Catherine Howe & Vo Fletcher – English Tale

Catherine Howe & Vo Fletcher started working together in 2007, just after the reissue of Catherine’s legendary album ‘What A Beautiful Place’ produced by the late Bobby Scott. Catherine knew Vo as a musician and songwriter and admired his work, and from the very outset there was a musical rapport and understanding between them.

It naturally followed that they should perform some local concerts together and start recording. Catherine says, “We decided to record as ‘live’ an album as possible so the basic performances of guitar and voice were recorded together and without separation. We chose to record this way, “knee-to-knee” as it were, because we wanted to retain all spontaneity for these songs. The recordings have been enhanced wonderfully by Ric Sander’s fiddle playing, and we later laid down some harmonies too.

We’re called the album English Tale because, in essence that’s exactly what it is, a collection of songs inspired by people either Vo or I have known and loved, others we wish we’d known, and others we’ve welcomed to England. There are no co-written songs here, each comes from the pen of either Vo or me. The guitar pieces, which punctuate the set nicely I think, are, of course, Vo’s compositions. Nevertheless, you can hear how much of a collaborative piece of work English Tale is in the performance and choice of song.”

About Catherine Howe: Catherine Howe has been a virtual recluse for the last twenty five years having walked away from a successful acting and music career. She reappeared two years ago with her critically acclaimed album Princelet Street which in turn generated huge interest in her back catalogue and in particular her first album What A Beautiful Place (1971) produced by the late Bobby Scott. (Available now on Numero Records)

A Halifax lass Catherine was sent to London at the age of twelve to be a pupil and later graduate of the original Corona Stage School. In the late sixties she appeared in many classic TV shows such as Dr Who, Z Cars, Dixon of Dock Green before deciding in 1970 to follow a career in music. She recorded four now classic albums winning an Ivor Novello award along the way for her song ‘Harry.’

About Vo Fletcher:
In a long and varied career Vo has played, recorded and toured with: Nigel Kennedy, Fairport Convention, the Ric Sanders Group, Rik Mayall, Touch & Go, The Albion Morris Band and Brent Ford & The Nylons to name but a few.

About the Songs:
In The Blue is about a public school boy I once knew who was archetypically positive in temperament and yet hopelessly disconnected from his emotions. I am trying to paint a picture of him here and the blue suits his airiness.

Thoughts On Thomas Hardy speaks for itself. Thomas Hardy is my favourite poet and, like other literary and artistic male figures, he was willingly drawn to clever and good-looking women. His were, in all likeliness, physically innocent, romantic attachments during years when his marriage was a sad affair. Again, this reflects what is still perceived as a distinctly English male characteristic of that era.

Lucy Snowe. Lucy Snowe first appeared on the ‘Silent Mother Nature’ album in 1976. I think it is one of the best songs I’ve written and it’s a song I’ve never stopped singing, which is why it appears again here and this is the best version of any. Lucy Snowe is a character taken from Charlotte Bronte’s novel Villette, and is a thinly-veiled autobiographical creation inspired by Charlotte’s experience of first and unrequited love. She transforms her real-life love into a fictional story of mutual love while finally managing to leave the reader in a suspense of ambiguity when the hero doesn’t return from a trip abroad to claim his bride to be. We are left wondering whether he is simply delayed or, in fact, drowned. Charlotte was balancing her own emotions in this unresolved ending. It’s a long time since I read Villette yet the song still stands as my youthful impression of the character Charlotte Bronte created in 1853.

Nothing Love Does Surprises Me. Well, this is simply a generic English folk song describing, in story form, how agape love pervades everything if you can see it that way. I like to think Thomas Hardy might have seen it this way.

Where The White Rose Meets The Red. I was born in Yorkshire and have often travelled the old road across the Pennines from Halifax to Rochdale, Yorkshire to Lancashire, the white rose and the red. It can be wild and deserted up there, and there are even the remains of the road the Romans laid still, clear to see, going straight up the hillside. In my imagination I went back a hundred or so years and thought about a young woman, maybe living in Halifax or in one of the outlying villages, and how she might meet a traveller, fall for him and think of him as a once-in-a-life time chance of escape from a fruitless life. He promises to take her away and she arranges to meet him, secretly, on the highest point of the road crossing the Pennines, but will he come to her?

An English Tale is about a woman – a friend of my Aunt Howe (Margaret) – whom I knew when I was quite a young girl and who was always something of an enigma to me because I wasn’t sure of her history. All I knew was that she had been born in Vienna, had a Viennese accent and air, was astute and was interested in my progress. She had no family but, my Aunt told me, once had had a husband. I never knew the details of her earlier life but imagined she had left Austria because of the War. This song came to me in my sleep.

Keeping The Faith Near. My Aunt Howe (Margaret) was the daughter of a religious man, and was religious herself. She worked all her life in the service of children, first as a teacher then as a social worker. She had a wonderful way with children although she never had one of her own. She was strong, bright and optimistic and, at about seventy-five years old, was diagnosed with vascular dementia. It took three or four more years before the condition turned her into a confused and delusional old lady, but it never took away her spirituality.

In Return For What I Bring This is the only song on the album which doesn’t fit into the story mould and, unlike the majority of the songs on ‘English Tale’, was written many years ago. It’s a song I have always intend to record and this was the time to do it. It does relate to a time in my life when I was very sad because of someone I loved, so it has a tale behind it in that sense.

Trees is the story of my love of trees in the English landscape and the living things that they provide for – birds, insects, children, clean air; and the things they give – shade, beautiful shapes to see and sounds to hear, green, and continuity beyond the human span. Trees is another very early song, in fact it is a 60s song, written so long ago that I only remembered the first eight bars of melody and lyric and had to write the rest anew. It was first written long before there was any concern about global warming and it takes on that extra meaning now.

Harry is here simply because Vo and I perform it together these days, and we thought it would be nice to include a new version of it – for old times’ sake.

Release Date 28 – June 2010

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