by Ian Mann
October 22, 2017
A varied and highly enjoyable evening of music making in support of a very good cause
Deborah Rose / Mari Randle and Friends, Charity Concert in aid of Planting For Hope Uganda, Artrix Theatre, Bromsgrove, Worcs. 19/10/2017.
Welsh born, Worcestershire based singer, guitarist and songwriter Deborah Rose has been a frequent presence on the Jazzmann web pages for a number of years, sometimes under her previous name of Deborah Hodgson. Blessed with a stunningly pure voice and an innate musicality her love of words, song and singing has found her exploring the worlds of folk, jazz and Americana with a variety of collaborators including local gypsy jazz guitar wizard Remi Harris.
Following a number of self produced EPs Rose released her first full length album, “Song Be My Soul”, in early 2014, a charming collection of self penned songs combined with settings of the words of poets and authors such as Tennyson, Shakespeare, Dickens, Blake and Christina Rossetti.
The follow up, “Wilde Wood” was very different as Rose abandoned her literary leanings to explore the world of Celtic folk music in the company of locally based musicians from two different groups, The O’ Farrells Frolicks and Grey Wolf.
The O’ Farrells are an all female family folk group based in Bewdley, Worcestershire with mother and multi instrumentalist Lindsay Farrell (whistles, bodhran, fiddle, accordion) joined by her three talented daughters Mari Randle (guitar, vocals), Hetty Randle (banjelele, ukelele) and Lucy Randle (melodeon, concertina). The family’s roots in Co. Cork are reflected in their love of Irish traditional music and the quartet play regular gigs and sessions in the pubs of Worcestershire and the West Midlands. But the Randle sisters are more than just friendly folkies, Mari (guitar, vocals) and Hetty are also part of the alternative rock trio Vault Of Eagles where Hetty plays electric bass alongside powerhouse drummer Scott Ewings .The music is loud, grungy and heavy and the trio have built up a considerable following.
The recording of “Wild Wood” helped to establish a firm friendship and burgeoning song writing partnership between Rose and Mari Randle. Over the course of the past two years the intrepid pair have travelled widely, back-packing in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, the US and Uganda, performing gigs and writing songs about their experiences along the way. They have already issued a demo EP and have recorded a full length album which is due for release in the near future.
Tonight’s concert was a fund-raiser for the Midlands based charity Planting For Hope Uganda, established by retired teacher Kate Oakley who told the audience something about the charity’s work prior to introducing the performers. Rose has been involved with the charity for five years and has visited Uganda twice, the second time with Randle which saw the duo performing a concert for the local community.
Planting For Hope was established specifically to help the remote village of Kititi in South East Uganda. Oakley co-ordinates the charity in the UK with Apollo Seku, a graduate of Makrere University, acting as the project leader in Uganda. The charity describes its vision thus;
“To empower the community of Kititi by working with them to develop a self-supporting and sustainable future. We are committed to improve diet and clean water, education and job opportunities, health care, housing and sanitation, sustainable farming projects, electricity, and supporting the elderly.”
Further information on the work of Planting For Hope Uganda can be found on the charity’s website
For tonight’s special fund raising concert, billed as “An Evening Of Inspirational Music” Rose and Randle had gathered their musical friends from near and far with the Senegalese kora player Kadialy Kouyate opening the proceedings before handing over to the Birmingham based duo of Sid Peacock and Ruth Angell. We also heard from pianist Martin Riley and pianist/vocalist Louise Watkins, Rose’s sister.
The second half of the show saw Rose and Randle joined by their “Floating Band” of musical collaborators, with nine musicians on stage at one point.
The evening commenced with the West African sounds of kora player and vocalist Kadialy Kouyate. Born into a long line of griots in Southern Senegal Kouyate is now based in Britain and is a busy musician on the UK’s world music circuit. He previously appeared on the Jazzmann web pages back in 2008 when he performed on Brazilian percussionist/vocalist Adriano Adewale’s excellent “Sementes” album.
Kouyate described the kora as “A West African harp lute made from calabash gourd and calf skin”. He proceeded to demonstrate his virtuosity on the 22 stringed instrument over a series of four pieces, including three songs featuring his gentle, soulful vocals plus a closing instrumental.
Singing in what sounded to be a mix of French and Senegalese dialect Kouyate’s first song “Samah”, saluted the coming of the rains, an event to celebrate in West Africa where rainfall brings with it the prospect of work and prosperity.
The second song, with a title translating as “Welcome Hope” seemed to be a particularly apposite choice for this evening while the softer “True Love” was a tender love song.
The closing instrumental was a good showcase for Kouyate’s technical prowess on the kora as he played melody and bass lines simultaneously and was a homage to the animal spirits that protect the villages of Southern Senegal.
The duo Peacock Angell features life partners Sid Peacock (guitar, vocals) and Ruth Angell (violin, vocals, guitar).
Originally from Bangor in Northern Ireland but long based in Birmingham Peacock has previously featured on the Jazzmann web pages leading his jazz big band Surge Orchestra, a sprawling ensemble embracing elements of jazz, contemporary classical music and poetry and in which Angell plays violin. In April 2017 Peacock co-ordinated the successful ‘Surge In Spring’ festival at the Midlands Arts Centre in Birmingham.
Besides her work with Surge Orchestra Angell is also an acclaimed performer on the UK folk scene and has performed with Jamie Smith’s Mabon, Ashley Hutchings’ Rainbow Chasers, The Larkrise Band and the all female quartet The Froe among others. However her main creative outlet appears to be the Peacock Angell duo which features original songs from both protagonists, many of them autobiographical.
Angell shares Deborah Rose’s love of poetry and literature and the pair first met in 2009 when both were performing at Tennyson’s former home at Faringford on the Isle Of Wight in a celebration of the bicentenary of the poet’s birth. She has since performed at other events co-ordinated by Rose, the latter also being a great organiser as well as a highly accomplished singer, musician and songwriter.
Tonight Peacock Angell began with Angell’s “Castle On The Hill”, a song of childhood nostalgia and of the composers yearning to return to the Peak District countryside of her youth. With Angell on acoustic guitar and vocals the evocative and descriptive lyrics spoke of a genuine love of nature as Peacock’s pedal generated electric guitar effects added to the general air of wistfulness.
Peacock’s own “Big City” saw him switching to acoustic guitar as Angell moved to violin for the rather more earthy tale of Peacock’s first experiences of England as a teenage squat dweller in London.
Angell’s “The Boat House”, dedicated to the couple’s young son Elvin, was a more contemporary tale of family life with the composer on acoustic guitar and vocals as Peacock reverted to electric. That love of nature and sense of place was there again in a highly personalised tale variously set in Gran Canaria and Northern Ireland.
Again inspired by personal experiences Peacock’s instrumental “Malahide”, named for a coastal town just north of Dublin incorporated elements of Irish traditional music with Angell’s swirling violin lines underpinned by the composer’s intensely rhythmic acoustic guitar as the duo endeavoured to express the beauty and danger of a rough sea.
Finally we heard Peacock’s “Hope For The Young”, a song written in the 1990s around the time of the ceasefire in Northern Ireland but still a piece with a considerable contemporary relevance. Here both performers played acoustic guitars with Peacock’s lead vocal cushioned by Angell’s pure harmonies.
This was an intelligent, personal and often highly beautiful set from two highly accomplished and socially aware performers.
Pianist Martin Riley has been a long term associate of Deborah Rose and co-wrote several songs on the “Song Be My Soul” album where he also played piano and formulated the string arrangements.
Tonight he made use of the Artrix’s Steinway grand to perform a world première of his solo piano piece “Into The Light”, an impressive work in its own right but with a song like construction that suggested the possible addition of a Deborah Rose lyric at some point in the future.
Riley now introduced Louise Watkins, Deborah Rose’s sister, who took over at the piano to close the first half with her interpretation of the song “We Are Water” from the “Nashville” television series.Unfortunately an otherwise good performance, featuring a pure but soulful vocal, was hampered by technical issues with the vocal mic.
DEBORAH ROSE and MARI RANDLE and THE FLOATING BAND
The second half of tonight’s concert was given over to Rose and Randle who initially took to the stage to perform three songs as a duo before bringing on the other members of their “Floating Band”. Rose had been suffering from symptoms of laryngitis and wasn’t sure if her voice would hold out, but hold out it did over the course of a long, value for money set that touched many musical bases.
The duo commenced with Rose singing the lead vocal on the Scottish folk staple “The Skye Boat Song” with Randle providing acoustic guitar and harmonies as Rose ‘s well enunciated vocal brought out the full darkness of the lyrics.
“Crossing The Bar” was the duo’s atmospheric setting of a Tennyson poem that they first performed at Faringford. Scheduled to appear on the forthcoming album it also appears on the promo EP and here featured their lush harmonies, later joined by the sound of Randle’s acoustic guitar.
Next came “Hands”, composed by the American singer-songwriter Jewel Kilcher, a song that has been in the duo’s repertoire for some time and which again showed off their sublime vocal harmonising with Rose taking the lead. Rose has cited Kilcher, who performs under the single word moniker ‘Jewel’ as an important influence on her own music making.
During their travels Rose and Randle have always encouraged other musicians to perform with them, dubbing the various ad hoc aggregations the “Floating Band”. Tonight’s “FB” was probably the biggest yet with no fewer than six musicians coming to the stage to create an octet as the co-leaders were joined by Peacock on electric guitar, Angell on violin and backing vocals, Riley at the piano, Matt Worley on acoustic guitars, mandolin and bouzouki, Dave Small on cajon,djembe and percussion and Lindsay O’Farrell (Randle’s mother) on whistle, accordion and bodhran. It was the first time that this particular combination of musicians had actually performed together.
O’Farrell’s whistle and Angell’s violin featured prominently on “The Foggy Dew”, a song about the 1916 Dublin uprising that featured on Rose’s “Wilde Wood” with Rose handling the lead vocal and Small’s percussion creating an additional rhythmic drive.
Among the countries visited by Rose and Randle is Norway, this trip providing the inspiration for the jointly written song “Queens of Asa”, a song about two Viking queens who were buried in longboats along with their treasures , among them jewellery and musical instruments. The rousing “row the boat” choruses were augmented by instrumental solos from Angell on violin and Peacock on electric guitar.
“My Love Loves Me” found Rose deploying both French and English lyrics as she took on acoustic guitar duties and harmonised with Randle on an arrangement that also included significant contributions from Riley on piano and Angell on violin.
Randle took over the lead vocal for the traditional Irish song “Spancehill Hill” with O’Farrell’s accordion and Angell’s violin giving a suitably authentic feel to the arrangement. Worley’s mandolin then gave an R.E.M . like feel to Rose’s confessional “Truth Of The Matter”.
Rose’s admiration for the work of the late Eva Cassidy is no secret and it was Cassidy’s version that provided the inspiration for an arrangement of the Fleetwood Mac song “Songbird”, written by Christine McVie. This featured Rose on lead vocal and acoustic guitar with Randle adding suitably lush harmonies. Angell’s violin solo added an unexpected twist to the arrangement and she was well served by Worley’s acoustic guitar embellishments.
“Cherry Thief”, with lyrics by Mari Randle, had a timeless feel about it and sounded as if it had been in the traditional folk repertoire for centuries. One wonders whether it was partly inspired by the William Morris artwork “The Strawberry Thief”.
The Floating Band took a breather as Rose and Randle performed the latter’s “Linden Tree” as a duo, a simple but beautiful song musing on childhood nostalgia and the immutable passage of time. The pair shared the lead vocal on a song exploring similar themes to Sandy Denny’s classic “Who Knows Where The Time Goes? and possessed of a similar haunting beauty. The line “one day like the leaves we’ll fall” seemed to convey similar sentiments.
Rose informed the audience that her late uncle Mostyn had lived and worked in Uganda, in an area not far from Kititi, and had left a journal of his time there. This was something that encouraged Rose to become involved in the Planting For Hope project. The visit that Rose and Randle made to Uganda encouraged them to perform a song in the local language, the title translating as “Peace and Love” and written by local singer Titie Tabel, with whom they performed in Africa. The duo performed the song here with accomplished linguist Randle impressively handling the lead vocal – without the aid of a crib sheet!
The duo’s concert in Uganda also included Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Circling Together” which the pair taught to the local children. That sense of community was embodied here with the octet joined by Kouyate who added the sound of the kora to the ‘Floating Band’.
Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” was already known in Africa and was another sing-along at the Ugandan concert. Rose, on acoustic guitar and lead vocal, encouraged the Bromsgrove audience to become similarly involved.
Rose’s original song “Taigh Alainn”, the title meaning “House Beautiful” in Scots Gaelic, is one of her most beautiful and enduring pieces and has featured at every show I have seen her play. Tonight’s version was particularly beautiful with Kouyate’s kora added to an arrangement featuring co-writer Riley on piano plus Worley on acoustic guitar.
The evening closed with Bob Dylan’s “One More Cup Of Coffee” performed by a quintet featuring Rose and Randle plus Riley and Worley and percussionist Small, whose subtle rhythmic promptings had been a key part of the music throughout the evening. As the co-leaders shared the vocals instrumental solos came from Riley on piano and Worley on Spanish style acoustic guitar.
So ended a varied and highly enjoyable evening of music making in support of a very good cause with all of the musicians freely donating their time and skill. At £15.00 per head tickets represented extremely good value for nearly three hours worth of music. Ticket sales were augmented by the sale of African craft items in the foyer but at the time of writing I’ve been unable to ascertain exactly how much the evening raised for Planting For Hope Uganda. A great effort, nevertheless, congratulations to all involved.
P.S. Deborah has informed me that the evening raised a total of £700.15, which will go directly to Planting For Hope Uganda.
Well done, everybody!