Anna Tam is a perfect example of “folk” music being a living, breathing tradition. As Martin Carthy recently said “These songs are always being tweaked. If you try and freeze ’em you’ll kill ’em.” Anna does more than tweak; she makes them her own by bringing in her background to influence the music. There probably aren’t many musicians who have been involved in the première of two previously unknown arias by Vivaldi and can also give a rousing rendition of Mike Waterson’s ‘A Stitch In Time’.
It was a joy, and privilege, to be at the launch of Anna’s second solo album at a very well attended Green Note. The range of instruments on stage, for those who haven’t seen her before, might be confusing. No, those aren’t two cellos; one of them is a viola de gamba which is an earlier version of the cello and that’s about as far as my musical theory takes me. There’s also a hurdy-gurdy, to prove this is folk music, and a nykleharpa from Sweden. These instruments have an older sound, reflecting Anna’s interest in historic music. Combined with her voice, clearly showing a classical training, it’s going to be a unique performance.
The evening opened with a spirited version of ‘Hunting Hares’, performed with great gusto. It’s an unusual title track because it doesn’t appear on the album. The next three songs then showed Anna’s incredible range. ‘Lovely Joan’ not only gave a first mention to maidenhead but also set the tone for the heroines of the songs. These are not going to be fay young maids awaiting a lover’s return, probably in disguise. These are women who know what they want, and don’t want, and will get it. ‘The Unquiet Grave’ moved Anna from boisterous to heartfelt balladeering and then a set of Swedish Polskas on the nykelharpa cheered us all up and got the toes tapping again.
Checking my notes from the evening showed that Anna played over twenty songs, so I won’t go through them all but the whole range was there. There were the bar room romps of ‘A Stich In Time’ and ‘Blue Bleezing Blind Drunk’ to counterpoint ‘Holland Handkerchief’ or ‘The Braes Of Balquhither’. That last came from Anna’s début album ‘Anchoress’ and is one of my personal favourites. It has a superior story compared to the better known ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ and Anna’s voice is given full range to make the most of it.
The Swedish tunes have already been mentioned, but we also had Scottish tunes and the rather lovely ‘St Martin’s Waltz’ that Anna wrote for her parents. There’s just one more song I’ll mention, because it shows what a great professional Anna is. ‘Arrane Saveenagh’ is a lullaby which was sounding very beautiful, but Anna suddenly stopped. She’d started on the second verse by mistake. Given that this song is in Manx Gaelic we wouldn’t have known, but that wasn’t good enough and it had to be done properly. It was explained with such grace and humour we loved it; that’s what’s so special about live music.
This was a wonderful evening from a quality performer. Perhaps what sums it up best is that the first encore was planned, but I don’t think the second was. We just didn’t want to go home and would have happily stayed for longer. Mention also has to go to Geoff Irwin, accompanying on nykelharpa and fiddle, Jake on sound who had some very different instruments to balance into the mix and to Folk And Roots who consistently promote quality music in London. The launch marked the end of Anna’s current solo tour, but the album is available through the website, and Anna also livestreams on a regular basis. Also worth looking out for is Anna’s new trio Coracle, with Paul Hutchinson and Karen Wimhust, as well as acapella folk group Broomdasher who will both be taking to the road over the summer.
Artist’s website: https://annatam.co.uk/
‘Blue Bleezin’ Blind Drunk’ – not at the Green Note because the caravan won’t fit: