Talking Elephant

The Slambovian Circus Of Dreams.
Acapela Studios Pentyrch, Cardiff 19 June 2024.
From the album and live “A Good Thief Tips His Hat 25th Anniversary Tour

I started with a lovely sunny day and a gig that I have been looking forward to since it was announced. Halfway, or thereabouts, up the Garth mountain the old village chapel was the venue.

Right on time the band arrived on stage to a good reception. After a show of hands almost half had never seen the band before, a few had seen them elsewhere, and half the audience, including me, saw them at Fairport’s Cropredy Convention in 2022.

They launched the music with Great Slambovians, a driving piece which had the audience in the palm of their hands from the first few chords onwards. A relaxed introduction was followed by two tracks from the debut album, A Good Thief Tips His Hat, Silent Revolution and Radio where the band showed off their chops. Drummer Matthew was playing gentler than normal in the small venue, but bassist RJ was in full flow, as was Sharkey on guitar and mandolin. Joziah took the lead vocals and acoustic Guitar. Tink, the bands multi-instrumentalist, thanks to Joziah’s jumping around the setlist, nearly always seemed to have the wrong instrument to hand. But with a choice of flute, percussion, Cello, accordion, electric sitar that was easy to do. She added her colour and talent to every piece they played.

Step Outta Time was a nod to four more of their influences, Bob Dylan, Pete Seger, Jethro Tull and The Allman Brothers, the palette is very varied. As Tink adjusted for one set change an improvised When I’m 64 broke out. Short but sweet. As the interval approached there was a lengthy Beez to get us there. In their own self-effacing way the promise to anyone who came back after the interval they would play a better second half was greeted by the usual applause and cheers. With a first half that good, could they top it?

Yes, They Could, starting with Circus Of Dreams, keeping the energy level high. Pushing up daisies did the same before slowing down for A Good Thief Tips His Hat, very Dylan like in its delivery, but in tune. Holy Rollers is a song about Joziah’s childhood, think heavy Tom Petty for the performance and you’re nearly there. Despite those comparisons their sound is their own.

Tink took me back to that very hot summer’s afternoon at Cropredy in 2022. Laid back, and just rolling over everything sonically it’s a beautiful track, building to a magnificent slide mandolin solo from Sharkey, with Jimi Hendrix style use of pedals. You can see the video of that piece on their website. Closing the set was the fine, rocking Trans-Slambovian Bipolar Express.

The encore was the very tender Never Fit, showing some fine vocal harmonies without the rocking instruments behind. A great evening, brought down carefully at the end, all went home happy but peacefully, not disturbing the village.  I look forward to their return.

Ian Burgess

21 June 2024

Two's Up Two - Simon Care and Gareth Turner

I first came across Gareth Turner in 2000 and 2001 as a member of The Phil Beer Band. Looking back at photos from that time he appears far too young to have been the consummate musician that he clearly was. One might be tempted to offer youthfulness as the reason he, along with Nick Quarmby, nipped out for a smoke straight after the gig and never did sign the sleeve of my CD. But, despite the baby face, he was just turning 30 and already had a few years with Little Johnny England under his belt to add to almost two decades of experience, learning and playing melodeon for the Morris side in his home village of Moulton. It wasn’t until a few years later that I finally caught an LJE gig and, standing alongside GT at the bar, he more than made up for the missing signature, genuinely remembering and buying me a drink. And so started a friendship that grew and grew until the tragedy of his death last year. A friendship nurtured at innumerable festivals, most especially Cropredy, where Gareth’s G&Ts were the legendary cause of many a “morning after”. From time to time, when close by for a gig, he’d drop in for a meal and wax lyrical over Jeanie’s seafood chowder. Despite always asking, he didn’t ever get the recipe and I guess now is the time to come clean. There never was a recipe, each one a unique creation, just like Gareth. 

In 1997 Gareth was involved in plans for the band that shortly after emerged as Little Johnny England while Simon, having recently joined the lineup of Edward II, had released one album with them and was working on the next. Both were also still heavily involved with the Moulton village morris side and thought, if the side needed two melodeons, maybe the rest of the world could benefit as well? They recorded the 11 track album Two’s Up and admit to having been genuinely surprised at how well it was received. So much so that a follow up album seemed the obvious next step and, 27 years later, here it is, Two’s Up Two. Paired with the original Two’s Up for release as a two album set, it is, naturally, dedicated to Gareth’s memory and all profits will go to The Cynthia Spencer Hospice whose care and compassion was invaluable to Gareth and his family during the last year of his life.

The gatefold sleeve carries a small selection of before and after photos of the pair and a short summary of the when, the how and the why of the album, making the reader fully aware of how great an achievement it was for them to complete the recording of these tracks. Simon summed it up, (Gareth) “being a total legend, we managed to capture this recording. I’m so glad that we did because we didn’t know we would lose him so soon.” 

Also on the sleeve are the usual production credits, engineer Angus Wallace, mixing Stefan Care, mastering Andrew Thompson. But also listed are four guest musicians and the tracks on which they played. Put the track numbers together and you find there’s at least one guest on every track. So, before even listening to the album, this definitely ramps up the anticipation level as does the wide range of writing credits shown in the track listing. Matching information for the 1997 album isn’t given on this re-issue, I guess there just wasn’t room on the sleeve, but a little digging reveals there’s one name common to both albums, that of Phil Beer. He played a big part in the 1997 production, credited as engineer and producer and as playing fiddle, mandocello, mandolin and guitar. And, true to form, he’s been around to again contribute fiddle and guitar 27 years later.

Two’s Up Two opens with one of the most instantly recognisable morris tunes, Princess Royal. Both melodeons weave around the melody line supported by Nick Ellison on fiddle and add beef to the arrangement with chords from their lower register. For the final run through of the melody they mix humour into their arrangement of this most traditional of pieces, injecting staccato pauses into the slow final phrase. Next up is a pair of Simon’s tunes, Snowchains and Burning Bridges with Tim Walker, Simon’s bandmate in Banter, keeping up the lively rhythm with a variety of tapping and jangling percussion. A second guest on the track is Guy Fletcher, Gareth’s colleague from Little Johnny England. Guy is present on a total of four tracks adding mandocello, fiddle and guitar to the mix. Both these guests also contribute to the next track, a three tune set. The first tune, Brilliant Pebbles, was written by Rees Wesson the Edward II melodeon player prior to Simon joining. This merges into Mampy Moose, another tune written by a one time member of Edward II, trombone player John Hart, and a tune that Gareth relished playing with The Phil Beer Band. The final tune in the set is Barroom Brawl. 

With Bonnets So Blue/ Upton on Severn we’re back to traditional dance music and also a further appearance for Nick Ellison, this time adding some pizzicato fiddle. There are two further tracks of traditional dance tunes, Webley Twizzle/Highland Mary with Nick Ellison again and Border Morris Medley, snippets of several tunes that provide an opportunity for Tim Walker to again contribute percussion and also use his trumpeting skills to add a brass part. The Gaslight March turns a spotlight once more on Tim’s trumpet and stands out as the only Gareth and Simon joint composition on the album.

It’s not until track 7 that Phil Beer’s name appears in the credits. The track opens with Goldrush, a Gareth composition and the second and third tunes, Thomas’ Morris and Chasing the Jack are Phil’s, previously appearing on his Hardworks compilation album. His guitar backs the melodeons on both tunes and on Chasing the Jack his fiddle is certainly there, battling the boxes for a slice of the melody. Phil also plays on the final two tracks along with Guy Fletcher. Battle before Bedtime/ A Reel for Kelly, are both Gareth’s tunes and the last track, Midnight on the Water/ Eliza’s Waltz, pairs Texas fiddler Luke Thomasson’s well known tune with one that Gareth wrote for his granddaughter. With both Phil and Guy in the mix, the melodeons don’t have it all their own way in these final tunes, both fiddle and mandocello making their presence felt.

Two’s Up Two is, naturally, a lot of melodeon but the tune selection and guest contributions have ensured that, just as with the 1997 album, the music has a broad appeal. Plus, there’s a weird comfort to be drawn from knowing these tunes are the final gift Gareth wanted to leave us and, don’t forget, buying Two’s Up Two helps fund the hospice that was crucially important in Gareth’s last months. For me, listening to it keeps alive the memories of Gareth on stage, wrestling with his melodeon as if it were a wild animal that only he could tame.

Johnny Whalley.


The second, yet second to none, chapter of a breathtaking endeavor from performers of esteemed vintage – possessed of envious vim and impeccable taste.

With the first advent of “Bold Reynold” being so perfect as to set a new milestone in folk rock’s existence, a follow-up to the project’s debut could not surpass it, right? Even if “Too” would never suffer from a difficult sophomore album syndrome due to this platter’s mostly traditional cache of material, the veteran players simply could not perform such a no mean feat, right? Given the musicians’ age, their vigor could not sustain, right? Wrong! On all three accounts, wrong! If anything, David Carroll has managed to adjust instrumental interfaces between his friends to an extent where no seams seem to show at the joints of FAIRPORTS’ contemporary crunch and GRYPHON’s medieval mellowness; and if the temporal pendulum swings either side once in a while, there are fine-fettle singers to smooth the sonic edges. The upshot of their summit might feel sublime, had the lyrics not sound too funny too often, but the payoff is truly phenomenal.

It won’t take long for the listener to merrily join the “We were amongst ‘em!” refrain of opener “The Battle Of Sowerby Bridge” and see Carroll lead his flock to greener pastures, beckoned by Brian Gulland’s woodwinds and tuba and given a marching groove by Daves Oberlé and Pegg’s respective drums and bass – before the Oberlé-voiced cover of “Gweebarra Shore” offers anguished elegy and soothes one’s soul. It will be echoed further on in the fluttery motifs of “Slieve Gallion Braes” – only to reach there the audience are to engage again, now in the intoxicating (or intoxicated) chorus of “Down Among The Dead Men” and no less life-affirming “Johnnie Jump Up” as the bouzouki-sprinkled former gets high on Graeme Taylor’s electric guitar, and the bodhran-propelled latter on Chris Leslie’s fiddle and Lucy Cooper’s no-nonsense vocal delivery. However, nothing can punch the punters more forcefully than the riff-driven double drama of “Sheath And Knife” – a Child Ballad which David and his ensemble turn into an emotionally charged epic, with a fantastic six-string solo and robust bassoon binding – and “A Little Of One With T’other” that lute and recorders drop to hellish depth and elevate to celestial heights.

On the contrary, the elegantly sad “A Week Before Easter” is rather bucolic, imposing a genuine tragedy air on a sympathetic psyche, yet “Pace Egging Song” and “The Keach In The Creel” which assign roles to a few of the artists unfold arresting aural spectacles, and the drone of “McShane” – another jig-tipped piece – doesn’t fail to bring forth a smile to the public’s faces, especially when whistle and sax rise to the number’s surface. Signing off with an a cappella rendition of “Adieu, Sweet Lovely Nancy” that flaunts the dry wonder of a five-part harmony, the circle of friends allow everyone to come down and wander into the night to marvel about a single line from this album: can “change is true music’s mother” define the next chapter of the “Bold Reynold” mythos?

David Jackson & René van Commenée – Keep Your 

Lane: Album Review

David Jackson & René van Commenée dig deep and find buried treasure.

I’ve got a hint of the Davide Coverdale/Jimmy Page album here given the roadsign theme of the artwork. And like the short-lived/ill-fated Coverdale / Page combo, the Jackson / van Commenée partnership is a fascinating one – and with hopefully more longevity. The duo in fact have some considerable history, taking in various forms. It’s quite a backstory to fill.

Rene has worked with Dave with various gigs and tours over the years, even turning his hand to driving the tour bus. Not something you could see Coverdale or Page resorting to. He’s also an important visual artist having designed covers for various Jackson projects. His skill on drums and unusual percussion was a later revelation that led to the duo’s first live CD project together, Batteries Included, in the early 90s.

It goes without saying, although we will, how Jackson was a key member of Prog Rock giants, Van Der Graaf Generator. The sight of his iconic headgear and oft with two instruments packed in between his lips was a common one in the days when Prog was king, as the man once described as “the Van Gogh of the saxophone” added his distinctive sax and flute parts to a series of albums between 1969 and 2005. Add Peter Gabriel, Peter Hammill, David Cross (King Crimson) and Keith Tippett to his CV and you can see why it was such a thrill to see him play with Kaprekar’s Constant at the Brasenose Fringe in Cropredy a couple of times.

Across time, across genres and across countries; the COVID pandemic and social and musical isolation proved scant barriers to the pairing with Jackson using the period to sift through his cupboard full of musical ideas whilst exploring, expanding and orchestrating some of the older dormant recording projects in his archive. Lockdown time also provided the opportunity to consider musical pieces he’d always wanted to attempt and never done. Add a Zoom call to the equation and – long story short – we arrive at Keep Your Lane.

So how sounds this collection of tracks that sees the duo joined by several noteworthy guests – principal players being Colin Edwin (Porcupine Tree) on bass plus John Ellis (Peter Gabriel & The Stranglers); Andrew Keeling (Composer & Gong Farmers) & Dorie Jackson (Francis Dunnery & Kaprekar’s Constant and of course, Dave’s daughter) – actually sound?

It finds the apple falling not too far from the tree as the pair take up the challenge of creating instrumental works that hold the interest. Taking the occasional turn to nip into the spotlight where the wind or the percussion breaks the surface, Keep Your Lane sees the pieces cleverly and respectfully arranged to ensure a satisfying balance. Get A Grip! – which is playing at this very moment – is a point in case. A straightforward snare rhythm, with the occasional flourish, provides a hypnotic charm along with a repetitive deep resonance while a melody snakes out over the top.

But back to the start; Eternal Caravans glides in on what’s not the first gently swirling desert scene, complete with fanfares and evocative travelogue visions and paired with the more light-hearted Garden Shed, providing advance notice of what to expect. Gateway – the seasonal single – fits the bill very nicely thank you very much. A hint of the sort of organic Tull/Ian Anderson rusticness chirps in for the first of several visits but with comes with a side of some gutsy and busy percussion. Closing piece, Felona also has a strong seasonal vein running through the gentle march, embroidering the tune with a dash of rosy-cheeked jollity.

The boldness of Gridlockdown can’t help but invoke visions of Seventies US cop show funk. There may even be some bongos sitting in the background as the palm trees and oversized flares sway in the Florida breeze while the protagonists chase the bad guys through belly-dancing bars and dark alleyways. By contrast, we get a trip to the Hills Of The North might bring the feeling of comfort and joy with the brass band warmth that (surely?) give the piece its title. Maybe more medieval slow dance than Hovis and cobbled streets; nonetheless, most stately and refined.

Talking of titles, the percussive pattering and layering in Pinball Potter might have been the inspiration for the title. More of a showcase for René this one, including a drum part that adds a kick just when you feel the arrangement has reached saturation point. In a similar vein, the delicacy of the oriental percussion on Waving At Strangers is disturbed by some raw honking that eventually falls into step.

For anyone looking for Dave to call upon his prog roots, the lengthy excursion of the strangely titled ‘Pioneers Over C, 2023’ plays out over ten minutes. Perhaps even a hint of those roots in the title? The brassy and jazzy workout might even see the contemporary influence of the Kaprekar project waving a slight influence alongside some Crimsonesque flourishes. There’s also a riff (or recurring motif?) at around four minutes, repeated later at the nine-minute mark that sounds familiar, like some blast from the past, which I can’t quite place!

Keep Your Lane proves a fine testament to two musicians. Again, to unearth and repeat some ancient music paper quote: “not so much a band, more a meeting place,” their hidden stashes of music and wealth of experience that make it possible for them to come together and create such a relevant piece. With VdGG’s Peter Hammill still beating a bold path, here’s another album that should be devoured by the classic Prog audience.

Jackson, David & Commenee, Rene van: 

Keep Your Lane

David Jackson continues to be extremely active, the one-time Van Der Graaf Generator man gracing us with new music under a variety of guises. The latest is Keep Your Lane, an album that finds the saxophonist and flutist (and more) collaborating with his long time friend and musical companion Rene van Commenee on what is, rather conversely, an album that is both complexly remote and yet instantly engaging.

With Colin Edwin (Porcupine Tree) also involved along the way, this lockdown album is dark and deep in a way that many collections of music created during that time tend to be. And yet on Keep Your Lane there’s also a melodic light and shade that often offers hope and release. “Gateway” is a strong example, remote themes and whispers of sounds bolstered by some much more readily welcoming movements, and when some more unexpected elements make an appearance, things turn into an energetic romp in a way never initially anticipated. “Waving At Strangers” on the other hand is moody, murky and much less of an easy journey, but still somehow enhancing the experience. As you’d expect, Jackson is immaculate throughout but it’s the arrangements and intertwining between instruments that make this album the experience it becomes.

Moods arrive thick and fast, “Get A Grip!” a languid piece that barely feels like it’s being held together, “Pinball Potter” a clanking encounter that floats on flute and much more. Add in the dancing “Felona” and the almost demented marching band feel of “Eternal Caravans” and the ground covered on Keep Your Lane isn’t just impressively wide, but it also ensures you stay locked in throughout.