Ginge and Celloboi

Hypercritic Reviews

This absolutely awesome duo blend welsh folk with bluegrass and country and western. Doing some cover versions like a wicked Johnny Cash medley and some of their own compositions they got the whole audience clapping and “ye-ha”-ing along. They are a bilingual band and even though I am not a Welsh speaker their pure emotion made me able to enjoy all of their songs. Their EP has been on repeat in my car since the conference finished and I can’t wait to see them live at a gig in Cardiff this week – what more can I say!

Live Review from the South Wales Argus

We have an anonymous drunk to thank for the name adopted by musicians Sion Russell Jones and Matthew Downer when performing together.
Ginge and Celloboi was the boozy admirer's description of the twosome - auburn-haired guitarist Jones and bass player Downer - while the lads were fulfilling a Cardiff pub engagement.
When you are in your cups, courtesy of several pulls of Brains SA, a double-bass might well be mistaken for a cello, but the name stuck and under it the pair now perform their lively mixture of Country, Bluegrass, Gospel and Rockabilly.
It must have taken punters attending the first of the season's Live Music Now! lunchtime concerts at the Riverfront by surprise, used as they are to classical music, even when it taps into its lighter vein.
Jones's finger-picking rhythm style and Downer's slapped string bass, coupled with vocals from both, made several numbers almost entirely their own, with speeds varying from leisurely saunter to breathless gallop, often inside the same tune.
D.I.V.O.R.C.E., written by Bobby Braddock and Curley Putman, was played cheekily up-tempo, with Jones offering a fair impression of Tammy Wynette and suggesting a satiric edge, here and elsewhere. Gershwin's Summertime was sung lustily by Downer at brisk walking pace and Amazing Grace soon accelerated into She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain.
Not even Sospan Fach was allowed to stroll, despite the duo's Welsh connections, which involved some autobiographical material by Jones in Welsh that the formats never allowed to become maudlin.
An hour-long gig full of three-minute wonders. Ye-Ha!

Jamie Smith's Mabon

Interceltic folkers Mabon have had a rollercoaster 9 months since I last saw them in October 2010 (in Womex at Copenhagen). Over there and in front of the insiders of the world music industry, they were one of three bands representing Wales to the outside world. An amazing gig (see review here: and the promotion of a new live album and DVD ("Mabon: Live at the Grand Pavilion" on the Easy On The Reels record label - EOTR01).

Since then the album won (deservedly) the Best Instrumental Album Award for 2010 (in the 2011 Spiral Awards), but almost immediately Mabon were thrown into turmoil as internal differences in the band led to the departure of co-founder Derek Smith and a new direction for the band, now renamed, re-launched and reborn in January 2011 as 'Jamie Smith's Mabon' - after frontman, bandleader, accordionist and composer Jamie (Derek's son).

A new lineup also saw the inclusion of the distinctly non-Welsh bazouki (played by Manxman Adam Rhodes) join bandleader Jamie's accordion, Herefordshire-based Oli Wilson-Dickson on fiddle, and Bristol's Matt 'the Hat' Downer on bass andSouth Wales's Iolo Whelan on drums. The Brittany-based, Scot Calum Stewart on wooden flute and pipes usually completes the line-up but was not at the Womad gig.

I was intrigued to see what the new JSM would be like after having seen - and been blown away by - the original Mabon last year. So on arrival at the Womad Festival where JSM were to make their debut, I threw up my tent and hightailed it to the wonderful BBC Radio 3 stage hidden away in the trees of Charlton Park's arboretum to catch the band. They were already 10 minutes into the set and I was guided through the trees by an irresistible sound.

With the initial tunes mostly coming from the Live album set, I missed the opening numbers "The Hustler" and "Buck Rarebit" but arrived during "Tunnag" and from then on was treated to an exuberant masterclass in the best of British interceltic folk.

JSM take the old, deep roots of British Celticness and subtly merge them with elements from other folk traditions (English and European, such as Jamie's East European sounding "Nikolai the Dancing Bear") and a certain rock edge and come up with something that is, I believe, the way forward for British folk at the beginning of the 21st century.

The key word here is 'subtle' - there's no attempt to artificially bolt-on strange electronic rhythms or ostentatious culture collisions, it's just a very natural - dare I say, organic - way of presenting their music. OK, it might not sound sexy to write about, but it certainly works on stage.

This is an exhilarating, confident, life-affirming sound that - without even trying to - made me proud to be British (or should I say Brythonic?), unconsciously revelling in my own Welsh (and Irish/Scottish/English) ancestry; and this coming from someone who spends most of his time with his head in the sounds of the African diaspora!

Mabon might have started out as a primarily Welsh band but their pan-Celtic approach is inspired and not just by the inclusion of Scots, Manx and English members into the band. During the lively reel "Fiddlers' Despair" (which for some reason didn't feature fiddle - or maybe that's the point!) Jamie - his fingers flying over his accordion - was joined by two young women dancers (The Mabonettes apparently - one of whom is his wife) who twirled with arms upheld and jigged with knees bent and daintily pointing toes and feet in a display of the little known Manx dancing tradition. Meanwhile down in front of the stage another two pretty young women danced around in joyous abandon to the music wearing multicoloured wellies.

Jamie himself doesn't move about much - there is a quietness and stillness to his presence on stage - he just let's things happen around him and yet he is undoubtedly the lynchpin of the band, cascades of notes pouring out of his accordion as he leans back with a face as straight as a poker. But besides being the frontman and giving his name to the new band, he also is the main composer.

And in reality, this is the unseen strength of JSM. Jamie's compositions are what set them apart from other bands in the new folk genre. Whilst interviewing him after the show I asked him what is it that makes Mabon distinctive? He paused for a while to think this through and his answer was the strength of the melodies. I agree. Essentially they write good tunes that work at the level of both a listening - and dancing - audience and also for the musicians themselves. It is this focus on strong melodies that really gives these talented musicians the chance to not just shine but dazzle.

Another difference between the new JSM and the old Mabon is the inclusion of singing as Jamie sang the apt "Yes, We Sing Now!" They might have made a name for themselves initially as an exciting instrumental band but this new departure will eventually allow for an even fuller flowering of new work.

However for me the gig moved into another gear with the wonderful "Gordano Ranter", a tune in what sounded like 13/4 time based on an encounter with a rather strange character at the Gordano Services on the M5 in Somerset. As the band went into a medley of Galician tunes (from the Celtic heartland of north-west Spain) drummer Iolo - a man with a permanent smile on his face - leaped out from behind his kit and brandishing a pandereta (a small tambourine with skin) proceeded to slap out rhythms at the front of the stage. This switch from full-kit sound to the more intimate framedrum provided an unexpectedly delicate and refreshing change. Interestingly after the gig I was talking to Radio 3's Mary Ann Kennedy, JSM's manager John Eeles and Iolo Whelan, when Mary Ann suggested Iolo explored this avenue of different skin sounds more in the new JSM, something which as a percussionist I could only agree with.

Back on stage Iolo (to whom the epithet 'irrepressible' seems to be permanently attached) shouted out "Come on, Womad, make some noise!" and so they did, the small dancing area beneath the stage being suddenly filled (seemingly from nowhere) by enthusiastically jigging and bouncing girls and ladies (and some blokes too!). We had all been co-opted into the Mabonettes it seemed!

With the final number "File Under Biddley" the newly launched Jamie Smith's Mabon left the stage to equal roars of delight at the performance and dismay that it was over, coming back to do an encore, the wonderfully-named "Whiskey Burp Reels".

They might have taken a chance on rebranding a tried and tested formula but Jamie Smith's Mabon proved at the mighty Womad Festival both to us and themselves, that they're only just at the beginning of a new chapter in Inter-Celtic folk. They should be recording a new album sometime over the next year and I, for one, will be eager to get it on my decks.

When I first saw Mabon last year I went up to Jamie, Iolo and Matt after the show (exhausted and propped up as they were against a wall in the corridor) and all I could think to say was "Mabon Rock!". Not my finest line at all, utterly inadequate but still true nevertheless. You see they might not jump around on stage and strike theatrical poses, but they don't have to; the music alone is so strong it does the talking for them, loud and clear. On the basis of this debut Womad/Radio3 appearance Jamie Smith's Mabon are here to stay.

Glyn Phillips

The Financial Times. November 2010

Mabon have a fearsome reputation as a live band and this set, recorded in front of a home crowd in Porthcawl, shows why. The frontline of fizzing accordion and breakneck fiddle is that of a folk band, but the bass and drums have a looser, jazzier feel.

Scottish ringer Calum Stewart plays flute and pipes, playing a contemplative flute melody on “divers alarums”. The Celtic folk strays into Mazurkas and an eastern European feel on “The Tale of Nikolai, the Dancing Bear”. After some they go out with all guns blazing on “Easy on the Reels”. ****
David Honigmann

The Living Tradition. January 2011

Drawing principally from their second release OK Pewter: The Original Celtic Brew (2007), rising Welsh instrumental band Mabon present a CD of a live performance on home turf at Portcawl, and a bonus DVD, mostly of the same material, of a concert at Newport on the Isle of Wight. Both effectively celebrate a growing reputation built on successful, high profile festival performances across Europe including the Festival Interceltique de Lorient, Inter-Celtic being an express and useful summation of their ambition.

Central to Mabon is brilliant accordionist Jamie Smith with his prolific and consistently interesting compositions drawing on a wide array of Celtic tunes, modes and rhythms and blending them with wider European dance music traditions. Support here is provided by Ruth Angell (Rainbow Chasers), Young Scottish Musician of the Year Calum Stewart (wooden flute and pipes), Jamie’s father Derek Smith (acoustic guitar), and the propulsive rhythm section of Matt Downer (electric basses) and Iolo Whelan (drums and percussion). The instrumental agility and prowess of the players is a given and there’s some exceptional fiddle and flute/pipes work. Overall the composed arrangements create interesting soundscapes for Smith’s tunes with ample texture and dynamic range. Funk, fizz and ferment are typical words used to describe the music of this energetic, punchy and rhythmic band.

Anyone interested in the music of Lunasa, Flook, Lau and Michael McGoldrick’s work, solo and with Capercaillie, and the Breton group Guichen, will find much to please them. Performances at both concerts are tight and fluent, almost to the extent of studio recorded precision, perhaps begging the question; since there are only three previously unrecorded offerings, why record a live album? However, for me, having the filmed footage, the so-called ‘bonus’ is a good enough reason!
Kevin T. Ward

Acoustic Magazine. January 2011

Accordion s one of those instruments you either love or hate, but judging by the rapturous reception afforded the band in Porthcawl, where this slice of stompfest was recorded, the punters obviously had no such reservations. Led by Jamie Smith – a man who certainly knows his way around the buttons – the band rip up a firestorm on a selection of clever tunes that encompass everything from obvious Breton influences to lively jigs originating in Galicia and Hungary. Inevitably, the accordion reigns supreme throughout, but tunes like
'Schindig' and 'Mazurkas' show that Mabon's strength lies equally in the haunting fiddle supplied by Ruth Angell, and Calum Stewart's masterful flute and pipe playing. Roots music of the highest order.
Julian Fiper

Maverick. November 2010

Energetic and enjoyable music from this fast rising Welsh group.

Mabon (meaning autumn equinox) are a wonderfully talented six piece band comprising Jamie Smith on accordion, his dad and founder of the original band Derek Smith on acoustic guitar, Calum Stewart from Scotland on wooden flute and pipes, Matt Downer on bass guitar and electric upright bass, drummer Iolo Whelan and finally fiddle player Oli Wilson-Dickson who is missing from this live CD/DVD and in his place is Ruth Angell who is absolutely amazing on the fiddle, if she isn’t a permanent member of the band then she should be!

This band have been winning over fans at all the festivals they have been playing at around the UK and Europe and after listening to this album and watching the super DVD (recorded at Quay Arts Centre, Newport, Isle Of Wight during the same tour) I am not surprised, in fact they played to an audience of 20,000 at the famous Cropredy Festival and became one of the highest CD selling artists at the event.
Jamie’s accordion takes centre stage from the off, as they play some great jigs and reels including the dynamic and full of beans Schindig with Ruth’s fiddle matching Jamie’s accordion all the way. Normally I am not a lover of a completely instrumental act as I do prefer vocal tracks but this album just blew me away.

Mazurkas showcases the gorgeous flute playing of Calum showing why he was a Young Scottish Musician of the Year finalist. Fiddlers Despair is a spirited tongue-in-cheek tune, the reason being that it was written solely for the accordion and Jamie is absolutely brilliant.

One of my favourite tracks has to be the gypsy folk styled The Tale Of Nikolai, The Dancing Bear with some scintillating accordion and fiddle accompanied by a great drum rhythm. The CD and DVD both end with the high speed Easy On The Reels with the whole band in tremendous form.
Terrific live album from a group that hopefully will go right to the very top. ****

Songlines. January 2011

A fine introduction to the barnstorming Welsh sextet

The Welsh six-piece Mabon may not be well known on the English side of the border. It’s as if there’s a distinct division between Welsh and English folk, which is brooked only in the South-West, with Cornish bands such as Dalla exploring a territory similar to Mabon’s. But they should be: theirs is a Celtic music beyond borders that ranges from Brittany and up the crinkly west coast of the British Isles and Ireland.

Mabon is an old word for the autumn equinox, and they are led by brilliant young accordion player Jamie Smith, son of the band’s original founder, guitarist Derek Smith. Other members include Calum Stewart on wooden flute and pipes, and fiddler Oli Wilson-Dickson. The CD features a live set from Porthcawl, while the DVD has one from the Isle of Wight, but they cover largely the same material – Breton, Galician, Welsh, Scots and Irish jigs and reels alongside ebullient new workouts such as ‘The Tale of Nikolai the Dancing Bear’ and the more reflective ‘Divers Alarums’.

As a band they’ve been making big waves this year – making their Cropredy debut before 20,000 people as a two-piece, while the rest of the band and their van was stuck on the wrong side of the Severn Bridge – and performing at the Welsh Proms in Cardiff, as well as being the star performers to celebrate a headline grabbing Ryder Cup victory a few months back. Celtic Connections beckons next year, and as an introduction to the band, this double live set nails it. ****
Tim Cumming

Properganda. November 2010

Back in the day live albums invariably sounded like they were recorded in a leaky potting shed and would be likely to kill a young band’s career stone dead at a stroke. Yet times have changed and this album – recorded on home turf in Porthcawl – superbly captures the virtuoso dynamics of Mabon at full tilt.

The outrageously gifted accordion player Jamie Smith leads from the front as the Welsh six-piece explore all corners of Celtic music, incorporating Breton and Galician styles while dipping toes into mazurka, klezmer and other dance traditions. Yet it’s the empathetic interplay between them that makes them so exciting.

Large chunks of it will have you leaping on tables throwing your undies in the air, but there are dramatic mood shifts, too, with the heartrendingly mournful The Tale Of Nikolai The Dancing Bear and the coolly atmospheric divers alarums, subtly guided by Calum Stewart’s flute. And in case you need any more convincing, they even throw in a live bonus DVD featuring occasional band member Ruth Angell on fiddle.
Colin Irwin

fRoots. February 2011

The buzz backstage at Cropredy whispered only of one thing, how Mabon turned potential tragedy into total triumph. No wonder leader Jamie Smith had a huge grin on his face, everyone- me included - was queuing to shake his hand and give Mabon a slap on the back. Having faced disaster, taking the stage two thirds of a band short, just a fiddle and squeezebox for company, twenty thousand plus people waiting for some Welsh folk hybrid funk, Smith and Oli Wilson Dickson dug deep, nearly an hour, until the heavy duty cavalry arrived to close the set and bring the assembled to their feet for a mass ceilidh. You should have heard the cheers, no wonder this CD sold out in minutes. So now here is Live to rekindle memories of one of the sets of the year, note to whoever, it’s a crime Mabon aren’t up for a Folk Award!

Theirs hasn’t been an easy path, Jamie Smith tells of ages playing for Welsh dances and the slow way the band evolved a pan Celtic approach, sampling bits and bobs, melding snatches of Galicia with Breton technique, things that shouldn’t work, but do. You’ve only to look at the titles Fiddler’s Despair, Nikolai The Dancing Bear, Divers Alarums, File Under Biddley, all of them tongue in cheek, polyglots and musically infectious. The vision may have been the leaders but he couldn’t do this without his talented and fun loving colleagues who give his melodies either further flights of fancy, here occasional member Ruth Angell and woodwind player Calum Stewart or steel and muscle, bassist Matt Downer and drummer Iolo Whelan. Each track has it’s own sound, yet retains signature flourishes which build throughout to a stomping climax in the rabble rousing Easy On The Reels, actually anything but. As live albums go, this one’s a bit of a corker and hopefully paints a clear road for Mabon to aim forward, the appended DVD just completes the argument for the prosecution, as it captures them a few days before the Porthcawl CD set, giving it some on the Isle Of Wight and proving they’re just as crucial no matter where they lay their hat. Note they’ve left grinning crowds across Europe and even in Mexico – yipe! You want subtle, look elsewhere ‘cause brother, Mabon are comin’ through, no surprise to hear them, powerful, authentic and a tad wonderful.
Simon Jones


It’s always nice when you come across something that is hard to pigeonhole and this little number is definitely a defiant little bugger. Part rock, part dance, part pop, part soul, part funk, but all quality.

Formed from the ashes of Dark Chunk, this classy outfit have not been around long, only forming in 2006, but are already getting people sitting up and paying attention. The sweet soulful vocals of Suzi make this stand out to be more than just a lad’s party album, giving it a radio friendly layer but without sounding commercial.

‘Dig It’ gives us some of the funkiest bass lines ever to come out of Cardiff, with some nice wah wah and fuzzbox layered over the top resulting in a vibe that would shake any self respecting club. ‘Celebrity Burn Out’ turns on the acid jazz machine and transports us to the other side of the Atlantic, although the lyrics would make the likes of Paris Hilton blush. ‘Stop Funkin Me Around’ dips its toe in some rock pools demonstrating that if they wanted to they could turn their hands at something heavier; as it is though they are doing quite nicely ploughing a furrow that no one else in town is following at the moment.

Definitely more indoor smart dress and cocktails than outdoor glow sticks and poppers, but something tells us if they wanted to, they could pump it up with the tribe.