There can be no doubt that Jack Rutter is one of the finest young interpreters of traditional song in the country. For his second album, Gold Of Scar & Shale he has enlisted Sam Sweeney to augment his guitars, bouzouki and concertina with cameo appearances from Alice Robinson on Northumbrian pipes and Sam Fisher on flugelhorn. Once again Jack has delved into old manuscripts, both songs and poetry for a set of which I’ve only heard two songs before.
‘I Was Once A Young Ploughboy’ comes from Hammond and Gardiner and tells a familiar story although not one I know. Jack gives it a suitably robust, martial treatment in case you thought that it might be a gentle pastoral piece. That comes with ‘The Hills Of Longdendale’ from the poetry of Ammon Wrigley and which provides the album’s title. Jack introduces it on bouzouki then sings the first verse unaccompanied. Actually, it’s not gentle in the way that a comparable southern English song would be. They’re a hardy lot who walk the hills above Saddleworth. He crosses the border again for ‘The Lancashire Liar’. A not so subtle dig? I don’t know but Sam Sweeney is on fine form. Next is Jack’s adaptation of a Child ballad, ‘Fair Janet & Young James’. Child lists numerous versions of the song and Jack has combined several texts to produce an interpretation that makes sense to modern ears.
I have heard the infrequently sung ‘John White’ before. It’s a tale of unspeakable brutality: an event that occurred in Hounslow and which resulted in the abolition of flogging in the army. The song is again from Hammond and Gardiner and I believe it was collected in my adopted county of Hampshire. The official record states that White was sentenced to 150 lashes but the song ups the ante to 300.
‘The Shepherd’s Song’ comes indirectly from Willie Scott and features Robinson’s pipes and that’s followed by the other song I’ve heard before, ‘When Jones’s Ale Was New’, although Jack dispenses with the chorus and adds a tune of his own at the end. ‘Down By The Derwent Water’ and ‘The Sledmere Poachers’ both come from northern collections and finally we have the bitter-sweet ‘Fieldfares’ written by Frederic Moorman who also penned ‘The Dalesman’s Litany’.
Gold Of Scar & Shale is a fine album that introduces a number of lesser-known songs to a wider audience and that’s a bonus. I look forward to hearing Jack in the flesh again next month.
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‘The Lancashire Liar’ – official video: