‘Folk Songs and Renovations’ is here!

IMG_8689My new CD, ‘Folk Songs and Renovations’, arrived from the manufacturer this afternoon. I’m very excited!

Recording was done at the excellent Sound Extractor studios here in Edmonton with the brilliant Mr. Stew Kirkwood at the controls.

I played guitar, cittern, and sing the songs. Alex Boudreau added some additional guitar and mandolin, and also harmony.

Cover photos were by Thomas Brauer, Brian Zahorodniuk, and me. Carrie Day did the lion’s share of the design work on the cover and disc label.

The CD has eleven songs – six originals and five traditional songs (including a couple that I’ve pretty extensively renovated – hence the ‘renovations’ in the title). For more information about the individual tracks go here.

The CDs are selling for $20 each, and in a few days I hope to have them up on CD Baby so that customers from outside Edmonton and overseas can buy them too!

Kate Rusby: ’20’

Yes! This is absolutely brilliant!

19 of the best songs Kate has recorded in her twenty year career, and one brand new one – all completely re-recorded with the help of some of the most brilliant musicians in the folk music world today, including Sarah Jarosz, Ron Block, Richard Thompson, Aoife O’Donovan (of ‘Crooked Still’), Jerry Douglas, Dick Gaughen and many others – including my hero (and Kate’s too), Nic Jones!

Get it here!

Purpose and Grace

I am a big Martin Simpson fan. Together with Kate Rusby, he got me started in traditional folk music, and he also fired my enthusiasm for alternative guitar tunings.

This new album arrived in the mail two days ago.

Too soon to write a review just yet, but it seems very strong to me. Traditional songs, covers, original tunes. Collaborations with the likes of Dick Gaughen, June Tabor, Jon Boden. Wonderful.

This song is on the album. Enjoy:

Twenty-One Today

On October 24th 1990 I was ordained a deacon in the Church of the Resurrection, Holman, Northwest Territories (the church I had been serving as a lay minister in charge for two years), by Bishop Jack Sperry, Third Bishop of the Arctic. The service was a bilingual one, in English and Inuinaktun, and the Inuinaktun parts were especially translated from the Book of Alternative Services by Bishop Sperry. The only other clergy person present was my father, who had made the long trip from England for the occasion. It was a little different from the formal ritual of the ordination services I now attend at our cathedral in Edmonton; there was no choir, the organ was a chord organ, and after the service was over the pews were pushed into a circle around the walls to make room for a great feast in the little church. The feast was not just for my ordination, I haste to add; it was also in honour of Bishop Sperry’s intending retirement. I was the last person he ordained before he stepped down from his position as Bishop of the Arctic after seventeen years, and a total of forty years of ministry in the Diocese of the Arctic.

I consider Jack Sperry to be one of the unsung heroes of the Canadian Church. He was born in the same city as me, Leicester in England; he served in the Royal Navy during World War Two and then came to Canada, where he took his theological education before moving to the Diocese of the Arctic. He was the missionary in charge at Coppermine (now Kugluktuk) from 1950 to 1969; during that time he made extensive travels by dog team all over the central Arctic, doing mission work in what are now the parishes of Holman, Cambridge Bay, Bathurst Inlet, Bay Chimo and beyond. He learned to speak Inuinaktun, the central or Copper dialect of Inuktitut, with great fluency; he translated parts of the Book of Common Prayer, the Gospels and the Book of Acts, some selections from the epistles, and many hymns and psalms, for the use of the people of the central Arctic. After nineteen years in Coppermine he served briefly in Fort Smith before being appointed as the Third Bishop of the Arctic in 1973, a position he held until his retirement at the end of 1990.

I remember Jack as a down to earth, ordinary Christian; he loved the Gospel and he loved the people of the Arctic, and he loved most of all bringing the two together. He was a man of prayer and a man who knew how to build things with his hands (you had to do that a lot as a missionary in the Arctic). He knew that his first job was to care for his clergy and their families, and when he came to visit us he always made time to play games with our children, draw pictures for them, and talk with them. Episcopal visits in the Arctic always involved staying overnight in the mission house, of course, as there were no roads in and out of most of the communities, and very few had more than one flight in per day. But with Jack, it wasn’t a case of necessity but of vocation; he knew how isolated his clergy were and he did his best to care for us as individuals and as families.

One of the best times I ever spent with him was in the early winter of 1988 after we moved to Holman. I was learning to negotiate a new language and Jack was one of the acknowledged authorities on that language, so he came to stay at our mission house for a week which we spent in intensive language study. For eight hours a day we poured over the few written resources available (most of which he had written himself), and it was then that I discovered that I not only enjoyed language, but I had a pretty good ear for it. But we also visited and told stories, and each night the local people would arrive at our door and come in without knocking, as was the custom, to sit and drink tea with the man who had once been their minister (Holman had been part of Jack’s patch in those nineteen years when he used to travel up the western side of Victoria Island by dog team each winter). The respect and affection they felt for him was quite obvious.

At the time of my ordination I had been serving as a lay-evangelist with the Church Army in Canada for twelve years. I had worked in parishes in Ontario and Saskatchewan, and had served in the Diocese of the Arctic for six years as a lay-minister in charge of two missions, first in Aklavik and later in Holman. I had done some theological study by correspondence but had not completed a full theological degree. But Bishop Sperry’s view was, “Well, if you’re not qualified to do the job I shouldn’t be leaving you on your own in charge of an isolated mission station, should I?”

I will always be grateful for Bishop Sperry’s trust in me. There were other bishops in the Canadian church who did not consider me educated enough to be a candidate for ordination. Bishop Sperry took a different view, and that is why I am where I am today.

As for Jack, he is still alive in a retirement home in Hay River, with his children nearby; I think he must be over ninety by now, and I know for a fact that macular degeneration has made him almost blind. I know this must be very hard for him, as he always loved to read. I will think of him especially today, with a prayer of gratitude for all the good he did in my life. God bless you richly, Jack, and thank you so much for everything.

This one’s definitely on my wish list

Martin Simpson’s new album will be released on September 6th.

My birthday is November 1st.

I’m just sayin’.

You can listen to some sample tracks at the UK Amazon site here. I heard Martin do some of these songs in concert when he was in Edmonton last October. I especially liked his versions of ‘Bold General Wolfe’ and ‘Barbry Allen’.

P.S. This book is also on my birthday wish list!!!

In Search of Nic Jones

Regular readers of my blog will be well aware of my admiration for the music of the great Nic Jones. Nic was one of the leading lights on the folk music scene in England in the seventies and early eighties; he produced five superb solo albums of mainly traditional music, as well as a couple of earlier records with the group ‘The Halliard’. His 1980 album ‘Penguin Eggs‘ is one of the most influential folk albums of all time.

Unfortunately, because of a dispute with a record company Nic’s four earliest solo albums are not available for sale anywhere, which is a great pity because they really are little gems. The first two display an intricate guitar technique which he later abandoned in favour of a simpler style that drew more attention to the songs themselves. He had a very unusual way of playing, in that he did not keep his nails long; he used a thumb pick and then plucked the other strings with the flat of his fingers. This produced a very percussive style, underlined by the fact that he tended to use very low open tunings.

In 1982 a horrendous car accident hospitalised Nic for six months and brought his career to an unfortunate end. During the long recovery period he had difficulty remembering anything, and his wife Julia put out a request to the folk music world for any recordings of his songs, which could then be used to help jog his memory. The response was enormous and eventually over five hundred recorded tracks – some live, some from radio sessions with the BBC and other similar sources – were uncovered. Given the difficulty regarding Nic’s earlier albums and the continuing interest in his work, it was decided to begin releasing some of these recordings. To date, three of these compilation albums have been released: ‘In Search of Nic Jones‘ (1998), ‘Unearthed‘ (2001), and ‘Game, Set, and Match‘ (2006).

I’ve been working through them back to front, as it were; I got ‘Game, Set, and Match’ in 2007 in England, and ‘Unearthed’ earlier this year. I’ve now completed my collection as Marci bought me ‘In Search of Nic Jones’ for Christmas. The twelve tracks on this CD were intentionally chosen to give a broad representation of the sort of stuff Nic would play at a live event, and my first surprise was the number of cover tunes; I think of Nic mainly as an interpreter of traditional songs, and didn’t realise just how many cover tunes he did. So here we have songs by the likes of Randy Newman and Loudon Wainright III, shoulder to shoulder with Nic’s excellent arrangements of old classics like ‘Lord Franklin’, ‘Seven Yellow Gypsies’, ‘Ploughman Lads’ and ‘Rose of Allandale’, and also a couple of originals (‘Ruins by the Shore’, ‘Green to Grey’). Also included is Nic’s well-known instrumental arrangement of the ‘Teddy Bears’ Picnic’ tune.

I think this is destined to become one of my favourite CDs. I won’t review every single track, but to name just one: I’ve heard arrangements of ‘Lord Franklin’ by (to name just a few) John Renbourn, Martin Carthy, Eilis Kennedy, Duncan McFarlane, and Sinead O’Connor (and I’ve created one myself), but Nic’s simple version on this album has already rocketed to the top of my list.

All in all a wonderful album, and one I highly recommend for fans of Nic Jones and for others who might like to give him a try. Order it direct from Nic and Julia at the Molly Music website.

Some of my favourite albums #1: Sting: Ten Summoner’s Tales

I stopped taking the Grammy Awards seriously in 1994. That was the year Whitney Houston won the Grammies for best album and best song for the soundtrack to ‘The Bodyguard‘. Also nominated that year was what I believe to be one of the most brilliant albums ever produced, a piece of work far above anything Whitney Houston had ever done in her entire career: ‘Ten Summoner’s Tales‘, by Gordon Sumner, better known as Sting. That the folks who award the Grammies would consider ‘The Bodyguard’ a better album that ‘Ten Summoner’s Tales’ was incomprehensible to me. I was of course still operating on the assumption that the Grammies were about musical talent!

‘Ten Summoner’s Tales’ was Sting’s fourth solo album since the breakup of the Police; the title of course is a pun on his name, Gordon Sumner, and a character in Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’. The album was noticeably more upbeat than its predecessor, ‘The Soul Cages’, and produced two hit singles in North America, ‘I I Ever Lose My Faith in You’ and ‘Fields of Gold’. But it also contained other wonderful songs, like ‘Seven Days’ (in 7/4 time), ‘Shape of My Heart’, and ‘She’s Too Good for Me’.

The core band for the album was of course Sting on bass and vocals, Dominic Miller on guitar, Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, and David Sancious on keyboards. They were backed up by other supporting musicians, but the four of them were the musical powerhouse that drove the album. A few months after it was released I saw a TV special with Sting live somewhere in Italy, with just this four-piece band; they played his recent songs and also some of the old Police hits, and the simplicity and power of their music was awe-inspiring to me. In later years Sting would appear with ever larger and more complicated bands, but I never forgot the power of that simple four-piece. All four of them are of course superb musicians, but I must single out Dominic Miller as one of the most skilled and tasteful sidemen I have ever seen perform.

A long form video with alternative performances and live versions of the tracks was recorded at Sting’s Lake House in Wiltshire and released in conjunction with the CD. From that video, I offer you ‘Fields of Gold’ for your listening pleasure.

In the Bleak Midwinter

Well, the Christmas CD is finally done. You can see the track list above (click on the picture for a bigger image).

I’m just burning the copies on my home computer. If you’d like a copy, send me $15 Canadian ($10 for the CD, $5 for postage and handling) and I’ll send you one. Email me at tim dot chesterton at gmail dot com for my address.

More about the tracks later.

Hope you enjoy it!

Eliza Carthy

I’m not quite sure how I’ve managed to overlook Eliza Carthy until now. I’ve been a big fan of her Dad, Martin Carthy, for years, and I’ve known that they sing together as a band (‘Waterson:Carthy‘, which includes Martin and his wife Norma Waterson, Eliza, and Tim Van Eyken). But I’ve never noticed before what a wonderful voice Eliza has.

A week or two ago I posted a video of Waterson:Carthy from YouTube. Eliza sings a solo on it, and at last I sat up and took notice. Since then I’ve borrowed two of her CDs from the library, Anglicana and Rough Music. I think it’s fair to say that I’m now a fan.

Eliza is a great fiddler and a wonderful singer, but above all she’s a fine interpreter of traditional folk songs. ‘Anglicana’ is made up almost entirely of traditional songs, with the exception of one original fiddle tune; ‘Rough Music’ is overwhelmingly traditional, with the exception of one original song by Eliza and a fiddle tune or two taken from other players. Eliza does her own arrangements of these songs, and her voice is ideally suited to this sort of material.

I notice that she now plays with her own band, ‘The Ratcatchers’ (what a great name!) as well as appearing with her Mum and Dad. I’ll be looking out for her, and I’ll be collecting her CDs too. You can listen to some of her music online at her MySpace pagehere.

Oh, by the way, her Dad Martin Carthy is about to release a new CD with his old mate, former Fairport Convention fiddler Dave Swarbrick. Martin and Dave have worked together before, so this will be a great re-union. Read about it on the Waterson:Carthy website here.