… She’s assembled some fine musicians, like Andy Metcalfe on guitar and Harriet Earis on harp, but it’s the bare purity of her voice and the controlled dignity of her singing that’s really striking, especially on the unaccompanied Lovely Annie and Willie O.
Colin Irwin, Feb 2005
Mike Harding (BBC Radio 2, Jan 5th ’05)
… a terrifically exciting new singer… lovely stuff… a brilliant CD of great songs.
fRoots, March 2005
Helen Roche is a London-based singer with a voice of such gorgeous range and timbre that love songs fall naturally within its ambit and, to prove so, Shake the Blossom Early is an entire collection of such songs drawn from the Irish tradition. Such is the emotional power of Helen’s singing and the sheer quality of her approach to that tradition, embodied by the subtlety of many of the musical arrangements here, that listening to Shake the Blossom Early becomes a thoroughly absorbing and utterly gratifying experience. Helen’s chosen songs have been largely drawn from the north of Ireland and, clearly, she has spent much time immersing herself in the singing of Paddy Tunney, Sarah Makem, Geordie Hanna and Robert Cinnamond, while her father Jules, and late grandfather Bill, are other noteworthy sources. However, while paying tribute to such inspirations, Helen completely retains her own identity. Her album’s title derives from The Draighnean Donn on which the harp of Harriet Earis and Colman Connolly’s low whistle provide sumptuous backing. Elsewhere, such as the opening Green Grows The Laurel, Colman’s uilleann pipes offer a resonant backdrop for Helen’s sensuous rendition of the song, though perhaps the most eloquent support is provided by the guitar of Michael Lempelius and Richard Bolton’s cello on an elegiac rendition of As I Roved Out. Helen’s reading of I Wish My Love Was a Red, Red Rose (with producer Andy Metcalfe on guitar) is illustrative of this album’s finesse. Her diction throughout this and every other song is downright perfect and she retains a remarkable capacity to resist over-ornamentation in her delivery. Very rarely Helen’s voice does waver, but that’s the merest quibble regarding this thoroughly gorgeous, fulfilling and utterly indispensible album. Shake the Blossom Early is a consummate delight.
First published at greater length on The Irish Music Review 12th November, 2004
Irish Music Magazine December 2004
Launch Pad: Return to Camden Town Festival
… So back to the main event and Helen Roche, she is a pretty and slight brunette with a compelling command of the traditional singing idiom, not too florid with tastefully chosen grace notes and a range that can accommodate the intricacies of the tradition with ease. Singers are often judged on the rage of material in their stage repertoires and the good news with Helen is that she is firmly rooted in folk song from these islands, one sentence from the brochure sums it all up. “Her album Shake the Blossom Early is a collection of songs from the Irish tradition, many of them from the north of Ireland, including songs from Paddy Tunney, Geordie Hanna, Joe Holmes.” And she does great service to them all. Helen grew up in England and Mid Wales, and inherited her singing from her father Jules and Grandfather Bill, both of Liverpool and it is evident by her technique and choice of songs that she was well grounded in the tradition. Joined on the night by the musicians who played on her album: Harriet Earis (harp), Colman Connolly (pipes), Conan McDonnell (bodhran, accordion), Michael Lempelius (guitar, bouzouki), Richard Bolton (cello) and Andy Metcalfe (the album’s producer on guitar). Rather than the full band she asked individual players to join her on a series of duets and trios, in this way her voice was able to dominate each vignette. Songs on the album are Green Grows the Laurel, The Dark Eyed Gypsy, Lovely Annie, As I Roved Out, The Irish Maid, The Wee Weaver, Dobbin’s Flowery Vale, The Lisburn Lass, The Draighean Donn, When A Man’s In Love, I Wish My Love, The Verdant Braes Of Skreen, Willie O. Watch this space as Helen Roche could be the next big name in Irish singing.
The Irish World, November 2004
Roche’s voice is incredible – emotive and stirring… A hugely promising recording start for an already popular live musician.
Pay the Reckoning
We’ve known Roche for some time, our paths crossing at this and that session where, when the ebb and flow of the nights’ proceedings have reached an appropriate spell, Helen has regaled the assembled musicians and punters with her beautifully intense songs of love lost and love gained, of hearts lifted and broken by love. Few singers have Roche’s ability to demand a gathering’s complete attention; to quieten even the most rowdy of pubs and then to fill the space with a swell of sound. The launch of Helen’s album is a gear-shift; time to bring her voice and her vision to a wider audience. They won’t be disappointed. Helen’s exceptional way with song may be well-known to a select few at the time of writing, but Pay The Reckoning predicts that by this time next year, there’ll be few afficionados of traditional song who won’t have been charmed by Helen’s CD.
There is a delicacy about Helen’s singing which underscores the often savage emotion of the songs which she favours. An inspired collector, Helen has zeroed in on songs which suit her perfectly, from Dobbin’s Flowery Vale where raw feelings are masked in an outpouring of euphemisms as florid as Dobbin’s Vale itself to Willie O, whose unflinching directness is heart-scalding. Along the way, Helen treats us to some of the top-drawer standards of the Irish tradition – The Verdant Braes of Skreen, Green Grows The Laurel, When A Man’s In Love and I Wish My Love amongst others. Equally top-drawer are Helen’s backing musicians, Harriet Earis (harp), Colman Connolly (pipes), Conan McDonnell (bodhran, accordion), Michael Lempelius (guitar, bouzouki), Richard Bolton (cello) and Andy Metcalfe (the album’s producer on guitar). The arrangements are subtle and sympathetic, always adding to and never distracting from Helen’s central role in the endeavour.
We’ve watched this CD develop from the sidelines – at times, here and there, receiving snippets about progress. Many of Helen’s friends in London and, indeed, across the world have fretted with Helen during the gestation. Well, we’re pleased to report that the wait’s been well worth it! But the waiting’s over and the end result is a credit to all concerned but particularly to Helen. Well done, girl… now, let’s see what happens!