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.
Formed in 2008, these harp and banjo driven electro-folk experimentalists have been building up a loyal following via the old fashioned practice of relentless gigging and modern practice of social network sites. The quality of their music and the vast range of influences, from lone English Oak trees in Gallipoli to Care In The Community, make them entertaining and memorable. Imbued with a deep Lancashire sensibility that shines through in their beautifully crafted and sometimes spooky vignettes of northern life, love and remembrance. 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.
Regulars on the northern folk circuit, in recent years they have expanded their live outreach across the country, helped massively by appearances on BBC Radio and rave reviews in the national and mainstream press. This year, they were awarded the accolade of Best Band 2016 by the highly respected folking.com website.
The band 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.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 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).
2017 has seen Harp And A Monkey involved in a unique project to remember World War 1 nurses, in particular Nellie Spindler, a nurse from Wakefield in Yorkshire. Martin Purdy, the band’s frontman and a WW1 historian, said: “Recent events to mark the centenary of the opening of the Third Battle of Ypres, or “Passchendaele”, have focused on the soldiers, but it would seem fitting today to spare a thought for the nursing staff, many of whom – like Nellie Spindler – were never too far from danger.”
The project culminated in the band writing and recording the beautiful and poignant ‘Clean White Sheets’ (The Nellie Spindler Song), inspired by the work of secondary school children from Nellie’s home town, who worked with Professor Christine Hallett (from Manchester University), to remember the sacrifices of their local heroine, who was only in her mid-twenties when she died
Nellie Spindler, a nurse from Wakefield in Yorkshire, was resting in her tent after a hard night-shift at the No.32 British Casualty Clearing Station in Brandhoek, Belgium, when a German shell fragment pierced the canvass, hit her and killed her.
The sacrifice of Nellie Spindler, and nurses in the First World War in general, has been the focus of a recent project involving the folk experimentalists and storytelling trio Harp and a Monkey – and they have released a video today (which you can view here) to mark the anniversary of Nellie’s death.
Martin Purdy, the band’s frontman and a WW1 historian, said: “Recent events to mark the centenary of the opening of the Third Battle of Ypres, or ‘Passchendaele’, have focused on the soldiers, but it would seem fitting today to spare a thought for the nursing staff, many of whom – like Nellie Spindler – were never too far from danger.”
Martin added: “The idea of ‘Clean White Sheets’ is based around the memoirs of the wounded, who would often judge how close they were to home – and safety – by how clean the sheets were. It just seemed like a very simple but evocative and powerful image.”
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Artists’ website: http://www.harpandamonkey.com/
‘Clean White Sheets’ – official video: