I wasn’t sure what to expect from my first hearing of Harp And A Monkey. Their publicity material is entirely accurate but the bare facts fail to paint a true picture of the band. All Life Is Here is their second album.
Coming from Manchester they have the down-to-earth quality that I’ve missed since I came down south. Martin Purdy’s voice immediately transported me back forty-odd years and two hundred miles north and their heavily rewritten traditional songs welcomed me back. But it’s not just nostalgia. ‘Molecatcher’, for example, isn’t the exercise in single entendre that it became in the folk clubs. Glockenspiel gives the song a new lightness and the band’s new chorus and bridge, coupled with the omission of the defiant penultimate verse, make this a story of regret.
Harp And A Monkey always intend their songs to be stories and the opener, ‘Walking In The Footsteps Of Giants’, links the Kinder Trespass with memories of Spanish Civil War volunteers from Lancashire – I think you have to be from Manchester to find that connection – and ‘The Gallipoli Oak’ is a true story of a pilgrimage to plant an English oak tree in a Dardanelles cemetery. In contrast to these grand ideas are the songs of daily life like ‘Doolally Day Out’ and ‘Tupperware And Tinfoil’ – no, I can’t really explain any further.
The band’s minimalist arrangements decorated with odd combinations of instruments are the final ingredient. Harp (of course), melodica, viola and banjo combine with the glockenspiel and programming of the strange noises to give them an immediately recognisable sound. I can enthusiastically recommend this album.
Artists’ website: http://www.harpandamonkey.com