Time Was Away is Emily Portman and Rob Harbron’s debut duo album, comprising eight English folk songs and two 20th century poems set to music. Recorded and produced by the award-winning Andy Bell of Hudson Records, the album is a quietly powerful masterwork that deftly treads the tightrope between contemporary and timeless.
Time Was Away weaves together an intricate tapestry of story-songs on themes of resilience and resistance in the face of loss, hardship, hunger and brutality, opening a window into our past with tales that still resonate deeply in contemporary Britain. Emily and Rob skilfully draw listeners into a world where strangers play cards on highways, time stands still in coffee shops, hungry poachers meet ill fates in dank woods, repressed women dream of finding freedom in wild moors, and all the while the birds sing sweetly above the cars and diggers of England’s edgelands.
Together the duo have found a kinship in their absorbing and artisanal approaches to their material, which they bring to light with great care and attention to detail. Emily’s crystalline vocals and homespun banjo-playing are complimented by Rob’s understated musicianship as he shows his agility not only as a virtuosic English concertina player, but on guitar, harmonium and pocket piano. Both musicians take turns playing the atmospheric old upright piano at Red Kite studio in rural Wales where they recorded the album. Field recordings capture urban sounds near Emily’s Liverpool home and overlay contemporary landscapes onto old pastoral songs. Joining the duo on two tracks is Pete Judge of Three Cane Whale, who adds the proverbial cherry on top with some tasty flugel horn.
In this unapologetically dark and yet quietly optimistic album, Emily and Rob highlight stories of resilience in hard times. These are not romantic songs of a chocolate box England: these are the vibrant, messy tales of a relatably flawed set of characters, whose voices ring clearly through the ages. Time Was Away is a masterclass in understatement and is sure to be a folk highlight of 2022.
Artists’ website: https://emilyandrob.uk/
‘Time Was Away’ trailer:
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