Harp And A Monkey bio

Harp And A Monkey

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.

The harp ‘n’ banjo driven electro-folk-storytelling of Martin Purdy (vocals, glockenspiel, accordion, harmonica and keyboards), Simon Jones (harp, guitar, viola) and Andy Smith (banjo, melodica, guitar and programming) is imbued with a deep Lancashire sensibility that shines through in their beautifully crafted and sometimes spooky vignettes of northern life, love and remembrance.

The outfit, who have been friends for more than 20 years, channel the ghosts of summers spent in municipal parks and winters walking on the moors. 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.

Formed in 2008, Harp and a Monkey have been building up a loyal following via the old fashioned practice of relentless gigging and modern practice of social network sites.

Regulars on the northern festival circuit, in recent years they have expanded their live outreach across the country.  The band are particularly proud of the fact that they 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 and they collected excellent reviews for their contribution to the 2012 Weirdlore compilation which highlighted Britain’s most promising practitioners of alternative folk. 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 band have been  performing new material and re-worked traditional songs (which strive to challenge stereotypes of the conflict) in unusual venues related to the war on British shores. 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).

Artists’ website: http://www.harpandamonkey.com/

Was this really the band’s first gig? ‘Pay Day’ live:

HARP & A MONKEY – War Stories (own label)

War StoriesAs we approach the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, Simon Jones, Andy Smyth and Martin Purdy turn their unique talents to its commemoration. War Stories is just that; not tales of great heroism, except in one case, but mostly stories of the aftermath in human terms and its effect on the men, women and children who were part of it.

Superficially, there are singalong tunes, snatches of popular songs of the period and traditional titles which turn out to be not what they seem. The particular skill of Harp & A Monkey is to weave traditional elements into their own writing pinning it together with sound effects and archive recordings. Beneath the superficial attractiveness is real meat.

We begin with ‘The Banks Of Green Willow’, neither the traditional song nor George Butterworth’s composition, but a new song that sets the image of rural England against “the banks of the Somme”.  That juxtaposition is very forceful and sets the tone of the album. Next comes ‘Soldier Soldier’ from that great songwriting team, Kipling and Bellamy. I wonder if the band tried to move away from Peter’s tune but were always pulled back to it. They take it at a slightly brisker pace and the emphasis is on the harshness at the end of the poem rather than the compassion of the early verses. The soldier is portrayed not as offering a shoulder to cry on but angling for a little how’s-your-father.

‘Charlie Chaplin’ is a well known chorus originally written as an attack on the Daily Mail which we can all get alongside and the new verses depict life behind the lines – Chaplin was vilified for dodging the war, another mistake by the paper. ‘A Young Trooper Cut Down’ is a well-known song updated during the Great War as a warning about sexual health. ‘Raise A Glass To Danny’ is the story of “The Piper Of Loos”, Daniel Laidlaw, who was awarded the Victoria Cross after playing his pipes in the midst of battle. In an interview Daniel is asked to play the tune he played on that day. “Yes, sir”, he replies, ever the soldier. The chorus of ‘The Long, Long Trail’ is used as background to a painful reminiscence by Connie Noble about her father and uncle. It’s only the matter-of-factness of the northern character that makes it possible to listen to it more than a couple of times.

War Stories should be up there as one of the albums of the year and I’ve only described about half of it here. You can hum along with the tunes or sit and think on the human tragedy that was the Great War.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: http://www.harpandamonkey.com/

‘The Great War – New Songs & Stories’: