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

Artists’ website:

Stew Simpson – ‘Eh Aww Ah Cud Hew’:

March highlights at Cecil Sharp House


The Rheingans Sisters
Saturday 18 March, 7.30pm
£12 / £10 under 26s

Winners of the BBC Radio 2 Folk Award for Best Original Track in 2016, The Rheingans Sisters’ are a fiddle-singing duo whose influences today range from the Scandinavian fiddle tradition to classical music.  Rowan and Anna grew up in the Peak District surrounded by traditional music and were encouraged to pick up the fiddle by their violin-maker father from an early age.

Critics rapturously received their latest album, Already Home, with its rich tapestry of fiddle and voice performed by two players of distinct style and reference.  Bringing a fresh perspective to traditional songs, their own compositions combine their individual talents for songwriting and composing.

The Estuary Songwriting Project
Wednesday 22 March, 7.30pm
£12.50 / £10 under 26s

Featuring Hazel Askew, M.G Boulter, Lucy Farrell, Piers Haslam, Roshi Nasehi, Nick Pynn, Alasdair Roberts and Kate Waterfield.

The Leigh Folk Festival has asked eight established and emerging musicians, songwriters and composers to produce original songs and compositions inspired by and celebrating 25 years of the Leigh Folk Festival, during a week-long residential song-writing LAB at Metal in Southend.

Each artist hails from a different musical background with their own style of song writing and instrumental playing and the material produced will deal with a handful of themes around the Thames Estuary including its landscape, natural history, social history, legends and folklore.

Theatre Ballads: Horse & Bamboo Theatre
Thursday 23 March, 7.30pm
£16 / £10 under 26s

The ballad is a story, a story in song.  In this new EFDSS commissioned piece Horse + Bamboo depict songs of a great fight, a broken contract and a female smuggler. Each is a historic ballad arranged and performed live alongside puppetry and simple illustrations, drawing out the tales before your eyes!

The voices, harmonies, stories, puppets, music and animation will combine to create an evocative new look at visual theatre and folk music. Featuring Bryony Griffith (fiddle, viola, voice and piano), Kate Locksley (voice and narrative presentation), Ewan McLennan (guitar and voice) and John Kirkpatrick (melodeon, accordion and voice).

The James Brothers
Wednesday 29 March, 7.30pm
£12 / £10 under 26s

Photograph by Elly Lucas

Join James Fagan and Jamie McClennan for virtuoso Antipodean-steeped folk with a comic twist. The James Brothers are not really outlaws, neither are they brothers and only one of them is called James. The pair come from the lands down under – Australia and New Zealand to be precise; lands in which the traditional songs and tunes of the British Isles have evolved their own unique characteristics, like musical marsupials.

It’s these songs and tunes, and several of their own making as they draw from the folk, blues and bluegrass that inspired them, that The James Brothers have united to play – combining the virtuosity for which they’re renowned and the gusto and spontaneity of a pub session.

The Swingles: Folklore Album Launch

with special guests Twelfth Day and EFFRA
Thursday 30 March, 7.30pm
£25 / £10 under 26s

For more than half a century, The Swingles have pushed the boundaries of vocal music, releasing more than 50 recordings, winning five Grammy awards, and appearing on numerous film and TV soundtracks including Sex and the City and Glee. The group’s versatility has led to collaborations with artists as diverse as the Modern Jazz Quartet, Jamie Cullum and Labrinth. The seven young singers who make up today’s London-based group are driven by the same innovative spirit that has defined The Swingles since they first made waves in the 1960s.

Special guests tonight include acclaimed folk duo Twelfth Day (fiddle player Catriona Price and harpist Esther Swift) as well as contemporary folk band EFFRA.

“Stunning reinventions of songs by the likes of John Martyn, Elbow and Mumford & Sons, with subtle beatboxing and audacious harmonies… superhero singing to truly raise goosebumps.” The Guardian

BBC Concert Orchestra with Spiro
Friday 31 March, 7.30pm
£18 / £10 under 26s

In a special concert to mark the BBC’s fruitful and longstanding relationship with the English Folk Dance and Song Society, the BBC Concert Orchestra presents a concert placing some of the great folk-influenced works of the 20th Century alongside a brand new commission from Jane Harbour, violinist with renowned folk group Spiro.

This performance is part of Radio 3’s 70th season, celebrating seven decades of pioneering music and culture.

SPIRO – Kaleidophonica (REAL WORLD CDRW188)

With this new album Spiro have moved their music to the next stage. Rather than beginning with traditional themes and taking them to strange places, their new compositions are all original but incorporate some traditional tunes. Having said that, the traditional tunes are so obscure that the layman would be hard put to name a single one although ‘Softly Robin’ clearly stands out as being different.

The result is fourteen new compositions with names seeming drawn from early episodes of The Twilight Zone (actually one is taken from Arthur C Clarke) which are closer to modern minimalist classical music than anything else – electronica without electronics if you will. The playing is immaculate and it has to be.

Kaleidophonica was recorded live in the studio with no overdubs so get something wrong and everybody has to start again. The precise repetition and building of patterns puts the band into Penguin Café Orchestra territory without the sparseness that characterised some of Simon Jeffes’ work.

Having enjoyed both Pole Star and Lightbox I initially found this album rather cold and it’s true that on stage Spiro never really learned the art of communication. This is a record to enjoy intellectually but it isn’t rock’n’roll. Dai Jeffries

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