Timber and Steel’s Top Albums of 2015

Record Player

If anything has characterised 2015 for me in terms of new albums it’s that we finally saw debuts from some of our favourite artists. So many bands these days are serial EP releasers so it’s great to see the likes of Patrick James, Falls Marlon Williams and more knuckle down and get into the studio. It’s also great to see the return of firm favourites after time away and an explosion of traditional music that pushes boundaries and challenges our perception of what trad music can be.

Coming up with a top 25 list is always a challenge (let alone putting them in some kind of order) but I think what we’ve come up with is a wonderful cross section of all the genres of “folk” music we cover on Timber and Steel – from singer-songwriter to Americana to indie folk to traditional and beyond.

So without further ado here it is – our top 25 albums and EPs from 2015!

Kate and Ruth

1. Kate Burke & Ruth HazletonDeclaration

What a year 2015 has been for traditional music. Maybe it’s just me but it seems like a lot more trad is breaking through at the moment and the icing on the cake this year has been the incredible new album from Kate Burke & Ruth Hazleton, Declaration.

This is the duo’s first album in about eight years and their return to the studio has been a welcome one. Once again teaming with producer Luke Plumb, Declaration is loosely themed around traditional music from the female perspective with a few contemporary tracks thrown in for good measure.

The tracks are rich, heartbreaking, emotional and beautiful. So many of the songs deal with pretty heavy themes such as domestic violence (“Bleezin’ Blind Drunk”), false accusations of adultery (“Waly Waly”) and the disintegration of a woman’s public reputation (“Katy Cruel”) and these are conveyed with resonance by Burke and Hazleton. Hearing these two singing together again reminds me of why I fell in love with their harmonies all those years ago.

The two originals on the album – “The Freeze” and “Hearts Of Sorrow” – are two of my favourites and they make me wish Kate Burke & Ruth Hazleton were more prolific as songwriters. Maybe one day we’ll get a full album of self penned tracks?

I love how much Kate Burke & Ruth Hazleton have matured as performers over the last 15 years. Gone is the rigid need to stick 100% to the tradition and instead we have a fluid take on the material that draws as much from contemporary music as it does from Anglo, Celtic and American music. A simply wonderful album

Sufjan

2. Sufjan StevensCarrie & Lowell

Touted as the return to Folk Music for Sufjan Stevens, Carrie & Lowell is in fact the next step in his musical evolution. Rather than shrugging off the electronic chaos of his recent albums, Stevens has merely toned it down and brought back his acoustic guitar to dive into the complex relationship with his mother following her passing. This album is so raw, so nuanced and deserved of every bit of praise that has been heaped upon it.

Fanny Lumsden

3. Fanny LumsdenSmall Town Big Shot

I’ve always predicted big things for Fanny Lumsden ever since I saw her perform at a rooftop bar in Sydney many moons ago. Small Town Big Shot is the album that is currently turning Lumsden from Sydney’s alt-country darling to a favourite of the Australian country scene. The album is full of Fanny Lumsden’s true-to-life accounts of growing up in rural Australia while never straying into the Americanised, dust kicking ideal of country life so often portrayed by Australian country artists. Not to be ignored, Lumsden’s band The Thrillseekers add a rich musical tapestry to her songs and really seem to have gelled as group. Only released in September there’s a lot of life in Small Town Big Shot so we’ll continue to see Fanny Lumsden riding high off it’s ever growing success in 2016.

Paper Kites

4. The Paper Kitestwelvefour

The Paper Kites have produced what has to be one of the most interesting concept albums of recent years. twelvefour was written exclusively between the hours of 12am and 4am as frontman Sam Bentley believed this is when people are at their most creative. The result is stunning – a patchwork of eighties electro influences and the band’s trademark indie-folk – and will no doubt go down as a high watermark in their career. twelvefour feels very deliberately structured moving from the straight up electro of “Electric Indigo” and “Relevator Eyes” to more folky numbers in the second half of the album (“A Silent Cause” is a standout for me). I’m interested to see where The Paper Kites take their sound next.

Packwood

5. PackwoodAutumnal

This year chamber-folk artist Packwood released four seasonally themed EPs as part of his Vertumnus album project. The first of these was Autumnal which has remained my firm favourite through all of the subsequent releases. Gone is Packwood’s trademark sparsely plucked banjo (don’t worry, it returns in later EPs) and instead we get delicately fingerpicked guitar accompanied by choir and chamber orchestra. The songs are delicate and sumptuous and Packwood has really come a long way as a songwriter since his debut. Put on Autumnal, close your eyes and let the world fall away.

Laura Marling

6. Laura MarlingShort Movie

We’re now five albums into Laura Marling’s career and her songwriting has never been stronger. On her latest release Short Movie Marling’s songwriting takes on a freeform, Dylan-esque mode only hinted at on previous albums and it takes her into some very ineteresting places. There’s a lot more electric guitar on Short Movie and at times she descends into beat-poet-like spoken word phrases (like on the amazing “Gurdjieff’s Daughter”) yet no one is crying that Marling’s turned her back on her folk roots (like Marling’s old band Mumford & Sons). Instead Short Movie is being praised as an evolution of her sound and while it is miles away from her 2008 debut Alas, I Cannot Swim, both musically and stylistically, this is 100% a Laura Marling album.

Pittsburgh

7. William FitzsimmonsPittsburgh

In his ode to his recently passed Grandmother and her home town of Pittsburgh, William Fitzsimmons has created a delicate, beautiful piece of magic. This is his first self-produced album since 2006’s Goodnight and it does feel markedly different from his recent releases – the production is not a slave to his voice and guitar, instead it sits more comfortably as part of each song. At only seven tracks long Pittsburgh leaves you warm and fuzzy and wanting more.

Outlier

8. Patrick JamesOutlier

It seems like 2015 saw a lot of long time favourite Timber and Steel artists finally got around to releasing their debut album – and one of the debuts we were most excited about was from Patrick James. Over the course of a bunch of EPs Patrick James has refined his James Taylor-esque folk songs and Outlier is the culmination of years of solid songwriting. The production on Outlier makes the most of James’ unique voice and elevates his solo singer-songwriter roots into a rich, luscious landscape.

Wilder Mind

9. Mumford & SonsWilder Mind

With all of the attention on Mumford & Sons “ditching the banjo” and turning their back on folk music when Wilder Mind came out very little attention was paid to the album itself. Which is a shame because it’s another solid outing for the boys. If you push through the electric guitars and drums you discover that Wilder Mind is unmistakably a Mumford record with big choruses, melodies dripping with four part harmonies and festival ready lyrical hooks. And anyone who has seen Mumford & Sons this year will know they have in no way ditched the banjo – Wilder Mind sits perfectly within their entire catalogue.

Omaha

10. FallsOmaha

It took Falls moving to LA 18 months ago (and dropping the “The”) to produce their gorgeous debut album Omaha. Falls have expanded their two-voices-and-a-guitar sound to an almost orchestral level, but at the forefront is still their lyrically driven melodies and beautiful harmonies. I’m actually really impressed that all of the tracks on Omaha having seen them perform almost exclusively from their Hollywood EP before their big move Stateside. Now we just need a national Australian tour off the back of the album!

Omaha

11. TolkaOne House

The stunning result of trad band Tolka’s trip to Belfast last year to write and record a new album – one of the tightest trad bands in the country.

Limit of Love

12. Boy & BearLimit of Love

Boy & Bear return with a 70s vibe and a bunch of new tracks that saw the band collaborating on the songwriting duties.

If I Was

11. The StavesIf I Was

The Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) production on The Staves’ debut elevates their sound from simple three part harmonies to full blown indie-folk goodness.

Secret Victory

12. The East PointersSecret Victory

The result of writing sessions on their summer tour of Australia, The East Pointers have written 10 original tracks that sound as if they’ve been ripped directly from the tradition.

Monterey

13. The Milk Carton KidsMonterey

Monterey is the closest The Milk Carton Kids have come to capturing their mesmerising live show on record – this is something special.

Freewheeler

14. Dougal Adams, Ado Barker & Ben StephensonThe Freewheeler

Instead of complaining that it’s been too long between albums for Trouble in the Kitchen get your trad fix with the debut album from Dougal Adams, Ado Barker & Ben Stephenson.

Solitude

15. Ruby BootsSolitude

The Perth songstress has nailed down an amazing band and has produced one of the best alt-country albums of the last few years.

Tomorrow Is My Turn

16. Rhiannon GiddensTomorrow Is My Turn

In her debut solo album Rhiannon Giddens has built on the trad and old time of her work with the Carolina Chocolate Drops and spun it into something new and very exciting.

Marlon Williams

17. Marlon WilliamsMarlon Williams

With a voice that has reduced grown men and women to tears, there’s a lot to love about Marlon Williams’ debut record – this man is taking country music back to its roots and winning fans every step of the way.

Inside Llewyn Davis

18. VariousAnother Day, Another Time: Celebrating the Music of Inside Llewyn Davis

The folk and Americana industry’s best come together for a night of music inspired by the 60s folk scene and to a lesser extent the Cohen Brothers’ film Inside Llewyn Davis.

Dream's End

19. Matt BauerDream’s End

On his latest album Matt Bauer has upped the production stakes, forgoing his normally sparse folk songs and the result is wonderful.

Punch Brothers

20. Punch BrothersThe Phosphorescent Blues

I think it’s time to stop referring to Punch Brothers as “bluegrass” or “nu-grass” or anything at all – with The Phosphorescent Blues they have proven they are undefinable.

WHITE LIES

21. Mustered CourageWhite Lies and Melodies

Mustered Courage have always been the most polished bluegrass band in Australia but they’ve upped the ante with their new album adding a pop sheen to their sound.

Hell Breaks Loose

22. Shane NicholsonHell Breaks Loose

The godfather of the Australian Americana scene released one of the year’s best country albums – all heartbreak and whisky and everything that’s good about this kind of music.

The Decemberists

23. The DecemberistsWhat A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World

A welcome return to the studio from The Decemberists to follow up their amazing 2011 album The King Is Dead – a little less folk, a little more rock and all sorts of goodness.

Josh Pyke

24. Josh PykeBut For All These Shrinking Hearts

Australia’s premiere troubadour delivers yet another stunning album with his trademark wry lyrics and hooky melodies.

S

25. Emmy The GreatS

Emmy The Great slides into electro music while maintaining the folk-inspired melodies she’s become known for.

Thank Folk It’s Friday – 16th October

TFIF

This Week in Folk

All the News From The Week That Was

– The next Heartbreaker Sessions takes place this weekend featuring Leo Rondeau and Skyscraper Stan. Details here

Port Fairy Folk Festival announced its second round of artists including Cedric Burnside Project, Shooglenifty, Kristina Olsen, Steve Earle & The Dukes, Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin, Spiro, Archie Roach, Colin Hay, Graeme Connors, Cat Canteri, Damian Howard, Flamenco Fire, Kaurna Cronin, Marcia Howard, Oriel Glennen, Sol Nation, The Barleyshakes, The BordererS, The Furbelows, The Little Stevies, The Mae Trio, The Timbers, The Tolka Big Band and Tinpan Orange. Details here

– The Surfing the Coldstream Festival is this weekend. Details here

Dougal Adams, Ado Barker & Ben Stephenson will release their new album The Freewheeler this weekend. Details here

– American singer-songwriter William Fitzsimmons announced his debut Australian tour in 2016. Details here

– Sydney folk night Bluegrass @ Yulli’s announced The Andrew Collins Trio as their feature artist this week. Details here

Falls released their gorgeous new video “Let In The Light”. Details here

José González has announced Australian shows next year. Details here

– Americana singer Aoife O’Donovan has announced plans to release her second solo album In The Magic Hour. Details here

– The Majors Creek Festival announced its 2015 lineup including Heath Cullen, Kate Burke & Ruth Hazleton, Women in Docs, The Timbers, Bill Jackson with Pete Fidler, Dear Orphans, Echo Deer, Edema Ruh, Enda Kenny, Little Wise, Maia Jelavic, Riogh, Shiny Bum Singers, Sparrow-Folk, The April Maze and many more. Details here

– More artists have been added to this year’s Australasian Worldwide Music Expo (AWME) including Kutcha Edwards, Three Kings, Raised By Eagles and more. Details here

Releases This Week

Bellowhead
Pandemonium – The Essential BellowheadBellowhead
iTunes

Dan Flynn
Preparing for FlightDan Flynn and The State of Things
Bandcamp

Paddy
OutlierPatrick James
iTunes

Timber and Steel Recommends – Go To This Gig

Dougal Adams, Ado Barker & Ben Stephenson

The Freewheeler

Three of Australia’s finiest Irish musicians, Dougal Adams (flute), Ado Barker (fiddle) and Ben Stephenson (guitar) come together to launch their new album The Freewheeler

Saturday 17th October – Golden Glory Studio, Melbourne, VIC

Gigs Next Week

April Maze
Friday 16th October – Pelican Playhouse, Grafton, NSW
Saturday 17th October – Surfing the Coldstream Festival, Yamba, NSW

Arbori
Thursday 22nd October – The Bald Faced Stag, Sydney, NSW

Ash Grunwald
Friday 16th October – Triffid, Brisbane, QLD
Saturday 17th October – Hotel Metropole, Ipswich, QLD
Sunday 18th October – Miami Marketta, Gold Coast QLD
Wednesday 21st October – Sugarland Tavern, Bunderberg, QLD
Thursday 22nd October – Flamingos on Quay, Rockhampton, QLD
Friday 23rd October – Magnums Hotel, Airlie Beach, QLD

Bluegrass @ Yulli’s feat. The Andrew Collins Trio
Wednesday 21st October – Yulli’s, Sydney, NSW

Colm Mac Con Iomaire
Friday 16th October – Foxtel Festival Hub, Melbourne, VIC
Saturday 17th October – Foxtel Festival Hub, Melbourne, VIC

Dan Parsons
Friday 23rd October – Billyroy’s Blues Bar, Bendigo, VIC

Dana Hassall
Friday 23rd October – Chevron Renaissance Shopping Centre, Surfers Paradise, QLD

Davidson Brothers
Saturday 17th October – Foggy Mountain Bluegrass Festival, Kinglake, VIC
Friday 23rd to Sunday 25th October – Dorrigo Folk & Bluegrass Festival, NSW

Dawes with Barna Howard & Tracy McNeil
Sunday 18th October – Meeniyan Town Hall, Meeniyan, VIC
Tuesday 20th October – Northcote Social Club, Melbourne, VIC
Wednesday 21st October – Newtown Social Club, Sydney, NSW

Dorrigo Folk & Bluegrass Festival
Friday 23rd to Sunday 25th October – Dorrigo, NSW

Dougal Adams, Ado Barker & Ben Stephenson
Saturday 17th October – Golden Glory Studio, Melbourne, VIC

Fanny Lumsden
Friday 16th October – Pleasant Hills Hall, Pleasant Hills, NSW
Saturday 17th October – Binya Hall, Binya, NSW
Friday 23rd October – Memo Music Hall, St Kilda, VIC

Fleurieu Folk Festival
Friday 23rd to Sunday 25th October – Willunga, SA

Foggy Mountain Bluegrass Festival
Friday 16th to Sunday 18th October – Kinglake, VIC

Folkswaggon
Wednesday 21st October – Cafe Lounge, Sydney, NSW

Heartbreaker Sessions feat. Leo Rondeau, Skyscraper Stan
Sunday 18th October – Freda’s Bar, Sydney, NSW

Imogen Clark w/ Timothy James Bowen
Thursday 22nd October – Django Bar, Sydney, NSW

Jamestown Revival
Wednesday 21st October – Northcote Social Club, Melbourne, VIC
Thursday 22nd October – Newtown Social Club, Sydney, NSW

Jeff Lang, Lost Ragas, Alison Ferrier
Sunday 18th October – Caravan Music Club, Oakleigh, VIC

John Flanagan and Liz Frencham
Friday 16th October – Live at the Wharf, Gnomon Pavilion, Ulverstone, TAS

Josh Rennie-Hynes
Friday 23rd and Saturday 24th October – Fleurieu Folk Festival, SA

Kangaroo Valley Folk Festival
Friday 16th to Sunday 18th October – Kangaroo Valley, NSW

Katie Noonan
Friday 16th October – Theatre Royal, Castlemaine, VIC
Saturday 17th October – Melbourne Festival, Melbourne, VIC
Sunday 18th October – Melbourne Festival, Melbourne, VIC
Thursday 22nd October – The Triffid, Brisbane, QLD
Friday 23rd October – The Byron Theatre, Byron Bay, NSW

Kaurna Cronin
Saturday 17th October – Grace Emily, Adelaide, SA

Lachlan Bryan & The Wildes
Friday 9th to Saturday 17th October – Cruisin Country, ex-Sydney, NSW

Laura Marling
Friday 16th October – Astor Theatre, Perth, WA
Saturday 17th October – The Gov, Adelaide, SA
Monday 19th October – Hamer Hall, Melbourne, VIC
Tuesday 20th October – The Enmore Theatre, Sydney, NSW
Wednesday 21st October – The Tivoli, Brisbane, QLD

Lior
Friday 16th October – Athenaeum Theatre, Melbourne, VIC

Loren Kate
Friday 23rd October – Red Mill Store, Bunbury, WA

Lost Ragas
Saturday 17th October – Out On The Weekend Festival, Williamstown, VIC
Sunday 18th October – Caravan Club, Melbourne, VIC
Friday 23rd October – Lazybones Lounge, Sydney, NSW

Musketeer
Saturday 17th October – Parliament on King, Sydney, NSW
Friday 23rd October – The Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle, NSW

Out On The Weekend
Saturday 17th October – Seaworks, Melbourne, VIC

Patrick James
Friday 16th October – Amplifier, Perth, WA
Thursday 22nd October – Theatre Royal, Castlemaine, VIC
Friday 23rd October – 170 Russell, Melbourne, VIC

Sam Brittain
Friday 16th October – The Grace Emily, Adelaide, SA
Friday 23rd October – The Grace Emily, Adelaide, SA

Sam Outlaw with Jonny Fritz, Shelly Colvin & Friends
Friday 16th October – Meeniyan Town Hall, Meeniyan, VIC
Sunday 18th October – Northcote Social Club, Melbourne, VIC
Wednesday 21st October – Grace Emily, Adelaide, SA

Suzannah Espie
Sunday 18th October – Club Mullum, Mullumbimby, NSW

Tablelands Folk Festival
Thursday 22nd to Sunday 25th October – Yungaburra, Qld

The Andrew Collins Trio
Wednesday 21st October – Yulli’s, Sydney, NSW
Friday 23rd to Sunday 25th October – Dorrigo Folk and Bluegrass Festival, NSW

The BordererS
Saturday 17th and Sunday 18th October – Kangaroo Valley Folk Festival, NSW

The Crooked Fiddle Band
Sunday 18th October – Glebe Town Hall, Sydney, NSW

The Go Set
Friday 23rd October – Factory Theatre, Sydney, NSW

The Paper Kites
Friday 16th October – Amplifier, Perth, WA
Saturday 17th October – Settlers Tavern, Margaret River, WA
Thursday 22nd October – Theatre Royal, Castlemaine, VIC
Friday 23rd October – 170 Russell, Melbourne, VIC

The Timbers
Friday 23rd to Sunday 25th October – Fleurieu Folk Festival, Willunga, SA

The Waifs
Saturday 17th October – Townsville Civic Theatre, Townsville, QLD
Sunday 18th October – Musica Botanica, Cairns, QLD
Wednesday 21st October – Bangalow Town Hall, Bangalow, NSW
Thursday 22nd October – Miami Marketta, Gold Coast, QLD

Wingham Akoostik Music Festival
Friday 16th to Sunday 18th October – Wingham, NSW

Winterbourne
Friday 23rd October – Max Watt’s, Brisbane, QLD

Friday Folk Flashback

“Pittsburgh” – William Fitzsimmons

I can’t tell you how excited I am that William Fitzsimmons is finally coming to Australia next year. If you’re not aware of his music let me send you down a YouTube rabbit hole.

Dougal Adams, Ado Barker & Ben Stephenson Set to Release The Freewheeler

The Freewheeler
Image Courtesy of Dougal Adams, Ado Barker & Ben Stephenson

This Saturday three of Australian Irish music’s best, Dougal Adams, Ado Barker & Ben Stephenson, will officially release their brand new album The Freewheeler.

Barker and Stephenson are well known to folk and trad fans as half of Trouble in the Kitchen, with master Irish flute player Dougal Adams joining them to round out the trio.

“Anyone who’s been caught by this music will know the feeling, when it’s really flowing, of the tunes somehow playing themselves,” the trio explained. “Perhaps it’s the combination of time and shared experience that does it, but often when we sit down to play it feels like the music just sets itself loose. Recorded live over a chilly Melbourne weekend, this album is an effort to capture a few of those fleeting moments, to catch the elusive sound of the music rolling free.”

The album features some amazing tunes collected by Dougal Adams, Ado Barker & Ben Stephenson over many years of playing in Australia, Ireland and abroad. You can listen to the album below and then pick it up via Bandcamp here.

Dougal Adams, Ado Barker & Ben Stephenson will be launching The Freewheeler at the Golden Glory Studio in Melbourne on Saturday 17th October – for more information check out the official site here.

National Folk Festival Interview: Trouble in the Kitchen

Trouble in the Kitchen
Image Courtesy of Trouble in the Kitchen

I’m going to warn you here. This interview features 1,500 words of me geeking out over Trouble in the Kitchen. I first saw the band about 15 years ago and have been an avide fan ever since. So getting the chance to interview Trouble in the Kitchen guitarist Kate Burke, who is also one half of Kate and Ruth (we’ll get to them later), was a dream come true. If you can get past the gushing and general hero-worship of this piece there’s a decent interview in there. We promise.

Gareth Hugh Evans: I am going to have a little bit of a geek out moment. The first time I saw Trouble in the Kitchen and Kate and Ruth I think was way back in 1999 which was my first folk festival as an adult. I pretty much attribute my re-education and re-indoctrination into folk and trad music down to you guys.

Kate Burke: Wow.

GHE: And I think what I found so cool is I was this 18 year old and you guys were around the same age as me and you were playing this music, and had this absolute love for it. Up until that point trad music for me had been associated with old guys sitting around in pubs playing “The Rakes of Mallow” or “Mrs McLeod’s Reel”. Where did the love of trad music come from?

KB: It came from different places for all of us. Ado [Barker] – the fiddle player – I don’t know the exact story but I think he was definitely a witness first hand to great players in Canberra. And he became completely immersed in it very quickly when he was about 17. Ben [Stephenson] who’s now our flute player but started out as our bodhrán player – I think he was exposed to the folk scene throughout his youth as well but I think he really came to it from a perspective of being around a lot of English music and then when we found ourselves at the same college I think he started going to sessions then as well. So really the session scene in Canberra was the catalyst for us. I came in after the band’s first incarnation which I think was called Sianar because they needed a guitarist and I just happened to be in a drama class with Ado. I’d always been into folk music like Simon and Garfunkel – that kind of guitar based singing folk music from the sixties. And I saw Sianar play and I loved it but they were so cool, they were really cool people [laughs]. I was quite nervous about joining.

We started off as a band called Cooking for Brides which was myself, Ado, Ben, a woman named Bree from Sydney who came to Canberra from Sydney and played the accordion and Ado’s brother Martin on the cello. After a while that band fell apart but Ado and Beno and I really wanted to keep playing music together – Martin was off doing classical music with his cello playing. Joe Ferguson had just moved to Canberra and he was a bit of a rock star for us – he’d been in bands in Sydney like Reels on Wheels I think one was called. And he was a bit older as well – he had long hair like a heavy metal player down to his waist and he was a bit amazing. And he was really keen to join so that’s when Trouble in the Kitchen started. I think that was 1998. And we also had Dan Gordon who’s a Canberra musician and he played with us for a couple of years at the beginning until Beno figured out that he could play the flute which only took about a year.

I guess that’s where it all came from. The session scene in Canberra was really the main inspiration for all of us. But then of course Ado and Ben in particular went back to recordings of traditional musicians from Ireland and learnt it from the source. They wanted their playing to be as authentic as possible from the beginning.

GHE: I always got the feeling in those early days that The National Folk Festival was kind of your “home” festival, probably because you were all based in Canberra. Even though you were a fairly new band when I first started seeing you guys there was a level of comfort – you were tearing up the session bar at night, you were everywhere throughout the festival during the day. It felt like you guys were already ingrained in that scene.

KB: I think we felt like it was home. Partly because it was in Canberra and we were from Canberra but I think also the nature of the Irish music scene – it’s very inclusive for people who are really dedicated to it. So we immediately found ourselves with friends there. All the session players would come to The National. Anywhere you travelled – wherever you found yourself playing with people it was like a conversation. And that’s why we’ve always loved The National, for its concerts but also its sessions. I can’t even tell you how many nights I’ve spent there playing until dawn!

GHE: I think there was a few of those nights that I would have been sitting in the background just watching you guys play.

KB: One of the great things about Ado and Beno as players is they’ve always been very encouraging of other players too. So I’ve watched them over the years really mentor people, at The National and in Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney. And I think we all do that to a degree, it’s an important part of our music – passing it on and sharing it.

GHE: The other thing that really struck me about your music was was the way you arranged the music. In a session, which is what I had been exposed to prior to seeing you guys, it’s generally old men in sessions playing the set of tunes slowly whereas you guys inserted dynamic and counter melody and harmony. Is that part of the session scene? How do you make a transition from session playing to performance?

KB: I think firstly it’s interesting that you talk about the old men in the sessions playing slowly. They’ve actually been a really really important part of our musical development and upbringing. A lot of the players that came out from Ireland in the 50s went to Melbourne like Joe Fitzgerald, Paddy Fitzgerald and Billy Moran fit that description exactly. Except maybe not playing so slowly [laughs]. Especially the accordion players – it’s so strong and fearless. We learnt a lot pinging off them and learning their tunes.

But then taking the music away again … I guess there were bands like The Bothy Band and Planxty that came well before that we’d been really well aware of. We would find what was exciting for us in the music. Ben and Adrian would work together on the tunes they were going to play, they’d figure out which ones went together well and what a great tune would be to finish on. That kind of progression of which tune goes into another is something that happens in sessions as well, you get inspired to think about what’s coming next. Joe and I would think about the chord arrangements and really our influences come from all over the place. Joe did play in heavy metal band when he was younger. He had a band called Thugs and Terrorists which was a punk band. The way he thinks about chords comes really strongly out of that background. For me I’m not sure. I think probably Bothy Band and players like that would have been a massive influence. I guess in Australia even though we’re quite remote from Ireland we’re lucky in that we have a freedom to take the music where we want it to go. We were able to pick and choose how we wanted it to sound without feeling like we needed to stick really strongly to one method of doing it. So what we did was keep tunes played traditionally and solid and really rooted in the tradition. But with the arrangements we could muck around with it and do what we liked. I’ve always found it really exciting doing that – being able to bring the colours out of the tunes with the chords that go with it. You can change the tune so dramatically.

GHE: Over the last little while Trouble in the Kitchen has, by default I guess, dissolved somewhat as you’ve all moved on to different places and different stages in your life. Joe’s gone and worked with Circus Oz, you’ve become a mum, Ado and Ben have both moved away. Is that a fair assessment of what’s happened with the band?

KB: Yeah absolutely. We just kind of moved off in different directions really quickly. Joe’s not been in the country all that much. I went and started a family. I’m living down near Bega in a town called Candelo. Ben’s got a family in Sydney. Ado’s working as a social worker in Melbourne. So we’re a bit scattered around the country but we really decided it was time to get back in and do it because it’s been such an enormous part of our lives. And we do realise that what we have as a band is quite special for us and we’ve had a lot of feedback from our audience that they’d love us to start playing again. So now’s the time.

GHE: So is The National a one off or is the idea to continue to play together whenever you can?

KB: It’s a bit of a tester I guess. The issue for us is that we’ve got these lives that are scattered around the country. And having young children it’s quite hard to do things like go on the road. So at the moment we’re not really in the position to play together full time or to really take the band on the road or take it overseas like we were doing before. So I guess this is a bit of a starter – we want to just ease into it a bit and see how we’re placed over the next couple of years.

GHE: One last question I did want to ask while I’ve got you: Kate and Ruth, your project with Ruth Hazleton, is also up their with Trouble in the Kitchen as one of my favourite National Folk Festival acts. Do you think you’ll ever revisit Kate and Ruth?

KB: Yeah! We’re actually planning to make a new album this year. Ruth’s also got a young child so that’s the reason we stopped playing for a while. We’re planning to release the album for the next festival season. And then we’ll begin the festivals again.

GHE: That’s super exciting! I love the stuff that you guys do together.

KB: Yeah, we’re excited to. We’re just putting material together at the moment and we’re about to have a rehearsal in the next few days up here in Candelo.

GHE: Well I might leave it there today. Thanks so much for the wonderful chat Kate and good luck with the return of Trouble in the Kitchen.

KB: Thanks so much!

The National Folk Festival takes place in Canberra from the 17th to 21st April. Trouble in the Kitchen’s set times for the festival are below:

Friday 18th April – 2pm Budawang
Saturday 19th April – 7pm Marquee
Sunday 20th April – 11pm Budawang

National Folk Festival Interview: Ado Barker

Ado Barker
Image Courtesy of Ado Barker

Ado Barker is a name that has become synonymous with The National Folk Festival over the years thanks in no small part to his fiddle skills with Trad stars Trouble in the Kitchen. Last year Barker launched his solo album Between Up and Down which he is performing at this year’s National along with fellow Trouble bandmate Ben Stephenson on guitar and bouzouki. We managed to catch Ado Barker as he was preparing to head to Canberra this weekend to chat about the festival, his spiritual home in the Session Bar and what’s happening with Trouble in the Kitchen.

Evan Hughes: You’re performing at the National Folk Festival this weekend. Are you excited about this year’s National?
Ado Barker: Actually in a way I’m more excited than I have been for a while. In the last two years I finally bit the bullet and got a proper job so I’m not coming off a full summer of weekend after weekend heading into this National. It’s a bit of a novelty.
EH: So you’ll be nice and relaxed and ready to hit the festival as a performer and a punter.
AB: That’s it. I’m well and truly up for it.
EH: I think I first saw you with Trouble in the Kitchen in 1999 at the National Folk Festival. You’ve been at the National almost every year since so you must feel a special connection to the festival.
AB: It’s definitely true. It’s our home festival first of all because as far as Trouble went we were all from Canberra – it was the weekend on our doorstop. And in a more spiritual way as well it’s just always had that feeling, that connection to the grassroots which a lot of the [other] festivals have lost to some extent. You head up there Thursday night, you’re back in the Session Bar and it’s like you never left. It’s the same as it was last year and the the year before and ten years before that. It’s the best meeting point for all the people around the traps for people who play our kind of music. The only one I’ve missed since I was 15 was one year when I was overseas so I’ve spent a fair bit of my life in that session bar [laughs].
EH: Obviously you’ve always got your official gigs but I would say the Session Bar is your spiritual home. I think I’ve seen you there more than I’ve seen you on stage.
AB: Yeah, it’s like the community centre. It’s just pure chaos. You can’t describe it. I’ve had mates that have come up and heard about it for years – some just take one taste and love it and some are horrified by it and never come back [laughs]. The crew of us that go year in year out, it’s just in our bones. You’ve just got to have a special pair of ears to carve out a corner in there and play but somehow it just works.
EH: And what makes the Session Bar and the National in general so good is that any average musician can find themselves playing alongside someone like yourself in the same place. There’s no real division between the punters and the musicians.
AB: It’s such a special aspect of the festival. For myself, I sort of had a few tunes I’d learned out of a book the first time I went to the National as a youngster and that full immersion that you can get in the bar was huge for me. That feeling that you can find yourself caught up in the wave. The lines are blurred between who’s on stage and who isn’t which is the way it should be.
EH: Last year you launched your solo album Between Up and Down – well I say solo album but really it was a duo between yourself and bouzouki player Ruairi McGorman.
AB: It’s a funny convention with the trad scene – you say “solo” but they’re never solo albums. Last year Ruairi had booked some version of a Contiki tour in New Zealand and he got the dates wrong so he actually arrived in Canberra in time for the festival.
EH: So you actually launched the album at the festival last year.
AB: Yeah I did. I did a Melbourne launch and a Sydney launch just before it and then there was a guerilla launch [at the National]. The album wasn’t done in time for the application but I was lucky enough to get on and do the launch in the wine bar last year. I guess it’s one of the other reasons I’m so excited about the festival this year as it’s the first National I’ve done in this kind of format with just the fiddle out front. I’m playing this year with Beno [Stephenson], who obviously I’ve played a lot of music with over the years, but not in that kind of form – as a duo with Beno accompanying.
EH: What made you want to get away from the band sound and try and the solo thing with just yourself and an accompanist?
AB: It’s really about freedom. Part of the reason Trouble had such an appeal is that it always had a sense of chaos about it – but part of the reason we could throw it out there and make the edges seem chaotic was because it had such a solid, highly arranged core. Doing the solo stuff it really is just tearing it back to just spontaneity. I think in that sense it’s closer to the music that I feel best expresses myself. There’s no accident that the album happened when it did and that’s really because Ruairi was an accompanist who could really just release the freedom of the tunes which is a really rare thing. I suppose when I’m performing like this it’s just a slightly different kind of zone – I’ve got an idea of what we’re going to do when I get up but it’s not really set. Playing with Beno he’ll definitely have to ride the changes because it’ll all change under his feel. Audiences really respond to that as well because they can tell when something is just a little bit on the edge.
EH: Are you going to be singing during your set or is it just going to be instrumental?
AB: Yeah – there’s a long standing and unrealised project to really push into the songs more but I just haven’t found my head for it yet. There’s a couple of songs recorded on the album and over the years Beno and I have found our way around a few songs through the band so we might draw on a couple of those older ones as well.
EH: So there’ll be a bit of Trouble material in your show?
AB: There might be the odd song from the Trouble repertoire. The solo album has a lot of classic fiddle tunes on it which crosses into the Trouble repertoire because we had such a grounding in the tradition in the band.
EH: And what’s happening with Trouble in the Kitchen? Are you guys still playing together? I saw you a couple of years ago at the National playing without Kate Burke…
AB: We haven’t really developed an official line on it but I think for all four of us there’s been a lot of life changes in the last two and a half years that I guess have conspired to put the band on the back burner.
EH: You’ve been playing together for so long it makes sense that you all have other projects and a lot of other stuff going on that you need to concentrate on.
AB: It’s been thirteen years pretty solid which is an amazing time together. The musical and personal bonds you form in that time are pretty profound. Other than Joe [Ferguson] maybe, who’s the most obsessed about music out of any of us, the rest of us were searching for a bit more balance as well, whether that’s in terms of day jobs or kids or all those other human needs. I don’t think Joe has the usual human needs, just music [laughs].
EH: Are we likely to see you in any other guises at the festival or is it just as the duo with Ben Stephenson?
AB: This year it’s just myself and Beno. There was another project in the works which was a tribute for a friend of ours named Tommy Carty who’s quite ill but unfortunately the album, for various reasons, hasn’t come together yet – maybe that will be for the National next year. So this year it’ll be the slots I’m doing with Beno and then clearing the decks for the Session Bar.
EH: Excellent! Well good luck with the National and thanks for chatting with us today.
AB: No worries at all! See you there.

Check out Ado Barker’s recent St Patrick’s Day playist for Timber and Steel here.

St Patrick’s Day Playlist: Ado Barker

Ado Barker
Image Courtesy of Ado Barker

For our Traditional St Patrick’s Day playlist we asked fiddle player extraordinaire Ado Barker (Trouble in the Kitchen) to provide us with some of his favourite Irish tracks. The result, as you can tell, is pretty special.

It comes but once a year… I’m going to come over all killjoy here, but I’ve gotta say that, from a musicians perspective, Paddy’s Day has never been my favourite. Fair enough, there’re plenty of gigs to be had for the keen, but more often than not for publicans who wouldn’t dream of having live music, let alone diddly-iy, in their bars any other day of the year. One memorable novice a few years back questioned the rapid rate at which we were demolishing their pints, telling us ‘the jazz band who play on a Sunday only ever have one each’…

Shamrock-for-the-day grizzles aside, this year I’ll be happily ensconced in the Last Jar, a new bar in central Melbourne recently opened by Siobhan Dooley of the famous Drunken Poet – a musician friendly publican if ever there was one! From 7-10pm I’ll be there with a couple of likelys cranking out a few tunes, and there’ll be no quibble about the pints!

So to the business at hand, and the welcome excuse Timber and Steel has provided to trawl youtube for some choice tidbits of Irish jigs n reels…

When I first came to the music, many of those early tunes were learned from treasured tapes, and though names like Frankie Gavin or Tommy Peoples were scribbled on the labels, they almost seemed too far away and abstracted to actually be real, living people. I’ve never forgotten the first time I ever saw footage of these players – on a tour to Tassie in ’98, at the home of Luke Plumb – on videos of a fantastically clunky Irish television show called The Pure Drop. While those videos were prized relics back then, all that footage and piles more is now out there in youtube land, waiting to consume your days…

The clips I’ve loaded here are a taste of some the players and bands that have propelled me into the tunes over the last 20 odd years. I’ll admit straight up, it’s fiddle heavy – apologies to lovers of the flute and other gadgets.

1. Tommy Peoples
This is the first video I ever saw of the Iron Man, and I remember being a wee bit awed by the delivery – no fuss, it’s straight-up ‘stand and deliver’ fiddle music

2. Tommy and Siobhan Peoples
Some years later, I spent a good stint living in Ennis, Co Clare , where I was lucky to meet and play many tunes with Tommy’s daughter Siobhan. This video is from Maddens Bar in Belfast, the two of them on stage in the corner and cranking it

3. The Bothy Band
For mine, the 1975 line-up of the Bothy Band, with Tommy Peoples on fiddle, was the top draw, but still a damn handy band with Kevin Burke on board. The first recording I had of these guys had me buzzing for weeks.

4. De Dannan
When I was maybe fifteen, these guys came to sleepy ol’ Canberra, and my dad took me along for a dose of the real deal. Funny thing was, there was a local band called The Tinkers busking out the front of the theatre before the show, and seeing how distracted I got at that my dad was laughing that he could’ve saved the price of my ticket and set me up to watch them for the night… This is De Dannan in the early days.

5. Frankie Gavin and Alec Finn
Early last year I released a fiddle album titled Between Up and Down, recorded with a wonderful bouzouki player from Co Meath named Ruairi McGorman. Hovering in the background whenever fiddle and bouzouki come together is the classic pair of Frankie Gavin and Alec Finn, arguably the finest fiddle and bouzouki duo there’s been – this is the closest I got to a clip of the two of them, with Jackie Daly on accordion added to the mix. I’m sure all will agree that this video is a masterpiece of cinematography.

And a dose of Frankie going to town…

6. Dervish
Probably the biggest single influence on the Trouble in the Kitchen sound. What I love about this band, at least in their early recordings, is that they were so loose – miles from the airbrushed, super-produced sound that later big bands like Lunasa went for. I’d say definitely more comfortable as players than performers, the band weren’t the most live-wire stage show you’d ever see – it could be argued this ‘video’ probably says a lot about their stage presence…

(…and a salutary warning to any trad bands dreaming of crossing over – beware, this video contains material of a deeply disturbing nature. You can just about hear the producer saying ‘you need to move about a bit lads!’)

7. Planxty
There’s gotta be a song in this list somewhere – and these guys are the masters. Planxty, from way back in the day, with Andy Irvine and Donal Lunny going at it on mandolin and bouzouki and Christy Moore sitting quietly at the organ, till he gets his hands on that bodhran…

8. Paul Brady
And while we’re at it, I’ll pop one in from Paul Brady. The album on which this song first appeared, self-titled with Andy Irvine, is a classic.

8. Mary Custy, Sharon Shannon and Eoin O’Neill
This clip only surfaced recently on the web, and it really took me back to the days when I was just getting into the tunes. I had a tape called Farewell to Lissycasey, which featured a selection of musicians from Co Clare, and these guys had a set of tunes on it which I couldn’t get enough of. Class.

9. Noel Hill and Tony Linnane
I’m never much good at settling on favourites, but if I was pinned down I’d have to say the 1981 self-titled recording made by these guys is my all-time pick. This is a much more recent clip, from Ciaran’s Bar in Ennis, Co. Clare.

10. Cathal Hayden and Arty McGlynn
Well, to conclude and finish disputes, if there’s one thing Paddy’s Day is about, it’s cranking the f#*k up – pour into the day with this dose in your bones and you’re sure to find some mischief! Not the cleanest sound, but all the edgier for it – enjoy!

And as an added extra here’s Ado Barker with Trouble in the Kitchen explaining Traditional Irish music from a doco on the ABC.

Jeff Lang Added to National Folk Festival Lineup

Jeff Lang
Image Courtesy of Jeff Lang

The latest artist to be added to the ever growing lineup for next year’s National Folk Festival in Canberra is the one and only Jeff Lang. Lang is one of the nation’s most well respected folk and roots guitarists and has a deserved reputation as an amazing live performer. He will be joining previously announced artists at the National Folk Festival that include Zulya and the Children of the Underground, Johnny Moynihan (Sweeney’s Men), Uncle Bill, Daniel Ho, Michael Kennedy, Stacy Phillips/Paul Howard Duo, Fred Smith, Liz Frencham, London Klezmer Quartet, Gleny Rae Virus and her Tamworth Playboys, stringmansassy, The Battlefield Band, Flamenco Fire, April Verch and Ado Barker and Ben Stephenson (Trouble in the Kitchen).

The National Folk Festival will be held over Easter next year from the 5th to the 9th April. Heavily discounted earlybird tickets are now available from the official site.

Ado Barker Releases Solo Album

Ado Barker Between Up and Down
Image Courtesy of Ado Barker

I credit Trouble in the Kitchen with reigniting my love of traditional music when I first stumbled across them at the 1999 National Folk Festival. Twelve years on and Trouble in the Kitchen are regarded as the premiere trad group in Australia and held up as the band all others are compared to.

So I was a little disappointed that Trouble in the Kitchen didn’t make an appearance at this year’s National Folk Festival (they were there last year and the Festival tends not to showcase the same bands twice in a row). Luckily the group’s fiddle player, Ado Barker, took the opportunity to launch his debut solo album Between Up and Down.

Between Up and Down is a wonderful collection of songs and fiddle tunes and sees Barker collaborating with Dublin bouzouki player Ruairi McGorman. Ado Barker has already launched the album in Melbourne and Sydney so but his show at the National has no doubt brought it to the attention of a wider audience. The cover art for Between Up and Down is above and you can listen to some of the tracks (and contact Ado to order it) via his MySpace.

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