Songs about cuckolded molecatchers, a lone English oak tree that grows at Gallipoli, care in the community and medieval pilgrims… we can only be talking about the folk experimentalists Harp and a Monkey.
The harp ‘n’ banjo driven electro-folk-storytelling of Martin Purdy (vocals, glockenspiel, accordion, harmonica and keyboards), Simon Jones (harp, guitar, viola) and Andy Smith (banjo, melodica, guitar and programming) is imbued with a deep Lancashire sensibility that shines through in their beautifully crafted and sometimes spooky vignettes of northern life, love and remembrance.
The outfit, who have been friends for more than 20 years, channel the ghosts of summers spent in municipal parks and winters walking on the moors. Ask them about their influences and they are as likely to cite Ordnance Survey maps and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as they are Bert Jansch, Bjork or Bellowhead.
Formed in 2008, Harp and a Monkey have been building up a loyal following via the old fashioned practice of relentless gigging and modern practice of social network sites.
Regulars on the northern festival circuit, in recent years they have expanded their live outreach across the country. The band are particularly proud of the fact that they have gained a strong reputation for building an excellent rapport with their live audiences and the fact that they have never played anywhere and not been invited back. Such is the strength of their reputation as a quality live act, they have twice been asked to perform at the Homegrown festival; the annual international showcase of the best of English folk music.
The trio’s melodic and hauntological storytelling, which is always underpinned by a firm commitment to classic songsmithery, has caught the attention and support of the likes of Steve Lamacq, Mark Radcliffe and Mike Harding on BBC Radio 2, Lopa Kothari and Nick Luscombe on BBC Radio 3, Folk Radio UK and many more international, national and regional broadcasters.
The band’s self-titled debut album received critical acclaim on its release in late 2011 and they collected excellent reviews for their contribution to the 2012 Weirdlore compilation which highlighted Britain’s most promising practitioners of alternative folk. Their second album, All Life Is Here, was released in April 2014 and again received outstanding reviews, with the likes of fRoots magazine describing them as “undoubtedly one of the most vital and charismatic things happening in English folk music right now”.
The band’s third album, War Stories, was released in July, 2016, as part of their ongoing project (part-sponsored by Arts Council England and The Western Front Association) to mark the centenary of the First World War. The band have been performing new material and re-worked traditional songs (which strive to challenge stereotypes of the conflict) in unusual venues related to the war on British shores. The album has received outstanding reviews, with the likes of The Observer describing it as “bold and brilliant”. Support from BBC Radio 2 has been substantive, including sessions and interviews with Clare Balding (Good Morning Sunday) and Mark Radcliffe (The Folk Show).
Artists’ website: http://www.harpandamonkey.com/
Was this really the band’s first gig? ‘Pay Day’ live: