ANGE HARDY – Bring Back Home (Story Records STREC 1701)

Bring Back HomeAnge Hardy’s new album Bring Back Home was released on November 28th. For the past few years, she has had nominations and awards a-plenty, both for her music and most recently her radio programme, Folk Findings.

If you’ve not come across Ange Hardy before (I was surprised recently to find an acoustic music promoter who hadn’t) Bring Back Home is her sixth album and her music is in the English folk tradition. Except, of course, she’s not predominantly a singer of traditional English folk songs. On this album only two of the fourteen songs (‘Claudy Banks’ and a lovely version of ‘Waters of Tyne’) are traditional. The remainder are written by Hardy. Lyrically, musically and through the arrangements, though, they are at the heart of the tradition.

Have a listen to ‘What It Is’ for Hardy’s recognition that in chasing awards, “I’d missed the point of music! Life is far, far too short to chase goals without enjoying the journey”. The track has a beautifully poised vocal on a song that, until I read the sleeve notes, I heard as a generic lyric about life rather than the specific meaning for a writer who has now come to understand that the clubs, singers and audiences, not the awards, are “the beating heart of folk”.

Hardy’s voice absorbs the listener. On ‘Sisters Three’ the different phrasings draw you in to a folk tale about the development of good and evil in the heart of mankind, whereas on ‘Chase The Devil Down’ the vocal dances with the guitar throughout the track. On ‘The Hunter, The Prey’ her voice breathlessly pulls us into the magical world of the song, but on ‘Once I Was A Rose’ it is more acapella and more delicate. I had the CD in the car last week and my passenger, a trained singer, described the voice as “fine”. Her meaning was not, as I would use the word to mean, ‘better than good’ (though it is); she meant it in the way a maker would use the word in describing fine needlework, fine silverwork et al – deft, delicate, precise (as well as rather good).

Ange Hardy arranged and produced the album and the arrangements bring in musicians (Peter Knight, Lukas Drinkwater, Evan Carson, Alex Cumming, Jon Dyer and Lee Cuff) who enrich the songs and centre them in folk music. Similarly, the lyrics generally deal with universal themes, set in the “fictional landscape that seems to permeate many of my songs. Willow trees and streams…dense woodlands….A sense of magic and mystery surrounding complex characters; each on their own journey” [sleeve notes]. This, too, is very much a traditional folk landscape.

I’m writing this in the first week of December. As a result, I’m particularly struck by ‘What May You Do For The JAM’. When the Prime Minister expressed her concern for those who were just managing, civil servants acronymed them into the JAM. The song knows people in this world and, as well as knowing the fear of failing, has detail, “The turkey alone would be more than our savings” humanity, “And so I play Mum…..I carry on making a home full of Christmassy cheer”, and positivity, “My point is the only rock left here to build on is that of a world which has hope”. It’s as far as you can get from an acronym. Watch the video below and you’ll hear that it’s a good song as well as one which makes a human and political point. It might be too late, but if you fancy the idea, there are under three weeks to get a folk song to Number One for Christmas.

In the next couple of months there are gigs and radio shows that will help take Bring Back Home to a wider audience. That’s good, it’s a fine album.

Mike Wistow

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website.

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artist’s website: https://www.angehardy.com

‘What May You Do For The JAM?”:

THE TEACUPS –Of Labour And Love (Haystack HAYCD008)

THE TEACUPS –Of Labour And LoveUsually associated with the older generation of traditional folk singers, unaccompanied singing is making something of a comeback, not just with the occasional a capella number on an album or in the live set, but rather as a full-fledged style of performance. The recent success of The Young’Uns in the BBC Folk Awards is cited as evidence of the revival’s gathering strength, but unaccompanied harmony singing is only part of the trio’s approach, with some material employing guitar and accordion. However, formed while studying for a BMus Folk & Traditional Music Degree at Newcastle University, this quartet, Kate Locksley, Rosie Calvert, Alex Cumming and Will Finn, are strictly no instruments, relying only on their voices, both independently and interwoven.

All but two of the songs are traditional, three of which will be very familiar in folk circles, ‘My Son John’, a tale of being made legless by a cannonball, ‘Ye Mariners All’ with its handclap percussion (it’s interesting to note how many unaccompanied ballads have nautical themes) and, Locksley singing the verses with the others adding harmony on the choruses, ‘The Drowned Lovers’, learned from Kathryn Roberts, but with an added extra verse found in the Bodleian. The number itself comes from Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould’s collection, Songs Of The West, as does the album opener, ‘The Bellringing’, the sprightly tale of a Devon bellringing contest (the men of North Looe emerge victorious), Cumming taking lead with the harmonies emulating the cadence of the bells.

Moving from the West Country to the North East, ‘The Rapper Set’ has nothing do to with hip hop but refers to a folk dance involving short swords and fast stepping in hard-soled shoes and comprises the introductory ‘Calling On Song’ and two traditional tunes, ‘Drummond Castle’ and ‘Seven Stars’, with Finn providing the stepping and Calvert, who also arranged, doing the exhausting heavy lifting on the scat sung ‘lyrics’.

The group travel even further afield for ‘Sugar In The Hold’, a New Orleans cargo loading worksong set aboard the J.M.White steamboat from Mississippi, complete with a hearty ‘huah’ grunt from the guys. Then it’s back home for the last two of the traditional tunes, first up being much reworked and well-travelled sombre murder ballad ‘Oxford City’, deep voiced Calvert initially singing solo before first Locksley joins in on harmony. This is followed by my personal favourite, ‘Labouring Man’ (on which their voices are augmented by those of Gavin Davenport, Roberts & Gilmore, Stu Hanna, and Cliff Ward and Jade Rhiannon from The Willows), a song in praise of the English working man taken from 1890’s ‘Wiltshire Folk Songs and Carols’ collected by Rev. G. Hills (though I suspect a couple of lines are from the version collected by Folk-Song Society founder Lucy Broadwood from a Mr Sparks of Dunfold in 1896), the verse “In former days, you all do know, a poor man cheerful used to go…and for his labours it was said, a fair day’s wages he was paid, but now to live he hardly can, may God protect the labouring man”, revealing that little has changed in Conservative government policies between then and now.

The final two numbers are more contemporary, though Locksley’s ‘The Antiguan Graveyard’ could easily pass for traditional, the tune inspired by the jig ‘Coleraine’ and the stark lyrics by a documentary about a graveyard of British sailors forced to travel to the island to protect the sugar plantations during the 18th century. The album closes, appropriately enough, with the elegiac parting glass themed ‘Journey’s End’, a glorious four part harmony reading of a poem by Judy B. Goodenough set to music by Tommy Makem.

They say in the sleeve notes that they chose it partly “to symbolise the closing of an important chapter of our lives, individually and collectively, and the beginning of a new one.” On the evidence here, you’d be a mug not to part of it.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the banner link below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artists’ website: http://www.theteacups.co.uk/

‘Sugar In The Hold’ live: