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April 2008

Sounds of silence

Running websites keeps me sane and occasionally makes me happy.

Some readers will know that I am involved in the launch of a newspaper in Abu Dhabi.

This has been - is - a time-consuming and, at my advanced age, exhausting project and I have very little time to do much else; as far as my websites are concerned, priority has gone to writing about personally and professionally uplifting events here in the Gulf at Salut! (and, necessarily, recording downbeat moments for fellow Sunderland fans at Salut! Sunderland).

Some sort of service will resume here soon, with a review of an immensely enjoyable album by the Irish fiddler Cora Smyth, caught in the YouTube clip with her sister Breda, and - inshallah - an interview with the excellent Scottish singer-song writer Karine Polwart.

Please bear with me. If you are new to Salut! Live, there is a great deal to explore on the site and I believe the archives are reasonably easy to navigate; try starting with the interviews listed on the right of the home page. or use the search function.

Rachel Unthank, Martin Simpson, Kate Rusby, Flossie Malavialle, Marie Little, Vin Garbutt, Simon Nicol. That should keep you busy for a while.


The beauty of English

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Ducking the verbal bullets from snipers over at the UK Music Folk discussion group, I felt the need for a reminder of how wonderful a language English can be.

If I had brought the album with me to the Middle East, I might have put on the Tony Benn speech to Parliament about the destruction of the coalmining industry, a model of elegant rhetoric made all the more stirring by the addition of music from the Grimethorpe Colliery Band.

Or I could have chosen, in a similar vein, the sequence of the film Brassed Off (which also featured Grimethorpe) that has Pete Postlethwaite's marvellous Albert Hall speech. In another place, I reported that the scene was recorded in a single take and the cast and crew were in tears. My prized video of the film also rests in another continent.

So I turned instead to Graham and Eileen Pratt and Leon Rosselson.

Let me begin with the Pratts and their new album, The Greek King's Daughter on their own Grail label:

There can be few finer ways of experiencing the beauty of English than to listen to Eileen Pratt's singing. I have had the pleasure of hearing her at the folk clubs she and her husband visited in the West Country when I lived in Bristol, and it has occasionally struck me that she is one of those great singers best heard in live performance. For once, however, the studio production is a match for her natural gifts.

One of my first actions on receiving a new Graham and Eileen Pratt album is to head smartly for what I shall call the big Eileen ballads. Three stand out here: Donal Og, which inspired the album title, Lass of Glenshee and - not its first outing - the glorious Lark in the Clear Air. I could listen to them over and over again; indeed, I do.

But the pleasures of listening do not end with the purity and power of Eileen's voice applied to such demanding songs, and Graham's contributions - yes, the exemplary musicianship (guitar, harmonium and concertina), but also as a singer - should not be overlooked. Bright Morning Star showcases the couple's command of harmonies, but in truth there is no hint of a weak spot.

From start to finish, the album has all the fuel and distraction I need to get me painlessly through the Abu Dhabi traffic. The Pratts have not been especially active in the studios of late, at any rate as a couple (there has been a series of CDs with their choir, the Sheffield Folk Chorale), but they have managed to break the silence with an excellent illustration of how they earned such a high place in English folk music.

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No Vin situation at Cambridge

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Let it be said straight away that the line-up for the 2008 Cambridge Folk Festival is outstanding. But let it also be acknowledged that the name that perhaps stands out most prominently of all does so because it is once again missing. The name, of course, of Vin Garbutt.

The "will they, won't they?" question is duly answered. For all Vin's deserved reputation as one of the great performers in British folk music over the past four decades, they have chosen that Cambridge has no more need of his talents this year than in any of the past 17 years.

Salut! Live had jumped the gun a little, asking Eddie Barcan, the festival director, for an explanatory quote a couple of weeks ago - that is to say even before, officially at any rate, there was anything to explain. The programme had not been announced.

Well, now it is out in the open. As I said quite honestly to Eddie, it is such a terrific, mouth-watering bill that I regret the likelihood that from July 31 to Aug 3, I shall be toiling beneath the Arabian sun instead of soaking up the sounds at Cherry Hinton Hall Grounds. What I think of Vin's omission is a different matter.

This, then, is how they shape up:

k.d. lang Joan Armatrading Levellers The Imagined Village
Billy Bragg John Hiatt Judy Collins Allen Toussaint
Seth Lakeman Eric Bibb Eliza Carthy Martha Wainwright
The Waifs Altan Peatbog Faeries Tim O’Brien Karine Polwart
Michael McGoldrick Band Laura Marling Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba Tunng
Kíla Devon Sproule Chris Wood Cherryholmes Brian McNeill
Mauvais Sort Lisa Knapp Hot 8 Brass Band Beoga Grupo Fantasma
Frank Turner Whapweasel Ross Ainslie & Jarlath Henderson Elizabeth Cook
The Chair 3 Daft Monkeys Noah & The Whale Jeana Leslie & Siobhan Miller 6 Day Riot
Kidsamonium Findlay Napier & The Bar Room Mountaineers Megson The Shivers

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