reviews The Brothers Briggs

Lovely review of the forthcoming Brothers Briggs album from

This self-titled album by The Brothers Briggs drops in like the soundtrack to a long-lost folk horror film. There’s that delicious sense of the indefinably off-kilter, a queasy disorientation counterpointed by earthy and sweet vocal harmonies.

There’s a real sense of rootedness in the music, yet this selection of traditional tunes is set against strange and dislocating soundscapes that create something quite fresh and surprising. Starting out life as a project to celebrate folk singer Martyn Briggs’ 70th birthday (the father of the eponymous brothers), it has evolved into an unusual and original work most deserving of a wider audience.

Martyn Briggs himself appears in what starts off as a fairly straightforward-sounding version of ‘Maid On The Shore’. But he’s soon joined by an atmospheric wave of washy sound that periodically threatens to overwhelm the vocals entirely, and a mid-point break featuring only the creaking of a ship. It’s disorienting and splendid: a fine example of what the brothers achieve on this album.

Reprising one of dad’s songs, the brothers take on ‘The Painful Plough’, even largely reproducing The Singing Tradition’s vocal arrangements. The cadences of a mediaeval-sounding chant sit alongside rhythmic drum beats and what sounds like a clattering of morris men’s sticks.

Opening song, ‘Bitter Withy’ also takes up this overtly percussive style, with its primitive kettle drum, backed by trumpets, ramping up the moody drama. ‘The Hunter’ gathers speed ominously galloping to a close, while whooshy psychedelic electronics and wonky chords make the sickly sweetness of the vocal of ‘Sandy Daw’ seem horribly oppressive.

Old standard ‘Barbary Allen’ gains a Ry Cooder-ish slide guitar and some intriguing pizzicato that really shouldn’t work at all with this otherwise a capella tale of heartbreak and death, but totally do.

‘Soul Cake’ is an insistent, menacing chant, set against a bony rattle (think Saint-Saëns ‘Danse Macabre’) building to a frenetically atmospheric frenzy of guitars and electronic blips before it just, well, stops. Don’t look behind you…

The album winds up with the phlegmatic ‘When Fortune Turns The Wheel’, perhaps the “straightest” song delivery here, moving through clear changes of mood from bitterness to acceptance.

The Brothers Briggs, Tom, Edward and Alex, have close and well-matched harmonies and solidly pleasing solo voices, as well as a creative ear for arrangements. This first album by them feels like a breath of fresh air, not gimmicky but genuinely something darkly original and I find myself really wanting to hear more.

Su O’Brien

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Folk Radio UK review The Brothers Briggs

“We need more of this kind of adventurous and keenly understanding music-making”

Great review for The Brothers Briggs from the people at Folk Radio UK.Brothers Briggs CD cover lo res

Take three brothers with a folk music background (i.e., where singing folk songs together “on long car journeys or round the kitchen table” is part of their family tradition)… The Briggs brothers are scattered across the UK: singer/guitarist/keyboardist Tom is based in Manchester, while Edward’s a musician, instrument-maker and sound artist based in Brighton and Alex is a singer and teacher based in Birmingham. The three recently had the great idea of making an album together as a 70thbirthday present for their father Martyn, a singer who’d appeared on a couple of Topic albums in the ’70s with the Singing Tradition group and Roy Palmer (but then Dad ended up providing the sleeve notes for the brothers’ CD!).


Intriguingly, the Brothers’ album presents their own strange, deliciously twisted takes on a collection of nine traditional folk songs that they’ve been singing for as far back as they can remember. By strange and twisted, they mean weird and/or unexpected musical directions, enterprisingly taking what they term an impressionistic approach that reflects their own personal relationship with the songs rather than any deliberate attempt to recreate the songs in a traditional style. It helps that each of the brothers possesses a distinctive and individual vocal character, with Edward and Tom taking the lead on three songs apiece and Alex two, whereas Martyn himself is recruited to sing The Maid On The Shore; the brothers’ collective vocal identity is subsequently reinforced on The Painful Plough.


The brothers’ interpretations score heavily on the dark and scary side, for they choose to bring out the elements that scared them as kids. It’s easy to feel spooked when encountering the songs for the first time in the brothers’ unique renditions. The narrative of Bitter Withy, for instance, is distilled into barely two minutes of high drama and yet loses nothing in the telling. The impact of the upfront-sung melody is such that the narrative’s dramatic tension is heightened both by the eerie supporting vocal harmonies and by the creative instrumental backdrop that arises out of a single pounding drumbeat and progresses through chattering, clattering tribal drumming (Zabadak meets Adam Ant?) to full-blown trumpets-and-timps scoring (recalling Janáček’s Sinfonietta, perhaps?).


An insistent minor-key guitar-and-drum ostinato ushers in The Hunter (aka Among The Leaves So Green-O), normally a cheery singalong call-and-response but here feeling decidedly ominous as the “hoedown” of the chase quickens and the keeper’s somewhat bawdy tale hastens to its merciful conclusion. Delicate reverberant plucked strings lead us into the decidedly odd, wispy nursery-rhyme-fantasy-ballad Sandy Daw, which Alex and Tom got from their Scottish grandmother; its hushed, ethereal and airy vocals recall Pink Floyd, overlaid on a psychedelic, spacey soundscape that takes us into both Floyd and Dead territories. Maid On The Shore is sinister and quite disturbing; it sets Martyn’s almost conversational delivery of the text against a swooning, discordant harmonium drone, with a curious “sleep hiatus” midway through the tale.


The Painful Plough is a deliberate homage to Martyn’s recording of the song with Singing Tradition in that it features the three brothers using virtually the same vocal arrangement (which here sounds almost Copper-like, I thought). It parallels Bitter Withy in its ingenious use of syncopated clattery percussion, which carries the song through its verses and on to a pounding fife-and-drum conclusion.


Barbary Allen, at 4½ minutes the longest track here, starts out traditionally enough, with expressive, “enjoyably melancholy” vocal backed by guitar, but becomes weirder with the incorporation into the texture of imaginative slide guitar effects which fall away as the lovers’ burial is undertaken in time-stopping a cappella. The animated, grimly jolly ritual of Soul Cake receives a suitably threatening Halloween’ish reading with an edgy, jittery backing that takes skeletal marimba and distorted Beefheart/garage guitar riffing into the realm of primal, wiry proto-punk. The final track, When Fortune Turns The Wheel, is a gently heartfelt rendition, tenderly and beautifully done to a rippling guitar and supportive keyboard chordings that both mirror and accentuate the ebb-and-flow tidal optimism of the text. The only song where I feel the brothers’ theatrical, impressionistic treatment doesn’t sit quite right is Reynardine, where some recurring background wolverine noises-off distract and give their otherwise nicely creepy rendition an overly artificial aura.

Here the Brothers Briggs have produced an offering that in terms of longevity and musical and cultural interest, goes beyond that of an “occasional” one-off birthday gift. At barely 28 minutes, though, it scarcely gets the chance to whet one’s appetite before it’s whisked away from the player. We need more of this kind of adventurous and keenly understanding music-making.

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Brothers Briggs on Stuart Maconie

The Brothers Briggs’ track The Hunter was play on BBC 6 Music last night on Stuart Maconie’s Freak Zone.

You can listen again on the iPlayer from 01:21:50

Brothers Briggs CD cover lo res

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Briggs Brothers album preview show

The Briggs Brothers will be previewing the music from their forthcoming album at The Wonder Inn, Manchester on Thursday 27th October. More info on the event here.


Darkly mysterious psychedelic folk courtesy of the Brothers Briggs; three brothers who grew up singing folk together.

The brothers are releasing their new album; a tribute to their dad who sang and recorded folk throughout the 1970s. Copies will be on sale on the night or can be purchased direct here

support from:


Musician, writer, quizmaster, voice over artist and bon vivuer Richard Barry is preparing a special halloween quiz for the evening. He will also be playing material from his back catalogue of thousands of songs and poems.

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Matt Owens’ The Aviators’ Ball released to great reviews

Matt Owens’ debut album The Aviators’ Ball is out this week on All Made Up and has attracted wonderful reviews.

“The Aviators’ Ball is the perfect soundtrack to a film not yet realised, and one of the most gorgeous albums you’ll hear this year.” Dom Servini, Echoes Magazine

“the genuineness of its eclectic, yesteryear approach, the persuasive strength of its endearingly tuneful hooks and arrangements make it utterly irresistible – certainly a delightful musical diversion.” Adrian Pallant, AP reviews

“An album to cherish. Absolutely wonderful.” Phil Barnes, All About Jazz

“Owens’ début is an album to be proud of, a genre straddling record that manages to create its own uniquely distinctive sound world, evocative of both a century ago and now.” Ian Mann,

“The Aviators’ Ball is sheer delight…truly one of “those” albums. The kind of album which starts the dreamer dreaming and invites the listener to lose themselves in a delightfully unique world created by people who truly believe in the magic of music and its transformative qualities.” Becca Horne, Jazz In Europe

“Charming…the real stand-out track for me is the traditional Scots ballad Black Is The Colour. Worth the price of the album for this piece alone!” Peter Bacon,

“What a beautiful album.” Dave Sumner, Bird Is The Worm (album of the week)

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