Bitter nuts and sour wine are all we find within the larder

I should probably count this to check it (although in our post-truth, Bannon-esque world, my facts are just as good yours….), but Alasdair Roberts is probably the artist I’ve written about most of all on these tattered, coffee-stained pages. (Apart from Robert Wyatt, of course, and maybe Griff…)

In fact I wrote about him, here, only about six weeks ago, which in relative terms is pretty much yesterday on this Blog. I spoke then with breathless excitement about said folkie’s planned trip to Cheltenham. All the more surprising then that it should take me so long to get round to talking about the evening – countless eager punters have been besieging me with requests for a few words and perhaps the odd snatch or too…? Well, as you know, I’m a slave to my readership.

Alasdair Roberts, Smokey Joe’s

Might as well get my cantankerous, valetudinarian rant out of the way first – it was bloody freezing at Smokey Joe’s, like sitting outside pretty much. I’m a chilly mortal, me, and I can’t stand being cold – caught out by the slightest cold snap and I’m likely to go over all Mr Woodhouse and retire to my bed with a hot lemon.

Alasdair Roberts is made of sterner stuff than I and the polar conditions didn’t seem to trouble him over much. To be honest, fond as I imagine he is of long walks in the bracing Scotch air, he will have shrugged this off and scorned me as the southern softie I clearly am. In fact I fancy every new Roberts song is unveiled on the scotch muir, ‘midst the purple heather, to a mildly curious audience of highland beasties.

In the last post, I raved about Plaint of Lapwing, his joint record with James Green, labouring under the illusion that this was his most recent record, but it was pointed out by a forbearing friend on Twitter that there’s actually a newer record out, March’s Pangs. And it was this record Roberts drew most of the evening from – I don’t think he played anything from the Lapwing record at all.

The Guardian used the phrase “the weirdness of ancient folk” in one of its throw-away (although positive) reviews, and that’s actually a great description of Roberts’ craft. I’ve spoken before about all of this and it’d be fairly easy to put together an Alasdair Roberts bingo card, with words hapless reviewers will fall back on (“bleak”, “brogue” and “austere” all turn up in the Guardian’s piece). I’m as guilty as everyone else of this – it’s impossible not to marvel at the old-worldliness of the man’s vision, and to revel being taken back to harsher, more open times; all part of his charm.

If you’re energetic enough (ie not as lazy as me) to look further, however, you’re going to find echoes that speak to modern times. At one point, Roberts wryly speculated as he was using some wilfully obscure tuning that once Article 50 was triggered he’d possibly not be able to use it anymore. It was something of a jolt back to current woes and reminded me that songs such as “In Dispraise of Hunger”, “Farewell Sorrow” and the beautiful title track of the new record have as much to do with today’s misery as yesterday’s.

A few old favourites appeared – “Fair Flower of Northumberland”, “Jock Hawk’s Adventures in Glasgow” and “Farewell Sorrow” – but enough of the fragile splendour of the new songs was revealed to make me buy a copy of Pangs from the man himself. And it’s actually a bit of a revelation. He has a full band with him for most of the record, and a number of the songs feel completely new creations, when compared to the reedy charm of their solo versions.

Have a listen to these gaunt unclothed offerings and then go and buy the record for their fuller, finer, fattened-up versions.


An Alter in the Glade

The Downward Road

(Oh, and for old time’s sake, In Dispraise of Hunger)

This wind that blows, blows me nay guid…

james-printYou’ll have noticed a certain amount of Krautrock freebasing going on over these pages of recent, but I’m over all that for the moment. You’ll be glad to know I’ve weaned myself off the German experimental stuff, with the help of a strict Fall-only diet over the last week; and started off on something diametrically (almost macrobiotically) different.

Alasdair Roberts

Great news! The miserable old curmudgeon is headed this way next month, with a date in Stroud and another in Cheltenham. I shall certainly be there at one or both of those soirees. And now I’m back on to thinking about him, I find out belatedly he’s released another superb record to general muted flourish and the excitement and acclaim  of virtually no one.

And God knows why, Plaint of the Lapwing is another beautiful, nuggety affair, released with the support of Sheffield keyboard-player James Green. I’d be disappointed if a Roberts album wasn’t set firmly in the soil and cripplingly steeped in natural imagery. And Plaint certainly is that – winged  and crawling things feature heavily; seas, rocks, famines and sundry meteorological terms too. We’re also treated to a humble parade of blacksmiths, vine-pruners and cordwainers (I had to look this one up – cobblers, as you’re asking). There are other miscellaneous hapless characters who inexorably descend to the clay (if they’re lucky – the Left Hand Man ends up swinging from a tree, “free as air”). All, much as you’d expect, the stuff we know and love about Alasdair Roberts.

What makes this record a little more than just another standard AR disk is, I think, the contribution of Mr Green ar(hitherto unfamiliar to this punter), who manages to colour Roberts’ obdurate monochrome landscapes with all sorts of warm hues and sensitive and sensible contributions. Piano and organ parts appear and even, I think – incredible though it sounds – the odd reedy-sounding synth too – all to great effect. Even Roberts’ wilfully archaic language doesn’t sound quite so out of-time with the aid of a gentle sprucing from Green.

Claypipemusic has an interesting piece about the record, including an account from Roberts of how he and Green started collaborating. It’s here and it’s a good read.

I’d love to include a video of the pair of them playing from the video, preferably with Green on his outlandishly fabulous harmoniflute, but alas, there seems to be absolutely nothing around.

Do have a listen to this, though, the organ line on it is gorgeous…

Death is not so easily defeated…

web_Alasdair_Roberts_02_by_Kim_Ayres (1)I’ve had these recordings knocking around for a while but not got round to doing anything with them…

I think it’s fair to say you really have to be in the right mood to appreciate Alasdair Roberts’ piercing, disconsolate folk forms, which may well be the unconscious reason why I’ve not really explored these recordings until now. We saw him supporting Bill Callahan in the cavernous spaces of Bristol’s St George’s. Now, Callahan’s getting a certain amount of love at the moment, not least because he appears to have “cheered up” a bit. Reviews of Dream River frequently cite Callahan’s apparent contentment (somebody even referred to him being “lucky in love”). Well, if this is true, I’m not sure I really want to look too deeply into Alasdair Roberts’ particular well of loneliness…

Alasdair Roberts

Having said that, once you’ve taken the step, there’s something irresistible about the man’s earthy songs – they shimmer and flicker like something half-buried in someplace rather unpleasant. I referred to his charms as being “Presbyterian” in the Bill Callahan post, and that being the case you might have expected him to have shone a little more brightly in the transcendent surroundings of St George’s in all its austere glory. But actually, Roberts seemed uncomfortable and didn’t make much of a connection with the Callahan-hungry audience. The recordings I made are marred slightly by the sounds of uninterested punters wandering off to the bar.

The poor wretch’s musings continue to fascinate this particular punter, though, and for once I was happy to listen to a good half hour of one man and his guitar – no banjo, no Jews’ harp, no loop pedal, just one player unremitting, strident, charmed…

Fair Flower of Northumberland

Farewell Sorrow

Open the bottle and let the wine breathe

Ofsted prowls with murderous intent on the doorstep of our beleaguered establishment, causing adults who probably should know better to careen hysterically about the place.
It’s all a bit hairy really – I hope they come soon…

Alasdair Roberts

Am currently very keen on this album from Scottish folk singer, Alasdair Roberts. Clearly a kindred spirit with Will Oldham, he manages to fill out some classic (or classic-sounding) old songs with a little light and shade – just enough to make it a little more edgy.

Just looking around the Internet, I came across this superbly pretentious article and interview which made me laugh aloud. Didn’t understand a word of it!

No downloads around at the moment, but a trip to YouTube yields a few good shows and a rather fine collection of Andy Goldsworthy videos set to the tune of a Roberts’ song.

I’ve linked to this show, however, mainly because, having spent a day on school work, I slipped my wearisome bonds and got along to it in person.

A very pleasant evening that I’m glad to return to.

He was swimming for an island but he never reached dry land

It’s been a week or more…

School has started again and it just takes over my life. Hard to fit other things in, really.

Anyway, last weekend I went to my friend Richard’s Double Yang Festival, or rather I went to the second half of it, having missed most of the day, getting ready for work.

It was a pretty mixed bag of acts, which was immediately apparent as soon as we walked in to see to fellers honking away on saxophones in a manner that can only be described as “left field”. It was pretty wild.

During the course of the evening I heard sets from Rose Kemp, who was better than last time I saw her, and James Blackshaw, who was kind of OK, and definitely quite brilliant, but also [whispers] a bit boring…

Alasdair Roberts

The last person onstage, though, was Alasdair Roberts, and again my prejudices about singer songwriters were shot to pieces. He played what I heard described as “real folk”, none of this alt/neo folktronica stuff, that has become quite trendy. He sang traditional songs about birds and lassies and, well, old stuff. He was hardcore, he bristled with authenticity, and I have to say he was well impressive.

At times his direct, gritty approach to his material reminded me of Will Oldham and, bingo, as soon as you do some research on Roberts, you come across the fact that one of the many people he has collaborated with over the years is in fact the loose-limbed, prodigiously-bearded Prince himself. (Jason Molina is another).

(You’ll have to believe me, I’m not being clever, I did actually say that at the time. In front of witnesses…)

Anyway, I found myself wishing I’d made more of an effort to see him at Green Man this year, but this video taken at the Palimpsest Festival gives a good idea of what he was like:

[Credit to ShakeyJake]

Very few legally available mp3s from Roberts I’m afraid, and this one from his own site, is a track recorded with his side-project Appendix Out, which seems to be a bit different from his solo stuff, but still worth hearing, I’d say.

Drinking Milk Again