Ink Of The Rosy Morning, the upcoming album from Cambridge folk duo Hannah Sanders & Ben Savage, was very nearly a different beast entirely. Before the world changed in 2020, they had their third album almost ready to roll: finished tracks, guest artists and everything. Then the world changed. And so did their mindset. And with it, their music. “It was,” says Ben Savage hesitatingly, “liberating!”
Choosing instead to record in a quiet former schoolhouse by the sea in Hastings for a few days, they sat in the dining room, lit the fire, opened a bottle of wine, set up a few mics and played. Nothing pre-arranged. No grand scheme. No pre-production. No demos. No thought of releasing anything from it.
All of this makes what they emerged with, Ink Of The Rosy Morning, all the more extraordinary.
“Historically, we usually go hard down the rabbit hole to make albums, so this was very different. It was all so relaxed. With its directness and the power through simplicity, it feels the appropriate record to be putting out right now with people desperate to reconnect with anything that moves them away from the obvious stuff in the news. We’ve known a lot of these songs for a very long time and when you’ve known songs for that long, you don’t think about it, you just play them.”
They’re talking about great old songs like ‘Lark In The Morning’ and ‘Sweet Nightingale’ albeit played, in true Sanders/Savage fashion, with unique sensitivity and guile. “Most renditions of ‘Nightingale’ are usually either very saccharine or done as bawdy pub singalongs – we took a different angle altogether.”
The first single, ‘A Winter’s Night,’ is a traditional ballad and the opener to an undeniably intimate record. Ben explains “I learnt this from the inimitable Doc Watson. The opening imagery has always appeared so vivid and detailed in my mind’s eye.” He enthuses, “Sometimes you’re like an actor singing in the first person, but when I do that song I am totally that person. I know exactly where I am, what the girl looks like and what I’m drinking…”
Ink Of The Rosy Morning is a line from the sublime Nova Scotia ballad ‘When First I Came To Caledonia’, learned from Chris Wood and Andy Cutting (“the great British opus of duo music”, insists Ben), while ‘Polly O Polly’ was one of the songs Hannah would sing trawling through Europe in a converted Bedford school van with her family band. In the same vein she learned ‘Lovely Joan’ from the singing of her mum, proving the oral tradition lives on.
Not that the album is entirely traditional. ‘A Life A Lie’ sounds like it could be trad, but is their own creation; and, although they didn’t realize it at the time, the two ballads ‘False True Love’ and ‘Earl Richard’ are interlinked by the darkness of the stories. Closing track ‘River Don’t Run’ also has a fascinating backstory rooted in a slum area of hidden London.
Both Hannah and Ben’s musical ideals have been shaped by multiple styles and influences (from Hannah’s teenage years in a touring family band and a lengthy sojourn in America to Ben’s study of the dobro and successes playing with The Willows), exceptional songwriting skills and the array of instruments they can both turn their hands to. Yet way back, both had also been initially fired up by the music and culture of East Anglian folk clubs and this was the music to which they instinctively gravitated. And thus Ink Of The Rosy Morning is a magnificently intimate and engaging successor to their previous albums Before The Sun (2016) and Awake (2018).
Ink Of The Rosy Morning is out April 1st on Topic Records.
Artists’ website: https://www.hannahbenmusic.com/home
‘A Winter’s Night’ – official video: