STICK IN THE WHEEL – Follow Them True (From Here)

Follow Them TrueLet me start by confessing that I never quite took to their hugely acclaimed 2015 debut, but the arrival of their English Folk Field Recordings collaborative project prompted a reassessment and, with the arrival of their own second album, I’ve become a decided convert.

I won’t bother going over the usual stuff regarding their no-nonsense raw and unvarnished approach to folk, whether it be traditional numbers or their own, or singer Nicola Kearey’s abrasive in your face East End vocals, both of which firmly set them apart from their peers, rather let’s address what they’ve done with it this time around, introducing new electronic sounds but still balancing familiar and more obscure traditional numbers with self-penned material focused around those on the peripheries of society, rituals, the way the past repeats itself and the power to change ourselves and the world in which we live.

That idea of breaking free of the cycle underpins the album’s uncompromising, forceful opening stomp ‘Over Again’, Simon Foote’s thumping bass drum beat underpinning Ian Carter’s urgent circling resonator guitar riff as Kearey raises blisters on the la la la la chorus. The first of the traditional numbers comes with the ‘Weaving Song’, a Scottish ballad celebrating the weaver’s craftsmanship taken, on acoustic guitar and Ellie Wilson’s fiddle, at a similarly jaunty pace as when Sandra Kerr (mother of Nancy) and John Faulkner performed it on Bagpuss back in 1974.

Alternating sources again, built on a slow, stately melody, Kearey’s echoey vocals accompanied by deep and heady accordion drone and violin, ‘Witch Bottle’ is an original number that takes its title from a 17th century ritual about stoneware containers used to ward off spells, which, in turn, heralds the clumping, breathless pace of the recorder and fiddle lashed ‘White Copper Alley’, a 19th century account of a woman who, driven to prostitution, steals one of her clients’ watch and wallet to buy medicine for her sick son, the track coming to strikingly abrupt halt on the word “dead”.

Taken at a slow, almost funereal march and heavily electronic with Fran Foote’s accordion drone, the haunting title track ballad follows, making effective use of Autotune on Kearey’s voice even if it does slightly obscure the lyrics, which, in the line about “when the hour is come”, seem to be about death. The vocals are again treated on ‘100,000 Years’ to give them a distant, echoey feel in keeping with the brooding sonic aura engendered by the handclap percussion and the unsettling swirls of guitar, drone, violin, keys and recorder.

As any good folkie knows, the ‘Abbots Bromley Horn Dance’ is a traditional dance tune, one of the oldest known, a jig that gradually builds in tempo and here given a fairly straightforward treatment, although the fiddle-led galumphing and whistle does remind me of Stackridge.

Like the album opener, the traditional highwayman song ‘Roving Blade’ is another urgent rhythm driven by Carter’s nervy riffs and Kearey’s forceful delivery, but then the ambience changes dramatically for what is possibly the album’s most striking number. Although the title and idea are similar, ‘Unquiet Grave’ is not the much-covered traditional song but a band original sung, essentially about remembering the buried past, unaccompanied as Kearey takes on the voice of a corpse unable to rest because of the feet trampling the earth above them, unable to move and wasting away “day by sorry day”. It is, quite, simply, one of the most chilling songs I’ve ever heard.

It’s back to tradition, in form and inspiration if not actuality, for the story-song ‘Blind Beggar Of Bethnal Green’, an acoustic waltzing number (the title part referencing the famous East End pub where Ronnie Kray murdered George Cornell) retelling the legend of how Simon de Montford, a local knight, was blinded in a battle and subsequently became a beggar until found and taken in by a noblewoman, whom he married and with whom he had a daughter, Besse.

The last of the original numbers, ‘Red Carnation’, a sparse reverb and emotion-soaked song of farewell, is sandwiched between two traditional tunes. The first, the call and response shanty ‘Poor Old Horse’ is sung a cappella, Kearey providing the verses and everyone joining rowdily in for the chorus response, the album ending on an electronic fog of pulsing synth and claps like firewood crackles enshrouding the distant ghostly vocals as they dismantle ‘As I Roved Out’ and recraft it for a post-apocalypse folk vision. In speaking of the idea behind the album Kearey talks about thematically focusing on “English stuff”, because it’s weird, dark, surprising, unashamedly odd and has a personality of its own. She could equally be describing the band.

Mike Davies

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Artists’ website: www.stickinthewheel.com

‘As I Roved Out’ – official video:

Laura Smyth And Ted Kemp – new album

Laura Smyth And Ted Kemp

The song that gives the album its name is also its first. And, unaccompanied with seamless harmonies, it’s a portent to what lies ahead. Laura Smyth and Ted Kemp’s voices are clear and well matched, a vigorous call to arms to the poacher’s lot.

Lead track, ‘Alizon Device’, is an original composition, a ballad that explores her condemnation during the Pendle witch trials. With one of the most singable choruses on the album, we wonder if Laura’s refrain: “where the sweet heather blooms all the day” is actually the composer’s homage to her own home region.

Though instrumentation across the album is wide and varied, arrangements are sensitive and spare. ‘There Is A Tavern’ sees yearning vocals backed by simple, mournful banjo, while ‘Here’s Adieu To All Judges And Juries’ builds gently, cello joined by guitar. Then, before we realise, they’re gone.

Though Laura and Ted favour the lesser known, and often from their native regions of the North West and East Anglia, there are popular choices here, too – but their thoughtful approaches mean that the listener is offered something new. In ‘Wild Rover’, Ted Kemp sings with such remorse that we feel we cannot join in, but let him continue in his catharsis. ‘Cecilia’ is rousing and triumphant, recounted by an omniscient narrator.

And, as to expected from two librarians, one of whom is also Director of the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, liner notes are comprehensive, with song choices fully explained: the version selected, the additions and deletions made.

Recorded, mixed, and mastered by Ian Carter of Stick In The Wheel, a band known for their straight-up approach to tradition, The Poacher’s Fate is a record that will strike the listener for its passionate connection with the source material and its robust, full-blooded approach.

Artists’ website: www.lauraandted.co.uk

‘The Poacher’s Fate’ – live:

VARIOUS – From Here: English Folk Field Recordings (From Here Sitw005)

From HereThey may be newcomers to the scene, but Stick In The Wheel are certainly making their mark, not just with their own recordings and associated artifacts, but in their involvement with the folk world in general, and the traditional in particular.

Band members Ian Carter and Nicola Kearey serve as curators, collaborators and producers for this collection of new live recordings by both the great and good and some of the lesser known luminaries in the genre. The remit for those involved was to record songs that explored either place or their musical identity, culminating in a gathering of field recordings captured in locations as diverse as a stone cottage in Edale, a bank vault and a garden at Robin Hood’s Bay using just two stereo microphones and with no subsequent overdubs.

As you would imagine, the tracks are stark and raw, first up being ‘Bedfordshire May Carol’, chosen by performer Jack Sharp, leader of psych-folk outfit Wolf People, as it supposedly originated just a few miles from where he grew up. Next up, Eliza Carthy leads a flurry of more familiar names with a self-penned number, ‘The Sea’, a new setting of the broadside ballad found in Manchester’s Chetham Library and featuring on her current album, the initial pizzicato fiddle giving way to more robust playing. She’s followed by one of the veterans of English folk, John Kirkpatrick, applying his accordion to a song from his lengthy repertoire and a folk club staple ‘Here’s Adieu To Old England’, while his sometimes musical partner, Martin Carthy, also chose a number he’s recently reintroduced back into his sets, ‘The Bedmaking’, a familiar tale of the abused and cast aside servant girl. fingerpicked here to a halting rhythm.

Sandwiched in-between is one of the rising stars of the few folk firmament, the Peak District’s Bella Hardy, who went to 19th century collection The Ballads and Songs of Derbyshire for ‘The Ballad of Hugh Stenson’, setting it to a more upbeat tune than the hymnal adapted by Jon Tams, while, another member of folk royalty, Jon Boden puts his squeezebox to work on a contemplative take on 19th century drinking song ‘Fathom The Bowl’.

There’s a couple of spokes from the Wheel, both unaccompanied, Kearey delivering glottal version of the much covered ‘Georgie’ and Fran Foote ‘The Irish Girl’. They’re not the only numbers to be sung naked as it were. BritFolk alumnus Lisa Knapp has a lovely treatment of the tumblingly melodious ‘Lavender Song’, while, also from the female side, Fay Hield tips the hat to Annie Briggs with her choice of ‘Bonny Boy’.

On the other side of a capella gender fence, Geordie folkie Stew Simpson mines his Newcastle roots for ‘Eh Aww Ah Cud Hew’ (which the accompanying booklet helpfully translates as “Oh Yes, I Could Pick At The Coals”), Sam Lee turns the evergreen ‘Wild Rover’ on its head to transform it into a slow, sad lament rather than more familiar rollicking rouser of Dubliners and Pogues note, and, from Wales, a deep-voiced Men Diamler closes the album with ‘1848 (Sunset Beauregard)’, a self-penned political protest ballad about Tory policies. The remaining unaccompanied track is actually a duet, Peta Webb and Ken Hall joining voices for an Irish in London in the 50s marriage of Ewan MacColl’s ‘Just A Note’, about the building of the M1, and Bob Davenport’s account of the dangers of ‘Wild Wild Whiskey’.

The three remaining tracks are all instrumentals. Bristol’s acoustic instrumental quartet Spiro are the only band on the collection and provide their self-penned ‘Lost In Fishponds’, apparently about getting lost en route to a gig, joined here by North Wales violinist Madame Česki, while Sam Sweeney brings his fiddle to bear on two tunes. ‘Bagpipers’, one of the first things he played with his band Leveret, and ‘Mount Hills’, an English dance tune from the 17th century. Which leaves Cumbrian concertina maestro Rob Harbron to provide the third with a pairing of ‘Young Collins’, a Costwolds’ tune learned from Alistair Anderson, and, another from the Morris tradition, ‘Getting Up The Stairs’, which, by way of a pleasing synchronicity, he actually learned by way of John Kirkpatrick on the influential Morris On album.

It more than does the job it set out to achieve, and, likely to loom large in end of year awards, fully warrants a place in any traditional folk fan’s collection.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of an album (in CD or Vinyl format), download one 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.

Artists’ website: www.stickinthewheel.com

Stew Simpson – ‘Eh Aww Ah Cud Hew’: