ANGE HARDY – Esteesee (Story Records STREC1659)

ANGE HARDY – Esteesee (Story Records STREC1659)“Why Esteesee” asks Ange Hardy in her notes and it was a question I had asked myself in anticipation. The explanation is actually very simple. Esteesee or S.T.C. is Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the subject of Ange’s fourth album.

That Coleridge was what we might now call “a character” quickly becomes apparent as Ange picks out incidents from his life. ‘William Frend’ tells of Coleridge applauding during the trial of one of his college tutors who published a pamphlet condemning the Church liturgy. STC got away with it by blaming a one-armed man standing near him! His friendship with William and Dorothy Wordsworth is recounted in ‘Friends Of Three’; his relationship with his brother is explored in ‘George’ and a failed attempt to found a better life in America is examined in ‘Pantisocracy’.

Of course, Coleridge’s own writing plays a large part. The opening song, ‘The Foster-Mother’s Tale’, comes from a play and then we’re into The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner with two songs. The first, ‘My Captain’, is based on one of the few happy bits of the poem and will be claimed as traditional before long. It’s a song full of optimism and enthusiasm – complete with spoons by Jo May – and is in stark contrast to ‘The Curse Of A Dead Man’s Eye’. This is clever programming; the poem would be the elephant in room otherwise as would ‘Kubla Khan’ which is read by Tamsin Rosewell with accompaniment by Ange on guitar and whistle and Kate Rouse’s hammered dulcimer.

Other musical support comes from Steve Knightley, who takes lead vocals on ‘Mother You Will Rue Me’, Patsy Reid, Archie Churchill-Moss (of Moore Moss Rutter), Lukas Drinkwater (of Three Daft Monkeys), Jonny Dyer, Andrew Pearce and Steve Pledger. In her music Ange cleverly employs the rhythms and cadences of English traditional music, particularly apparent in ‘Along The Coleridge Way’ and the final ‘Elegy For Coleridge’. The packaging is equally good with excerpts from STC’s writing alongside Ange’s words. I’m not sure that every copy goes out with a greetings card, bookmark and “quill” pen but there have to be some perks in this job.

This is an excellent album. It’s rare that I’ll play a CD twice through without a break even for the purposes of a review. Esteesee is an exception.

Dai Jeffries

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Artist’s website: www.angehardy.com

STEVE PLEDGER – Striking Matches In The Wind (Story Records STREC1657)

SMITWBorn in Cambridge, raised in St Neots and now based in Somerset, Pledger’s been quietly building a following over the past 20 years, relying on just his voice, guitar and some damn fine songwriting. This is his second album and he describes the song as being concerned with “the power of the apparently powerless to achieve what often feels like an impossible task.” So, contemporary social protest songs basically, occasionally leavened with matters of the heart, Pledger’s fingerpicked and strummed guitar augmented here and there by Lukas Drinkwater on double bass, Tanya Allen on fiddle, and harmonica and accordion from Giles Newman Turner and Andrew Rock, respectively. The luminously talented Ange Hardy also joins him to add harmonies to the chokingly sung, heart-piercing end of a relationship a cappella number ‘There We Are’.

Listening to ‘People Who Care’ and the barbed ‘This Land Is Pound Land’ it’s impossible not to think of Martyn Joseph, one of Pledger’s acknowledged influences, and I’d suspect Martyn himself would be flattered by the comparison, though elsewhere you’ll also hear Don Maclean (the lyrically anthemic ‘take a stand’ ‘Matches In The Wind’), Woody Guthrie (‘The Parable of Intent’, a call to accept the reponsibility we have to the earth and those less fortunate than ourselves) and, on the bluesy mid-tempo harmonica blowing ‘Quit Blubbin’ In The Cheap Seats’ (a song about the real mindset of the austerity brigade), maybe also Billy Bragg, while the bluesy folk guitar playing on ‘Beneath The Sun’ suggests Davey Graham’s in the mix too.

Pledger’s songs have the ability to cut to the emotional quick, as potently evidenced by the strummed, fiddle-accompanied, slow waltz ‘A Heart Filled With Nothing To Do’, inspired by an old lady who, her care service withdrawn, died alone with nobody aware of her situation, and the simple vocal and guitar ‘Friends & Fathers’, a song that relates the impact that the post-traumatic fallout from war can have on a family as the narrator recalls his mother telling him how, before his father left, he used kneel at his bedside, crying and saying how much he loved him. It’s impossible to listen without welling up.

There are brighter moments too, ‘Loving Condescension’ with its account of seeing two lovers taking a selfie while he was driving along the North Devon coast’ and ‘Days Like These’, a fingerpicked love song written for his wife’s birthday, the album balancing the light with the dark, the hope with the anger to kindle a spark and keep the fire burning.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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://www.stevepledger.co.uk/

‘Friends & Fathers’ from Steve Pledger’s new album: