Winners of 2014's BBC Radio Two Folk Award for Best Duo, Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin, have come a long way on their journey.
In 2009, Phillip, one of the UK's finest slide guitarists and harmonica players, moved into a tent in south Devon. He had just returned from studying Indian classical guitar in Calcutta with world expert Pandit Debashish Bhattacharya. He had his tent, his car, and a five year plan to earn a living through his music. Playing in alt-folk outfit The Roots Union, he met Devonian fiddle-singer Hannah Martin, and the pair instantly recognised a very powerful musical connection. When the band ended, they continued as a duo, playing all over the country, from Glastonbury festival to busking sessions on the seafront at Sidmouth Folk Week.
It was during one of these busking stints that they were spotted in an encounter with Steve Knightley (Show Of Hands) that now goes down in folk legend. Recognising the potential of Henry and Martin's partnership, Knightley invited them to accompany Show Of Hands on a nationwide tour, culminating with a show at the Royal Albert Hall at Easter 2012.
The pair's first album, Singing The Bones, was released in 2011 to warm praise, "I was completely knocked out by this duo...just a terrific album...absolutely great, wonderful" (BBC Radio Two). Constant touring followed, including an Arts Council funded tour of south west arts centres in autumn 2012. The duo went on to win "Best Folk Act" at the 2012 South West Music Awards, and began 2013 by being voted "Best Duo" by the public at the Spiral Awards. Their second studio album, Mynd, was released to great acclaim in September 2013, appearing in end of year best-ofs for The Guardian, The Telegraph, fRoots Critics Poll, Mark Radcliffe's Radio Two Top Ten, and Songlines. They were voted Best Duo at the Radio Two Folk Awards almost exactly five years since Phillip sat in his tent and made his five year plan!
The last 18 months have been their busiest to date. They recorded a concert, Live In Calstock, to make a record of their sound during these initial years; the resulting album once again went down a storm with the critics, "utterly inspired and magnificent" (Spiral Earth). They toured with folk legend Seth Lakeman. They attended Folk Alliance in Kansas City, and bookings for Canada and Australia in 2016 swiftly followed. As well as around 130 UK dates, they have also played in South Africa, France, Norway, Japan, The Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium during this period.
Watershed, Henry and Martin's keenly anticipated third studio album, is their most emotionally charged, personal and pertinent work to date. A collection of 12 inspired original songs and tunes, recorded live with The Watershed Band in Devon's Blackdown Hills, it centres around the idea of turning points. Moving away from the historical figures and events that peopled their highly acclaimed previous album Mynd they explore the idea of a modern folk tale - drawing on personal experience to create edgier, grittier material whilst retaining an 'everyman' empathy.
Kith and kin inspire many of the tracks, from foundlings to mill workers, all bonded by a theme of split second decisions and forked paths that shape sliding door destinies.
The alchemy of Martin's ever evocative songwriting, fiddle and banjo playing and the much extolled skills of Henry on dobro, harmonica and lap steel fuse into a wholly distinctive world sound - songs of lament, tunes of hope, and totally unpredictable twist and turn music, burgeoning with deft double bass from Matt Downer (Jamie Smith's Mabon) and the textured percussion of James Taylor.
A mesmerising release to further endorse the reputation of a duo who have deservedly gained a rapid and sure foothold in the higher echelons of the roots genre.
"Subtle, atmospheric... Bravely original"
Robin Denselow, The Guardian ****
"Keen, curious and concerned intellects are at work here. Hannah Martin
is an enthralling singer; Phillip Henry plays all manner of guitars and the
Julian May, Songlines
***** Top of the World album
"Rich and complex - there is something of June Tabor about Hannah's vocal performance - a voice that is strong and flexible and which, coupled with Phillip's instrumental virtuosity, suggests we're hearing stars of the future"
Dai Jeffries, R2 ****
"This duo has a combination of virtuosity, intensity and charisma
that merits a slot on much bigger stages"
John L. Walters, The Guardian
"An imaginative and innovative album - songs that linger in the memory
held together by the fine musicianship of Henry and Martin.
Strong and original - an unusual treat"
Martin Chilton, Daily Telegraph ****
In 1995 Paul Hutchinson (accordion) and Paul Sartin (oboe, violin and vocals) shared a musical passion borne out of the desire to earn sufficient money to support their extravagant lifestyles. Their amazing musicianship coupled with wry humour stunned audiences around Europe and the States.
Paul Sartin is a member of the multi-BBC Radio 2 Award-winning big band Bellowhead and of Faustus. Consultant and Director of the Andover Museum Loft Singers, he is an Artist in Residence with Bellowhead at the Southbank Centre, an editor of music publications, and a BASCA-nominated composer whose commissions include works for the Central School of Speech and Drama, the Choir of Somerville College, Oxford, and Streetwise Opera.
Paul Hutchinson is the founder member of the innovative and progressive folk band, The Playford Liberation Front. His highly successful folk trio Hoover the Dog has recently morphed into the Pagoda Project. Paul's own compositions were published in 2012 (Food For Thought) and a second volume is in the pipeline. He is the resident accordion tutor at Cecil Sharp House and is a seasoned tutor at Folkworks and Halsway Manor and leads ensemble workshops far and wide.
Belshazzar’s Feast start with traditional folk music, add a touch of classical and jazz, throw in a bit of pop and music hall, and top it off wry humour for a unique live experience. Belshazzar’s Feast received a coveted nomination for the Best Duo Award at the 2010 BBC Folk Awards. Their latest Christmas-themed album titled ‘Stocking Fillers’ (Unearthed Records) was released in November 2012.
‘One of folks great odd couples – The Feast’ The Independent On Sunday
‘Duo known for their sense of humour as well their impressive musicianship’ Guardian
'Paul Hutchinson and Paul Sartin play like no-one else you've ever heard. Their music is breath-taking and wickedly inventive and the between-tunes interchange as intelligent and hilarious as the music. But don't let me give you the impression they're a lightweight comedy act: they finish the set with a haunting piece of oboe and accordion magic which has the audience spellbound.' BBC Radio 2 Mike Harding Show online, reviewing Sidmouth Festival
‘Amidst the jesting and hilarity, they sit as fine an example of traditional English folk music as you’re likely to hear.’ Mike Ainscoe, Bright Young Folk
Once upon a time, a long time ago, in the student bar of Leeds Polytechnic, "Snake Davis and his Alligator Shoes" were born. A soulful unit playing sax versions of Stax, Motown and Atlantic classics. They went on to be embraced by the Northern Soul scene. They lit up the Astoria Ballroom and Central Station, Leeds as they played to some of the most passionate and committed music-loving crowds anywhere in the world.
Reformed a couple of years ago, Snake Davis and The Suspicions have been heralded as the best Soul band performing live in the UK today. They feature Snakes’ searing Junior Walker-inspired sax, the sumptuous vocals of Doreen Edwards and Sue Quinn, trumpet and a killer rhythm section.
As a backing band they’ve worked alongside Ben-E-King, Frank Wilson, Chuck Jackson, Brenda Holloway, Martha Reeves, Willie Hutch, JJ Barnes, Eddie Holman, Barbara Lynn and many more. They recorded “Get Ready” with the boy band Blue and on the DVD collection, “The Strange World of Northern Soul” – described as “An awesome Northern Compilation”. They have also recorded soundtracks for TV advertising campaigns.
They perform classic tracks from Atlanta, Motown and Northern Soul, including their own versions of tunes such as “The Champion”, “Sweetest Feeling”, Green Onions”, “Love is Serious Business” and “Do I Love You”