Dear Brian, Jacey and Hilary,
"Artisan aren't a hard act to follow.
"Fiery, fast and effective."
"Urgent and uninhibited three part harmony - joyful
"Like the music, the banter is very skilful - some
of it is clearly premeditated, the rest of it is spontaneous tomfoolery. They
are unashamedly entertainers."
"The harmony work is sharp and unfussy, the words
are worth listening to, the tunes are good and the group convey a real energy
and enthusiasm in their singing."
The songs are, as much of Artisan's material, humorous
but with a deeper meaning lurking below the surface. You'll have your fun but
you'll come away with a deeper meaning of the issues being sung about. And, as
always, the harmonies of Jacey Bedford, Brian Bedford and Hilary Spencer are as
wonderfully tuneful and rhythmic as any to be found on the folk scene today.
"Our Back Yard is a treasure box of social
commentary done a cappella. If you're intrigued with lyrics and the purity of
the human voice, it's for you."
"I would cheerfully sell my soul to the Devil for
Hilary Spencer's voice."
"Tremendous in their sheer ability to sing and
"A velvety tenderness that no other harmony group
"Please will you come back again next year."
"Each original song, written by Brian Bedford of the
trio, is a musical gem, with carefully crafted lyrics, some with great humor,
some with social conscience. The three-part a cappella harmony is beautifully
performed and keeps a varied audience on the edge of their seats. Our audience
asked to have them back this year after a very successful first appearance last
year, and have requested that they return again next year. This is a
heart-warming performance that will appeal to many different audiences."
"For tight, exciting harmony singing, as well as sheer
delight and entertainment, Artisan are the bee's knees. You'd be mad to miss
"Artisan strikes a perfect balance of poignancy and
good fun, with original lyrics ranging from uplifting and heartfelt to clever
and tongue-in-cheek. Their harmonies are stunning, their live performance an
ARTISAN in concert! WFDU-FM'sTRADITIONS - New Jersey, December 2003
Subject: WFDU-FM's TRADITIONS playlist for December 14, 2003 -
Our second nor'easter of the season was the perfect setting for today's show. As the snow fell on the NYC metro area, we offered seasonal fare. Today's program featured a concert, recorded last evening, with Artisan. I recorded their performance as part of the Sanctuary Concert series (www.sanctuary.org) at the Union Village Methodist Church in Berkeley Heights, NJ. Artisan is wrapping up the first U.S. tour of their annual holiday program known as "Stuff the Turkey". It was a real honor to have the opportunity to broadcast this extraordinary concert. The Church was a perfect setting as it was decorated in holiday trim with candles in every window, wreaths on the wall, and a gorgeous tree at the altar. Add an outstanding performance - what a treat! Those expecting an evening of standard holiday carols should look elsewhere. Artisan captures the spirit, humor and beauty of the holiday with a blend of songs that centered on the original tunes of Artisan's Brian Bedford but also included gems from Stan Rogers, Mike Harding and others. They also showed the folk process at work with some delightful settings of the song "While Shepards Watched Their Flocks". Check out their website for more information - (www.artisan-harmony.com) I hope Artisan will bring their holiday show to the U.S. every year! I would like to thank Brian, Jacey & Hilary for allowing me to record and broadcast the concert, and a special thanks to Scott Sheldon and the fine folks at Sanctuary Concerts.
Artisan's Stuff the Turkey Victoria Hall, Settle: 19th December 2002
From Gill O'Donnell, Lancaster Guardian / Craven Herald - 27th December
The skill in this performance lay not only in the trio's singing but also their exuberance and ability to tap into all that evokes Christmas memories in their audience. Their description of traditional wassailing as 'carol singing with menaces' being only one such example - and judging by the audience response I wasn't the only one to have gone down that route!
There are many things which I will treasure about the evening: the witty retelling of the nativity - as it would have happened in Yorkshire; the singing of While Shepherds Watched to the tune of the Can-Can (it also fits Doe a Deer from the Sound of Music, apparently); the idea of a modern child sending an e-mail to Santa instead of a letter magically carried up the chimney and the poignantly timely reminder in 'Silver and Gold' that 'they're still fighting today in the land where this story began.'
I know that next year I'll make sure that tickets for the Artisan Christmas Show will feature on my wish list to Santa.
Lunenburg Folk Harbour Festival, Nova Scotia, August 2000
Songsters bring crowd to feet in Lunenburg By Stephen Pedersen / Arts Reporter CONCERT REVIEW Lunenburg
Artisan, a favourite festival act now making its third appearance at the festival, sang their richly harmonized a capella songs to tremendous crowd reaction. The lyrics are literate and meaningful and the tunes gracious and often extremely expressive. They sing about dancing with words, being old enough to know better and too old to care, and letting your youngsters go without clipping their wings so they can fly on their own. These are simple enough but also eternal ideas since they deal with wit, aging, and nurturing your kids with a fierce but not overly protective love.
Birmingham, April 2000: Red Lion Folk Club
Visiting the Red Lion last week was pot luck really - for my sins I had never seen Artisan. The first thing to strike me was the trio's accents - broadish Yorkshire, which is always refreshing in these days of uniformity. The most striking thing, however, was the quality and range of the voices, which complemented each other perfectly.
It was hard to pigeon-hole the music, being a curious mixture of music-hall style and folk. Not only is the band tremendously gifted, driven by the powerful and versatile voice of Hilary Spencer and the sweet soft voice of Jacey Bedford, but complementing these two with voice and words, is song writer Brian Bedford, who captures some witty and poignant observations on life with a great catalogue of songs. Wings had some real emotive verses, which I cannot do justice in this column. -- "What's the use of wings if you can't fly."
The concert had a full array of human emotion - fear, joy, strange habits and humour. "Who put the headache in the whisky, who put the volume in the kids?"Quality stuff!
Mike Critchley, Birmingham MetroNews, UK.
Philadelphia, May 1999
From one side comes the soaring notes of a broken angel, alternately betrayed and triumphant as her voice climbs a ladder from the dark earth to the bright starry skies. From the other comes a stridently stable baritone, seemingly playing point and counterpoint to itself, providing a bottom that sounds like it could come from the throat of a fallen Gregorian monk, now worldly and wise. And between them stands a small woman with an infectious pixie smile whose piping tones serve to anchor the group's sound. Unusual to have the high voice as the anchor, but there it is. And it works. God, how it works.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
I had the great pleasure of seeing Hilary Spencer, Brian Bedford, and Jacey Bedford, the three singers--no; scratch that; the three ARTISTS--who make up Artisan, perform tonight at the Germantown Academy. That pleasure was heightened by the fact that I sat front and centre, not fifteen feet away from the performers, my view unhampered by obstructions, other people, or even musical instruments (Artisan is an a cappella group, of course). When the show began, the smile on my face simply stretched and grew, pulling itself wider and wider with each song.
They sing like angels, they really do. The songs, almost all of which were written by Brian, are witty, well-arranged, catchy, and just plain damn good.
During intermission, I got to fight through a crowd bustling to meet Artisan and buy their CDs, one of which I bought and am listening to right now. This was yet another thing about Artisan's appearance that enchants--those who, like me, have met as well as seen Artisan can attest to the fact that Jacey's face seems to be powered by a halogen lamp. Hilary's smile, by contrast, throws off warmth the way her bandmate's casts light. Both women are perfect joys to speak with, and both take the compliments that inevitably come their way with an almost surprised glee that belies their longevity in the music business. It's a glee that is most infectious. For his part, Brian's smile is small and almost bashful. It is, however, no less sincere; no less warm.
Have I said lately that they sing like angels? I have? Well, it hurts no one for me to say it again, and it's something that is very, happily, gloriously true. Just as impressive as the transcendent harmonies was the between-numbers banter the group engaged in. In this, as in their singing, the timing exhibited by the members of Artisan is just one step past perfect. Witty and wise, the banter had none of the cutesy camp quality sometimes associated with British performers (If you've seen or heard Michael Crawford live in concert, you'll know what I mean). There is none of the transparent wringing of poignant moments in Artisan's showmanship, nor can the "look- I'm making-a-joke" feeling be found. No; though funny, this is FUN. Though it may be their work, it's patently obvious that this group is enjoying themselves up there on the stage, and the sincerity of the friendship they share comes through as clear as ... well, as clear as their voices. Also, when they exhort the crowd to sing along with them, it's no calculated ploy to inspire loyalty or make them seem as if they want to be closer to their audience. It's not false largesse at all; these people genuinely want to hear their audience singing with them , loud and happy.
Alex Jay Berman -- did I mention that they sing like angels?
Allendale, England, 13th March 1999
Artisan embrace the 'Dale in collective enchantment.
These days, when you go out to a live show, you expect to see a range of instruments arrayed on stage, a sophisticated sound system, maybe a bank of lights, in a convivial atmosphere. At Allendale's Village Hall last Saturday, the audience walked into a convivial room all right, but the stage was, well, empty.
There was more than a little trepidation, one felt, and some concern whether the promoters, Northumbrian Music Nights, had actually lived up to their side of the bargain. Until Artisan, who are Hilary Spencer, Jacey and Brian Bedford, clambered up, and placed a single white sheet of paper comprising the set list, on the floor in front of them. Then the whole hall was filled with music. It was nothing short of magical. As the twenty or so local singers had appreciated at a vocal workshop that afternoon, projection can be uncanny, and so it proved. 'Come all you maids' a traditional song , flowed up and over and throughout the room, seeking out hidden corners and illuminating them in exquisite harmony.
Many of the songs were Brian's own compositions, and the group's one concession to the traditional folk idiom, Mabel, was received with great good humour. Then there was the song Vin Garbutt has made famous, "What's thwe Use of Wings," so that was really pretty folky too. But this was startling, unique music with an upfront showmanship that nearly defies description.
"Talk to Me" started off with a hook seemingly borrowed from The Eurythmics, but the patter on the bridge, and the wry twists in the humour, meant that it was Artisan's own. Or the tea-bag gospel choir "I ain't Goin' Down" which went some way to eliciting harmonies from everyone in the room.
The cynical feeling "Snakes and Ladders" must have been written on a bad hair day, but it'd be a willfully naive so-and-so who thought life was always roses and no thorns.
Or again, the melancholic but ever-so-enchanting rendition of "Holly and Mistletoe Days", which had the feeling of a timeless winter carol. Steam-huddled ponies indeed. Pictures seemed to spring effortlessly in one's mind as the words tumbled forth. And how they poured out! As Brian remarked, 'When you have three minds to remember, it's rare to forget the words.'
Nostalgia set the first tone after the break, with "Walking down the Alleys" ('Do you remember -- do you recall?') and it was apposite to think of sepia faces and the innocence of childhood remembered in old photographs, as the Village Hall will host an exhibition of Allendale photographs later this year.
But "Breathing Space" brought some tears to quite a few eyes, with the hard reality of contemporary loves and lives. 'What am I bid for a bell with no sound in a carpet of blue by a stream?' was a sparkling contrast to the Lottery Song -- 'I wanna be one of the few -- I wanna be known by the things that I own'. Then "Fear" (of fear itself, inevitably), and A Habit I'll have to Kick before the compelling NIMBY. A Stan Rogers song, from Canada, The Raising of the Mary Ellen Carter with its rousing chorus 'Rise again!' meant that the ensemble, who gave the evening their emotional all, could not easily leave the stage, but with the humanist benediction of David Roth, 'Here's to loving friends and family' as an encore, the evening finally had to end. 'Unique', 'indescribable', 'brilliant', 'exqusite': these are some of the terms that have been used to describe Artisan. All are true, as those who were there, on chancing to read this review, will know.
Larry Winger, Northumbrian Music Nights
Edmonton, Canada, 18th October 1997
Tonight was a night I will long remember. This was Artisan's first trip to Edmonton. They'd been to Calgary (and Calgary got TWO shows this trip... *sniff*) but it was the first time we were so blessed. Judging by the audience reaction, it won't be the last.
They started with In the Beginning, a typical Artisan song - it quickly enthralls you *and* makes you stare in amazement at how the members don't seem to breath. Primary songwriter Brian Bedford has evolved past the need for air and thinks the other two have, or that if he writes music with no breathing space in it, they *will* so evolve. (Of course, as they explain, when they finally asked him to write one with "breathing space," he wrote one CALLED Breathing Space, but hey...)
When you sit through an Artisan show, you quickly feel as if you know them well. The anecdotes told by spokesman Jacey Bedford, the personality, the mildly snarky (and always hysterical) asides from vocal powerhouse Hilary Spencer - you feel you (and the other 150 people) are in someone's living room at a private sing-a-long. I'm sure they've done the same shtick 1,000 times before, but it *sounded* so fresh and personal...
Most of the crowd tonight had never heard the group's music before. If you're familiar with them, you know many of the songs are very repetitive - tonight, watching a crowd who'd never heard any of it singing along enthusiastically, I realized how well that worked. It conveyed that feeling of intimacy and familiarity that made the show so personal.
Artisan is *very* British, and not just in geography. Canadians grow up with more British TV and literature than Americans, so it was old home week for me. The anecdotes I related to easily, and the between-song jokes and stories were... Well, it was the first time I've seen a show not comprised of comedic songs, in which I tears of laughter streaming down my face much of the night.
And for those without some understanding of British politics and daily life, Jacey and Hilary were quick to explain in terms that made the explanation itself just as funny.
The group's music - as anyone who has their CDs or the CARAs CD knows - is stylistically very different than we're generally exposed to in Canada and the US. Their performance style is very different, too: singing with their hands more than choreographed, and for many of the songs they stand stock-still. They perform and emote solely with their voices and faces - and natch, I was completely mesmerized. (Do you have any idea how hard it is to type a review when your hands are bruised from clapping so hard?)
The Britishisms were only one highlight of the evening. Other than finally meeting someone I've been emailing for 18 months, the other highlight had to be their performance of the CARA nominee Lest We Forget. They introduced it by mentioning CASA and getting quite a bit of mileage out of Jacey's being an "ambassador" - and hence British royalty.
I've been listening to Artisan music for a while, but none was ever so real now that I've *seen* it. And doubly for Lest We Forget. No a cappella show has ever given me the goosebumps I got from Lest We Forget. For the next 10 days they're in BC and Washington State, then down to California for a few gigs, and have a trip or two to North America already planned for next year. If you're *anywhere* near any of their stops, you will not forgive yourself if you miss it.
NOTE-- CASA is the Contemporary A cappella Society and the CARAs mentioned are the Contemporary A cappella Recording Awards. Artisan were four times nominated and twice winners.
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