Late Saturday night, chatting on the net, as you do –
Have you heard of Kadia?
No, should I have?
Well they’re really going to go places, so, yes, you should.
Have they an album out?
About to be released, in fact they’re having a launch event tomorrow night.
Well, I’d never been to Bournemouth Folk Club so it seemed worth a punt and it was a gamble that most certainly paid off. A great evening’s entertainment and I came away with a copy of the album.
Kadia, based in Bournemouth, are Lee Cuff, Chris Bailey and David Hoyland, singing and playing a mixture of trad arr. and their own compositions. They distance themselves dramatically from the vast majority of folk groupings by using Lee’s cello as a lead instrument. Chris is on guitar and David alternates between percussion and mandolin. For live performance the percussion is primarily cajon but a full drum kit is evident on the album. For one album track, The Rise and Fall of Mary Read they’re joined by Rachel Bell on fiddle. All three sing and have three part harmony well and truly nailed. Lee takes the majority of the vocal leads, he’s classically trained on the cello and, I suggest, that shows through in his singing as well. His voice is often high and light but has considerable range. However, it is the clear and precise diction that hints to me at the classical background and distinguishes Lee’s vocals from what might be considered a conventional folk voice. Don’t be misled, though, Kadia’s music is far, far removed from classically re-arranged Edwardian parlour, faux-folk songs.
East of Alexandria opens with a distinctly unfamiliar arrangement of the very familiar Raggle Taggle Gypsy. The intro, taken at a slow pace, features just cello and mandolin, very chamber folk. But after one run through the melody of this demure start is pushed aside by a punchy rhythm on mandolin, guitar and drums and Lee’s voice delivering words at a gallop. This early introduction of two faces to Kadia sets the scene for an album that’s filled with changes of pace and tone but, it’s only half way through the 12 tracks that a further face is revealed with the instrumental set, The Rise and Fall of Mary Read. A band composition, but with the fiddle part written as well as played by Rachel Bell, it has a distinctly Celtic feel, an aspect to Kadia that came across even more strongly in the Bournemouth gig.
Following on from Raggle Taggle, is an original composition, Beast of Bodmin Moor. It takes the tale, beloved of tabloid journalists on a slow news day, of the big cat that may or may not prowl Bodmin Moor. The song gives the beast a far older setting, devouring maidens and hunted with axes and flaming torches. The song gives the band an opportunity to exercise their vocal harmony skills on the chorus, skills that contribute much to the whole album both in lusty choruses and quieter a capella passages. This latter is showcased in the beautifully rendered final track, The Parting Glass, recorded live in a church, the acoustics of which help bring the album to a spine tingling close.
Two of the other original songs, The Navigator and the title track East of Alexandria, in addition to being excellent songs, provide the inspiration for the album art work, a sketched outline map with the track titles taking on the role of place names. The case only gives minimal information but a link on the album’s web page (http://kadiaband.co.uk/) downloads a songbook that is both fascinating and a work of art in its own right.
It’s tempting to go through the album track by track as each introduces something new, a ukulele on The Origin of Fire, a burst of distinctly Mediterranean nuanced guitar in East of Alexandria, an interplay between a driving drum rhythm and bowed cello, the list goes on. Such a varied and imaginative album deserves and needs to be enjoyed over and over. There’s one aspect to Kadia that you won’t find on the album, though. Live, they do have a penchant for inserting the occasional folk cover of something quite unexpected; their performance of Katy Perry’s Roar lived long in the mind after the Bournemouth gig.
So, after a hugely enjoyable live gig and multiple listens to the album I can safely say, my internet chatter was right. Kadia are a band to watch out for. This debut album confirms they are maturing rapidly as songwriters, as instrumentalists, as singers, as arrangers. They are the full package, destined to reach an ever widening audience.
Review by: Johnny Whalley
East of Alexandria is Out Now
Available via Amazon
Photo credit: Jo Elkington