Cupola:Ward is a co-operative venture between Cupola – Doug Euson, Sarah Matthews and Oli Matthews – and Lucy Ward. All four come from Derbyshire, a county that’s on the rise in breeding singers and musicians, but only three of the songs originate there. The template for their debut album, Bluebell, comes from what some of us still think of as a golden age: some traditional songs and a couple of covers, nothing too outré but variations on the familiar.
The set opens with a high energy take on Julie Matthews’ ‘Crane Driver’, originally written for the 2006 Radio Ballads. It’s a great song and Cupola:Ward do it full justice. They follow that with Tucker Zimmerman’s ‘Taoist Tale’ paired with ‘Blew Bell Hornpipe’; a philosophical song enlivened with a sparkling tune . The first native song is ‘Jacob’s Well’ a version specifically from a Derbyshire collection and now we’ve had a touch of rock, a bit of thoughtfulness and unaccompanied four-part harmony. If you want to draw comparisons with Muckram Wakes I won’t stand in your way.
The band does odd things with the timing of ‘Sprig Of Thyme’ and mix it with ‘Playing For Thyme’, a tune of Doug’s. The song, like so many venerable compositions, can suffer from over-familiarity and Cupola:Ward’s changes draw you back to the text with new ears. The second Derbyshire song is ‘Damped In His Groove’ written, coincidentally, by an old school friend and musical cohort of mine, Geoff Convery. It’s about lead mining, a subject that Geoff has researched extensively, specifically the death of a miner who died where he worked – damped in his groove, as the saying went. The third local song is ‘Squire Of Tamworth’ a song which, while never actually falling out of fashion, is definitely back in again.
The medley of The Beatles’ ‘Nowhere Man’ with an 18th century dance tune is a pleasant diversion and there are three more contrasting traditional songs: ‘Willie’s Lady’, ‘Heather Down The Moor’ and ‘Gower Wassail’ before the set ends with ‘Normandy Orchards’ by the late and much lamented Keith Marsden. Keith (and Cockersdale) gave us a lot of fun over the years but perhaps this is a good moment in time to look again at his more serious work and for someone to revisit those songs.
Bluebell is one of the unexpected delights that comes with this job. It’s my sort of record so thank you, Cupola:Ward.
Artists’ website: https://cupolamusic.wordpress.com/cupolaward/
‘Crane Driver’ – live: