My first new album review

I’m very proud to share the first review of my new album by award winning music critic Kathy Parsons.  Luckily it’s quite favourable 😉

Album cover

Mike Howe
2015 / Mike Howe Music
Lichens is the fifth release from Welsh guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Mike Howe and his first release as an independent artist. Also an ecologist working in the National Parks of Wales, Howe finds the inspiration for his beautiful music in nature, landscapes and people. For anyone unfamiliar with the meaning of the album title, Webster gives this definition: “any of a large group of small plants composed of a particular fungus and a particular alga growing in an intimate symbiotic association and forming a dual plant, commonly adhering in colored patches or spongelike branches to rock, wood, soil, etc.” Appearing in a wide range of shapes, colors, and textures, and often found in surprising places, it is no wonder that Howe finds lichens fascinating.

In addition to composing, producing and arranging the twelve tracks on this album, Howe plays all of the instruments: acoustic and electric guitars, synths, acoustic and electric bass, keyboards and drums. As an indie artist, he is free to branch out a bit, and some of the tracks are more upbeat and lively than on previous albums. That doesn’t mean that there are screaming electric guitars or car-shaking bass lines, but there is more of a variety of playing styles that indicate the range of Howe’s versatility as an artist.

Lichens begins with “Into the Night,” a beautiful, rhythmic piece and a great opener! The dreamy “Remember” features acoustic and electric guitar with an ethereal keyboard backdrop. More ambient than melodic, it creates a quiet mood for reflection. “Joni” has a very pleasant smooth jazz/light rock flavor. “Plains” expresses a warm and gentle peacefulness. Howe’s solo acoustic guitar music often makes me think of walking in the woods or on a hillside and encountering a guitarist sitting under a tree, peacefully lost in his music. The lovely “You Know Me” takes me there – love it! The title track is a slow, graceful beauty with a very haunting quality – tranquility set to music! “Run” picks up the energy level a bit (but not too much) – also a favorite. “Swim” feels like a slow dance at the end of a romantic evening. Keyboard, guitar, and drums played with brushes give it a gentle sway and feelings of warm contentment. “Look Up” is a lovely reminder to be aware of everything around you – a gorgeous guitar piece! “Summer Road” picks up the tempo with an upbeat closing that will have you hitting the “replay” button. Happy vacation days, here we come!

I think Lichens is Mike Howe’s best album to date. He has garnered a lot of awards and nominations for his first four albums, so be sure to check this one out! The official release date is April 7, 2015, but the album is available for pre-order on Bandcamp and Amazon. Very highly recommended!
Kathy Parsons

Iconic Welsh Hill Farm Part II

Top mountain plateau

I mentioned in an earlier post that I am beginning work on writing the conservation management plan for Dyffryn Mymbyr, an iconic Welsh hill farm made famous by Thomas Firbanks book “I Bought a Mountain” which was published in 1940.  Yesterday we climbed high up above the valley where the farmhouse sits and onto the imposing, rocky Glyder range which drops precipitously down into Cwm Idwal and the Nant Ffrancon Valley, a perfect u-shaped valley which was carved out by the glaciers that eventually receded around 10,000 years ago and which adorns the cover of many a geography text book.

View of Nant FfranconFirbank beautifully described how, when the sheep needed to be gathered for lambing and shearing, the men and dogs from all of the farms in both valleys assembled high up along the ridge so that they could drive the sheep down to the pens for sorting.  The flock had not been seen as a whole for months and, when the men reached their stations, the dogs were sent out to right and left and the line moved forward.  The place is high, free and, when the sun beats down from clear blue skies as it did yesterday, glorious.

It was here, high up on the mountain, that a few years after the Great War a shepherd stumbled over the skeleton of a man.  He had been lying there for about a year, and the crows had not left any flesh on the bones.  No one ever discovered who he was or what he had been doing, and the few shreds of cloth that flapped in the wind gave no clue.

Sometimes the wild goats would appear on a ledge and the dogs became wildly excited.  These goats were introduced thousands of years ago and have become feral in large herds throughout Snowdonia.  And sure enough we came across a few shy individuals yesterday who made off as soon as we appeared on the skyline.

GoatsOn the occasions when Firbank climbed to the ridge for the gathering he often mentioned the imposing, sheer rock buttresses of Tryfan, another peak which towers over the Ogwen Valley and which, yesterday, we glimpsed as we neared the summit of Glyder Fach.

TryfanThe massive rocks on the summits of Glyder Fach and Glyder Fawr are a tumbling, sprawling mass of interesting shapes, sculpted by countless winters of wind, rain and freeze thaw, the most famous of which is the cantilever stone.

Cantilever stone

Glyder FachThe route down for the shepherds gathering 3000 sheep must have been arduous and precipitous, but when they had brought the flock down below the mountain wall into the “ffridd” they returned to the farmhouse for copious amounts of jam and bread, cakes and cauldrons of hot sweet tea.

Thomas and Esmes houseThe house has been renovated by the National Trust and today is let as a holiday home.  This is what Esme wanted and arranged before she died.  She didn’t want the farm to be sold to the highest bidder and broken up and sold off in parcels, she wanted it to remain a working farm.  And so it is.  The tenant farmer still keeps a flock of sheep (although much reduced in numbers), and a herd of Welsh black cattle graze the lower slopes and valley fields.  They keep the mosaic of rare and precious habitats in good condition as the peat begins to grow back, locking up carbon, restricting the flow of water and reducing soil erosion, and supporting rare and delicate upland plants.

Today, whilst doing more research, I learned that when Esme died, after living at Dyffryn for nearly 70 years, she wished to be buried in a small plot near the sheep pens on Glyder Fach.  Had I known I would have liked to have visited her grave had I been able to find it.  I can think of no more beautiful place to be buried, in the very earth that she loved so much.

View to Glyder Fawr







New CDs available now from a lovely company

Special pre-release CDs are now being shipped only when ordered from Bandcamp (click on link) Bandcamp icon It’s a lovely, friendly company and ordering is quick and easy and secure.

In the meantime here is the title track from the album, hope you like it