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DIARY What folk music is all about

A trio of new releases moves body and soul

BY SHEER coincidence, three wonderful albums have just come out, all of which take folk music by the scruff of the neck, stick it through a proper amplifier and get your brain cells and feet moving, which is what such music is for.

Two of them feature brand new material from a brace of our finest and most popular outfits. The third is a valedictory blast from the co-leader of one of the finest bands this country has ever produced.

Let’s start with Stefan Cush, who so sadly died of a heart attack aged just 60 on February 4.  Along with Swill Odgers he was the heart and soul of The Men They Couldn’t Hang, whose anthemic, rousing and politically inspirational songs have provided me with a soundtrack to my life and many stage-sharing moments for nearly four decades.

Paul Simmonds has always written the majority of their material but Cush and Swill have contributed many memorable and stirring moments and Cush’s are gathered together on Shun Fame, a compilation of his songs released on CD and download to raise money for his family following his sudden and unexpected passing.  I’ll let the rest of the band, heartbroken, pay tribute in their own words.

“Cush was musically unique in so many ways; his voice could soar like a sail or batter like a cudgel; he could freestyle, toast, scat, rap and he could testify. He could roar a lullaby and whisper an anthem. He never met a melody he didn’t want to change and make his own.

“His timing as a singer could be so risky you would have your heart in your mouth as he zig-zagged to the end of a line. And if he wasn’t going to make it, he would just dive into the crowd. As a songwriter he was an original. If Syd Barrett had co-written with Ian Dury it might come close.”

And here his songs are, gathered together in fond farewell — his tributes to his beloved Wales and Dylan Thomas  (Dog’s Eyes, Owl Meat, Man-Chop, Beast of Brechfa), his lament for US actor Frances Farmer (Lobotomy Gets Em Home), the downright spooky Grave Robbing in Gig Harbour and 12 more wonderful pieces.

A fitting tribute and the album is available in CD and digital form from https://thementheycouldnthang.bandcamp.com and it’s great news that the band are carrying on. I’ll be there. Cush —  RIP. A great life, well lived.

I was a big fan of Wigan’s Tansads in the 1990s and am even more so of their new incarnation Merry Hell.

The band is stuffed full of Kettles — John, Virginia, Bob and Andrew — and with their latest album Emergency Lullabies they are very much on the boil, singing away with gusto about climate change (Emergency Lullaby), Brexit (Three Little Lions) and, my favourites, the heroism of the NHS workers during the pandemic (Beyond The Call) and the anthemic Go Down Fighting.

Their greatest achievement is to write and arrange songs in a way that both quiet finger-in-the-ear trad types and old punk rabble-rousers like myself can both relate to and this album is another classic, available from https://merryhell.bandcamp.com/

Finally, we come to Headsticks from Stoke, whose songs have the structures and vocal style of the folk tradition, courtesy of Andrew Tranter’s unique delivery — he sounds a bit like Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull with a haircut and a decent pair of Doctor Martens — and the muscular instrumentation of punk. It’s a wonderful combination.

Headsticks really do sound like nobody else, and C.O.W. is beefy indeed, full of surging riffs and militant lyrics about climate change, war, species extinction and censorship. Then Tranter becomes a story-rapper on Speak Out and the album closer Sing Danny Boy.

This band are going from strength to strength, gaining audiences from different musical genres as they deserve, and are truly ones to watch. The album is available from https://headsticks.co.uk

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