Hayseed Dixie’s New Album & Tour Comes To Sheffield

Bluegrass rockers, Hayseed Dixie are set to tour the UK in April/ May 2017 with the release of their latest album ‘Free Your Mind… And Your Grass Will Follow’.

Since forming back in the summer of 2000, John Wheeler and Mike Daly the group have got fourteen albums under their belts already. Their forthcoming release takes them up to fifteen! You could say they’ve come a long way since starting playing those first acoustic AC/DC covers.

There’s not many who can say they’ve given birth to a whole new musical genre, but it is fair to say Hayseed Dixie are the undisputed kings of ‘Rockgrass’.

Expect to hear fun twists on rock, RnB and soul classics along with their original material when they stop off at Sheffield’s Plug on May 11th following the release of their new album on April 14th.

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Tramlines Festival Review: Saturday

Tramlines is a huge, three day music festival in Sheffield.  Five hundred plus acts on four outdoor stages, over sixty venues across the city.

All you can do is try to get a flavour of the festival and there are a lot of different flavours to be had. It’s great just to wander around and see what you find.

The Peace Gardens were packed with people drinking and picnicking in the sunshine. Many were singing and grooving along to the funky Romance Washington and Soulfunkful. They were going down great on the International Stage.

Special mention should be made at this juncture for a sausage sandwich from the Whirlow Hall Farm stall, which also went down great!  Other sausage sandwiches are available….  in fact, there were many food and drink stalls dotted around many of the venues and some craft and charity stalls too.

Leopold Square was even fuller and funkier than the Peace Gardens, but the band, whoever they were soon on a break, so it was on a bus up to Weston Park.

There are no longer buskers on Supertram like there used to be for Tramlines in the early years, but there was a buskers’ bus with live music winding around the city connecting many of the venues, though it was somewhat elusive.

Another way in which Tramlines has left it’s origins behind is that it has previously been a completely free festival, but in it’s fifth year, festival-goers were asked to buy a wristband (for £6.00 per day or £15 for the weekend), to gain admittance to half a dozen of the main venues including Devonshire Green, the City Hall and o2 Academy.  This was due to the previous sponsor Nokia deciding not to continue supporting the event and also Council funding cuts.  As this was a very modest charge for admission and overwhelmingly the festival was still free, there did not seem to be any detectable effect on atmosphere. Sheffield seemed a very happy, friendly place in the sunshine.

The event was extremely well organised, the sound systems at all the outdoor venues were excellent and there were many stewards around to help people, even at road junctions to ensure people cross safely.

Weston Park was lovely in the sunshine, the bands played on the old Victorian bandstand, the crowds lounged on the grass, there were many stalls around the periphery and there was a children’s funfair at the back. It was very family-orientated. The organisers had said they hoped for the feel of a village fete and it had achieved that.

The Screaming Maldinis wailed, if not actually screamed their indie-ness to the laid back crowd. They went down well as did The High Hazels, another local indie band who were melodic, with an Arctic Monkeys influence.

Silent Devices, an alternative ambient rock band from Leicester followed. Some doom-laden riffs seemed to bring in the dark clouds; I really enjoyed this band, but as the temperature cooled so they seemed to get a more lukewarm reception.

Back in town, there was predominantly acoustic music at the Cathedral on Church Street all day. In the evening there was Nat Johnson, formerly of Monkey Swallows The Universe. She had been a highlight at the Cathedral last year.

This year, with the main body of the church closed for renovations, the musical acts were in St. George’s Chapel and a meeting room where people sat on wooden seating or cross-legged on the floor. The Chapel is a beautiful space and Nat Johnson made some beautiful sounds. She handed out song sheets and ended with a mass singalong to her Sheffield Shanty with the lyrics “The seven hills became seven seas and I’ll sail my house from Crookes to Don Valley”.

Sam Airey and his band from North Wales, featured a cellist and was next on the stage in the Cathedral chapel. He was engaging and musically showed similarities to Snow Patrol at times and was well received. As you might expect, there was a nice, gentle atmosphere in the Cathedral; but there seemed to be a good atmosphere everywhere in the city.

The Police later reported that even with seventy thousand visitors to the city for the festival there had been only six arrests and they had seen less trouble than on a normal weekend.

Finally, to end the day, soul singer Lianne La Havas headlined the main stage at Devonshire Green. She said she had never been on so late at a festival and clearly she enjoyed her first headlining experience. People sang, danced and cheered.  Running through most of her material, she promised to return to Sheffield when she has a new album.

It was a great day. There was some excellent music to be found, the sun shone, the crowds were appreciative and the atmosphere was joyful.  It felt like Sheffield came out to play.

– Simon Benton

A Festival For Music Lovers at Historic Cusworth Hall

Cusworth Music Festival

The picturesque and historic setting of Cusworth Hall, Doncaster is to play host to a fine line up of music acts this 25th August, following it’s recent restoration in 2007.

The grade 1 listed building was built in the 18th century and this year Wilko Johnson headlines on his Farewell Tour, along with acts The Brew UK, Chantel McGregor, Mostly Autumn, Mickey Finn’s T-Rex and the Avit Blues Band with more acts to be confirmed.

Wilko Johnson, best known for his work with 1970s pub rock and rhythm and blues band Dr Feelgood, will top the bill on the Sunday night.

He’s a poet, a painter, an astronomer and an actor, but Wilko also happens to be one of the great British rock guitarists, acknowledged by his peers as among the most influential.

Earlier this year, the singer and guitarist announced he was suffering from terminal cancer and announced a farewell tour ahead of his death after doctors gave him just a few months to live.

He said: “It seems that I am still being spared from the final onslaught of my terminal cancer. I am feeling again the desire to get up on stage and do my thing while my health allows – so it is that I have decided to make some festival appearances during the summer.”

Yorkshire’s Chantel McGregor is also performing with her band and is a young performer to watch out for.

Voted Young Artist of the Year in the British Blues Awards 2011, having graduated from Leeds University with a first class honours degree in Popular Music, Chantel has been compared to the greats guitarists of our time; Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Joe Bonnamassa.

Tickets are on sale from www.cusworthmusicfestival.co.uk, Cusworth Hall and the Doncaster Dome box office with prices starting from £19 advance tickets.

Derbyshire’s Award-Winning star of Brit-Folk, Lucy Ward to release new album

Lucy wardSome things change, some remain the same. For her much-anticipated second album (the follow up to the 2011 debut Adelphi Has To Fly), the 23-year old singer, guitarist, ukulele and concertina player Lucy Ward delivers a finely-tuned synthesis of original and traditionally arranged material. Production is again by Stu Hanna (of acclaimed folk duo Megson, both of whom also sing and play here). There, however, the similarities end as the new album – Single Flame – finds Lucy organically broadening her musical palette whilst remaining firmly rooted in a folk tradition that gives shape and form to her sound. Balancing the contemporary and the traditional is never an easy act to achieve but Lucy does it with a natural gift and flair. Her songwriting creates the kind of original songs that you think you’ve heard somewhere before – on an old folk recording or the radio; a testament to the quality of her lyrics, melodies and ‘hooks’.

As a child and in her early teens, Ward grew up in a household where she heard recordings by the likes of Melanie and Bob Dylan and absorbed their lyrics and impact. The album opener I Cannot Say, I Will Not Speak has the lines “they sang the songs of Safka / Candles in the rain”. “The idea behind this song” she says “was how a generation of people sung songs of peace and protest in the 1960’s and yet peace has still to come. The lyrics”, she continues, “were born out of imagining there was just a candle left in the rain, a single flame, a ray of hope that we must protect because it only takes one flame to start a fire”.

Her song For The Dead Men made a first appearance as a single in January 2012 and was subsequently used in the soundtrack to the award winning director Kim Hopkins’ documentary film Folie a Deux (“Madness Made of Two”), which premiered at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam in November 2012. It’s a moving song and performance. “I wrote this song for the dead men” she says. “The dead men are all the people who marched before us, campaigning for justice. The dead men are also those who are apathetic to what is happening around them and their power to affect it. Lastly, the dead men are all those who are left to fall off the thin end of the wedge.” It’s a song about time passing; how we react to it, how we shape our history or allow it to shape us. What we do to stand up for the rights of ordinary people. “Stand up and take to the streets / they can’t ignore us if we all choose to speak”.

Shellback she says “is the first song I ever wrote. Its inspired by a generation of men, my grandfather included, who were conscripted, lost sight of what was at home and in some cases found vices to fill the void of what they had left behind.”

Ward’s songs are compassionate and insightful. They’re also capable of seeing beyond a single event, no matter how emotional and traumatic, to the wider context. One of the most striking original works here does that: it’s called The Consequence and its about violence within the domestic environment and how it destroys and changes the nature of family and home forever. “Shame, Shame, Shame / upon this house” – the words echo in this spare and simple but beautifully sung piece. “I wrote this song after Shafilea Ahmed’s parents were imprisoned for life for murdering their daughter. In the sleeve notes I haven’t said this as I feel that it could be read in different ways; honour killing, murder of a partner”. These kinds of acts are not confined to any one community.

Moving to the upbeat, Marching Through The Green Grass is a Ward and Hanna arrangement of a song also known as the Soldier Boy or Sailor Boy. Collected in the Appalachians by the folklorists Cecil Sharp and Maud Karpeles, the song comes from a time long before the birth of the modern army and the advent of combat soldiers of both sexes.“ The recording includes a tune that Stu and I wrote together”. The performance is a feisty, strident comment on soldiering.

Lord I Don’t Want To Die In The Storm is a traditional song, collected in America by Cortez Reece. After struggling to source a tune for this song, Lucy and Stu decided to write their own. The results are a haunting, doleful piece of minimalist Americana.

Lucy’s song melodies are as memorable and engaging as her lyrics. Songs like For The Dead Men, Honey(about pure and natural beauty), The Last Pirouette (a song on the end of the world, based on a poem written by Lucy’s father in 1983), Rites Of Man (a lament for Mother Nature) and Ink (a lyric based on the life of Stuart Shorter and the book written by Alexander Masters Stuart: A Life Backwards), all have melodies that stay with the listener from first play. None more so, though, than Icarus, a languid, dreamy work containing some of Lucy’s most expressive singing, her vocals floating over the ethereal instrumental soundscape. Lucy says, in her matter of fact way “Icarus’s lover is left to drown as he chooses his aspirations over her”.

Lastly, there is Velvet Sky, an anthem, almost symphonic in nature for a piece of music just 4.13 long, with a labyrinthine lyric full of word delights.

Collectively, the songs here showcase Lucy Ward‘s consummate performance and creative songwriting abilities, her genuine and sparkling personality and stunning voice. The new album Single Flame is a shining statement of how far her talent has grown and developed in such a short time.

Finalists Compete for Final of Yorkshire Unplugged 2013

After a month long search of the nation’s finest acoustic acts, the final of the Yorkshire Unplugged competition, hosted by Carl Malony drew to a close on the 23rd May, having chosen it’s five finalists from the previous week’s semi-final gigs at The Forum in Sheffield.

Now in it’s second year, the competition has attracted nationwide attention bringing in musicians from London, Birmingham, Manchester and around Yorkshire.

Musicians get the chance to perform in weekly semi-final heats, where voting is thrown open to the audience who decide the fate of the contestants, who have a chance of winning a professionally produced music video, studio recording time, a distribution deal, a promotional photoshoot and a main stage performance at a UK music festival. This year the competition’s sponsors included: Big Dog Studios, MusicPort Festival, Higher Rhythm , Sammi Sparke Photography, Rivers Rush and Epiphone Guitars.

Performers Mark Nichols, Kid Conventional, Ian Scholefield, The Broken Saints and Young Peculiar made up the finalists, who each took to the stage to perform four songs of their choice, a mixture of originals and one cover version from each act, to a packed out venue.

Carl Malony with winner Kid Conventional by www.charliebarkerphotography.com

Carl Malony with winner Kid Conventional by http://www.charliebarkerphotography.com

This year the proceedings were judged not only by the audience in a public vote but also by a panel of industry professionals, The Van Susans; a five piece, acoustic, folk-rock band from London with years of touring experience and two albums to their name released on Beatnik Geek Records.

After much deliberation by the audience and the Van Susans, Birmingham’s Kid Conventional was crowned the 2013 winner and took to the stage with host Carl, to thank all who voted, posed for his promotional photographs and left somewhat shocked by his win.

Such a strong lineup was reassuring to see that in a time when live music has so often been replaced with karaoke, nights and blaring discos in city centre venues. Yorkshire Unplugged has proven that original acoustic music is making a revival and new, exciting talent is being recognised for all the right reasons.

Think you have what it takes to perform in the 2014 competition. Go over to www.yorkshireunplugged.com/enter-2014 to apply.

– Charlie Barker

An Indie Market For A Creative City

Devonshire Green

Sheffield-based event management company, Big Live Event are bringing a whole host of family entertainment, independent traders and businesses to the heart of Sheffield, with the Devonshire Market starting on Saturday 8th June from 11am to 6pm.

The city’s vibrant and colourful Devonshire Green will be brought to life with stalls full of independent traders in clothing, accessories, sweet and savoury food and cocktails. Entertainment will be provided by local buskers and live DJs throughout the area, where 8,000 to 12,000 visitors are expected.

Youngsters will be entertained by a bouncy castle, inflatable slide and face painting at the first of this summer’s market events, which continue throughout the rest of the year up to December.

Support local businesses in what will be a new and exciting event for Sheffield City Centre.

For more information and market dates please visit: www.devonshiremarkets.com

– Charlie Barker