A Folking Great Community

Last Year's Joke

Completed last year but delayed by Covid, Johnny Black and Emma Scarr return, joined by Steve Bottcher, with Last Year’s Joke, another album of wry and largely playful songs centred around middle-age malaise, again with Scarr mostly singing lead and rooted in their cocktail of East London country and folk with its McColl and Costello shadings, but pushing the musical moods into some new areas too.

Cases in point would be the thematically self-descriptive ‘I Had Too Much To Drink Last Night’ on which Scarr relates her morning after blues to a lurching mazurka that recalls 90s post punk outfit The Ukrainians, while, again sung by Scarr, the I’m getting too old for all this ‘Knock It On The Head’ has a decided Latin flavoured rhythm to its blues and fiddle scraping.

Black opens the album with one of his working man clock watching blues numbers, ‘Work My Fingers To The Bone’, Scarr taking over  with the familiar harmonica and strummed Celtic pub folk sway of ‘80s Blues’, a song recalling Maggie T, the miners’ strike, yuppies and her feeling a teenage misfit, nagged by her mother to fix her hair (“got myself a shaggy perm”) and trying fit in by listening to Duran Duran and going to Bananarama gigs, feeling “as miserable as sin”  before the epiphany of discovering “Guy Clarke, Nanci and Emmylou    Steve Earle and Townes Van Zandt”.

The same swayalong musical backdrop carries along the duet ‘I Feel So Lonely’, a fiddle-accompanied lament about getting older, losing your mojo and relationships falling away, a theme that, Scarr on lead and featuring harmonica and twanged guitar,  resurfaces with the poignant Leytonstone-set ‘Loneliness Is The Famine Of The Western World’ with its sketch of a woman who “Every Sunday without fail you see her at the car boot sale, rummaging for plants and pots in a frock she got from the charity shop… watches box sets until bed enjoys a glass or two of red”.

Another slow waltzer, the five minute plus title track (which also featured on her solo album Scarred For Life) has Scarr ruefully capturing  the emptiness of life and love turned stale where, when you’re tired and old, feeling happy one day warrants a note in the diary, Growing old and losing a sense of purpose is also at the heart of  the bluesy loping ‘The Shed’, the titular building to where the couple could retreat and be close to each other still unfinished after ten years, while the duetted ‘Old And Grey’ is basically Black’s version of ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’.

Given a harmonica wailing, punk-folk steady march beat, there’s another dysfunctional domestic relationship as Black observes ‘My Next Door Neighbour’, a couple who are always “messing with each other’s head”, quite possibly the only song to feature the word conniption.

As mentioned, Last Year’s Joke came about during the pandemic and social isolation, so naturally the jaunty, jogging, mandolin and fiddle sprinkled blues ‘Bubble’ is a product of that with its refrain of “if you like me, you can Skype me”, as indeed is the bonus track closer, ‘Praying That The Lock Down Never Ends’, with its dread of having to return to a life of clocking in, soulless concrete towers, overcrowded tubes and traffic queues. Given the lifting of restrictions, it is of course a touch dated now. Unless you’re civil servant.

Mike Davies



Drunken Generation
18 Til I Die

Quintessential British Country-Folk For and About Grown Ups.

Q. What do you get when you cross an Essex Folk Singer with a big North Easterner bloke who loves Americana music?
A. Black*Scarr which is basically Emma Scarr, Folk Singer from the East London/Essex borderland and Johnny Black a bonafide Geordie Bloke (like me!) but has lived and plied his trade in the South for a long, long time; plus their mates who sometimes turn out as The Per$ecuted, whose album we reviewed many moons ago.

Here on their second album the duo (band?) squash all of their record collections into a blender and come out with a glorious hybrid of Americana, Country and Folk songs about being Middle Aged in 21st Century England.
I may have to come back to opening track Drunken Generation later; because it’s a song that I’ve found myself mumbling snippets of at work; and the first time I played it punched the air and growled “At last!”

With a waltz like Country melody Emma sings about how embarrassed she is at being part of a generation that basically is afraid to grow up; still drinking to excess at home and in the pub, regardless of the consequences and what our/their children think about them. Thankfully I grew out of this social whirl over twenty years ago; but I still see friends and family who are old enough to know better drinking, smoking and tattooing themselves into an early grave.
Sadly; very much a song for our times.

On a similar theme Emma writes from the heart on One Day at a Time, with the opening line
” Six months on the wagon
It’s going very well
I’m sleeping much better
And I’ve lost that boozy smell.”

Can a song about alcoholism be sad, funny and beautiful? It appears so; and couple Ms. Scarr’s heartfelt lyrics to a jaunty Honky Tonk beat; this would be a Hit if the couple lived in East Nashville methinks.
“Write about what you know” is the advice most young writers receive and that’s what Emma Scarr does better than most of her peers; Pull Out The Plug is a rye look at our dependency on gadgets and the effect it’s having on relationships; sung by Johnny and Emma in the manner of an ultra-modern George and Tammy. What’s not to like?

Thank God For The NHS may not mean much to our friends in the Colonies; but if ever our beloved need an anthem, here’s a ready made one…… and you can dance to it as well.
Johnny Black’s love for Classic Country makes a couple of very welcome appearances with I Grieve For My Madness being a real toe tapper that will catch listeners by surprise when the band play this dark tale live, and on Roses are Red, that gorgeous Country Waltz melody returns on a cute song with a hilarious chorus.

I’ve said before how we over romanticise American cities and towns in song; but Black*Scarr try to do that same thing with their current abode, Springtime in Leytonstone; a charming fishing village on the River Thames….. or perhaps not; as Emma’s pithy words clearly spell out.

There are 14 songs here, which is quite a lot by modern standards, but I can’t think of any that deserve to be left out; and as I’ve pointed out some are very special indeed; with another couple that stand out like poppies in a cornfield.

Because of the title and the very personal subject matter Middle Aged Love, with a mandolin, accordion and jaunty guitar which actually reminds me of Victoria Wood in the way Emma and the lads play out the story with her tongue in her cheek was a very close contender for Favourite Track status; but no; I’m going left of centre with The Change, which is a song about a taboo subject and I can’t think of anyone this side of Loretta Lynn brave enough to write and sing about this subject; and do it with charm, finesse and a powerful punch to the ribs.
There’s a million reasons why Black*Scarr will never be famous and top the bill at Glastonbury; but they have talent in every pore and deserve a listen; especially if you are ‘of a certain age’ too.

Released March 1st 2019


Black *Scarr
18 Til I Die Records

Having released the second album with band project The Persecuted just a couple of months ago, East End-based singer-songwriter Johnny Black makes a swift return with Deluded, the fourth album alongside partner and fellow songsmith Emma Scarr. This time round, it’s Scarr taking the vocal spotlight on the majority of the tracks, kicking off with the harmonica-introed, pedal steel accompanied ‘Going Home’, a slow sway lament about a woman feeling a fish out of water after moving to the country and looking to return to the city.

As with all the material, it’s rooted in a mix of Americana and folk while ‘New Year’s Lament’, another dissatisfaction-themed number, is amore uptempo as, driven by scurrying percussion, mandolin and fiddle, with Darren Bundell on dobro, she sings about losing her job and her man, getting stick about her unruly kids, and the call to pack up and roam. Loping country waltzer ‘My Therapist Said’ is Black’s first lead, a tongue in cheek song about having to take responsibility for your life rather than blaming it on everyone else, but then it’s back to Scarr for ‘Dirty Coins’, a mandolin-led mid-tempo tale of two polar opposite sisters, a free spirit and one anchored to domesticity, each envious of the other, built around a melody and harmonica break with definite Dylan echoes.

‘Night Tube Home’ is one of Black’s playful but well-observed numbers, a skiffle-like account of the folk you meet travelling home on the tube, while striking an equally playful note, ‘Ticking Time Bomb’ is a mandolin and fiddle coloured socio-political list structured commentary with a catchy chorus line. Black also takes lead on ‘Carry Me Home’, a Slim Chance-like folk stomper about a woman’s journey home from shopping via a succession of bars and drinks with friends that has a more sobering point that may appear from its jauntiness. He also closes up the album in the London-Irish folksiness of ‘King of Rock n Roll’, a song about making a musical mark complete with a too rye oo rye ay refrain.

There’s only one duet this time round, ‘St, George’s Day’, a rather lovely and uplifting song about two ordinary, well-used, life-battered people meeting and fall in love, the remaining numbers all spotlighting Scarr. An alcohol companion piece to ‘Carry Me Home’ perhaps, ‘Another Beer ‘is a jogalong tale of a woman taking refuge from her insecurities and domestic drudgery in a glass or two with a fiddle line that vaguely echoes James’ ‘Sit Down’ chorus while, heading into honky tonk country ‘Can Of Worms’ is a cautionary tale of where boredom with your life can lead as it recounts an ill-advised adulterous affair and its consequences.

The remaining number, the harmonica and mandolin-accompanied ‘Mrs Average’, is another fine and poignant female perspective domestic drama about insecurity and unfulfilled promise, again mentioning booze and pills as a crutch as she sings how, faced with savage reality, “it’s time to let go of your dreams” and “embrace being normal my dear.”

The pair have built a solid reputation in and around their stomping ground, it would be nice to think that this album might finally provide a platform to allow them to travel a little further afield.

Mike Davies


Black *Scarr
18 Til I Die Records

It’s Folk Music Jim; But Not As You Know It! Urban Folkicana?

One of our ‘finds’ this year was London band The Persecuted and for once I’ve actually kept up an occasional correspondence with Johnny Black from said Beat Combo. As many musicians out there will appreciate Johnny has to keep a lot of plates spinning to make a living from his chosen profession; one of which is this duo with singer-songwriter Emma Scarr.
So far so good; and when he told me they had recorded an album I foolishly said “send me a copy” without thinking……and there was no going back when he uttered the dreaded F-Word……”It’s more Folk than our usual stuff.”
Well three weeks later I can tell you it’s now been on and off both the office and car stereo with satisfying regularity.

A soul stirring harmonica opens the album and first track Going Home which stars Emma on a heartfelt story of a young woman who has moved to the country for a better life but hankers for the bright lights and crazy traffic of the big city. It’s a simple yet clever story and song that will resonate with many people who return home after life at University or the like.
That harmonica returns with a vengeance on Dirty Coins; a song on many another album that would be ‘my favourite’. A wonderful tale of two women (sisters) who are polar opposites, with one tied down to a life of domesticity and the other a free spirit that flits around the world, but each is jealous of the others life and lifestyle. (PS it took a while but I know what that harmonica melody is a homage to!)

It breaks my heart to admit to liking a Folk album; but there is something very refreshing about a simple observation song like Night Tube Home, about a musician having to take said mode of transport at the end of the night .

(I remember Jason Ringenberg once cutting short an interview for that very reason!).

Thankfully there’s the occasional flash of pedal-steel to add extra Country spice to a couple of tracks with Emma’s pleading Mrs. Average being a stonker of a South London Honky-Tonker; and on Another Beer her deliberately ‘flat annunciation’ couldn’t be any more effective on a Country-Folk response to the Rolling Stones Mother’s Little Helper.
Johnny does take the lead a couple of times with King of Rock and Roll being a real Folk-Rocking foot-stomper and on My Therapist Said he touches nerves that I don’t want to discuss; but it’s a song many of  us could have written……but didn’t.
On an album chock full of Kitchen Sink dramas none are any sadder or more eloquent than Carry Me Home about a woman who ‘pops out for some shopping’ and several hours later after meeting several acquaintances asks and needs to be ‘carried home.’ Sad? Yes; but beautifully described and sung by Johnny Black.
My favourite song here though is Can of Worms, a tale of sexual infidelity and its heartbreaking consequences. The story and intimate details are pin sharp and coupled with Darren Buddell’s pedal-steel and Emma’s exquisite fiddle playing make this the type of song we would normally associate with Loretta or Patsy; not a couple of English Folk Rockers.
While Mr Black co-wrote all of the songs with Ms Scarr, she takes most of the heavy lifting in the lead vocal department, with Johnny only sneaking in a couple of times; and the world here is a better place for it as Emma has a gorgeously ‘lived in’ and occasionally ‘world weary’ quality on the songs that she inhabits like an Oscar winning actress.




Comprising Nuneaton-raised Geordie Johnny Black and Leytonstone's fiddle-playing Emma Scarr, the duo (augmented here by Henry Senior Jnr on pedal steel, Jerry Fellman on bass and Steve Bottcher's electric guitar) have established a solid name for themselves around East London, but they really deserve to be known on a far wider basis.

Both duetting and taking turns in the vocal spotlight, this is their third self-released album in under four years and again serve to reinforce comparisons to the pairing of MacGowan and MacColl filtered through Celtic shanty and honky tonk sensibilities. Continuing the theme of their last album, Middle Aged Love, it's stuffed with co-written songs about putting on the years and all that comes with it, the lyrics both playful and well observed.

Scarr kicks things off with the 'Prescription Junkie', an update of the Stones' 'Mother's Little Helper' before Black picks up the reins for the affection portrait of the jaunty 'My Dysfunctional Family', a musical equivalent to the Royle Family ("I know we're not perfect, but we're so full of love"). Alcohol and being attracted to unreliable men loom large, the former embodied in Scarr's banjo backed, fiddle-accompanied 'Falling Off The Wagon', where she sings about planning a night in and kicking sobriety into touch, and a sort of sequel, 'The Hangover' where he admonishes her for stewing in bed and she says that's where she's staying.

Sporting pub singalong Irish folk influences with its banjo and a leg-slapping percussion, the sprightly 'The Ballad of Eddie McLean' details falling for and being dumped by a self-serving, skirt-chasing wannabe Canning Town rock star ("though he done me wrong, at least I'm in his song"), a theme revisited on the shanty cabaret 'Wrong Kind of Men' and in the problems of the abandoned and divorced single mother in the pedal steel and harmonica coloured lament 'I've Got The Weight Of The World On My Shoulders'.

On the other hand, both sides of being commitment-phobic get paraded on the frisky old school country duet 'The Wedding Song', a playful account of neither party getting to the church on time.

But if the duet country waltzing 'I Always Knew You'd Leave Me In The End' (a perfect companion piece to the My Darling Clementine albums) offers a pessimistic view of love's inevitable collapse, the closing track, 'I've Never Seen Nothing Like You' balances things out with a swayalong ode to being mutually besotted.

Catchy, chorus friendly, easy on the ear and with lyrics that will strike a chord as well as raise a wry smile, these fairytales of East London are every bit as resonant as the one of New York.

Mike Davies


"I listened to my 2 new Black * Scarr CDs in one session. My immediate impression is that the music is remarkably original. It is an amazing mixture of country and British folk music without any attempt to sound American. They have produced authentic English country music in that the voices are clearly real English accents. My impression is that I was listening to someone chatting over a garden fence in England. Black * Scarr brought back images of people in England and situations I had known when I lived there. The lyrics and performances are uncannily real. It is not easy listening at times, but it's the first time I've come across anything in this style. The instrumentation is superb and complements the Englishness of the vocals and lyrics. I hope Black Scarr get the recognition they deserve for producing such remarkable material. I would certainly state that the two CDs are a revelation".



"Songs with humour and a fair helping of Grit thrown in for good measure, I can’t recommend them highly enough!!! / David Chamberlain



Black * Scarr  - Are a real treat - Emma laying her life out in her songs and Johnny keeping it real - The nearest thing you can get to "reality folk" that’s routed in human history. I overheard one comment from the audience to the effect that “no-one can say folk music is dead when someone's coming up with writing that's as contemporary and relevant as Emma's lyrics”. Oh, and Johnny does exceedingly good hats. ..... Another great night

Black Scarr is an East London duo, Black is Johnny Black, a Nuneaton-raised Geordie who, was once front man of now cult 80s Midlands pop outfit The Kidda Band and whose CV also includes work as an album sleeves model, newspaper columnist and 90s TV personality. He also has a website featuring his frequently satirical songs about a variety of media celebrities and wannabes.

The other half of the name is Leytonstone’s Emma Scarr who, raised on a diet of Steve Earle, Emmylou, Kristofferson, Fairport and The Dubliners shares Black’s musical affections and sounds a lot like a fiddle-playing (not to mention banjo, accordion and mandolin) Kirsty MacColl.

Sharing lead vocals and duetting, Middle Aged Love is their second album, their debut, North and South, having been released almost exactly two years ago and sporting vapour trails of The Pogues, Kitty Wells, Hank Williams and Elvis Costello. Musically, not a lot has changed though, as per the title, several songs tend to congregate around a theme of getting on a bit with all the wistful nostalgia that entails.

The lyrics are smart and witty, the catchy chorus title track bemoaning the problems of trying to have a relationship when your ex can’t afford to move out and he’s in therapy, the Levellers-ish folk Come Back 1969 a lament about the aches and pains that come when you’re past your prime, while the steel-keening country waltzing Stranger In the Bathroom will strike a chord with anyone who has a teenage son and The Seduction Song tells of a woman with a drunk for a husband and her accommodation of her gentleman caller.

Although numbers like The Internet Dating Song may be playful, there’s also a wealth of sharply poignant observations on the disappointments of life in the crushing loneliness of The Void, the trials of the everyday housewife in the swayalong Howling At The Moon, the jogging shanty Lester Piggott 10-1 recollections of having an inveterate gambler for a father and the woman finally calling to an end to her crash and burn life on the bluegrass and Celtic folk infuse Knock It On The Head.

There’s also pointed social comment to be found on the jaunty The Streets Are Paved With Gold (a sort of Cockney Woody Guthrie ballad), about how the new Depression has caused a family-fragmenting migration from the desperation and unemployment of the North to look for work in London, and, on a similar jobless theme, the self-explanatory titled Big Man Steps On The Little Man with a fine pedal steel solo courtesy of Henry Senior.

Lyrically, it must be said, it is a relentlessly downbeat affair, culminating in Trust Me To Fall In Love With You about a chalk and cheese, abusive relationship in which the woman, in love with her other half despite herself, chooses to remain rather than endure the pain of being alone. And yet, such is the exuberance of the music and the delivery that it’s impossible not to tap your feet and join in and sing along with the misery. If you ever wished there had been a whole album to go with Fairytale of New York, this is your perfect unhappy ever after.

Review by: Mike Davies FOLK RADIOUK


Love the gritty chemistry of Black*Scarr and their songs about the real world and middle-aged love.


Black Scarr and their killer insights on the human condition and masters of the kitchen sink drama.


London is often seen as not having much, if any country music scene, so its good news to know there are a couple of great songwriters in the Capitol producing superb songs on their great album "North & South" Black * Scarr straddle the line between traditional and modern country music with superb prominent instrumentation throughout their work / Allan Watkiss


Black Scarr versifies urban life better than most bands I have ever come across. They sing about the world through the domestic prism. Love, loss, the night, need, city dreams and desires. All expressed through their irony, wit and vocal harmonies. Together Johnny Black and Emma Scarr conjure beauty in its most raw and no bollocks sense. Check them out.


 The evening was brilliant and belonged to the talent, skill and entertainment that was provided by the marvellous Black * Scarr. They were truly on fire! Incredible songs performed with enthusiasm and musicianship and they were so entertaining too. It was a night to remember / Helen Chin


Our record of the week comes from a brand new East London duo, Black/ Scarr, their debut album "North & South" is destined to become a classic, sounds like a Nashville roots album with colourful East London lyrics with a sprinkle of coal dust from Johnny Blacks home country of England's North East. The coming together of Emma Scarr & Johnny results in ' North & South ' our record of the week. / Barry Everitt Marshall