Meet the people behind Better Times!

We’re so proud of our shiny new album! We’d like to tell you a little bit about the people who helped your Taradiddle friends – Franz, Monika, and Stephen – bring it into the world. It was a group effort by a truly exceptional team of musicians. Most of the tracks were recorded at a world-class studio in Wales by a brilliant producer/engineer. Some other talented people were responsible for the cover art and design. Let’s get to know all of them!

James Mackintosh, drums

We first saw James on the BBC TV series, Transatlantic Sessions, and have been fans ever since. He plays with remarkable sensitivity and we were thrilled that he could join us in Wales. By the way, James is also the drummer for the Scottish “Acid Croft” legends, Shooglenifty ( and the guitarist/percussionist in the Kaela Rowan Band (

Tim Harries, upright bass and electric bass

Tim’s recording and performing credits are mindboggling. Stephen first saw him when he was in the seminal folk-rock band Steeleye Span in England in 1989 and a few months later, performing fusion jazz with Bill Bruford’s Earthworks in Germany. A breathtakingly talented fellow, Tim has also toured and recorded extensively with British/Georgian pop star Katie Melua and with folk icon June Tabor and been in the orchestras in popular West End musicals. What a privilege to have him on Better Times.

Tom Kimber, mandolin

We wanted a special mandolin player for this project and spread the word among some key forces in the British folk scene. It was Sam Sweeney who wrote immediately, saying that we should contact Tom Kimber (“I could give you heaps of names,” he said, “but you shouldn’t contact anyone else.”). We followed Sam’s advice and Tom came all the way to Wales from far-distant Newcastle. And he left us awestruck with his virtuosity. Tom’s superb musicianship is one thing, of course, but he really is one of the good guys. It almost seems unfair.

Simon Keegan-Phipps, keyboards, squeezeboxes, guitar, mandola

Simon Keegan-Phipps can add the right musical color to any piece of music. On Better Times, he contributed keyboards, accordion, concertina, guitars and mandola. And did we mention that Simon also has a day job? He’s a professor of ethnomusicology at the University of Sheffield. Simon is essentially a (reluctant?) member of the Taradiddle extended family and we look forward to including him in some of our live shows. Stay tuned!

John Doyle, guitar and bouzouki

Asheville, North Carolina-based Irish musician John Doyle has shared his guitar and bouzouki virtuosity with a number of artists. He’s worked with leading figures in Irish and Celtic folk including Liz Carroll, Karan Casey, Solas, Mary Black and the trio of McCusker, McGoldrick and Doyle. He was also music director for Joan Baez and guitarist for Mary Chapin Carpenter, and that’s just a start. John has long been a regular in the hugely popular Transatlantic Sessions band on TV and in concerts. His busy touring schedule meant that he couldn’t join us in Wales so . . . we flew in his parts from North Carolina.

Sam Sweeney, violin

Sam is one of Britain’s most admired folk musicians. The violinist has been nominated four times as Musician of the Year at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards (he won in 2015) and along with an impressive solo career, is a veteran of folk big-band Bellowhead and founding member of Leveret. He took time off from touring his much-heralded Escape That album to support us on Franz’s “Benediction Song”. Always a treat to welcome this true folk hero in the studio.

Bruce Bouton, pedal steel guitar

Based in Nashville, Bruce has distinguished himself with his recordings and performances with Ricky Skaggs, Reba McIntyre, Garth Brooks, Shania Twain and countless others (we tried to count them). He has also hosted a fabulous online radio program, The Side Men, which features his interviews with his fellow superstar studio musicians ( ). Bruce’s contributions on “Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key” and “Better Times Will Come” pull us gently away from traditional folk instrumentation but . . . they perfectly support the songs.

Martin Levan, producer and engineer

Martin Levan’s list of production and sound design credits is longer than the longest arm. His studio highlights feature rock, jazz and folk legends, but also include the Andrew Lloyd Webber stage musicals worldwide. He is Red Kite Studio ( ), a recording institution for which running out of superlatives is pretty well a dead-cert, quite apart from being situated in the stunning countryside of Central Wales. It is his superb expertise on every level that has made Better Times an album we are unashamedly proud of.

Karen Levan, artwork

Karen is not only an amazing hostess and top of the range cook, whose expertise in culinary matters rounded off the great time we had recording Better Times, she is also an extraordinarily gifted artist. The painting, “My Wire and Wood”, caught our eye right from the get-go; we felt that it captured the spirit of our album as if it had been specially commissioned for it, embodying everything we hold dear, music, nature, the warmth of the sun and a spirit of positivity. And what makes this even more poignant: Karen is visually impaired, but her art would never hint at this for an instant. We were thrilled when she allowed us to use her work for the cover. Learn more about her art at

John Cable, album cover concept and design

Apart from being an all-round good guy and close friend, John has been a designer for longer than he cares to be reminded of. His concept appealed to us right from the start, but he was endlessly patient with all our suggestions and queries, until at the end we went with his ideas as they were so much cooler than what we had toyed with. Apart from his work in design, John is a highly respected Americana musician, who has played with the greats, including the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and the String Wizards with fellow NGDB alum, founding member John McEuen. He has several albums to his credit, all a superb testimony to his abilities as a songwriter.

Alex Batten, band whisperer, problem solver and life saver

And we would also like to acknowledge Alex Batten, Red Kite Studio’s go-to guy for any needs the musicians, guests and producers might have. His genuine warmth, his creative beverages, his delicious food, and his Canadian accent made him an essential part of the Better Times recording and we are grateful for his contributions, which are too numerous (or strange) to list here.

Again . . .

Thanks to the entire Taradiddle extended family. We’re proud of Better Times and incredibly grateful for the artistic collaborations that made it possible.