Dragons Milk and Coal
1999 & 2005
Lyrics for click track below
Lyrics for click track below
Additional track - Abertridwr Wyrm
Alternative Design for 2005
When It came to re-print the CD it needed new artwork, so Nic revamped it
Additional track - Abertridwr Wyrm
Well, anyone who's anyone has a secret track in this dawn of the Digital Tradition. Opening with Rob's Welsh Disco, and into a bit by Mart of a tune that never happened, followed by a little known Welsh version of a famous Geordie folk song
Album ReviewsAndy Gee
I’d been told to check this lot out - ‘they’ve got two lead female violinists who look more like ultra glamorous rock chicks and play like the devil was on their back’, said the voice. Never one to ignore a tip, I duly obliged and chose both albums. Don’t know about the glamour bit (no photos) but musically, this is folk-rock at its most muscular, with female vocals, positively heavy arrangements (for folk-rock, that is), with the group sounding like a hybrid of rock-based Steeleye Span and energetic Curved Air, the female vocals and twin violin leads shining throughout, backed by electric guitar, electric bass and drums.
The songs are mainly of the inspirational folk variety and perfectly suited to this treatment, the sort of song that’s instant and yet just begs to be played over and over again. The 1st studio album, remastered from the original with three extra tracks, sounds just fine, with slow and fast tracks, but all with the unmissable feel of first rate folk-rock throughout and thoroughly excellent.
The musicianship throughout is spot on, and the two violinists make you gasp in amazement on many occasions. Rarely has folk-rock been the cause of so much adrenaline to flow, yet with it a certain grace and beauty in addition to the fire and intensity. So, a superb folk-rock album from a band new to me, but not, I hope, new to anyone else for much longer.
HAVE you reached that certain age? The age at which you realise that all the profound lyrics and fancy fretwork peddled in the name of pop and/or rock music are there only to cover the cracks of a limited musical vocabulary? The age at which you start to look for something with a tad more craft, an obvious love by the artist of his (or her) work and, per- haps, a feeling of permanence, of tradition?
If you answered yes to any of the above, you may be looking toward - don't laugh - folk music! If you did, indeed, laugh - or cry "No, no, not folk music!" - then I'd heartily recommend this album to you. Here you'll find no "fol- de-rol" nor is there evidence of any digit/ear 'ole interface. Dragons Milk and Coal has to be the rock fan's folk album - it's loud, it's fast and, top this, it's fun.
Formed four years ago by three students at Cardiff's Welsh College of Music and Drama, the band line-up has undergone subtle changes but always at the hub have been fiddle and mandolin-player and vocalist Lizzy Prendergast and drummer, arranger and songwriter Nic Waulker. For Dragons Milk and Coal, the pair are joined by guitarist Martyn Standing, bassist Rob Khoo and fiddle-player Emily Grainger, who has subsequently left the band to be replaced by Deborah Peake.
Kicking off with the title track, which, like several of the songs here, proudly flies the flag of their Welsh homeland, stray folkies will be fooled into thinking this is going to be an easy slide into traditional English/Celtic roots music. A gentle harp lulls the listener into a false sense of security because, 16 seconds in, drums, guitar, bass and fiddles bulldoze aside any hint of ye olde merrie England and we're off on a white-knuckle ride of an album.
Barbara Allen illustrates the band's non-follde attitude to folk; taking a traditional lyric, re-arranged by Prendergast and Waulker, the band kicks it around to a new tune featuring an extended instrumental outro of which many a seasoned rock band would be proud. By stark contrast. In Flanders fields is a melodic poem of the horrors of war sung to acoustic guitar, fid- dle and harp.
Old Haslams Bits is, purportedly, a set of Morris tunes and does, indeed, start with jingling bells but soon swings along at the usual Blue Horses gallop. Of Passer By the booklet notes state that the lyric, about a homeless person, is set to a "jam where some- one said 'let's do a Floydy one'."
And that neatly sums up the Horses' attitude to folk music; they're not ashamed to dig around for a tradi- tional lyric but neither do they feel it has to be given the kid glove treatment. If they're in the mood for a Pink Floyd-ish jam, a riotous knees-up or some- thing more laid back, they'll go with it.
And it works. So, if you're new to this beast called folk, saddle up and give the Blue Horses their head.
This album bays loudly and stampedes the listener with a sound that has been created by the fusion of a classic Rock technique thrust into a delicate layer of traditional folk. Liz Prendergast's vibrant electric fiddle and gritty vocal control works beautifully on tracks like "Rabbit in the Headlights" and "Dragons, Milk and Coal".
Nic Waulker hammers out the funky drum parts and Rob Khoo keeps it all pinned together with his thumping bass line, while Martyn Standing's provides trail blazing guitar antics in "Liberty". Another gem from the album is "Barbara Allen" a high-energy tale of treachery mixed with beguiling lyrics and foot stomping fiddle and guitar parts.
The "Mining song" is written straight from the heart, Lizzie's Grandad was on this last shift at the Aber pit in Wales and the chorus emanates their ghostly voices echoing through the shafts.
In fact, every track is a winner.
Folk Roundabout Spring 2000
They may have made it onto the cover of Folk Roots, but this great Welsh folk-rock band have (as far as I know) yet to gig this far north – local festival organisers take note!
Here’s their third CD, hot on the heels of a cracking, plenty of leather, skin and bone!) live video. Opening gentle harpy flourishes are deceptive, but typify the bands refusal to stick in the mud of boring cliché, for this CD is genuinely progressive; the studio production’s tons more sympathetic this time round, allowing for some subtle and varied instrumental touches (occasional organ, recorders, mandolin, banjo etc.) to augment (ergo not dominate) the basic (sic) Horsepower duel fiddle/guitar/bass/drums.
Musically, there are still traces of the pagan/Zep rock that permeated the bands first CD, but it’s now intergrated more believably into the overall sound picture. As ever, though, the main focus is still on the famed vocal talents of Lizzy and the glorious thrust of the twin fiddles consorting with Martyns guitars. Since this recording, Em has been replaced as ‘Fiddle-Twin’ by Debs Peake, who brings a third fiddle line to two tracks!
As well as the instrumental and vocal delights, there’s a whole dragon-load of good band penned songs; some (like ‘Goodbye’) drag ‘High Tide’ kicking and screaming into the 90’s, while others (the title track and ‘Mining Song’) carry more recent personal resonances. The bands quieter side is also represented by Lizzy’s chillingly restrained ‘In Flanders Fields’, a deeply felt response to a visit to the museum at Ypres; after which a suitably rude awakening is provided by the furious sampled – morris cacophony of ‘Old Haslams Bits’ and the loveable yet utterly deranged silliness of the CDs (now traditional) ‘secret track’.
Another highlight is a spunky, funky update of ‘Barbara Allan’, which builds into a remarkably fine closing thrash that should silence those who say true folk-rock is dead!. Sexy as hell and with tremendous vitality, this band does heaps to revive ones oft jaded musical palate. Bring em up here fast, I say!
A better live band you'll be hard to find with two lovely ladies playing fiddle's (Liz Prendergast and Emily Grainger) along with Nic Waulker on drums, percussion, Hammond organ, piano and backing vocals, Rob Khoo on basses and Martyn Standing on guitars. Guest musicians include saxophone, clarinet, banjo and bodhran.
This 1999 album is just another step up a ladder for Blue Horses that must see them getting busier and busier. Back in the 70's they may well have been paralleled with Curved Air but here in the 90's there isn't really such a band and so the market is theirs. The fiddle work is essential to the bands sound and on tracks like 'Passer By' it is played extremely emotively while 'Mining Song' is obviously something close to their hearts, coming from South Wales, once the home of dozens of coal mines.
The band have a great sense of humour too as the hidden track is announced as Shhh ... Secret Track, and a funny track it is too, all about The Abertridwr Wyrm. Great stuff! Get 'cm to play for the CRS!
The Bluehorses are a five-piece band based in South Wales. They are comprised of drummer and songwriter/ arranger/producer Nic Waulker; electric fiddler plus effects, Liz; and Emily on fiddle. Guitarist Martyn Standing plays everything from gentle acoustic to screaming electric guitar and bassist Rob Khoo plays standard and fretless bass. Between them, they also play piano, organ, mandolin and harp; and there are guests on the album playing other instruments too.
Their material includes traditional and self-penned numbers, with Nic and Liz at the forefront of the writing and arranging, and the other members of the band also contributing on occasion. One of the guests on this album is a third fiddle player, Debbie, who has now taken Emily's place in the full time band line-up. This is a tremendously hard-working band, and I understand Em was simply getting tired of life on the road. It was an amicable move, with the new girl given time to work into the band.
It was about two years ago, sometime soon after their first album was released, that I wrote a very brief review of a Blue Horses gig for this publication. One of the things I said then was: "Traditionalists should cross the street to avoid any chance of contact, but anyone who wants a good time should get to a gig as soon as possible, where else can you hear 'Blackleg Miner' and a fiddle-led folk rock version of Led Zeppelin's 'Rock and Roll' in the same set?" That first album, Cracking Leather Skin and Bone, despite the fact that their amazing rendition of "Rock and Roll" wasn't included, was like a breath of fresh air (or perhaps more of a gale!) in a folk-rock field that is always in danger of becoming a little too static, and too prone to becoming introverted and stale.
The album certainly didn't please some people, who found it much too loud, rough and ready, and too much like the dreaded rock music. These 5 musicians make some serious noise, but despite that, it was, nevertheless, a very good album, especially for a first, and it made a lot of people sit up and take notice. The band's "front line" of two "less than traditionally clad," shapely female fiddlers caught the attention at live gigs too. Interestingly, seeing them once at a festival, it was the younger element of the live audience who became hooked on the music.
Many, who had dismissed folk music as something only their parent's generation listened to, had their ears well and truly opened by hearing some folk classics like "Blackleg Miner" in a style and at a volume they could relate to. Such street cred with the teen generation has to be good for traditional music. The Blue Horses don't pretend to be a folk band, but there is folk and traditional influence a plenty in the set lists, and traditionally sympathetic song constructions, which makes them a superb crossover band alongside people like Oysterband, The Levellers and The Men They Couldn't Hang.
The Blue Horses cleverly avoided the "difficult second album" situation by recording and releasing a live album (called The Live Album) and a concert video recorded near their base in South Wales and this album indicated a growing maturity and tightness to their playing, and more variation in style and arrangements than a year earlier. Considering that a full length CD and a video (with different track mixes) were taken from just the one show, means that most of the set was used with no second chances for the band. This isn't a review of that album, but I'll recommend it anyway for anyone who likes their folk music hot. To my regret, I haven't yet seen the video.
This album, Dragons Milk and Coal, is therefore their second studio album, and to my mind it's the best yet. It retains all the drive, power and raw vitality of their first album with two more years of hard work on the road honing their skills and experience. The Blue Horses are now showing a considerable maturity in style, arrangements and song presentation, and they well deserve the increasing media attention and growing fan base they are attracting. The album title is, of course, a reference to their base in South Wales and what the area is known for. The track of the same name, which opens the CD, is a song looking back at the area's history. But this isn't a soppy sentimental nostalgic look back at better days. The second track, "Dya," (translation: "do you") is a complex rock song lead by fiddle and banjo. Descriptions are not easy: think of it as punk folk rock with welsh bluegrass tendencies perhaps. Actually parts of it wouldn't be that out of place on a Levellers album.
The third track, "Liberty," a song about freedom, was intended to be shorter but, to quote the notes, "the fadeout was rocking along nicely so we had no choice but to leave it in." This one is perfect for the person who complains about tracks fading out just when they get going. "Barbara Allen" is traditional. I can almost imagine Steeleye Span doing this, albeit in a considerably more discrete and delicate arrangement. It's the sort of modern/traditional mixture that they used to excel at and that the Blue Horses have updated for the Nineties. Track 5, "Rabbit in the Headlights," is a retake on a song from the band's earlier set list, less threatening and heavy in this version.
It also adds a third fiddle played by Debbie Peake. It is followed by "Goodbye," which starts with a gentle recorder introduction from Carolyn Peters before winding into a nice bit of fiddle lead rock between verses. Track 7, a sad and reflective ballad, begins with a gentle introduction with acoustic guitar and voice. It was written after a visit to the World War One battlefields in France, and ends quietly with a spoken poem over an harp accompaniment. It is quite a contrast from the good time rock-folk of most of the album, and illustrates the range of styles the band are capable of. "Old Haslam's Bits" apparently came about from a suggestion that they should try some Morris tunes. It seems the tunes didn't come out quite as the average Morris dancer might expect. Nevertheless, the result is a fine set of lively traditional dance tunes.
I defy anyone to hear this live and keep still. "Witch in Wedlock" is, to quote the notes, about "a bizarre fantasy of female domination." But don't worry. You can let the kids hear it; it's not "that" sort of domination. Nic's notes say of this song: "let them out of the kitchen to polish the cymbals once too often and they start getting ideas," which says more about the stereotypical view of a woman's place in a rock band and puts his usage of the word "domination" in perspective. The three other tracks are "Passer By," "Dark Circle," and the last track, "Mining Song," written by Liz about her grandfather, neatly returning to the historical theme of track one.
One of the endearing features of the Blue Horses is that the words, the musical arrangements, and the stage introductions are not humour-free. Blue Horses will rock it up, dress up and write lyrics that may at times suggest all sorts of extremes. Yet underneath that stage-craft is a sense of humour and fun, and a genuine warmth for each other, the music and their fans, which on a superficial level seems at odds with their image. The CD contains a secret track, which isn't that secret, and the humour is very clear.
The insert notes are generally very good, giving an insight into the background of each song and indirectly quite a good insight into the philosophy of the band. Those people who liked the Blue Horses first album will love this one. People who found the first album too "un-subtle" might well find this one more to their taste. This recording has far more maturity, subtlety and variation in the way the songs are arranged, and it has a far wider range of sound and atmosphere, and more instrumental variations thanks to a number of guest musicians. Anyone who likes loud, lively, fun, folk-rock will simply love any of the Blue Horses albums. They are all very good.
This one however is the best yet, and to my mind, it's up there with the likes of Oysterband and The Men They Couldn't Hang for both its musicianship, and its blend of traditional and new. With a running time of almost 70 minutes you also get a lot of music for your money, what more could anyone ask? The whole thing is rounded off beautifully with the last track (originally recorded for Phil Beers‘ ‘Fiddle Album‘), "The Old Conwy" from The Blue Horses in a rare "unplugged and contemplative mood," to quote the sleeve notes.
Mistrust the opening plucks of the Celtic harp! The Welsh dragon comes roaring and spitting fire. Bluehorses is driven by the wild electric fiddles of Liz Prendergast and Emily Grainger, backed by a tight rhythm section of drums, bass and electric guitar.
"Dragons, Milk and Coal" is a bit more controlled, sophisticated and matured than their debut "Cracking Leather, Skin & Bone", but still untamed. The crashing songs let not only tap your feet, but bring the house down.
Furthermore, there's an awesome reworking of the old Scottish ballad "Barbara Allen", a morris set, the passionate "Mining Song", and a "secret track" displaying a sense of humour. It's not so secret anyway, and Bluehorses should be no secret at all.
Dragons, Milk and Coal - Froots - October 99
The coal industry features prominently too, on the third Blue Horses album, providing a provocative escape from the blood n' thunder black leather image which has threatened to submerge them. There's still plenty here in the direct electric folk tradition of the "70s, if nothing as extreme as the Led Zeppelin references, but 'Dragons Milk...' opens with celestial harp and develops into an encouragingly balanced mixture of knees-up fiddle "n" drums showcases and strong emotive songs with thoughtful lyrics.
The opening title song tells the story of singer Lizzy Prendergast's grandad, Mining Song is a moving acoustic song about the last ever shift at Abertridwr Colliery, and if any further evidence is needed of their growing maturity it's provided by the ghostly war imagery of In Flanders Fields which persists long after the CD has ended.
All this, an inventive arrangement of Barbara Allen and a couple of particulary compelling hoolies of their own, Witches and Rabbits In The Headlights, and you have a highly persuasive album that should decimate some of the more negative preconceptions that may have been ignited by Cracking Leather Skin and Bone and the pagan rock descriptions it evoked.
HMV Choice Mag
With the Manics and Stereophonics dominating the rock scene, Cardiffs’ Bluehorses are looking to put Welsh roots music on the map – and, on this evidence, the feat may well prove within reach. The twin-fiddle attack of Lizzy Prendergast and Em Grainger won fans at this years Glastonbury, but it’s their musics less festive, more thoughtful aspects represented by ‘In Flanders Fields’ and the affecting ‘Mining Song’ that ultimately prove memorable. Fiery and Refreshing.
Rock 'n' Reel, Autumn '99
The 'difficult' second album (not including the recent live collection) from South Wales's tefIon-coated folk rockers for the new millenium. They've become far more proficient than they were on their debut and take advantage of a more sympathetic studio setting too.
As before, however, they're not afraid to go for big arrangements and pile on the wall-of-sound electric guitar - the difference being now it sounds right. The band as a unit display real understanding of light and shade, never allowing volume and and crunching velocity to overpower the melodic arrangements and more reflective moments. That said, this is no exercise in smoothing out their sound for commercial purposes.
Those who found Blue Horses' previous melding of the old warhorse folk rock and LedZep-style riffing to their taste won't be disappointed, but 'Dragons...' finds the band further utilising their folk base, with Celtic harp, banjo and bodhran all playing their part.
The band's Welsh roots show in the title track and "Mining Song' which relate to fiddler Liz Prendergast, whose grandfather was a miner in the valleys, while trad. Cut "The Abertridwr Wyrm' is given a thoroughly warped seeing to.
It's a suitably brash and brave, not to mention successful conclusion to an album which reaffirms BlueHorses' position at the uppermost reaches of the contemporary roots-rock ladder.
Driven by the insistent rhythms of drummer/writer Nic Waulker as well as the voice and fiddle of co-writer Lizzy Prendergast, the South Wales based Bluehorses CD is pretty high octane stuff, often at the heavy end of folk-rock.
But that’s not all. It’s got some excellent writing and playing in an unusual mix of drum, bass and guitar plus fiddles that in one moment are searingly hard edged and the next are delicately moving. These are occasionally supplemented by harp, recorder, mandolin and organ. For some it may be a little weighted toward the heavy end. But it’s hard not to be carried away by the sheer number of successful, vivid and distinctive tracks, some very sensitive treatment of serious themes and a surprisingly high degree of variety and confident originality.
In Flanders Fields and The Mining Song are two very moving songs performed with delicate, subdued violin and acoustic guitar support which demonstrates the extent of their virtuosity. In contrast are the joyful, jangling Old Haslams Bits which has such an infectious almost hypnotic processional feel that it almost disappoints when it later becomes an ordinary reel, Barbara Allen and a very catchy Witches.
Overall it’s an album full of musical surprises. It’s modern, inventive and one of the genuinely exciting albums around.
TOWER RECORDS TOP MAG feb2000
This year will prove fertile ground for BLUE HORSES. Dragons Milk and Coal (Native Spirit) will keep the buzz on this Welsh band alive thanks to some excellent songs. This electric folk band start raucous but show plenty of variation in tempo and mood.
Fronted by the twin electric fiddles of Lizzy Prendergast (who wrote the mining-inspired title track) and Emily Grainger, the music drives along on a rock-solid rhythm section. This includes an amazingly convoluted, manic version of the Scottish traditional favourite "Barbara Allen", which contrasts starkly with the Great War lament of "Flanders Fields" written after a visit to Ypres.
Nic Waulker (percussion/keyboards) holds all the mayhem together with some fine arrangements. Looks like another Welsh band set to be massive.