incompetent or bad landowners, followed by another social protest number in The Bromsgrove Nailers written about their 1862 strike against low pay and harsh working conditions set to an almost lullabying melody.

Colliers get a second hurrah with Brave Collier Lads, the setting of an anonymous poem written between 1838 and 1859 that declares colliers “do their best endeavours for the wives and family” and “if that you do use them well they'll do the same to thee”.

Both Comley and Grafton’s families have bargees and boatmen in their ancestry, so Tommy Note has a particularly personal resonance, the title referring to the practice of paying boatmen with promissory notes that could only be spent on extortionately priced goods from their employers’ stores and pubs. A broadside ballad, it was set to music by Jon Raven, but for their version, which includes spoken narrative, the duo’s borrowed rather more obviously from The Who.

From canals to carpets, the attention turns to The Funny Rigs of Good and Tender Masters in the Happy Town of Kidderminster, a jaunty, cautionary tale for employers in the textiles business not to replace skilled workers with low paid apprentices to increase their profits, collected by folklorist Roy Palmer. Which just leaves ‘The Rounding Of The Years’, a poem by E.M.Rudland which, taken from Poems Together with Ballads of Old Birmingham, was published in 1914 for the Birmingham Central Literary Association’s Jubilee to mark its contribution to Birmingham’s cultural and artistic progress throughout the 19th century, and here.set to music by Comley.

For anyone with an interest in the history of the West Midlands and the folk music it produced (and the folk tradition as a whole), this, like the work of Raven several decades ago, is an invaluable – and hugely entertaining – collection, sung with authenticity and a real passion for the material and its origins.

gathering tides floodgate

GATHERING TIDESare a Birmingham quartet comprising of fellow Conservatoire musicians Seth Bye on vocals, fiddle and accordion, bassist Dan Cippicoi, Sam Baldwin on guitar and Alexander Henshaw playing percussion. Taking traditional folk music from all corners of the British isles and well beyond, their current EP, Floodgate, blends it their collaborative liquidiser with such musical genres as jazz, blues, 70s progfolk and triphop to produce a truly heady cocktail that is both smooth and spiky. The percussion work on The Curtain Siffer is particularly hypnotic while Shady Grove breathes new and spookier notes into a number that seemed to be almost exhausted in its interpretations. A second EP is slated for later in the year, preceded by new single Stop Motion, relentlessly battering percussion and jabbing bass underpinning blazing fiddle work before switching tack midway with a nimble guitar run that calls early Mike Oldfield to mind building to a salvo of drums and an explosive fiddle frenzy climax.

roots-and-branches.com 2020