MARRY WATERSON & DAVID A. JAYCOCK – Death Had Quicker Wings Than Love (One Little Indian Records TPLP1419CDP)

Death Had Quicker Wings Than LoveMarry Waterson and David A. Jaycock release their second album as a duo, Death Had Quicker Wings Than Love, on the 29th of September 2017. Sadly, the promotional copy of the CD I received didn’t include information on who else played what, but I understand from Marry’s web site that contributors include singer/songwriter Kathryn Williams, Romeo Stodart (guitar on ‘Out Of Their Hearts’), violinist Emma Smith, and John Parish (percussion on ‘Small Ways And Slowly’). (Clearly there are other instrumental contributions, including piano, bass and electric guitar.) The record was exquisitely produced by Adrian Utley of Portishead.

  1. Unusually, ‘The Vain Jackdaw’, reinterpreting one of Aesop’s fables, starts with a simple but eerily archaic instrumental section and is followed by a purely unaccompanied vocal. The moral of the fable is “Hope not to succeed in borrowed plumes“, or as Marry’s song puts it “Fine feathers don’t make fine birds“: however, Marry’s singing of a subtly ambitious melody is successful on every level. If ‘unaccompanied’ suggests to you a simplistic rendering, prepare to be pleasantly surprised.
  2. ‘Lost (adjective)’ explores the feelings of darkness and loss that permeate the entire album. It has a more ‘modern’ feel to the instrumentation with its underlying guitar arpeggios.
  3. ‘Death Had Quicker Wings Than Love’ takes its inspiration from a maiden’s crown in St Stephen’s Old Church, Robin Hood’s Bay. A maiden’s garland or crown was traditionally displayed in a church as a funeral memento of females (usually) who died virgins. The title is said to derive from the words inscribed on the grave of Mary Woodson, who died on the way to her wedding in 1785. The song includes vocal and violin contributions from Kathryn Williams and Emma Smith.
  4. Talking about ‘Out Of Their Hearts’, Marry describes how “Once we had that [Romeo Stodart’s guitar part], David dampened down the guitar strings with crocodile clips which creates a fantastic atmosphere and then added a bass that wandered through the song like footsteps.” And very effective it is too.
  5. ‘Gunshot Lips’ has as harsh a lyric as you’d expect from the title, and a guitar arrangement that leans to the classical, augmented by
  6. ‘New Love Song’ includes harmony vocals (presumably from David?) around a simple lyric set off by atmospheric instrumental work.
  7. I had some difficulty in following the lyrics of ‘Three Of Them’ – I suppose it’s age thing – but it didn’t impair my enjoyment of the song. Still, I wish people who write lyrics this good would actually make them available with the CD.
  8. ‘On The Second Tide’ has a free-ranging modal melody that reminds me a little of Irish balladry tinged with singing techniques well to the East of these islands: I could almost imagine Sheila Chandra singing this, if only she was still able to perform.
  9. ‘Forgive Me’ is described as a ‘meditation upon the sadness of seeing your children leave home’: yep, been there, and the song certainly has resonance. It is, I suppose, closer than most of songs here to what you expect to hear from the singer-songwriter end of the folk spectrum.
  10. The arrangement of ‘Small Ways And Slowly’ even borders on folk-rock with its backing vocals and build-up towards electric guitar. Much as I love the preceding tracks, it will be interesting to see if Marry and David come up with more material in this idiom in the future.

I’ve seen this described as a ‘folk record’ and as ‘in an authentic folk style’. I can see where those descriptions come from, but I’m not sure they’re strictly accurate, any more than they are with reference to Lal and Mike Waterson’s Bright Phoebus, also cited in PR materials. (This is far from being a criticism – I’m no folk purist!) Though the songs include themes and tropes that echo the tradition, they have a poetic sensibility that could never be described as primitive or rough-hewn. The melodies often have a sinuous complexity that wouldn’t be out of place in an art song performance. The arrangements avoid flash and thunder, but they’re deceptively accomplished and always effective, with instrumentation that goes beyond the boundaries of the traditional acoustic session. At the same time, it’s hard to imagine an album like this being made by anyone in whom awareness and knowledge of the English tradition wasn’t deeply ingrained.

I guess you wouldn’t expect someone with the surname Waterson to release an unsatisfactory CD, but this is so much more than satisfactory. Marry’s singing has the quality you expect of the best revival singers: accomplished without sounding ‘over-trained’. David A. Jaycock not only provides equally accomplished (and unquestionably sympathetic) guitar accompaniment, but clearly plays a vital role in the transition of each song into arrangements that bring out in the best in the lyric, melody and performance. This may not be the most cheerful set of songs I’ve heard this year – well, cheerfulness in a song is overrated, in my opinion – but it’s certainly one of the very best.

David Harley

If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the Marry Waterson and David A Jaycock link 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.

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Artist’s website: marrywaterson.com

‘Death Had Quicker Wings Than Love’ – official video:

Marry Waterson and David A Jaycock – new single and album

Marry Waterson

Marry Waterson and David A. Jaycock have revealed the first single (and accompanying video) taken from their second album as a duo, the haunting folk lament ‘Small Ways And Slowly’. The pair are set to release the wonderful new album, Death Had Quicker Wings Than Love, via One Little Indian Records on 29th September.

Featuring a plethora of notable collaborations with the likes of celebrated singer-songwriter Kathryn Williams, Romeo Stodart (The Magic Numbers), Emma Smith (The Elysian Quartet), John Parish (PJ Harvey) and produced by Portishead’s Adrian Utley, the uniquely atmospheric, dark and haunting folk record focusses Waterson and Jaycock’s singular voice and sets them apart.

Of course, no-one needs to explain to Marry Waterson of the magic that happens when you keep the front door open. Bright Phoebus, the game-changing 1972 album, recorded by Lal and Mike Waterson, was recorded in just such a fashion. Consciously or otherwise, it seems that Marry and David ring-fenced something of that process and applied it to Death Had Quicker Wings Than Love. “We saw everyone as potential contributors. I remember on one of the final days we were recording ‘Small Ways And Slowly’ – John Parish popped in to borrow something and ended up laying down some percussion which totally lifted the song. It was such a kick to be able to hand over these songs and work with people who understood where they were coming from to such a degree, often on first hearing.”

Marry’s surprise is genuine, yet what you can hear time and time again isn’t the result of dumb luck. It’s a testament to a specific power that lies deep in the Waterson DNA. She opens her mouth to sing and you immediately pick out the details in the picture.

Death Had Quicker Wings Than Love follows in previous record Two Wolves’ authentic English folk style, similarly inspired by personal experience, but told through the form of historical fables. “Feeling lost is a common thread throughout the record,” explains Marry. It’s a feeling addressed most directly in Lost (adjective), a pensive study in the disorientation that remains when two souls are wrenched apart.

And working with Portishead’s Adrian Utley has freshened Waterson and Jaycock’s signature style; the record evidently treads new ground. Opening track, ‘The Vain Jackdaw’, was inspired by the classic Aesop Fables. “The inside cover of my tattered copy bears the lines ‘This Book Bilongs to Me. Address 160 Hull. 8 years old’, says Marry. The vocal was recorded outside on the rooftop, and left totally unaccompanied, apart from a haunting guitar intro. Utley wanted Marry to “sing into the air like a bird”.

Waterson made her recording debut on her mother Lal and aunt Norma Waterson’s A True Hearted Girl back in 1977 and later under the name The Waterdaughters. She also formed an occasional singing partnership with them and Eliza Carthy, appearing on numerous Watersons and Waterson / Carthy recordings to boot – but it wasn’t until two crucial shows in 2007 that the idea of making music herself really took hold.

That year Marry and brother Oliver Knight appeared with the Waterson family at a special Royal Albert Hall concert entitled A Mighty River of Song, and again later the same year at the BBC Electric Proms Concert Once in a Blue Moon: A Tribute to Lal Waterson in which they both played key roles as performers and curators.

Encouraged, in 2011 came the pair’s hugely acclaimed debut The Days That Shaped Me, which was nominated for a BBC Folk Award. That album, and it’s 2012 follow-up Hidden (again as Marry Waterson & Oliver Knight) showcased Marry’s highly original and distinctly English performance style – style that owes much to the folk tradition. Marry went on to team up with David A Jaycock for third album Two Wolves in 2015, which was released to fantastic critical praise. Having previously worked with Neill MacColl and Kate St. John on several projects including Hal Willner’s Rogue’s Gallery at Sydney Opera House and the Bright Phoebus tour, the pair were the obvious choice to produce the record.

Waterson has since been busy with a reissue of Bright Phoebus, Lal and Mike Waterson’s 1972 folk-noir masterpiece. Featuring performances from Lal, Mike and Norma Waterson, Martin Carthy, Richard Thompson, Ashley Hutchings, Dave Mattacks, Tim Hart and Maddy Prior, amongst others, the album is now recognised as a forward-thinking benchmark for the genre, and will be released by Domino Records in August.

If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the Marry Waterson and David A Jaycock link 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.

ORDER – [CD]

ORDER – [VINYL]

Artists’ website: http://marrywaterson.com/

‘Small Ways And Slowly’ – official video:

KATHRYN WILLIAMS – Hypoxia (One Little Indian/Caw TPLP1263CD)

HypoxiaAs anyone who has read her poetry will know, Sylvia Plath was not someone to whom you would turn for light, uplifting escapism. Suffering from clinical depression for most of her life, less than a year after separating from husband and fellow poet Ted Hughes, following his adultery, Plath stuck her head in an oven and committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning. A month prior to this, she had published her only novel, under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas (it would not be credited to Plath for a further four years), The Bell Jar, a semi-autobiographical work about one Esther Greenwood, dealing with themes of female social identity, oppressive patriarchy, mental illness and suicide, which has become regarded as a classic of modern literature.

In 2013, New Writing North commissioned Williams to write something about Plath for the Durham Book Festival’s celebrations marking the novel’s 50th anniversary. Her re-reading the book, led to the performance of five songs at Durham Town Hall last October in company with writer and Plath biographer Andrew Wilson. However, that was not to be the end of it. Finding herself caught up with the characters, Williams continued to explore them in song, culminating in a further three numbers. Taking all eight into the studio with friend, producer and engineer Ed Harcourt (who also provides harmonies), she emerged with this album, its title referring (clearly metaphorically) to an insufficient supply of oxygen supply, a ninth song, ‘Cuckoo’, adding itself to the total courtesy of a Harcourt collaboration.

As you might imagine, it’s not an easy listen, the imagery frequently dark, the music, largely encompassing (sometimes treated) acoustic and electric guitars, bass and piano with atmospheric use of sound effects, often as spare and edgy as it is melodic.

The woozy, shimmering opening track, ‘Electric’, is a deceptively pretty, sweetly sung number that actually alludes to ECT, an electroconvulsive therapy used to shock patients out of depressive states. Things then shift into musically experimental territory with the bluesy trip-hop ‘Mirrors’, shuffling, percussive scratchy loops providing a backdrop to brief forays of heavy piano and fractured guitars, Williams’ vocal looping reflecting the thematic idea of Esther’s identity beginning to fragment.

The tension coils in the cobwebby feel of the spooked, pulsingly minimalist ‘Battleships’, a reference to the classic grid guessing game where you seek to destroy your opponent’s fleet, the lyrics talking of the ticking time bomb of the mind and featuring the striking line about how a poem “stuck like sick in my throat”.

Written from the perspective of Esther’s emotionally wounded mother, ‘Cuckoo’ is a dreamy, keyboards-based number that speaks of how she feels her unconditional love has been taken for granted (“when you got hurt you ran to your dad, you were never someone I felt I had”), that she no longer truly knows her child (“I couldn’t pick you out in a crowd”) and how she thinks she will be held responsible for Esther’s illness “my little girl’s gone mad and who will they blame but me?”).

The delicately sung ‘Beating Heart’, brushed by hushed guitar and distant piano and with the repeated refrain of “I am, I am, I am, I am”, introduces themes of suicide as Esther recalls how her attempts to kill herself have been confounded by her body’s determination to survive. The brooding ‘Tango With Marco’ is a specific reference to a key incident in the novel, where Esther’s blind date with the misogynistic Marco culminates in attempted rape (“if I shout out in pain, you’d call it a good fuck” whispers Williams), the experience evoked by the contrast between romantic Spanish guitar and the jittery percussion.

Heading into the final stretch, the bass underpinned ‘When Nothing Meant Less’ is a sparsely arranged poignant confessional, resigned reflection on two lives that, one measured against each other, have gone separate but similar ways, both experiencing mental collapse and suicide attempts (“I read about the time you took some pills, you balanced on a ledge”) , the protagonist noting how “when you thought I was strong, I always knew you were wrong. I always balanced on the edge.” However, unlike Esther, the friend appears to have overcome her problems, as she sings “I don’t even know how your story ends, ‘cos you turned a corner and I stayed on the bend.”

The album’s only uptempo track, with its soaring vocals ‘The Mind Has Its Own Place’ is a piano-led, brushed drums carnival waltzing call to sisterhood arms to rise above sexism and the expectations and demands of patriarchal society, even if only by retreating into your own mind and self.   Carrying over that note and shifting musical ground, the album comes to a beautiful, reflective and cathartic close, with the country-flavoured dreamily waltz ‘Part Of Us’, Williams softly crooning that “you don’t have to be alone, misunderstood, ‘cos I read a book last night and I felt loved, loneliness was never a part of us.” Whether you’ve read The Bell Jar or not, these sentiments and the album as a whole are ones with which it is easy to identify and, after all the darkness, bring you out into the light. “If you’re gonna tell a story, then make it good”, sings Williams. She has, and then some.

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.

Artist’s website: http://kathrynwilliams.co.uk/

Official album sampler:

New Video from Lisa Knapp + BBC Folk Awards

Lisa Knapp Hidden Seam

Lisa Knapp first emerged in 2007 with a remarkable debut album, ‘Wild And Undaunted’ and quickly established herself as a highly distinctive, creative artist, merging a radiant style of traditional folk and self-penned song with vocal, fiddle, hammer dulcimer, strings, banjo and contemporary production.

It was a long wait but evidently worth it – the South Londoner’s much anticipated 2nd full length album, Hidden Seam, is finally available from Navigator Records. Continue reading New Video from Lisa Knapp + BBC Folk Awards