CD Review – GNOSS ‘The Light of the Moon’

The Scottish quartet GNOSS are releasing their latest album ‘The Light of the Moon’ on 7 May 2021.

Their debut album ‘Drawn from Deep Water’ was nominated for 2019 Album of the Year in the Scots Trad Music Awards and this new album is their first recording of all-original material – 12 tracks, a mix of instrumentals and songs featuring the lead vocalist’s arresting voice.

GNOSS ‘The Light of the Moon’

To my ears, the whole CD is a total delight – a far cry from the many ‘fast tunes’ so often associated with Scottish music. The music is fresh, bright and full of variety in tempo and mood. This is skilled, sensitive musicianship complemented by poignant, harmonious lyrics in a rich tapestry of sound. I found myself smiling as I listened to it.

GNOSS are Aidan Moodie (vocals, acoustic guitar) and Graham Rorie (fiddle, mandolin, electric tenor guitar) who hail from the Orkneys, Connor Sinclair (flute, whistles) from Perthshire and Craig Baxter (bodhran, percussion) from Clackmannanshire. Their natural talents were further honed by study at Glasgow’s Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. The double bass of James Lindsay of Breabach complements their signature sound on this album. And the recording and co-production was by Skerryvore’s Scott Wood.

With this pedigree, it’s easy to see why this band has made a huge impact in such a short time. In 2019 they gave a sell-out performance at Celtic Connections, hosted Orkney Folk:The Gathering and made a headline debut at that festival in 2020. This is definitely a band with great promise!

Tempted to buy the album? Good decision! Head over to the GNOSS website to place your order. Want to try before you buy? Great news! You can see GNOSS perform ‘The Light of the Moon’ in its entirety on the final night of CCM Live 2021 Festival (26-28 February). Get your tickets for this whole fabulous festival at https://www.ccmlive.co.uk/tickets/.

New Roots 2021 – calling young musicians!

The call is out to young musicians under the age of 25 who sing or play traditionally based music to enter for New Roots 2021. Whether your style is traditional or contemporary folk, roots or world music, whether you perform traditional material or write your own, the organisers would like to hear from you.   There are two categories, under 18 and 18-24. New Roots has been running since 2000 and the standard rises every year.

The list of judges for 2021 has now been finalised. Between them, Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne, Ffion Mair from the Foxglove Trio, Andy Stafford and Valmai Goodyear represent a wide spectrum of insights into the folk scene. Their task will be firstly to listen to the entries sent in and select the performers who will take part in the final on Sunday October 24, 2021 at Trestle Arts Base in St Albans. On the day they will give constructive feedback to performers. There is no overall winner and everyone who makes it to the final will win one or more performance opportunities. The aim is to match the performers to the opportunities at folk festivals, clubs and other events which are offered to New Roots finalists. At folk clubs, opportunities include support slots, featured spots on singers’ nights and full bookings. Of course, in these uncertain times, it is unclear whether these arrangements will be back to their pre-pandemic state, so we have backup arrangements to hold the finale online, as in 2020 and for online performance opportunities.

Performers who want to enter are invited to complete the entry form on the New Roots web site and email it to info@new-roots.org.uk. In reply, they will get an email telling them how to upload up to 15 minutes of their music. The closing date is 31 August 2021. For further and more up to date information on the web site www.new-roots.org.uk This site also has a form for event organisers who wish to offer performance opportunities for young musicians.

Further details: www.new-roots.org.uk email: info@stalbansfolkmusic.org.uk or ring Alison Macfarlane on 01727 852111.

Great Online Music Coming Up

We’re still in lockdown but there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel. In the meantime, here are some wonderful online gigs to keep our spirits up:-

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Edwina Hayes
  • On Wednesday 17 February at 8.00pm Edwina Hayes is giving her first Zoom concert hosted by Live to Your Living Room. You need to book tickets here. Live to Your Living Room also have lots of other great concerts including Nick Cope on 16 February and David Eagle of the Young’Uns on 20 February – check out their website here
The long-awaited sequel to the first online gig!
  • In the morning at 10.00am on Saturday 20 February, the Spooky Mens Chorale present SPZOOMKY 2, the long awaited sequel to spzoomky. This time they promise even better technology and more ideas to make it (as they term it) a VERY GOOD THING. You need to book your ticket – hurry as places are limited but it’s FREE. Go to  www.spookymen.com to book your tickets. You can of course make a very welcome donation and the link to do this will be in the confirmation email. This is certainly something worth getting out of bed for! (And you can see the first show on the website too, if you missed it first time around)
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Miranda Sykes
  • On Saturday 20 February at 7.30pm Miranda Sykes is giving another concert from her living room via her Facebook page. The theme is ‘Strong Women – Songs written by UK female singer/songwriters’. The concert will be free to watch but there will be a tip jar if you are able to make a donation.
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Chris While and Julie Matthews
  • Also on Saturday 20 February at 7.30pm, Chris While and Julie Matthews are offering a technically stripped down gig, acoustic on Facebook live. They say it won’t have all their normal bells and whistles, lights and full audio and visual production but it will have all the same heart and humour! You don’t need tickets but if you want to contribute to the tip jar that would be very much appreciated. paypal.me/wmhomeconcerts
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  • Over the weekend 26 – 28 February, one of Scotland’s leading folk-based agencies, CCM Live is presenting CCM Live 2021 – an online festival with seven fantastic Scottish artists – Blazin’ Fiddles, Gnoss, Imar, Jenna Reid, RURA, Siobhan Miller and Talisk – streaming live from Glasgow, alongside brand new footage from leading Finnish group Frigg and multi award-winning Canadian roots duo Madison Violet. Full-length, full production and fully covid-safe festival sets streamed directly to your homes around the world! Details on CCM’s Facebook page and tickets available here
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  • For ukulele fans, there is a treat on Saturday 27 February with an all day ukulele festival Ukes for Unicef. Great fun, great music and a great charity to support. Normally a live event, the 2021 version will be online with workshops, open mic sessions, concerts and much more. Head over to the website for more details and to get involved
  • On Saturday 27 February starting at 10.00am, Chester Folk Festival is running an all day online February Folk Day. Artists confirmed so far include The Goat Roper Rodeo Band, Vicki Swan and Jonny Dyer, Full House, Roy Clinging, Graham Bellinger, Kate McCullough, An Croenen, Rondez Vous, The Love Music Trust Youth Ensemble and Nick Mitchell. You can buy your tickets here. This day is a curtain raiser for the 2021 Online Combined Chippenham and Chester Folk Festival 28 – 31 May. That’s another date for your diaries!
Ninebarrow – who will be joined by their full band for the album launch concert
  • On Sunday 28 February at 7.00pm, Ninebarrow are treating us to the second of their Wandering Minstrels episodes – a brand new, very cold(!) adventure – to the wilds of West Dorset and to the South Dorset Ridgeway! The show will be free-to-air here, and you can join Jon and Jay on the night or catch-up at any point after it’s first broadcast! And on 5 March at 7.00pm Ninebarrow are broadcasting their next online concert, filmed in full HD with multiple camera angles at the stunning St James’ church, Poole and complete with spectacular lighting design from Andrew Marsh to bring you the launch of the full band’s great new album ‘A Pocket Full of Acorns’ (which is receiving fabulous reviews). This promises to be a spectacular evening. Book your tickets here
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  • On Friday 5 March at 7.30pm, husband and wife duo Megson are streaming their End Of Winter Celebration Live Stream to celebrate the arrival of Spring and the launch of their new single. They’ll be performing a mix of Megson classics, some older gems and some brand new tracks including the new single – Through The Winter. VIP tickets are available here to include a download of the show and a download of the new single.

I hope you find something in this list to help you get through these difficult times – please continue to support live music and musicians however you can. Thank you.

Whittlesea Straw Bear went Online in 2021

Because of Covid-19 restrictions, the Straw Bear Festival had to take place online in January this year. If, like me, you are missing festivals, you can find most of the videos here www.strawbear.org.uk

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The two Bears – grandfather and grandson – Paul Cornell and Noah Randal. (Photo by Megan Randall)

But how do you run a festival that is based around a central figure dressed in five stone of straw, that usually depends upon crowding several thousand people into a small Fenland town? That was the dilemma facing the Straw Bear organisers as it became clear that live events were not going to be possible in January. Over the summer, they began an 8-month planning process that became Straw Bear Online.

Very early on, they agreed that they would try to run their virtual festival in a way that followed the format of the live event as closely as possible, and that they would put a Bear on the streets of Whittlesey in some form.

The making of the Bear was one of the first things to be finished, mainly by Brian and Christine Kell and Ady Bull, using Brian’s garage as a workshop. Paul Cornell had already offered to be the “isolation Bear”, and a lot of planning was put into a route, risk assessment and whether a small number of the Straw Bearers could serve as a distanced audience along the way. However, as December came around and with Tier 4 and lockdown looming, three generations of the Cornell/Randall family pulled out all the stops to take out the Bear on Christmas Eve and film some poignant footage that had several of their YouTube viewers in tears as it formed the finale of the “Processions through the ages” video.

Paul Cornell was the Isolation Bear (Photo by Ady Bull)

They were also keen to include some exclusive content that people coming to visit for the weekend might not ordinarily see. “How to build a Bear” and interviews with some of the many people who have driven the Bear over the years were well received, without taking away the mystery of the festival’s central figure. As Brian said: “The driver is not the beast. All the driver does is give the Bear mobility. It’s an entity all of its own.”

The Bear makes its way down Gracious Street. (Photo by Christine Kell)

They were also able to bring people together in real time with a selection of Zoom events to choose from. Over 400 people enjoyed two live music sessions led by members of White Rose Morris and the Straw Bearers, who are often found in the Letter B until the small hours of Sunday morning, an at-home ceilidh with top musicians Doug Eunson and Sarah Matthews, with caller Martyn Harvey, and a talk on “40 years of straw and string”.

Putting on Straw Bear Online was a huge amount of hard work, alongside their everyday responsibilities of work and home schooling. Rebecca Kell is worthy of particular mention, as she built an entirely new website from scratch and did almost all of the video editing.

It was a trip down memory lane for many, and there were lots of fond reminiscences in the YouTube chat as they recalled past visits and spotted friends now departed in the archive footage. The organisers were delighted to have it re-affirmed that Straw Bear means so much to so many people. It wasn’t quite like being there in person, but it was the most festival-like experience they could put on while staying at home – and it was definitely the warmest Straw Bear ever!

And we are all very much looking forward to the time – whenever that may be – that the Straw Bear can once again dance through the streets of Whittlesea.

Something Special for Valentine’s Day

On Sunday 14 February at 2.00pm GMT, Folk on Foot bring us all together in a FREE six hour Festival of Love – a virtual joining of hands around the UK and the world. The artists are Bella Hardy, Beth Porter and the Bookshop Band, The Breath, Chris Wood, Eliza Carthy, Gwilym Bowen Rhys, Heidi Talbot, Jon Boden, Karine Polwart, Kerry Andrew/You Are Wolf, Kitty Macfarlane, Kris Drever, Lady Nade, Lisa Knapp and Gerry Diver, Martin Simpson, Nancy Kerr and James Fagan, O’Hooley and Tidow, Peggy Seeger, Rachel Newton, Sam Lee, Seckou Keita, Seth Lakeman and Steve Knightley. Each artist will sing an original love song, a traditional love song and a cover version of someone else’s love song.

Although the Festival is free to watch, if you can, please show your love for musicians by making a donation. Half the money raised will go to the charity Help Musicians to support musicians facing severe financial hardship and the other half will be divided equally between the 28 artists taking part in the Festival.

Full details on Facebook or the Folk on Foot website.