Reviews

There's been some fantastic feedback of late for the new album and so it seems only sensible to have a page dedicated to sharing it here on the website.

I'll be adding album reviews and such below over the coming days, and new ones as they come in. They're not necessarily in chronological order but nonetheless they will hopefully help to document the reception that the record has had, and is continuing to get. It's all very encouraging and I'll stick any live reviews that appear up on here too.

Thanks for dropping by! SPx

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Lighting the touch-paper, and magic ensues...

"The second album from Somerset-based singer/songwriter Steve Pledger is a warm and intimate affair. Based mainly around his acoustic guitar, his likeable soft voice and the addition of double bass and the occasional fiddle; these are thoughtful, intelligent songs set to the most carefully subtle of backing. Among Pledger’s many strengths are these gentle moments, whispered heartfelt dispatches such as ‘Days Like These’; quietly celebrating brief moments of solitude with loved ones, which are bare and expressively effective; managing to emote with genuinely natural poise, grace and style. Elsewhere ‘Quit Blubbing in the Cheap Seats’ is great Country-Blues with a distinctly English narrative. Purposefully Old-Skool folk-lament ‘This Land is Pound Land’ however is a stroke of genius and is the album’s high water-mark. A slyly observed and intelligently expressed state-of-the-nation address, and lament for the decaying British high street, and the fading of community cohesion. (“We want it cheap and we don’t much care how, it could be clothes, fridge-freezers, CDs or bits of Cow..”).

It’s absolutely wonderful from gritty start to resigned end. Despite these 12 song’s unflinching elements of truth and honesty, ‘Striking Matches in the Wind’ is still imbued with an air of possibility and positivity among the hardships. The faith that love, community and friendship will see us all right in the end. Pledger has crafted a set of truly wonderful songs here; Poetic, knowing, clever, thoughtful and melodic; the world would be a far better place with more of this stuff."

8/10 - Ian Fildes,  Americana-uk

Striking Matches In The Wind

For once, the material on an album is both lucidly and calmly explained on the press sheet. Steve Pledger therefore immediately endears himself - someone to point out across a crowded room, and listen to, even if he is not jumping up and down frenetically trying to grab your attention. The same understated but efficacious attitude pervades the lyrics here, and the treatment given to them musically - using that good, old-fashioned assembly of acoustic guitar, double bass, fiddle, harmonica, accordion, and bits and pieces of percussion.

Few and far between are moments when one winces at cliche or malapropism, passages not tightly worked. As a rule what Pledger says, he says with intelligence and commitment, and his songs please the ear. Yes, sentiments are predictably worthy, but, because they're so authentically expressed, in a voice with genuine appeal, they take a direct route to the heart; unlike others who might try bulldozing their way there.

As Pledger writes, 'The songs on this album are primarily concerned with the power of the seemingly insignificant to effect significant change.' I know of no better starting point for making music of this kind.

Nick Burbridge, R2 Magazine, 4****

Steve Pledger - Striking Matches in the Wind

"As any smoker, reformed or unreformed or arsonist come to that knows, striking matches in the wind is quite easy, doing it right so the lit match can actually do something useful is much harder. Of course you could always make the task that bit easier and grab a Ronson, 'lights first time every time' or even join the dash for gas and whilst both have a certain style, panache, they are more complicated, becoming more about the tool than the purpose. Striking matches in the wind may look like a simple skill, but by its very nature it's more difficult than it looks and to do it right takes effort.

The same is true of songwriting, the flash of inspiration/genius has to do more than flare, for a song to have lasting impact it needs to infuse the fire and there is absolutely no doubt that Steve Pledger has infused the fire.

The songs are stripped back to the basics, sometimes just Steve and his guitar, sometimes with one or more of Lukas Drinkwater(bass), Tanya Allen(fiddle), Giles Newman Turner(harmonica) and Andrew 'Rocky' Rock(accordion) and, on one occasion, "There We Are" an absolutely stunning duet with Story Records label mate, Ange Hardy.

When you've got your songs stripped back, it's important to make sure every word, every note matters, particularly in the arrangements that involve other instruments and I have to say the level of understatement by Steve's supporting core of musicians is absolutely stunning. The touches so subtle, but so essential, there is a real feel for the songs that they enhance.

The songs themselves are all so well defined, emotional, evocative, with a clarity of purpose, something that remains consistent throughout, regardless of it being a deeply personal song, such as "Friends And Fathers", or venting frustration at the world in general, "This Land Is Poundland", a sentiment I'm sure most of us can relate to as the world around is stripped back to cost, rather than value.

"Striking Matches In The Wind" is an emotional ride, but not one that dwells in melancholia, there are more upbeat songs contained on the album, one that shows that as a writer, Pledger understands the role that hope and inspiration provide in the human condition like "The Parable Of Intent" which also includes that reminder to follow through with action.

Just like the act described in both the album title and the sign off song, a small light shining in the darkness can bring a real focus to what's important, be it something to be seen from afar or to provide clarity to what's close to you. "Striking Matches In The Wind" is something that has got to be done properly for it to be effective and this is an album that has done that and more.

Steve Pledger has emerged as a song writer of real talent and whilst it's a crowded market place, he has a light shine above his head that should make him easy to pick out, go seek."

Neil King FATEA

Steve Pledger - Striking Matches in the Wind

"My first exposure to the delights of Steve Pledger occurred in the depths of his adopted Somerset at The Village Hall in Curry Rivel, where he shared the bill with Ange Hardy.  His set that night revealed a passionate and opinionated artist with an intricate, yet unambiguous command of song writing.  After the performance I purchased his debut album ’14 Good Intentions’, which highlighted flashes of his ability, but proved over long and meandering in places.  It did however, along with new music showcased that night suggest much more to come, which ‘Striking Matches in the Wind’ wholly confirms, a much more concise and ultimately focused piece of work.

Steve takes snippets of people’s lives, from reading articles or simply by his own thoughts and personal experience alongside views on modern day society. He interweaves melodies and intelligent wordplay to produce subtly sensitive songs on the one hand ‘A Heart left With Nothing to Do’, and acerbic political comment on the other, ‘A Parable of Intent.’  In the grand scheme, these two opposites shouldn’t sit happily side by side, but in the hands of Steve Pledger, they appear obvious bed fellows. A dry sense of humour also never far away, which ‘This Land is Pound Land’ with its astute nod and a wink to Woody Guthrie attests,

“Cos we want it cheap and we want it now, we don’t care where from and we don’t much care how, it could be clothes, fridge freezers, CD’S, bits of cow…..if you’re lucky……..now that this, this land is pound land”

Lead track ‘Friends and Fathers , available via the excellent Fatea Showcases Sessions, is the perfect introduction to ‘Striking Matches in the Wind.’ Steve focusses on the affects war can have on family, producing surely one of the most heartachingly beautiful tracks of the year.  If you don’t shed a tear while listening, you truly have no heart.

Rarely does an artist resonate with me on such a personal level as Steve Pledger. ‘Striking Matches in the Wind’ is an intense emotional experience of the most inspired kind. A touching record interspersed with humour and strong traditional socialist values almost extinct from today’s barren political landscape. Steve strikes me as a man unafraid to cry, both personally and more generally in response to social injustice. The world would simply be a better place if more of the male gender had a similar capacity to express this most basic of human emotion."

Andy Barnes, Sonic Bandwagon

Observing what we don't immediately see...

"There’s an album due for release on 2nd April 2015 that should make waves. It’s full of keen observations, private and public, bringing emotions and sentiments that often go unnoticed to 'front-of-mind’. And if it doesn’t touch lots of people in some conspicuous way I’ll be amazed.  Songwriters that write with passion have an uncanny knack of involving you in their songs. The tales they tell may be far removed from everyone’s day-to-day life but in some tenuous way they possess the skill to observe what we don’t immediately see and mirror it into our eyes. Should there be any doubt, I’m talking about ‘Striking Matches In The Wind’ from Steve Pledger, an album that I confess to liking immediately.

The depth of his songs ‘live’ through Pledger’s emotion-rich vocals and delicate touch on guitar. He imparts a tender fragility to his voice to conjure feelings revealed through 'People Who Care' and 'Heart Filled With Nothing To Do', then he adds a harder-edged vocal tone with the denunciation of consumer society in 'This Land Is Poundland' and the anti-austerity boogie 'Quit Blubbin' In The Cheap Seats'. There’s a thoughtful unobtrusiveness pervading this album that steadily ‘gets on with it’ moving from thought-to-thought through 'Days Like These' and 'Friends & Fathers'. In these days of 'form over function', their softly observant messages could so easily be missed, which is my way of encouraging you to listen carefully to this album, you will be touched.

Steve Pledger writes riveting songs and makes no fuss about doing it, simply allowing talent to speak on his behalf, 'Striking Matches In The Wind' does just that."

Charlie Elland, FolkWords

Striking Matches in the Wind - Album Review

"Steve Pledger might  not be an instantly recognisable name in the folk / acoustic / singer / songwriter field. Yet.  The West Country based artist released his debut album, ’14 Good Intentions’ in 2012,  taking time since to build up both a live reputation and experience in gigging to compose a set of songs which have resulted in his second album. It’s title is quite apt, with the subject matter focusing primarily on what he has termed “ the seemingly  insignificant to effect significant change on the world and the power of the apparently powerless to achieve what feels like an impossible task.”

Quite some heady themes, some of which one might guess many of which  have been addressed before from solo artists conveying  their messages and songs of hope in the back rooms of bars to the arena and stadium fillers who pump out their anthems in more empty gestures in somewhat compliant fashion.

Having bedded in  the songs on the road over the past year or so  and acknowledging  influences ranging from Martyn Joseph to Don Maclean, Van Morrison and both the Elvis’s, ‘Striking Matches Against The Wind’ is as apt a title as you can get for the set of songs it contains. The notion of struggling against the odds,  fighting a cause and standing for your convictions,  pissing into the wind if you like, is a central theme of the record. Alluding to the  challenges,  the struggles encompassing personal to more global issues and themes, as Shrek would say, the songs are like ogres – they have layers. Ostensibly straightforward and uncomplicated, given some listening time, depth and insight starts to reveal itself beyond the primarily  sparse instrumentation and arrangements.  The  pair of mid set lighter moments in ‘This Land Is Poundland’ and ‘Quit Blubbing In The Cheap Seats’ stand as testimony; the former alluding to the Woody Guthrie  anthem  for the working man, highlighting the contemporary twist, a seemingly lightweight observation of the influx of value shops on the high streets of Britain, yet containing a more insightful commentary of the nature of modern retail practice and consumer expectation.

There was a feeling that his debut occasionally lacked focus, yet his new release seems to show a maturing songwriter who has moved on to become a more rounded musician and lyricist. As a self confessed Rush addict, Steve may not share their arena filling sonic template but they are strange bedfellows. Packed with thoughtful and relevant lyrical ideas, none more so than the album closer ‘Matches In The Wind’. A key song, backed by simple and subtle guitar, Tanya Allen’s fiddle  and Lukas Drinkwater’s barely audible bowed double bass, it encompasses the premise of the album in one lyric  – the potential of those who feel they or their efforts are not of worth.  The line “As long as the sparks fly the fire will not die”, the album title, the album and the underlying concept  all bring to mind a line from Peter Gabriel’s ‘Biko’:  “you can blow out a candle but you can’t blow out a fire.” It may well be that beyond the self doubt expressed in ‘Scared Inside’, with this record,  Steve Pledger’s  spark is set  to burst into  flame."

Mike Ainscoe, Louder Than War

Review: Steve Pledger, Striking Matches in the Wind

"I noticed it starting a few months ago.

People have started sending me music to listen to.  I’m getting stuff almost every day now.  I’m honestly a bit surprised that anyone is remotely interested in what my opinion is (!), but still…it’s lovely that they are.

Having said that, it’s still difficult.  A lot of music I get sent I don’t really like, so I don’t really want to write or tweet about it.  I’d either have to lie and say I liked it, or alternatively I’d end up saying something negative about someone’s art.  Neither option appeals, so most of the time I just don’t comment…I figure there are plenty of other folks to go after apart from me (and probably more qualified at that).

I think the problem is, the more music I get exposed to that I really like, the harder it is to simply find new stuff that I can connect with.  But it still happens…an example was today when I listened to this lovely album from Steve Pledger.

I was pointed in Steve’s direction by Gary Smith and a wonderful little facebook group he runs called Laurel Canyon.  Gary seems to spend even more time than I do listening to music…through the group he provides a steady stream of ‘people you should be listening to’, so if you’re into the type of music and musicians I feature on this site I’d strongly recommend following Laurel Canyon on facebook and twitter.

I’d come across Steve’s name before when I interviewed Tobias Ben Jacob and Lukas Drinkwater for Folk Radio UK…Lukas had mentioned that he was playing on Steve’s album.  However I’d not listened to Steve’s music until I got the (very welcome) prompt through Laurel Canyon…

Whilst there are splashes of instrumentation here and there, the album is pretty stripped back throughout with Steve’s vocals and an acoustic guitar providing the foundation for most of the collection.  Whilst this obviously ticks a box with me, I’ve experienced enough ‘bad’ acoustic music of late that simply having a bare sound won’t cut it.  Luckily Steve’s album delivers with some wonderful songwriting along with expressive (and frankly ‘believable’ vocals).

Highlights are numerous…the opening ‘People Who Care’ is built on a punchy little folk-pop riff and provides a strong introduction to the album.  I believed every word of Steve’s performance in ‘A Heart Filled With Nothing to Do’, whilst ‘Loving Condescension’ teeters back towards folksville in a quite beautiful way.

For me there’s a bit of a wobble in the middle of the album with ‘This Land Is Pound Land’ and ‘Quit Blubbin’ in the Cheap Seats’ which I felt were comparitively weaker, however any concern that this album would fall into the ‘started well but couldn’t go the distance’ category were quickly put to bed with ‘Scared Inside’ and ‘Days Like These’…as good as anything I’ve heard of late.

Things generally go from strength to strength from there on in, with the acapella duet with Ange Hardy ‘There We Are’ providing a notable highlight.

Quite honestly finding this album has made my weekend…it’s a beautifully raw set of songs, crafted and performed by someone who clearly cares about the emotional quality of his message.

Outstanding really."

Rob Bridge, Redwood Music Photography

Striking Matches In The Wind - Review

"Striking Matches in the Wind" is the second album from Steve Pledger and Story Records. I don't often make comparisons with other artists, but if I had to look at the spectrum of sounds (and there are a few different voices on the album) I would say that Steve Pledger falls between Tracy Chapman in terms of style, intonation and subject (especially in the songs centred around social injustice) and maybe David Gray for some of the instrumentation and reflections on love and relationships.

There are two major themes that on-the-whole run throughout the album and the connection to fire is an important one. The fragility of the cover art of a person keeping a match lit in their hands is probably the defining symbolism of the songs explored. Firstly there is a vein of protest throughout half of the CD, perhaps the match is the sense of morality amid Government choices and consumerism, "This Land if Pound Land" explicitly refers to a dissatisfaction by the artist at the wider changes happening to people in society, and other songs (such as The Parable of Intent and Matches in the wind) are critiques and explorations of our capabilities to change. The pressure of downward class oppression is evident as a weight throughout the album. On the other hand there is a restless sadness which looks at the private. There are sounds about relationships, mental health and choice (Scared Inside) and loneliness (A heart filled with nothing to do). The individuals in the songs feel like quiet, directionless people who want to make their way to see but have not been taught how to sail and cannot think to read or develop in other ways due to personal struggles.The standout tracks on the album are, "This Land is Pound Land", "Quit blubbing in the cheap seats", "The Parable of Intent" and "Matches in the Wind".

"This Land is Pound Land" is the most explicit of the tracks, the message is in the title- if the message of the album is the match, then Pound Land here is the wind trying to blow it out. A lot of the songs on the album are reflective and intimate like a gardener pruning the smallest leaves of his bonsai tree. This song is more like Billy Bragg taking to a hedge with a chainsaw. The clarity of message is important and can be appreciated by the listener, Steve elevates the song nicely and the challenging tone to Mr Walton (Sam Walton of Walmart) is a welcome addition that will appeal to anti-establishment listeners of the album.

The blues harmonica is like the playful toss of a lasso in ,"quit blubbing in the cheap seats". It is a cowboy in an old western on a cattle drive with members of the socialist party. There are references to people "praying for that day when it all fell through", I might have the wrong end of the stick here but it sounds like a jab at the more despondent people in social and of socialists awaiting chaos, awaiting the system to fall. The message throughout the album is that people are capable of the change "within" the system as it is with enough consciousness. What the song does is bring an extra cheer within the album and possibility highlights a strength with the artist for tackling the particular American folk subgenre and a fun experimentation with the theme on the album.

"The Parable of Intent" describes a two way discussion between a protester and leader of social justice, and a natural phenomenon (a mountain). I say a two-way conversation but it is a human soapbox, an attempt at a promise, of youthful fight. It reminds me very much of a social work student I used to mentor with the strong purposeful political wish to make amends for all that has happened, for the errors of others and society which is witnessed by the "pure", natural landscape which gave birth to us and sustains us. The cynicism of the mountain, and the evidence of what it sees is enough to dishearten the man, and this is the setup for the final song, not that I ever shot down my student the way the mountain does!The overall message is that the collectively individuals are reaching further than what they need to be happy. The ideas combine to create the feelings of tension and uncertainty of the future in different spheres of human life and interactions and there is the suggestion that the "match" is hard to keep alight, and it could waver and fall away at any time.
"Matches in the Wind" combines these strands and summarises well and answers the gloom and determinism that is setup in the preceding track by giving further hope to the future.I would recommend the album to politically left active individuals and people who wish to explore and put into words their feelings of "disillusionment" with how the world is. The album has clean sounds, at times it whispers like the dance of the match flame, at other times it is ignited and feeding to a tall flame from oxygen, and it can be quieter, waning and protecting itself from the elements.
Check it out from Steve's website and is released on 2 April 2015 in cd and digital formats, the album contains heart and a feeling of responsibility and an attempt to raise accountability and empowerment through people and their actions.
Peter Taranaski, She Dances In The Mind

Striking Matches In The Wind - 3/5* Review

Steve Pledger's second album and follow up to 2012's 14 GOOD INTENTIONS, sees the Cambridge-born singer/songwriter delivering a dozen conscientious songs all of which appear to avoid the usual trappings of the genre.

They're not about self-obsessed soul-searching melancholia, but rather they address some of the issues that affect us all in our daily lives. We don't seem to think about those of us who are alone quite as much as we probably should do and songs like People Who Care and A Heart Filled With Nothing To Do, remind us of the importance of friendship. Descriptions of driving along a North Devon coast road Love Condescension or the end of a relationship There We Are, an a cappella song featuring a duet with Ange Hardy, carry a certain tenderness, whilst This Land is Pound Land perfectly describes, in a sort of Pete Morton fashion, our mutual disdain for the dumbed-down high street retail sensibilites that dominates modern life, settling for any old tosh as long as it's cheap.

Thoughtful, provocative and insightful, Steve Pledger's songs stay with you long after you've moved on to other things.        

Allan Wilkinson Northern Sky

Striking Matches In The Wind - Review

Arriving late to the party, we’ve hardly had time to fully appreciate Steves’ excellent 2012 debut release “14 Good Intentions” when receiving an advance copy of “Striking Matches In the Wind” which gets a launch concert Saturday 14th March ahead of the 2nd April official release.

Steve aided by a number of friends and fellow musicians such as Ange Hardy and Lukas Drinkwater brings more of his social comment to the fore, some biting but in the most part revealing a heady dose of compassion in asking for change in the world.

Akin to many independant artist, Steve has not rested having pursued his craft across a number of outlets to promote the album. We’ve managed to catch him in a radio session on 10radio a station local to Steve where treated to live renditions of songs from both albums and much further distant in recorded telephone conversation on Sydney’s 2SER. Notable early online review too, appearing at Sonic Bandwagon words we heartily concur with.

Steve has kindly shared with us some of his thoughts and inspiration behind each song, we will revisit the album on occasion prior to it’s April release and share those with you.   Today we start with the moving ‘Friends & Fathers’ a tale offering redemption and understanding while examining the unseen effect war has upon all of us not directly involved notes the lack of change. The divide still apparent leaves one shaken

Advance copies of the album widely received for the depth of tenderness illustrated in each song while portraying a songwriter having reached a new summit.

Built upon the success of 2012’s acoustic/piano led ‘14 Good Intentions’ 'Striking Matches In The Wind’ made complete with a weightier band of musicians offers a much fuller sound yet retains the earlier recordings themes of love and hope.

'A Heart Filled With Love’ starts sparsely with just 2 instruments, the  guitar and vocal of Steve Pledger beautifully underscored around 22 seconds with the double bass of Lukas Drinkwater. The motif accented further at 1.04 with the fiddle of Tanya Allen, notes in song how easy compassion can be overlooked during busy lives in recounting his sadness on reading about a lady who passed away seemingly unnoticed after cuts to care services.

However parts of the album also give sharp retort for the need of change. Obsessing over value for money, without prejudice to any individual shop given critique in 'This Land Is Pound Land’ which features the accordian of Andy 'Rocky’ Rock and several Steve Pledgers’ providing the rabble,  while the call for austerity questioned in 'Quit Blubbin’ In The Cheap Seats’.

'Friends & Fathers’, the band stripped away with Steve Pledger providing guitar and voice revealing that humility may offer a greater message than shouting out loud while searching for peace and understanding.

'Scared Inside’ an expression of self doubt found earlier in the song 'In My Better Moments’ (14 Good Intentions). The acceptance that a relationship must end features the guest vocals of Ange Hardy on ‘There We Are’.

Reflection upon all the subjects raised given in 'Matches In The Wind’ which continues to seek better times for us all.

It’s now your turn to embark on the journey and discover for yourself the many hidden delights not mentioned here, among them tales of young love and imaginary conversations.

On release from April 2nd you can purchase the album from Steves’ web site while also booking for the upcoming tour which kicks off on May 6th in Somerset and currently culminates a month later in North Shields.

Tony Wilding, Tone Ranger

Striking Matches in the Wind - a Review

Steve’s a singer-songwriter from Cambridgeshire (St. Neots) whose name was new to me, but the very circumstance of his CD appearing on the same label as Ange Hardy would definitely have alerted me notwithstanding receiving it unsolicited for review here.

Steve’s latest (second) release is a refreshingly stripped-down effort (just his voice and delicately fingerpicked guitar, with occasional double bass, fiddle, accordion or harmonica) that makes a real virtue of telling understatement in every respect, whereas the songs themselves – all twelve being Steve’s own compositions – deftly and unobtrusively engage the emotions without requiring any degree of overstatement. One album highlight is Friends And Fathers, an almost unbearably poignant reflection, partly a reminiscence of Steve’s parents, couched in the form of a fragile yet sincere effort to understand the nature of their relationship and the circumstances in which his father left the family home, and examining “the consequences of the global upon the personal”. And the painful, unwavering honesty of the more introspective songs like Scared Inside and Loving Condescension speaks volumes by virtue of their pared-down and economic settings, and there’s sufficient emotional charge in Steve’s intense, often quite vulnerable singing voice and the very precision of his lyrics, to override any possible accusation of understatement for mere effect, for such is his understanding of the craft of songwriting that he knows exactly where to stop when things might get out of hand, rowdy or rebellious.

For instance, Steve’s take on the approved folk mode comes with “rabble” barroom chorus and may even involve your own willing participation – This Land Is Pound-Land, a kinda Woody-Guthrie-meets-Pete Morton-meets-Robb-Johnson number maybe but no worse for that, and its critical view of the nation’s obsession with “value” at any cost is suitably right-on.

Back to the Ange Hardy connection, I learn that Steve was touring with Ange only last autumn, and their artistic collaboration is celebrated and consummated here on arguably this album’s standout track There We Are, a tender and intimate a Capella duet that voices the parting words of two people who’ve accepted that they’ve arrived at the end of their relationship.

I read somewhere that Steve’s here-well-proven skill as a songwriter might well be likened to the activity outlined in the album’s title – well perhaps that was its intention, but either way it’s a good analogy. In all respects, though, this CD is quite literally very “striking”, and well worth seeking out if you get the chance; I’ll definitely be keeping it on my shelves

David Kidman Folk and Roots

Striking Matches in the Wind - Review

Steve Pledger is a troubadour, based in Somerset, who raised more than a few eyebrows with his 2012 debut album 14 Good Intentions.  It was clear that a new voice had appeared to pick up the torch of the socially relevant, protest singer.  One song in particular became a cult hit: and I refer there to his passionate cri de coeur against throwing away one’s vote on riff-raff...Abstention Song.  

And that song is most illustrative of the Pledger approach to song writing.  Try to make the lyrics always relevant; fit them to a tune that sticks in the memory; and look for a chorus that will knock ‘em dead. 

It was a very good song indeed.  Perhaps it should have been de rigueur for all potential voters at this year’s UK election: for I certainly have heeded his call to abstain.  But impressive though that song is, it is also illustrative of his weakness as a songwriter: an occasional inability to make every word pay its rent in the line.

What do I mean?  Well, take the first line of that song’s chorus: “You two-faced, lying, hypocrites”.  It seems to me, that there is more than an element of tautology there.  I cannot imagine many of the fine lyricists from the Great American Songbook era, penning such a line.  That said, he delivered it with such brio in his splendid impassioned vocals, that one instantly forgave him.

And now we come to the famous potential stumbling block: the dreaded second album.  How does he fare?

Well, first let me say it is an unalloyed delight on the ear.  He is joined by five guest artistes, two of whom make a powerful impact on the listener.  Tanya Allen’s fiddle, and Lukas Drinkwater’s bowed double bass, both catch your heart with their beauty. 

Again, don’t look for songs with lyrics that show great verbal felicity but gosh, he can be a very effective wordsmith.  How?   Well, I guess by writing stuff that is straight from the heart.  It just totally convinces in its sincerity.   And his voice has real impact: a sort of “Tom Robinson meets Kieran Halpin”.

There are three songs that totally persuaded me.  A Heart Filled With Nothing To Do tells the story of an elderly lady who died when social services were cut and she became lost in the system and nobody visited.

Friends & Fathers tells a story of a man returning from WW2 still bearing the mental scars of conflict and being unable to relate to his family...not helped by the fact that when a child himself, he did not have the best of starts.

And, in Loving Condescension, we have the standout track.  It is a truly beautiful song with a gorgeously singable chorus, and captures the sweet innocence of young love and the attendant hope that it can be preserved throughout the years ahead for those young lovers, despite life’s vicissitudes.

The sublime melody alone, will see to it that this song has legs.  I predict it will still be sung many years from now.

Dai Woosnam The Living Tradition

Steve Pledger - Striking Matches in the Wind

Born in Cambridge, raised in St Neots and now based in Somerset, Pledger’s been quietly building a following over the past 20 years, relying on just his voice, guitar and some damn fine songwriting. This is his second album and he describes the song as being concerned with “the power of the apparently powerless to achieve what often feels like an impossible task.” So, contemporary social protest songs basically, occasionally leavened with matters of the heart, Pledger’s fingerpicked and strummed guitar augmented here and there by Lukas Drinkwater on double bass, Tanya Allen on fiddle, and harmonica and accordion from Giles Newman Turner and Andrew Rock, respectively. The luminously talented Ange Hardy also joins him to add harmonies to the chokingly sung, heart-piercing end of a relationship a cappella number ‘There We Are’.

Listening to ‘People Who Care’ and the barbed ‘This Land Is Pound Land’ it’s impossible not to think of Martyn Joseph, one of Pledger’s acknowledged influences, and I’d suspect Martyn himself would be flattered by the comparison, though elsewhere you’ll also hear Don Maclean (the lyrically anthemic ‘take a stand’ ‘Matches In The Wind’), Woody Guthrie (‘The Parable of Intent’, a call to accept the reponsibility we have to the earth and those less fortunate than ourselves) and, on the bluesy mid-tempo harmonica blowing ‘Quit Blubbin’ In The Cheap Seats’ (a song about the real mindset of the austerity brigade), maybe also Billy Bragg, while the bluesy folk guitar playing on ‘Beneath The Sun’ suggests Davey Graham’s in the mix too.

Pledger’s songs have the ability to cut to the emotional quick, as potently evidenced by the strummed, fiddle-accompanied, slow waltz ‘A Heart Filled With Nothing To Do’, inspired by an old lady who, her care service withdrawn, died alone with nobody aware of her situation, and the simple vocal and guitar ‘Friends & Fathers’, a song that relates the impact that the post-traumatic fallout from war can have on a family as the narrator recalls his mother telling him how, before his father left, he used kneel at his bedside, crying and saying how much he loved him. It’s impossible to listen without welling up.

There are brighter moments too, ‘Loving Condescension’ with its account of seeing two lovers taking a selfie while he was driving along the North Devon coast’ and ‘Days Like These’, a fingerpicked love song written for his wife’s birthday, the album balancing the light with the dark, the hope with the anger to kindle a spark and keep the fire burning.

Mike Davies Folking.com

Striking Matches In The Wind Launch Concert, Dunster, 14th March 2015 & album review

I’ve been lucky enough to see Steve Pledger perform live a few times now. I saw him support Luke Jackson in Windsor, and saw him produce an electrifying performance in Exeter. Both of those nights will live long in the memory. However, the launch night for Steve’s second album, Striking Matches In The Wind, was on another level entirely.

The Tithe Barn in Dunster was a great venue for Steve, with a beauty that was the perfect accompaniment to his lyrics. He threw himself confidently into the gig, kicking off with a couple of old favourites from his first album, 14 Good Intentions, before introducing the audience to his new songs. Steve has always had great stage presence, but at the launch he was immense. We often hear X-Factorisms strewn around like wedding confetti, but it has to be said that Steve owned that stage. This was the performance of a man at ease with what he’s doing, equally comfortable with explaining the stories behind the songs as he was singing them.

That’s not to say he was strutting around like a Jagger or a Williams. Steve remains very humble, and grateful to be able to share his songs with a wider audience. His voice is a marvel, with the vocal work on quiet emotional pieces like Remembering Mr Perrin, or Friends and Fathers, almost unrecognisable from the vocals on the more powerful In My Better Moments, or A Heart Filled With Nothing To Do.

A key difference to other gigs I have seen Steve perform in, is the guest musicians who added so much to both the night and the album. Tanya Allen played the fiddle on A Heart Filled With Nothing To Do, while Giles Newman Turner performed harmonica on the “anti-austerity boogie” Quit Blubbin In The Cheap Seats. Guest of the night had to be the sublimely talented Ange Hardy, who harmonised with Steve on There We Are, and they followed up with a folk ditty, Sing John Ball, which had the entire audience singing along.

That is not to take away at all from Steve’s performance. He had the entire audience captured, hanging off his every word. During his two love songs, Loving Condescension and Days Like These, there was not a hint of movement. In the days preceding the gig, I’d had to do a lot of travelling, including trips to Cyprus and Spain. Factor in the four and a half hours of driving to get to Dunster (via Exeter), and I was concerned about being too tired to properly enjoy the show. I needn’t have worried. I could have sat through it all over again. The single song encore was not enough.

With the radio play the album is getting, Steve Pledger is deservedly soon to be a name recognised by many. He is going to be exceptionally busy and much in demand. If you get the chance, do yourself a favour and go and see him. He’s poised to become very hot property indeed.

Striking Matches In The Wind album review

I should start by saying how much I loved Steve Pledger’s first album, 14 Good Intentions. It is easily one of my favourite albums, and I’ve listened to it many times. Partly this is because it is a family favourite – the most requested album from my children on any long journey. I love the simplicity of it. Effectively it is one man and a guitar, singing the most beautiful soulful songs. The man that is, not the guitar. A singing guitar would be weird.

I was looking forward to picking up the new album, though I have to admit I was also feeling a sense of trepidation. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d have bought the follow up to a beloved album and been left with a feeling of crushing disappointment. I’d been lucky enough to hear 3 or 4 of the songs during Steve’s live gigs, and they certainly boded well, but there was a little nagging doubt in my mind. Would any song on there really be able to go toe to toe with In My Better Moments, a song that I’ve adopted as my own personal anthem? Would he be able to sing anything as achingly beautiful as Love, Bess; or as rip-roaringly rocking as Experience Is Cheap; or as meaningful as The Abstention Song?

Simply put, 14 Good Intentions surely could not be equalled?

I was right. Striking Matches In The Wind is not the equal of the first album. It has surpassed it in every way. This album is a game changer for Steve Pledger, as proved by the amount of radio airplay it is getting.

As I’ve already said, I LOVE the first album. It feels like a live performance captured on CD, without the annoying crowd noise you get on live CD’s. I can’t deny that the production on Striking Matches is a real step up however – Nigel Neill has done a fantastic job (and he clearly has very photogenic hands). The entire album sounds amazing. The calibre of musicians performing with Steve on this album is very high. The highly rated Lukas Drinkwater really lifts the songs he performs on with his double bass. The fiddle work of Tanya Allen is likewise a superb addition, especially on the hauntingly wonderful A Heart Filled With Nothing To Do. Giles Newman Turner is a perfect addition on Quit Blubbin In The Cheap Seats, his harmonica accompanies Steve’s guitar and vocal work so well.

Also appearing on the album, singing with Steve on There We Are, is Ange Hardy. She has (deservedly) been nominated for, and won, so many awards of late that I was surprised not to see her at the Oscars this year. Her music is unashamedly folky, and utterly wonderful to listen to. Go listen to the first song on her first album, I Wish from Windmills and Wishes. I’ll wait… see, told you it was wonderful. That is just track one, album one. I know, right? But I digress.

The album is full of gems – all killer, no filler. Does anything go toe to toe with In My Better Moments? Yes, pretty much every song, and especially Scared Inside. Does he sing anything as achingly beautiful as Love, Bess? Yes, take your pick. Personally I think Friends and Fathers is hard to beat on that score. Quit Blubbin In The Cheap Seats surpasses Experience Is Cheap for a foot tapping brilliance. If you want meaningful you are spoiled for choice, but Beneath The Sun, The Parable Of Intent and Matches In The Wind should satisfy your cravings.

There are even a couple of love songs thrown in for good measure, though Steve apparently doesn’t write love songs. Loving Condescension and Days Like These are two of the best love songs I’ve heard in a very long time. I particularly adore the guitar riff on the latter, though having seen him perform this one live at the launch concert it looks bloody hard to pull off. Not one I’ll be attempting any time soon.

Once again there are key themes that run throughout the album. The first album was a fervent wish for something better, an urge to move away from apathy, and in many ways that theme continues in Striking Matches. “There must be more,” he sings in Beneath The Sun, a line which could have come from the first album. This Land Is Pound Land is about the changing face of the High Street, and how we’ve lost something important in our constant search for value for money, “But you get what you pay for, and we’re paying now”.

There is a subtle difference here though. If I had to sum it up in a word, I’d say it was altruistic. This starts with the first song on the album, People Who Care, about being there for a friend who feels isolated. “The good that comes begins with you and me,” he sings in Beneath The Sun. The Parable of Intent is a conversation between man and the Earth, and that it’s easy to talk a noble game, but if we do not back up those words with our actions, it is a meaningless gesture.

When the album ends with Matches In The Wind, it would appear almost as if he’s given up; that he recognises that nothing we do makes a difference. We’re all just striking matches in the wind. That’s not the message here, however. The last lines of the album reveal a more hopeful stance, that we cannot let the prevailing wind stop us from giving more of ourselves. We should all be more altruistic.

“And it feels like striking matches in the wind,

But as long as these sparks fly our fire will not die

We’re striking matches in the wind.”

My only slight gripe is that the album is just too damn short. 12 songs, 50 minutes… I want more, Steve, there must be more. I’m greedy like that.

Of course Steve has made life a bit more difficult for himself with this album. If the third album is at least as good, if not better than Striking Matches In The Wind (which it will be), and then the fourth, and then the fifth… well… I don’t envy him when it comes to narrowing down to just a few songs for his future Best Of album.

Adam Jenkins

Striking Matches in the Wind

I came across Steve Pledger’s album through a comment on Twitter by radio host Rick Stuart. His Roots & Fusion show on Stockport’s Pure Radio is probably one of my favourite radio shows. His words prompted me to ask Steve Pledger for a copy of his album and before I knew it, he was the featured songwriter of the week on my own show I Write The Songs, a show that celebrates the people behind some awesome music writing.

That week’s theme was voting, since the elections were upon the UK and song number 12, “Matches in the Wind”, brilliantly made my point about the importance of voting, a point that is a lot more about the importance of making one’s voice heard whilst very cleverly acknowledging the feeling we can all get about whether it is even worth it in the wind’s noise.

Although my favourite song on the album, it is not the one that caught me at first since it is the last song on the album and I religiously followed the tracks order. From the introductory track, People Who Care, this performing songwriter had me hooked. This, I thought is my kind of artist, a lover and a fighter. He does not talk about life with the cliché phrases that lose their meanings at the tip of the monkey’s tongue. He delves into its depth to extract its essence. The most impressive is that the melody is never just a flattering dimension on top but a real complement. The folkier track This Land Is Pound Land is only one of 12 songs that show this well ;). And there is movement not just in each song but in the way the tracks follow each other.

Curiosity drove me to this second album by Mr Pledger, that hunch when you read certain words about something and you know why it is going to move you. It was a pleasure to know that the album did (and still does) that and more. Find out more about the album from Steve Pledger’s official website.

Tiki Black, 1 In Music

Striking Matches In The Wind

"Here is a solid album of classic folk songs from an English troubadour. I hear quite a bit of Harvey Andrews and Ralph McTell in here. Most of the songs have an exploratory emotional depth to them, although there are some breezier cuts to break things up a bit. But mostly it is some serious but well phrased lyrics that will draw your attention. This is the type of folk singing that will long survive all of us."

David Hintz FolkWorld

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