3 is, logically enough, Banter’s third album but the first one to come folking’s way. So, to bring us all up to speed: Banter are Nina Zella (keyboards) Tim Walker on brass and percussion and king of the squeezeboxes, Simon Care, augmented by guest appearances from John Spiers and Phil Beer. All but one of the twelve tracks here are traditional and include four dance tunes but most of the music is newly written by Zella.
The question is how to judge the album. From a purely traditional viewpoint I have a problem with rewriting Copper Family songs but rewriting the tradition is what spawned English folk-rock fifty-odd years ago and that has been a cornerstone of my musical life. Nevertheless, I found that ‘The Labourer’ and ‘Forsaken Mermaid’ (aka ‘The Constant Lovers’) initially grated a bit. With ‘Gathering Flowers’, a version of ‘The Water Is Wide’, I was beginning to get what Banter are about and their exuberant performance of ‘Gloucester Hornpipe’ had me convinced.
A partial answer to my question, therefore, is that there is no mileage in being po-faced about 3, particularly when you hear ‘The Hitchin May Day Song’ mashed up with bits of the Helston Furry Dance. You just have to grin at Banter’s insouciance and enjoy it. ‘Unquiet Grave’ can be a dreadful dirge – that’s what it is, of course – but not in this version. As well as rocking it up they restore a verse from George Dunn’s version that no-one else bothers with, but not all three. Tim Walker’s brass opens ‘Moll In The Wad’ and once again Banter pick up the tune and run with it.
The non-traditional song is ‘Home Sweet Home’ – not the 19th century American song but based on a 17th century poem by John Reading with an additional verse by Zella making it relevant to the 21st century. Zella’s adaption of ‘Blackbirds & Thrushes’ completes that story and made me realise that we sometimes gloss over gaps the narrative of traditional songs or fill them in for ourselves.
‘Tide A’Flowing/The Duchess’ are two more tunes given a good seeing to and owing something to previous versions by Edward II, Tiger Moth and Tickled Pink, two of which featured Simon Care. And that is the other answer to my question about judging this album and Banter – Rogue Folk is alive and well. Banter give the old singaround favourite, ‘Country Life’, a belting chorus that Merry Hell would be proud to own and wrap 3 up with a stomping version of ‘Rare Bog’ – actually its other epithet, rattling, would perhaps be more appropriate as piano and concertina start it in an almost respectful manner until Walker’s percussion joins in – dig that spoon solo!
If you think that there is nothing new to hear in folk music these days listen to Banter and think again.
Artists’ website: www.banter.band
‘Rare Bog’ – live at Gate To Southwell Festival: