The Willows

www.thewillowsband.com

Reviews

NIGHT OF FIRSTS AT ACE SPACE

Saturday 24 June 2017

The Willows / Gareth Lee and Annie Baylis

A full house at Newbury's Ace Space was treated to a fine double billing of folk music at its best on Saturday. Gareth Lee and Annie Baylis, making their first visit to Newbury from their home in Cornwall, provided the warm-up session for The Willows who were booked to play a year ago but had to cancel their first gig at the venue. Happily rescheduled for the night, both The Willows, and Gareth and Annie came up trumps.

Gareth on guitar and Annie, variously, on keyboard, violin and accordion provided unwavering vocal balance in powerfully delivering a raft of their own songs reflecting life, love, and their Cornish roots. From the opening 'All or Nothing At All' to 'Jago's Song' and 'Burn The Evidence', their voices combined beautifully with interesting lyrics. Their musical facility on their instruments created the perfect musical entree for The Willows to take to the stage. These are two rising stars to be watched, now busy touring the UK and Ireland and with their second album, 'Future Writer', well-received in the folk world.


Formed in 2010 by husband and wife, Cliff Ward and Jade Rhiannon, Cliff's sister Prue, and Ben Savage, and now with two highly acclaimed albums under their belt, The Willows has built a reputation for stand-out live performances. The musical energy the six members of the band produced over the evening was extraordinary and sustained throughout the performance, to the last note. The Ace Space stage is by no means large, but the band they managed to walk freely around each other to inspire and be inspired to greater playing heights and virtuosity. Jon Parker's vigorous double bass playing supplied a wonderful deep, resonant backing sound which integrated so well with Prue Suckling's sonorous playing of the electric violin and Kieran Giffen's percussion. Ben Savage on guitar and dobro threw his heart and soul into his work, and Cliff Ward on banjo, guitar and fiddle vied with Ben for bravura, heart-thumping solos. Throughout, Jade Rhiannon gave us a solid core of vocals that was superb. 'Red Sands', about Jade's Cardiff-born grandfather, sticks in the mind, as does 'Absent Friends', and 'Out Of Our Hands', a song about the terrible slaughter that attended the battle of Solferino in Italy and inspired the founding of the Red Cross (and the anniversary of which battle was 24 June). It was the three-in-one song 'Gog Magog' which showed how much passion this group have for their music, and which set the audience up for a wrap-up rendition of 'The Goodnight Loving Trail' that earned a well-deserved standing ovation.

David Danielli

Martin Chilton, Daily Telegraph - 5 Stars- Best Folk Albums of 2014 list
"Right from the opening track, Red Sands, the second album from Cambridge folk-country band The Willows is a sure-footed success. The graceful and tender voice of Jade Rhiannon underpins the songs and the band seem like they have been playing together for decades. Rhiannon's husband Cliff Ward is on banjo, guitar, violin and vocals and, keeping it in the family, sister-in-law Prue Ward provides the beguiling and powerful fiddle. Ben Savage is on dobro and guitar, while Evan Carson is on bodhrán, drums and percussion.

Part of the reason the album as a whole works is that the songs feel so natural. There is a cover version of Bill Staines's lovely song Roseville Fair, which brings out the subtle emotion of the lyrics and then, under the direction of co-producer Sean Lakeman, suddenly soars with power, as if someone had flicked the folk warp power switch. It's a bold and vibrant way to cover a composition usually sung, by Nanci Griffith for example, as an acoustic ballad.
Their own compositions are full of interesting narratives – The Visitor is the tale of an epic lifeboat rescue – and Rhiannon brings out the sorrow in sad songs such as Maid of Culmore.The band's Americana influences are clear in a version of Utah Phillips's cowboy song Goodnight Loving Trail and they earn their traditional folk spurs with a sweet version of Outward Bound, which is a song collected in Kent by Francis Collison that is part of the Full English Digital Folk Archive. It's also known as The Faithful Sailor Boy.

The guest musicians are Ben Nicholls and Debs Spanton on double bass and Pete Ord, who is credited with some good old-fashioned foot stomps on the track Daughter. Amidst Fiery Skies is outstanding."


Mike Harding, Mike Harding Folk Show

"There's been an undercurrent of chatter going on about a new Cambridge band called The Willows. They sort of straddle the worlds between Americana and English roots music and do it in a very very deft way for such a young band; I think they're really really interesting! Bella's Fury has got a sort of feeling of old timey noir about it, a touch almost of Gillian Welch you might say; I think it's really amazing! For such a young band they don't seem to take any prisoners. It does seem as though they're getting themselves booked for a lot of festivals this summer, and rightly so!" 



Bob Harris, BBC Radio 2
"How lovely was that? Tender, delicate and very beautiful music"



Bob Harris, BBC Radio 2
"Absolutely gorgeous sound, a lovely album."


The Independent on Sunday 12.10.14-(Nick Coleman) 

“They’re wistful with an attractive sound founded on English &Irish principles with a hint of the Appalachians”


R2 Magazine (Dai Jeffries) Sept/Oct 2014 

4* review “An excellent album” “The Cambridge quintet plays a particularly British form of Americana. Our Road, an original song, reminds me irresistibly of Liege and Lief-era Fairfport Convention. Jade has a sweet voice with a husky edge which is great for poignant ballads”


Folkwords(Charlie Elland) 23.9.14 

“A collect of eloquent interpretations” “The Willows have a reputation for bleding and winding the threads of multiple influences to create their distinctive music. Struck by the purity of the female lead vocal, the tightness of their delivery and increasingly more depth and richness to their sound. This album moves faultlessly across soft ballad and tough narrative, building layer upon layer into a collection of eloquent interpretations. Vibrant, diverse yet utterly harmonised”


Sonic Bandwagon (Mike Ainscoe) 

“Expectancy for the new Willows album is high. Opening track Red Sands builds to an intensity which sets the scene for a trip through a mix of soundscapes and storytelling both trad and penned. From songs packed with sentiment to the inspiring and energetic with AFS The Willows have confidentally fanned the flames of their debut”


Acoustic Magazine (Oct 2014) Review by Steve Bennett 

“Already selected for the ‘next big thing’ from the burgeoning herds of young English folkies , their 2nd album is beautifully rendered – Ward’s banjo is the stand-out feature adding a layer of Americana and there’s a welcome touch of Transatlantic Sessions via Ben Savage’s deft, dancing dobro”


Spiral Earth (Iain)30.9.14 

“The Willows are a masterclass in reigning it all in, anchoring their sound somewhere between English and American folk. They have become a solid fixture on the festival scene, accumulating and ever expanding fan base in the process. Their trad arrangements are fresh and innovative but it is their own compositions where they really excel- employing Sean Lakeman’s first class production skills has lifted them to a higher level”


Folk Radio co.uk 17.10.14 (Helen Gregory) 

“An album which effortlessly holds its own against some very stiff competition from the current crop of contemporary UK folk musicians.” “Prue’s achingly lovely violin” “A very accomplished and confident sounding album which suggests that the rise to prominence of The Willows is richly deserved”


Folk All Blogspot 12.10.14 (Danny Farragher) - also in Wolverhampton Chronicle

“If you’re going to front your band with a female voice you should find one that stands out and has gorgeous and mesmerising tones but the Willows already know this because they have Jade Rhiannon” “Rhiannon has a voice that can and will launch a thousand superlatives and is a real gem on an album which projects some top notch music from an impressive gene pool”.”Beautiful – a joy to the ear”.


Shire Folk (Nov/Dec 2014) Graham Hobbs review. 

“The Willows are going places and this album is another step on that journey – I urge you to go and see them”


“Absolutely love this album” Roots of the World, Newcastle Roots Music Radio


Shelley Rainey, Bright Young Folk

"The Willows are a five piece band hailing from Cambridge. They write their own material, drawing on the traditions of both sides of the Atlantic. Beneath Our Humble Soil is their first full-length album.

The influence of the British folk tradition is particularly evident in the opening track, Out at Sea, a gentle lament of lost love, set to a variation on the tune to the traditional song The Blacksmith. This, like several other songs, (Moths, Numb,) features a solo female voice.

However, the Willows are a versatile bunch, taking it turns to take the lead (eg Cap in Hand is led by a male voice) but they really are at their best in full harmony.

No folk album would be complete without a murder, and here we have Bella’s Fury, with appropriately angrily strummed guitar, joined by banjo and percussion. Another song, which really should be angry is Worker’s War, about unemployment, but has a surprisingly upbeat “old time” feel to it and features some fine harmony singing.

The Willows can do poignant beautifully: Absent Friends with simple two part harmony; Gone Are the Days, about the end of a relationship, with a soaring fiddle interlude, and a gorgeous canon effect at the end; This Book of Ours is remiscent of the style of Scottish singer-songwriter Karine Polwart.

An album of contrasts, in style and subject matter, fine songwriting and great musicianship."



Mike Harding, Mike Harding Folk Show

"That band just get better and better in my humble opinion. That was The Maid of Culmore from the EP Bella. Fabulous, fabulous music."


Neil McFadyen, Folk Radio UK

"There’s a skill to getting a début album just right. Overdo it on the wacky or individualist side and you’re pigeon-holed before the CD even hits the shops. On the other hand, play it too safe and your opening shot is lost in the land of beige. The Willows, however, have a salient lesson for the newbies out there. Their début album, Beneath Our Humble Soil, is neither wacky nor bland but is, rather, a fine collection of songs that reach out to a wide audience.

Formed in 2010, The Willows hail from Cambridge and describe themselves as folk roots – which sounds about as close as you could get without sticking an alt- in front of half a dozen different musical genres. Their eponymous EP was released in 2011, was very well received (not least on these very pages), and a string of hugely successful live performances has helped them amass an enthusiastic live following.

Their predominantly acoustic sound is led by Jade Ward’s wonderfully alluring voice, which is at its most mystical in the opening, Out At Sea. Jade’s voice sea-breezes in from somewhere far-off and magical as husband Cliff Ward joins on banjo and guitar. While a tale unfolds, the band’s wider sound does too, with the full band in the mix (Ben Savage; guitar, Dobro, vocals and Stephen MacLachlan; percussion, piano, vocals) until Prue Ward’s driving fiddle steps up the pace for a lively conclusion. The pace is kept going with Bella’s Fury – there’s fury indeed in that voice, with a stronger American flavour and The Willows approaching the realms of the murder ballad from a very rakish angle.

It’s a very appealing mix altogether – with their blend of US and UK roots influences, compelling vocals and, of course, strong and imaginative song writing.

Absent Friends takes on a nostalgic theme in a gentle song that opens with poetic charm – Candles flicker faster in the colder night, and closes with an uplifting smile. In contrast, The Outlaw stomps out its tale of guilt and is undoubtedly a huge favourite live. Sit this beside the sing-along chorus of Worker’s War and you begin to understand the rave live reviews.

The album has its tender phases too. Gone Are The Days is a gentle song of love and parting with beautifully arranged vocals, and there’s irresistible poetry in the melancholy MothsBut when the dawn comes calling for lovers to kiss / And your heart is fated it’s sealed with a wish. Even a brief foray into the world of folk-rock in the fascinating (but, as yet, unfathomable) Numb seems to present no obstacles. All the music is delivered to the listener in a package that sounds less like a début every time I listen.

Beneath Our Humble Soil is a hugely enjoyable album; with songs that engage and enliven, music that appeals across the board, and there’s no doubt that Jade Ward’s husky tones create bewitching vocal performances. The Willows have developed a winning combination, just as comfortable with a gutsy rendition of their own murder ballad as they are with a foot-stompin’ alt-country protest song. A warm and wonderful release."



fRoots

"Fronted by distinctive vocalist Jade Rhiannon and employing sensitive newgrass musicianship and instrumentation, Cambridge-based five-piece The Willows come across somewhat like an English take on Union Station, but even more spirited (original) material. Their defiant spark is faithfuly and crisply captured by their producer Stu Hanna"



Julian Piper, Acoustic Magazine

"If you're going to kick off a blurb sheet with references to Alison Krauss and Laura Marling, then you'd better have the goods to back it up.  And although only formed in 2010, confidence is something this Cambridge five-piece clearly don't have in short supply.  Drawing from a gumbo of influences taken from both sides of the Atlantic, it only takes the driving 'Bella's Fury' a furious workout with rasping fiddle and percussion behind Jade Rhiannon's vocal to understand why the comparisons might be justified.  Ben Savage, a man who one suspects worships at the high altar of Jerry Douglas, adds some fine understated dobro to the proceedings throughout, and Prue Ward's fiddle playing is a standout.  The set ends with the girld haunting harmonising on 'John Harvey', a fitting climax to an album that's as fresh as the wind that blows around their parts."



David Knowles, Maverick Magazine  -  90%
"Formed in the spring of 2010, this Cambridge-based band now release their debut album, and it is a cracker! The line-up is Cliff Ward (guitar, banjo, vocals), sister, Prue Ward (violin, vocals), Ben Savage (guitar, Dobro, vocals) and Stephen MacLachlan (percussion, piano, vocals) plus, fused together by the very distinctive voice of lead singer, Jade Ward (formerly Rhiannon). Regularly compared to the likes of Laura Marling and Alison Krauss & Union Station, I personally put them as more of a folk-styled mix of Fleetwood Mac, and Florence And The Machine. They definitely re-define folk music and make it far easier for younger listeners who are more into pop, to be able to accept it. I saw The Willows at the Ely Folk Festival 2012 and was instantly taken with their sound and overall quality of musicianship. At the end of their set they went to the signing tent and were met by a long queue of people, showing their appreciation of the brilliant show and buying the CD to get it signed.“Bella’s Fury” comes at you like a storm, with Jade’s raging vocals complemented by fiery fiddle, pulsating guitar and banjo, along with a powerful drum beat as they depict the story of a woman who kills her husband (folk music does love a good murder ballad). “Absent Friends” is gentler and leans more towards country music and “Worker’s War” is a lively toe-tapper that will get you wanting to dance, even though it is about a man being unfairly let go by his workplace. At times sad and demure, other times happy and lively, this is a class album by such a relatively new band. The Willows are a breath of fresh air to the folk music community, as they have their own unique sound and style. Plus they are a very tight musical outfit with massive confidence that belies the short length of time they have been together.This CD is well-worth checking out and I must also name-check Emmanuel Martin for such great front cover art."



John Roffey, Maverick Magazine - Review of Bournemouth Centre Stage Concert

"Every once in a while a young band emerges who clearly ought to be destined for the top. Cambridge-based electric folk roots band The Willows have been making waves for some time so it was no surprise that they played to a packed Centre Stage, captivating the audience with their mix of traditional UK folk and Americana. Fronted by the stunning voice of Jade Rhiannon, husband Cliff Ward (guitar, banjo), sister Prue Ward (violin) and superbly supported by the intricate musicianship of Ben Savage (guitar, dobro) and Stephen Maclachlan (percussion), the band showcased their critically acclaimed recently released album BENEATH OUT HUMBLE SOIL.

Opening with a couple of fairly mellow numbers, Gone Are The Days featuring great harmonies from Jade, Cliff and Prue, whilst Cap In Hand had Prue excelling on the violin. Johnny Robson had the band upping things to a folk-rock tempo before slowing the pace again for the lovely ballad This Book of Ours; a poignant story of childhood sweethearts parting. After Absent Friends, another gorgeous ballad, which needed no explanation, the band veered away from their album with Shores Of America and Love Is Teasing. Then it was up-tempo again with Bella's Fury, a story of murder and intrigue and John Harvey, a fictional story of a lumberjack falling out of a tree; did he fall or was he pushed? All too soon the band closed with Utah Phillips' Goodnight Loving Trail before they returned to encore with another terrific number from the album, The Outlaw.

Showing a stage presence and maturity way beyond their years, this was an extremely polished, if rather short performance. Beset with technical problems prior to getting started, this could explain why Jade's beautiful vocals were not quite as prominent as they could have been. Despite this setback, the band was never fazed and quickly established a rapport with the standing room only gathering. If the band can stay together and keep their feet on the ground there is no reason why they should not be destined for greater things."



www.folkwords.com - 'Amidst Fiery Skies' Review

"The Willows have a reputation for blending and winding the threads of multiple influences to create their distinctive music. As always, with their latest album ‘Amidst Fiery Skies’, you’re struck by the purity of the female lead vocal, the tightness of their delivery and increasingly, more depth and richness to their sound. This album presents the full gamut of their style moving faultlessly across soft ballad with poignant understanding and tough narrative that lays it on the line, building layer upon layer into a collection of eloquent interpretations.

The attraction of ‘Amidst Fiery Skies’, lies in its intermingling of traditional and original narratives building something vibrant, diverse yet entirely harmonised. The variety runs through the opening ‘Red Sands’ beautifully blending family history and personal story, the delightful ‘Roseville Fair’, an Irish ‘travelling-with-hope’ ballad ‘Maid of Culmore’ and the longing of immigrant workers in ‘Shores’ – throughout it’s a fusion to embrace your awareness. Other high points include the cautionary message and jaunty gait of ‘Daughter’, their interpretation of ‘Faithful Sailor Boy’ morphed into ‘Outward Bound’ and the heroic tale of a Whitby lifeboat and the wreck of ‘The Visitor’.

The Willows are Jade Rhiannon (vocals, Shruti Box) Cliff Ward (banjo, guitar, violin, vocals) Ben Savage (guitar, Dobro, vocals) Prue Ward (violin, vocals) and Evan Carson (bodhran, percussion) with guests Ben Nicholls (double bass) and across selected tracks Debs Spanton (double bass) and Pete Ord (foot stomp). ‘Amidst Fiery Skies’ is co-produced with Sean Lakeman, and releases on 6 October."


www.sonicbandwagon.com By Mike Ainscoe

"Billed as a rekindling of the flames of their Stu Hanna produced debut album, ‘Beneath Our Humble Soil’, expectancy for new The Willows album is high. With testimonials from big hitters Bob Harris and Mike Harding plus ‘Best Album’ nominations from Spiral Earth and support slots with the likes of Lau, Richard Thompson and Seth Lakeman, you can see why.

This time around they’ve bagged another named producer in Sean Lakeman, whose production ears and skills seem to be ever more in demand these days. The band are joined by fellow Lakeman acolyte, Ben Nicholls, who takes on double bass duties to add to the impressive instrumental skill of the band fronted by the unique – edging on raw – vocal of Jade Rhiannon. It’s an impressive line up based again around the banjos, guitars and dobros of Ben Savage and Cliff Ward and also includes the latest addition of Evan Carson on percussion instruments.

There’s a name check for the EFDSS’s Full English digital archive with their interpretation of ‘The Faithful Sailor Boy’ collected by Francis Collinson, retitled ‘Outward Bound’, and with a melody reflecting their understanding of the heartache of the lyric. One of the standard folk topics, which is explored also on the rest of the album, are the narratives that plunder the themes of family struggle, tragedy, travel and the land. It’s the gentle shuffle and percussive resonance of ‘Red Sands’ which opens the album with a thread weaving through memories of childhood holidays and into the forced migration of Welsh great grandparents. It builds to an intensity which sets the scene for a trip through a mixture of soundscapes and storytelling, both traditional and self penned.

Both the gentle harmonies of ‘Roseville Fair’ and the darker tale of ‘Johnny Robson’ show The Willowspicking up a more uptempo groove whilst ‘Maid Of Culmore’ is perhaps the pick of the traditional material. The nineteenth century Irish ballad is beautifully sung against a restrained guitar accompaniment echoing the subject matter of the search for a maid in the wilds of New England, followed by another nod to the early Irish immigrants and their struggle with ‘Shores’,  with the dobro and banjo giving the song a  typically bluegrass/Americana feel about it. Despite the subject matter being rooted in the uncertainty of a family and their future, there’s hope and a light and airy fiddle plays over the top of Cliff Ward’s lead vocal.

The intriguing true story of the rescue of the crew of the ship The Visitor is told in the eponymous song. It does feel very much in the same vein as Seth Lakeman’s ‘Solomon Browne’ which has a similar theme. A personal favourite from the album, despite the toil and labour, it’s an uplifting song of the never say die spirit with a similarly strong and determined backing. Given a potent story, it’s the finest example of what The Willows can conjure up in original compositions.

Ranging from songs which are poignant and packed with sentiment, to the inspiring and energetic, with ‘Amidst Fiery Skies’ The Willows have confidently fanned the flames of their debut."


"The Willows played a late set - 9.45pm - on Saturday at the Kings Place festival this weekend that worked like coffee. Jade Rhiannon is their beautiful lead singer, with a highly distinctive and beguiling voice; there is a charming and eccentric guitarist, Ben Savage, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Rupert Grint; they have a fabulously musical brother and sister banjo and fiddle combo in Cliff and Pru Ward; and an absorbing and upbeat collection of songs that wraps you in a blanket of sonic joy: their four or five part harmony (the drummer, Evan Carson didn't seem to have a mic though I could be wrong) was transcendent. They're the real deal.
Their second album, Amidst Fiery Skies, is from a place where folk and bluegrass cohabit and has immediately taken up a residency on my multi-disk CD player. But it was interesting to hear about the problem they had with their first album. "We didn't put the name of the band on the cover," explained Savage. "Our PR went nuts when she found out: apparently that's a PR disaster. Rumour has it we'd be HUGE if we'd put our name on the cover."
It (above) was called Beneath Our Humble Soil, they have taken to using stickers bearing their name to compensate, and the absence of most of the salient information from the CD cover didn't stop it picking up some very nice reviews, from Bob Harris and Mike Harding among others."


Julian May, Songlines Magazine

"The Willows, a five-piece band from Cambridge, came together in 2010. They’ve been busy in clubs all over the UK, opening for the likes of Rory McLeod, Lau and the Peatbog Faeries. Their reputation as a live band is formidable and by this album’s second track, ‘Bella’s Fury’, the value of their gigging experience becomes clear.

These are songs with hooks, bridges and refrains; there are tricky guitar licks and furious solos (though sometimes the fiddle takes them), Cliff Ward’s banjo pushes them along like an outboard motor, Jade Rhiannon has a husky yet fragile voice. Ben Savage’s guitar and dobro are fluent and yearning. There is a fine fiddle playing by Prue Ward and crucial but unobtrusive percussion from Stephen MacLachlan. They’re a unit that plays with brio and accomplishment – The Willows know what they’re about and it shows."


HMJ, Properganda Magazine

"A little bit folk, a little bit country, the family-and-friends five-piece's debut is 100 percent roots.  With gorgeous harmonies, expansive arrangements and crisp musicianship, this debut from the Cambridge folksters draws inevitable sonic comparisons with the likes of the Be Good Tanyas (especially on 'Absent Friends') and Alison Krauss, but the way the lyrics gradually sneak up on you is perhaps more reminiscent of our own Laura Marling.  Tackling everything from deperate passion ('This Book of Ours') to the age-old story of being thrown on the unemployment scrapheap (the impossibly catchy 'Worker's War'), they are clearly in touch with their folk heritage.  At the heart of this mainly acoustic band are Jade Rhiannon on vocals, alongside her husband Cliff Ward and his sister Prue, plus chums Stephen MacLachlan and Ben Savage, and all produced by themselves while touring from town to town, with a little help from the accomplished Stu Hanna.  The mood shifts throughout the album, with wistful numbers like 'Moths' and 'Numb' tinged with sadness and longing, while 'Bella's Fury' is a banjo-crazy, thigh-slapping song about... murder."



James Robinson, For Folk's Sake

"Recorded by the band themselves in a variety of living rooms, hotels and garages, the album has a satisfyingly unaffected, immediate quality, and suggests the work of a formidable live act. The sound is polished and upbeat: a down-homey confection of acoustic guitars, banjos and fiddles, led by singer Jade Ward, who has the kind of husky, seductive voice that only a statue could ignore. Although they hail from Cambridgeshire, the Willows are more in the alt-country mould common to the US, which sometimes manifests itself in the occasional awkward Americanism peppering the lyrics, and you might argue that songs about dustbowls and ‘workin’ for the company’ can sound a bit wan in 2013. However, lines such as ‘In the mornings I work for the wrong man/ I work for a rich man/ but in the evenings I lay with a good man/I lay with a poor man’ can’t help but have some resonance in today’s increasingly divided, top-down society. From the intense ‘Cap in Hand’, through the barnstorming ‘The Outlaw’, to the elegiac ‘Absent Friends’, the tracks frequently feature strong narrative threads, which makes for compelling listening after the initial thrill of the memorable hooks subside. For aficionados, this is a record guaranteed to merit innumerable listens. Beneath Our Humble Soil might be the sort of album that gets lost in the folk/alt-country wasteland, and that would be a shame, because there is much to recommend it."



Rychard Carrington, Moving Tone

"It is no surprise but still a delight that The Willows’ long-awaited debut album is a work of consistent charm, polish and class. Cambridge readers may well be familiar with this group, popular live performers with substantial roots in the local acoustic music scene, who have attracted a large following through their sheer friendliness and good humour, as well as their gentle musical prowess. Here Jade Rhiannon, Cliff Ward, Prue Ward, Stephen MacLachlan and Ben Savage fully deliver their potential. This is folk-derived contemporary music that is right up there with the best. Their popularity is liable to spread rapidly.

While it is Jade’s seductive vocals (sometimes reminiscent of Sandy Denny) that have the strongest initial appeal, it is the astute good taste of the musical arrangements that add dimensions to the sound. Stu Hanna as co-producer must have helped in delivering this aspect so successfully in recording. Such a light and airy sound could be bland, but for a depth of feeling, for the subject matter of their self-penned songs and just in their instinct for music. Every instrument always seems to know just when to come in. The vocal arrangements in themselves are intricate; guitars are classy throughout, and Prue Ward’s fiddle adds a crucial richness. Stephen MacLaghlan’s percussion must be particularly commended for adding texture and rhythm judiciously: in acoustic balladry generally percussion is most often somewhere between superfluous and irritating, so well played Stephen. An interesting and successful addition to the live sound here is the presence of double bass, contributed by three different players (Debs Spanton, Andrew Donovan and Ivan Garford): nice touch, a cut above the obvious choice of bass guitar. 

The songs tell stories, always rich in atmosphere. A spirit of exuberant, defiant assertion is often evident, especially in the calmly energised Bella’s Fury and my particular favourite The Worker’s War. Of the slower songs, Absent Friends shines out especially. Folk often doesn’t translate well from the stage to the recording, but Beneath Our Humble Soil has a distinctive enchantment that will add grace and character to your living room. 

To cap it all, artist Emmanuel Martin has delivered a particularly arresting cover. This album deserves to be a smash hit."



Spiral Earth

"Beneath Our Humble Soil is the long-awaited debut album from The Willows, a five piece from Cambridgeshire, who despite forming only a couple of years ago, already have the feel of an act that has a deep heritage. Co-produced by Stu Hanna from Megson, it's released on the 11th February.

Having seen them in action at various festivals over the last couple of summers, as well as a sold-out stand-alone gig at The Junction in Cambridge, we were hyped to hear a full-length offering from the band, made up of husband and wife Cliff and Jade Ward, sister Prue Ward, Ben Savage and Steve MacLachlan.

Describing themselves as 'contemporary folk', The Willows enthrall with a mix of delicate ballads and more upbeat foot-stomping numbers.  Stand-out second track 'Bella's Fury', about a woman who kills her husband, really excites, with its rhythmic fiddle, guitar and percussion driving the beat, allowing lead singer Jade's beautiful and breathy vocals to excel.

In fact, both the varied use of instruments and arrangements throughout the entire album really make this a stand-out piece of work. Polished, accomplished and skilful, it's no surprise that several members of the band are classically trained, as their instrumental prowess is evident throughout.

'Cap in Hand' gives Cliff's robust vocals a chance to shine, giving the album a more diverse sound, and 'Numb' is pure folk-rock.

Storytelling seems to be a big theme of the album, with each track imparting the listener of a tale to be told, and perhaps a lesson to be learnt. 'Worker's War' tells of a man unfairly dismissed from his workplace, and 'This Book of Ours', recounts the last days of a young couple's relationship.

Special mention must be made of Prue Ward's emotive violin-playing, building to moving crescendos on tracks such as 'Moths', and greatly contributing to the album's soul-warming and uplifting essence.

This is an inspiring debut and is sure to set The Willows on the road to a successful 2013."


FATEA Magazine (at Cambridge Folk Festival 2013)

"The thing I like about The Willows are that both their recorded and live work have a really uplifting quality, even when the material is on the darker side of human nature, more hitting adversity than wallowing in self pity, it's a philosophy that the audience easily take to.

The songs are strong in narrative and performed with a real passion, primarily with Jade on lead vocals, but occasionally switching to Cliff. For the fashionistas amongst you, Jade was wearing a dress designed by her mother. The Willows are incredibly well received and manage to get that all too rare thing at a festival, an encore."



Slate The Disco (at Cambridge Folk Festival 2013)

"A calmer, more contemporary take on folk came next in the form of another local band The Willows. Theirs was a well formed set that slowly built as it progressed, starting with soft, gentler numbers which turned to toe tapping before soon enough, the packed out tent was jumping in time to brisk fiddles, banjos and guitar, all perfectly complemented by lead singer Jade Rhiannon’s quite stunning voice. They’ve been building themselves quite a reputation around these parts, and as the crowd yelled for an encore, to which they duly obliged, it certainly looked as though they may have gained themselves a few more fans."



Marie Negus, Folkgeek.net (at Cambridge Folk Festival 2013)

"I strolled over to The Club Tent to catch The Willows, who hail from Cambridge. I’d listened to a little of their music before coming here, and knew that they were going to be something quite special. Their music features driving percussion with luscious fiddle moments fluttering amongst lovely vocal harmonies. It was hard not to warm to them immediately, with their songs displaying imaginative writing, whilst being steeped in UK and US folk roots. They did Cambridge and themselves proud."



David Knowles, Maverick Magazine
"It was then the turn of Cambridge-based The Willows to take to the stage and they set the bar high with the brilliant opener “The Outlaw,” with Jade Ward’s charismatic vocals supported magnificently by the twin acoustic guitars of Cliff Ward and Ben Savage, the driving fiddle of Prue Ward and the perfect beat of Stephen MacLachlan on the Cajon. With such a strong start it was a wonder if they had perhaps peaked too soon, but the slight reservation was soon dispelled as they eased smoothly into “Shores Of America” that had Cliff taking lead vocals with Ben changing over to the Dobro, on which he was quite awesome. Jade then introduced a strange little instrument called a shruti box that looked like a small carry case, opened up to produce bellows inside and is used to provide a drone to accompany instruments such as the flute and in this instance a vocalist. Jade then opened and closed it to produce the sound that complemented her delightful vocals on the breezy “Absent Friends.”The beautiful “Gone Are The Days” was then followed by the breath-taking “Sailing Ship,” with Jade’s haunting vocals complemented by an amazing fiddle solo from Prue, made even better by the atmospheric acoustics in this fantastic church. Jade and Cliff then shared vocals on “Cap In Hand” that featured some great Cajon backing rhythm from Steve as well as another superb fiddle solo from Prue. It is easy to see why The Willows have been making quite a few waves on the festival circuit over the last couple of years and I predict that they will be getting stronger after this year and will spread their wings further as they could even take on America. Speaking of making waves, they also introduced a new song on the night called Wave, that had Cliff playing some terrific banjo as the group took on a very acoustic Florence And The Machine-sound. Another new tune, “Johnny Robson” ensued, sounding very akin to a shanty but with psychedelic folk undertones. The foot-stomping “Bella’s Fury” had the audience joining in, building up perfectly for the last song of the set, the country twanged swing tune “The Goodnight Loving Trail” from the pen of Utah Phillips that had Prue adding some sweet harmonies to Jade’s captivating lead vocals. They could not go without an encore and they cheerfully obliged with the enjoyable “John Harvey.” The Willows are an incredibly talented band who should definitely be going places. It should also not be too long before they are challenging for various music awards. Look out for their debut album BENEATH OUR HUMBLE SOIL out early 2013."



Neil King, FATEA

"I first saw The Willows when the played the opening night at Cambridge Folk Festival a couple of years back. I was really impressed and offered them a slot on the Spring 12 Fatea Showcase Session in anticipation of their debut album. Unfortunately the music industry can be a fickle mistress and for a number of reasons that release ended up getting delayed. The good news is that "Beneath Our Humble Soil" is now out and it's been worth the wait.  The five piece bring a multi guitar, multi vocal approach to their music with fiddle and percussion adding to the richness of the sound. One of the first thing that hits you is the quality of the vocals, the next time someone mentions that all the best harmonies are blood harmonies, The Willows are a band to offer up as evidence for the defence.  The Willows have delivered an album of strong songs and whilst there are references to bands that span the folk rock/folk pop generation, such as The Trees, All About Eve and Ruby Blue, there is something about the way the band construct their songs that gives them a distinct and memorable edge.  As well as performing, the band are responsible for both writing and producing the album, though the production is in collaboration with Stu Hanna, a man well used to working with rich harmonies and who also picks up co-writing credits on three numbers.  There is so much to recommend "Beneath Our Humble Soil" and it's more than the total of the sum. You can put the same components together and get very different results, what is difficult to define is that certain something, the panache. The Willows have that panache; the way they bring together the words, the harmonies, the instrumentation gets you right where it matters, in the heart and in the soul."



Spiral Earth

"The Willows are a five piece from Cambridgeshire, they have only been together a couple of years but already have the feel of an act that has a deep heritage. It is refreshing to come across a band who are genuinely fresh and innovative and are not just filling themselves up at the alt-country/indie-folk waterhole. Tonight's gig was previewing songs from their imminent new album 'Beneath Our Humble Soil'.

The Willows are Jade Rhiannon on vocals, Prue Ward on violin, Steve Maclachlan on percussion, and Cliff Ward and Ben Savage on guitars. What makes their sound unique is the refreshing way they manage to be reminiscent of the best of British folk and folk-rock without being the least bit derivative.
That leads on to one of the greatest compliments you can pay to an artist or band, and that is that they sound wholly original. Alarm bells start to ring in my head whenever I read that someone 'sounds like such and such a star', whether that is in a press release or a review, it's just lazy journalism. Originality is the greatest asset anyone can possess, the Willows have it in spades - their songwriting and musicianship is mesmerising, 2012 already seems to be raising the bar for quality albums, The Willows debut should be right up there with the best.
Their gig at the Junction was packed, their mix of ballads and upbeat folk rock left the crowd wanting more, they will be playing festivals this Summer, check out www.thewillowsband.co.uk for dates and details on the album release."

 



Anishka Sharma, Unsigned Bands Review

"Absent Friends - This is a very sweet, graceful, elegant and folksy sound from The Willows that takes your mind to a faraway place free of worries and cares. The lead vocalist has a unique essence to her voice similar of Ellie Goulding that makes her ever more enchanting. This coupled together with some finely placed harmonies creates quite an exquisite track."



Spiral Earth

"The Willows are a band who are garnering great word of mouth approval and popularity; based in Cambridgeshire, they combine great musicianship with catchy and original songwriting. They also have a ingredient which is often missing from bands in their early years, and that is class.

The quintet released their latest single 'Absent Friends' on Tuesday 14th November, and you can soak up its beautifully shot video at www.thewillowsband.co.uk.  Expect to hear them mentioned more in the coming months, Spiral Earth will be interviewing them very soon about their forthcoming album."



The Ely Standard

...with triumphant sets at both Ely and Cambridge Folk Festival. Expect very tight musicianship, harmonies and some great folk songs from one of Cambridge's top new bands.


Olivia Abbott, www.greatbritishlife.co.uk - Review of Cambridge Folk Festival

..on Friday night when Bellowhead were doing their thrash-jazz-brass thing... the place to be was the Club Tent, where local band The Willows brought their own-penned tunes – not to mention their own homemade jam – to warm the hearts of those who were beginning to feel the distinct chill of evening.


405 Music & Arts Magazine

Formed just last summer and hailing from picturesqueCambridgeshire,The Willows’debut self-titled EP instantly evokes a rush of feeling andmemories. Haunting vocals, and elements of traditional, folk and roots music come together with a distinctly catchy, pop-infused and unmistakably beautiful sound. Their mature melodies are reminiscent of Laura Marling’s earlier tracks, but The Willows’ sound is altogether richer, with a somewhat darker quality.



FATEA

Cambridge based quintet, The Willows, appear to be creating a bit of a stir having already supported Lau and Uiscedwr. They've got a debut album due at later in 2011, in the mean time we'll have to make do with their self titled four track EP. To be perfectly honest it's not enough, I keep feeling the sort of tingle I got when I first came across Fairground Attraction. They've got a really lush sound, rich, but still giving clear space to the individual instruments, something they carry on into the vocals, delicate harmonies and strong solos, one to watch.



Moving Tone - Ely Folk Festival Review

...it was a quite brilliant set from The Willows that really brought the evening alive. It is easy to focus on the delightful vocals of the charming Jade Rhiannon, but equally important are some sharp arrangements of fiddle, kajon and acoustic guitars. The set was astutely paced, with the tempo upped at just the right moment, and a terrific climax with The Workers' War. The Willows are due for big success.



Rychard Carrington, Moving Tone - EP Review

The Willows’ debut EP confirms their arrival as accomplished purveyors of folk-pop. Their EP launch gig proved both that they are an engaging live act and that they already have a large local following (many of whom had to be turned away from the sold-out performance). Neither aspect was really a surprise, as the five-piece band – Jade Rhiannon, Cliff Ward, Prue Ward, Steve Maclachlan and Ben Savage - come with a history on the Cambridge music scene – notably charming singer Jade’s solo career (which featured a quite similar line-up of backing musicians) and her husband Cliff’s involvement with an number of impressive acts, perhaps most notably Lightning Jack.

Folk groups can often lose much of their appeal on record, away from the intimacy and immediacy of live performance, but on these four songs (Down River; Searching Within Chaos; Senses, Out Of Our Hands) The Willows weave a spell of gentle charm, with four summery ballads, reflective but uplifting in feel. Acoustic guitar is to the fore, while Prue Ward’s fiddle greatly enhances the soft richness of the sound. A picnic on Grantchester Meadows on a sunny, lazy day is the image that comes to mind when listening to this EP. All four tracks are equally strong. Lyrically perhaps the most interesting is Out Of Our Hands, which is about the founding of the Red Cross. Overall there is something of the feel of some of Sandy Denny’s ballads.

Watch out for future live appearances by The Willows, and meanwhile check out this quietly delightful EP. ( A similarly absorbing reproduction of a painting by Emmanuel Martin comes thrown into the bargain.)



Imogen Gooodman, Varsity

The act which stole the stage was undoubtebly The Willows....They played a small selection of both traditional and modern folk songs with astounding musical agility... leaving me in no doubt that they are a group to watch out for over the coming months.



Kerry Devine, BBC Introducing

"Beautiful... I have a lot of love for this band!"