Ken Nicol


The guitarist, singer-songwriter and composer says: "The album is a cross section of stories drawn from history, both my own history and world history."
Songs on the album will include a re-working of Demon Of The Well, a song Ken wrote when he was a member of Steeleye Span, and which was recorded on the band's 2006 album Bloody Men. It's a song inspired by a folklore tale of a curse, a murder and a ghost from Waddow Hall near Clitheroe. Another song, inspired by Ken's own family history, is Ten Pound Poms, a story of mass emigration.
"The two songs I wrote for Steeleye Span are historic stories, and “Ten Pound Poms” is inspired by the personal history of my family.
Ken has made more than 50 albums as a member of bands, duos and other projects. His music encompasses folk, rock, blues, jazz, and even a touch of comedy, and features his trademark acoustic and electric guitar work. Ken Nicol is one of Britain's most highly-regarded acoustic guitarists.
For more information on Ken Nicol, see http://kennicolmusic.com/ or contact Ken at 298 Tag Lane Preston PR2 3UY phone: (0)1772 510144 Mobile: (0)7909 991051 knicol@blueyonder.co.uk

As the title suggests, it’s a compilation of Songs and Instrumental interpretation of tales, events and the downright normal.

1. A Woman’s Work Is Never Done (a modern day twist on an old but timeless folk song)
2. 10 Pound Poms (tale of those that sought a new life 'down under')
3. She’s Walk­ing (whimsical walking blues)
4. A Waltz With Alice (instrumental inspired by a lady (my mother) that loved to dance)
5. Demon Of The Well (a re-worked version of a song originally written for Steeleye Span)
6. Let The Wind Blow My Prayers To Heaven (a ballad inspired from a phrase heard on R4)
7. Old School Days (a personal tale - the nightmare of my old school days)
8. The Beau­ti­ful Truth (Acoustic & strings instrumental piece)
9. The Shot That Killed Three (a true story, words penned by presenter and producer Phil Widdows, FolkCast,)
10. The Complete Banker (self-explanatory title, performed with ukulele)





By Ken Nicol

MVS CD025 5 0055040 600258



            Ken Nicol is an exquisite acoustic guitar player. He is also a fine singer and accomplished songwriter. He has played with The Albion Band and more recently Steeleye Span but is now where he began: a solo performer. This latest CD recorded at his own studio at his home in Preston rehearses his long-established tropes: respect for the folk tradition; songs that tell a story; songs that spike stupidity; rejection of glib populism and commercialism; and his respect for his chosen music. All the music and lyrics here are his own, except for one song, The Shot That Killed Three, whose words were written by Phil Widdows, a local journalist. The first track is entitled A Woman’s Work Is Never Done . It’s a reworking of a traditional song and is typical of Ken Nicol in its generosity. The title might suggest a feminist broadside, but he is wary of ideology; the song is motivated more by kindness than tendentiousness. He’s not so much pushing a case as alerting us to the dangers of egoism and a lack of empathy. The melody is straightforward but, as always, the inventions around it are fascinating. It’s hard to think of a guitar player in his style who is more inventive or whose characteristic playing is so strong and clear. There are many who would say  Martin Carthy is without peer, but I’ve heard him play many times and though there are elements of genius in his performance, I don’t find myself thinking of Ken Nicol as a lesser player, just a different one.  

            Ten Pound Poms is built around the experience of those who were tempted to make the long transit to Australia in the post-war years in search of a better life. It evokes well the ambiguity of aspiration and trepidation and so reaches beyond the limits of its theme by suggesting a universal human experience: we can all stay where we are geographically or experientially; the temptation to venture out is powerful; yet the perils of doing so, real. Some of them made it some of them didn’t. Would it have been wiser for the disappointed to stay at home ? It’s a poignant  elaboration of a permanent human dilemma: whatever we try may fail, but to try nothing is itself a failure.  

            There are two instrumental pieces , A Waltz With Alice (the CD is dedicated to Ken Nicol’s mother Alice) and The Beautiful Truth. The first a delicate and beautiful melody, intricately embellished; the second a more bluesy and slightly darker composition. Some musicians complain of the domination of popular music by song, to the degree, they suggest, that some young people think all music is song. Ken Nicol has always made instrumentals a central part of his repertoire. His virtuosity on guitar as well as his compositional inventiveness could well stand as example to young musicians with an eye on popular market not to fall into the trap of believing that voice is an indispensable instrument.  

            Old School Days visits Ken Nicol’s past and his fear and dislike of school. He was one of those youngsters whose schooldays were made miserable by the arbitrary power of teachers, corporal punishment and the constant sense of imminent punishment for faults you weren’t aware of. He’s right about this; there was a Kafkaesque quality to the education system during his youth. Milan Kundera has written of how Kafka’s work explores the reversal of an ancient relationship in which the fault seeks the punishment so that the punishment seeks the fault. This may be characteristic of modern institutions. It was certainly the case that in the kind of school Ken Nicol went to, you didn’t have to do anything wrong to get the cane, you just had to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, wear the wrong facial expression, or express yourself in the wrong way. Some lads learned to live with this, to accept it as mad but the way things were and devised ways of ducking beneath it or simply defying it and take the punishment. Others, like Ken Nicol, were troubled by it. I suppose there are many who can think back and “smell the fear and feel the shame”; it would be nice to think we’d left this behind but I suspect we’ve merely changed the instruments, the fear and shame remain. It’s a good song because it touches on a common experience and it raises a question rather than offering an answer: why did anyone ever imagine terrifying children was necessary for their education ? 

            The final track is an amusing assault on the egregious stupidities of our financial system: The Complete Banker. It ought to be sung on every demonstration; it could become the anthem of all those from Athens to Aberdeen who are flabbergasted by the greed, arrogance and self-complacence of the self-appointed “master of the universe” of the banks and stock exchanges. It comes at its subject obliquely, as all the best broadsides do, and disarms its potential critiques by its apparent light-heartedness.  Its simple melody and lyric are memorable and it make fitting finale to this excellent, varied recording which ranges between dark tragedy, fragile beauty and robust humour. Ken Nicol is soon off to tour Australia and New Zealand. Lucky them. He’ll have them reaching for their tissues and rolling in the aisles.