Mixed Moss - SLIP 009
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Netrhythms, Folk Roundabout, and fROOTS
Since his relatively recent introduction to what might loosely be termed the folk scene through his stint with the band Slide, Tom, already known as a fine instrumentalist, has been rapidly developing his craft as a songwriter, with each subsequent album release bringing a healthy contingent of mighty new songs. His latest duo album with Tom Napper, the durable The Kelping, was one of the finest of its kind, and brought to the fore Tom's considerable ability in drawing together, in accessible language, a whole range of emotions and reactions through his keen sense of history, place and tradition.
Mixed Moss, although still recognisably a Tom Bliss product throughout in both sound and approach, gives what I might describe as distinctly “mixed mossages” in that it's to be best regarded not as a deliberate and coherent “album” as such but instead as a kind of pot-pourri containing a few favourites from Tom's solo set, together with some songs that he's known for ages yet never got round to recording, and a couple of others that Tom says “just felt like they belonged”. But in spite of Tom's necessarily cautious and defensive assertion, the first half of the disc (at least) actually hangs together really well. Kicking off with a clever take on the cross-dressing sailor-girl song beloved of tradition, Gentle Maids Ashore, which Tom follows with his spooky contemporary tale Pendle Hill (complete with some bewitching vocal harmonies from those three celebrated witchily-connected ladies Maggie Boyle, Patsy Matheson and Bryony Griffith... hey, did they have to sign a covenant to appear on the record?!) after which comes Rue, an unfailingly intelligent reconstruction of Mary Humphreys' No Me Love Not I (itself reconstructed from fragments of traditional song). The first of three magical instrumental cuts, Miranda, is a gentle showcase for Tom's guitar playing, whereas the ensuing Gill Field Sump (done in Yorkshire dialect and as a theatrical a cappella piece, a true dialogue between two voices) couldn't be a greater contrast. Dead Men Bear No Witness, the album's lone representative from the Napper Bliss duo set-list, is a highly amusing tale that provided inspiration for J.M. Synge's first play and automatically conjures up images of Father Ted and his cohorts!
Tom then copiously multitracks himself on a pair of Sark dances, after which much of the music on the disc turns somewhat less overtly “folky” though no less worthwhile. After a metaphorical tale inspired by a personal experience (The Wall, which I'll admit I've not quite got into yet), Tom brings us an affecting, bleakly melodic rendition of the traditional Unquiet Grave, accompanied by duet concertina; this is well complemented by the intriguing and quite desperate Autumn, set to an insistent rhythmic figure that accentuates the protagonist's frustration. Fog On The Dogger turns out to be a curious observational chanson of a song with an unusually jazzy gait (and a kindof Pete Atkin vibe, I thought), that grows after a few plays. Needle And Thread is one of those songs from the pen of an unknown (in this case Henry Clements, a resident at the Wiltshire Traditions club) that are so emotional they make an intense impact not just on the listener but first and foremost on the singer himself (you can certainly hear that in Tom's rendition). Mixed Moss concludes with Tom's quartet The Piper's Sons sweeping (sic!) all before them on the traditional Jack Hall.
All told, and in spite of its occasional, openly admitted stylistic variations, Mixed Moss is still a highly significant - and eminently listenable - release from this masterly musician and songwriter, for it displays an internal consistency all its own in proving Tom's talent on many instruments and in many different styles and modes of expression, and not least his integrity in performing the same to an unflinchingly high standard. David Kidman
Tom Bliss's solo album 'Mixed Moss' is, for the most part, one man and his guitar (and occasionally his concertina and friends)! It is made up of a combination of Tom's own songs and traditional material, and is a rather impressive piece of work. You don't get much better than Mary Humphreys' assembly of 'No My Love Not I' known as 'Rue' in terms of reworkings of traditional songs to begin with, and I feel that Tom's arrangement and performance of it really does justice to this excellent song. In terms of Tom's self-penned material, there is an undeniably high standard throughout the album, which is accompanied by a consistently high level of performance.
Tom is a natural story-teller - 'Gill Field Sump' captures the imagination and has a wonderfully eerie quality to it that suits perfectly. He gets inside the heads of the characters whose stories he is telling and makes his songs come alive. Tom's lyrics are always convincing and well-written. There are moments on this album when Tom's voice simply soars, and it's absolutely delicious. Indeed his voice is a delight all the way through. The instrumental pieces are well-placed and highly enjoyable too. At fourteen tracks, it is a decent length as well.
So if you haven't gathered from the gushings so far in this review... I really rather like this album. In fact, I'd go so far as to say I like it a lot! Rachel Patti
Before listening to this CD, we had never heard Tom Bliss perform solo, but having heard him with Tom Napper we were looking forward to it. Most of the songs are self-penned, and Tom's lyrics vary from good to wonderful. Should you read the sleeve notes before or after listening to the song? Most people listening to a CD probably don't read them, although in a live performance the song is always introduced - so we didn't. However, the very first track Gentle Maids Ashore is far more intelligible if you do!
Tom comes from Leeds, and several of the songs have a strongly Yorkshire flavour, in many cases clearly inspired by walking in the Dales. Pendle Hill, a modern twist on the tale of the witches, could also be seen as a tale of what is likely to happen if you stray into a foreign county. Gill Field Sump, another tale with a supernatural twist set in the Yorkshire lead-mining country, was recorded in our notes simply as "wow!". The Wall uses climbing as a metaphor for a relationship. Apparently, it was inspired by watching his young son on a climbing wall - given what had gone before my first image was of the main overhang at Kilnsey, or maybe Malham.
There is one song on the CD which is neither written by Tom nor traditional, and it is definitely the most powerful of them all. This is Needle and Thread, which was written by Henry Clements of Devizes. It just has to be heard: to explain why would spoil the plot. Luckily a conveniently placed instrumental gives the listener time to recover.
The arrangements of the songs vary from a-cappella, through solo voice with instrumental accompaniment, to multi-part harmony in Jack Hall. Overall, an excellent production, with a few well known names helping out with extra instruments and vocals.
Dave Thomas and Jane Kremer
Tom Bliss, much like Jez Lowe, is blessed with a writing skill that manages to keep to the traditional style. If, as is often the case, many other artists who aurally absorb the lyrics and melody of say the opening track ‘Gentle Maids Ashore’ – a bodice ripper of sorts - will wrongly credit it as “trad.arr:” when they come to record it themselves. This of course can be rather annoying for the composer and like Hughie Jones (Ellen Vannin and Marco Polo) their songwriting skills go mostly unnoticed. On the other hand the artists themselves can, I suppose, gain some comfort in the knowledge that in a back-handed way they will be forever immortalised and, let’s face it, even the titles of some of his own songs; ‘Pendle Hill’ and ‘Dead Men Bear No Witness’ conjure a sense of the tradition.
Tom is nothing if not only too happy to pass on his reference sources and if you check the informative notes which are available on his website it all makes fascinating reading. The attention to detail required to give a song substance is only too apparent and he must be applauded for providing a reference for future generations of writers in the tradition. Of course, by nature of comparison Tom includes a couple of Trad Arr: songs himself with the ‘Unquiet Grave’ and ‘Jack Hall’. The recording features many fine performances from special guests Tom Napper, Chris Parkinson and Maggie Boyle amongst others and being no mean musician himself Tom’s multi-tracked rendition of ‘St Pierre Lihou/The Sark Dance’ is a delight. Pete Fyfe
Launch Gig - The Topic, Bradford
With this year's move to a new home, the world's oldest folk club is suddenly closer to Leeds than ever before, just when folk music is elbowing its way back into the general consciousness. At Bradford's Cock and Bottle on Barkerend Road, the Topic looks in good fettle for its 50th year, and on Thursday a crowded room was eager for the dual-purpose concert by Leeds duo Tom Napper & Tom Bliss. They weren't only here to remind us what a relaxed and brilliant live act they are, but to launch Bliss' solo album Mixed Moss. Thoughts that this might be achieved by one Tom swinging a bottle of something at the smoothly curving side of the other proved to be empty speculation, but the evening had plenty of other sea-going connections in deftly performed tunes with guitar, banjo and mandolin plus compellingly sung marine story songs among other items from the established Bliss and Napper repertoire.
Formal unveiling of the new CD was held back until after the break, with the audience still mellow from a sparkling first set, then in a state of anticipation made all the stronger by MC Gerry Cooper's recollection of strange goings-on in Cullercoats some decades ago, when Scottish guitar virtuoso Bert Jansch had gone out for chips mid-gig, never to return. Would a suddenly sidelined Napper do likewise? An imaginative observer might have sensed the lyric pen of Tom Bliss twitching like a diviner's rod even as the tale was being told.
Amidst the decorated glass of a classic Victorian pub, listeners enjoyed a floor spot from the club's organiser, much-travelled singer in various tongues John Waller; they paid close attention to high class vocal harmony from Useless Annie (what totally justified self-confidence there is behind that playfully ironic anagram of Elaine and Sue's names); and a very warm reception went to two good bouts of featured support from Ian Hill, who neither limited himself to one instrument, nor to one language, nor even, when singing in English to one regional flavour. Ian's CD was on sale and comes with the production skills of Alistair Russell, the man who co-produced Tom Bliss's Mixed Moss. Tom told us that about four-fifths of his album is solo in the strict sense, elsewhere showing the welcome presence of notable local guests including Maggie Boyle, Patsy Matheson and Bryony Griffith.
One of the more recent indicators that folk is no longer something to be shy about came from Billy Bragg this week, when he told a Radio 4 interviewer that the Arctic Monkeys are really a type of folk act. However it may be, will they ever answer our yearnings for a vigourous but lilting socio-architectural ballad? And if they did, it could hardly match 'Silken Leather' - a mill-owning story of lost inheritance by way of flamboyant philanthropy - which went straight to the hearts of many a Bradfordian at the Topic tonight. John Hepworth Leeds Music Scene Website
Best known these days as half of Napper and Bliss, Tom Bliss has brought out a solo album (with occasional help from his friends) which is a gorgeous pot pourri of mainly his own songs, very largely in traditional style and therefore blending well with the genuine old songs included. The combination of his immediate, expressive voice and obvious talent for marrying words and melody makes this an album which is both accessible and full of depth. There are many stand-out tracks - 'Pendle Hill', with witchy vocals from Maggie Boyle, Patsy Matheson and Bryony Griffith, a ravishing version of Mary Humphreys' 'No My Love Not I,' the eerie story of 'Gill Field Sump,' with its clever use of dual tracking, and a heart-breaking song from Henry Clements of Wiltshire Traditions; 'Needle and Thread.' The Channel Islands feature in instrumental form on two old tunes from Sark, and a Bliss evocation of 'Sunset at Saye,' while the album comes to a rousing conclusion with THE PIPERS SONS joining in the old favourite 'Jack Hall.' But every song on this album is worth listening to more than once.
This is an outstanding CD and thoroughly recommended. Pat Nightingale