I know it isn’t done to review an event like this and I have no intention of doing so. But I do feel that a concert that meant so much to so many people should be reported.
Sarah Morgan died, suddenly but not unexpectedly, on 14th September 2013. In her last days she laboured to complete her doctoral thesis under the watchful eyes of her friends and her doctorate was awarded posthumously. That was the sort of her person she was. It transpires that the idea for a memorial event was discussed before she died and Sarah even made a list of the people she wanted to appear. It was thought by some – those who had given up singing seriously several years ago – that this was Sarah’s last little joke but not one person refused the invitation to appear. It fell to Sarah’s final musical partners, Moira Craig and Carolyn Robson to make the idea a reality on April 13th at Winchester Guildhall.
The Community Choir movement, with which Sarah was so heavily involved in recent years was represented by five groups: choirs from Winchester, Alton and Petersfield, The Spotlight Singers and The Andover Museum Loft Singers. I believe Sarah founded three of these and their repertoires included songs that Sarah arranged, published and sometimes wrote tunes for.
Friends old and new filled the bill. From the past we heard Val Higson, a member of Curate’s Egg alongside Sarah way back in the 1970s and Sheila March, formerly of Bread And Roses, Sarah’s first all-female group. Representing the younger generation was Susannah Starling who proved what a remarkable accompanying instrument the double bass can be. From America came Mary Eagle who first came here thirty years ago and captured everyone’s heart and her friend and fellow Appalachian singer Joe Penland. Sarah’s musical connections covered a lot of ground.
Major names who travelled across the country for their ten or fifteen minutes on stage included Lester Simpson, John Kirkpatrick, The Askew Sisters, Ron Taylor, Jeff Gillett, Eddie Upton and Grace Notes. Mary Humphreys & Anahata, Mick Ryan, Tom & Barbara Brown and Doug Bailey didn’t have quite so far to travel and neither did Belshazzar’s Feast who closed their set and the concert proper with ‘Home Lads Home’ – words by Cecily Fox Smith and music by Sarah Morgan.
No memorial is over without a big finish and ‘Only Remembered’, also sung at Sarah’s funeral, had become a sort of theme. “Only remembered, only remembered, only remembered for what we have done.” Sarah did so much.
The historic Guildhall in Leicester, currently next door to the highly prominent Richard III museum, played host to folk trio Faustus on Friday 26th April. A magnificent setting and deserved sell out as Faustus is made up of 3 superbly talented singer/songwriter musicians, 2 of which are well known in Bellowhead. A rare treat when they are able to fit in a tour as Faustus due to other commitments, it was a real pleasure to be there.
Comprising of mandolin and acoustic guitar, fret board wizard Benji Kirkpatrick has played with amongst others – The Oysterband, Seth Lakeman Band, Eliza Carthy and Cara Dillon and is a member of highly acclaimed and multi award winning Bellowhead. Paul Sartin, another member of Bellowhead, and founder of Dr Faustus and Belshazzar’s Feast, has impressive theory and studying credentials behind him, including a 1st in his Masters Degree studying Traditional Music. He plays a might fine Oboe, sings in various choirs and apparently is a stand up comic too! Saul Rose is one of the finest melodeon players in the country and was spotted by Eliza Carthy in the early 90’s. Saul is very involved with traditional music and has played the melodeon for most of his life. He spent most of 2011 in Warhorse which was playing in the West End. He has worked with an impressive list of prominent people.
The set list comprised of mainly songs but we were treated to some tunes as well. 7 for the first half and 7 for the second, finishing up with Willow as the encore. The audience were singing along to Faustus most of the time, and clearly appreciated the talent, humour and musicianship coming at them from the stage.
On speaking to them afterwards, they were very happy with the evening, and had enjoyed themselves. I did send Benji off to see the Richard III exhibition, which the staff had kindly left open for the evening, and felt guilty when Paul couldn’t find him!
They do have two albums out for your delectation in-between gigs!
I hope it won’t be too long before they tour again.
You can always guarantee quality from Paul Sartin (oboe/cor angais/violin and voice) and Paul Hutchinson (accordion). Like a paired-back acoustic version of the Albion Country Band (who I first heard doing this sort of stuff) the lads certainly know how to put your laughing gear into action especially if you take the time to read their enjoyable sleeve notes. Not only do they prove great raconteurs but their studiously rendered music is a joy to behold. Being aimed at the Christmas season I could certainly hear (and see) in my mind dandily dressed young men and Victorian corseted women kissing under the mistletoe and the odd spot of mulled wine as if taken straight from the pages of Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol”…mind you, you won’t hear a “Bah humbug” from me. Amongst some familiar renderings such as the “Sussex Carol” backed by the superb Andover Museum Loft Singers they include “Playford’s Christmas Ball” coupling just the minor melody of “Nonesuch” with (believe it or not) a very authentic Russian sounding “Kalinka”. There is obviously a lot of love, care and attention poured into this recording and their enthusiasm will be well met by anyone uttering the words “Yo Ho Ho” or enjoys watching Richard Attenborough in “Miracle On 34th Street”.
There are some people who don’t get Belshazzar’s Feast. One on-line reviewer wrote: “they humorously shamble their way through a mix of traditional and original tunes, only using the minimum energy required to play their instruments. Mistakes are laughed off and forgiven by the friendly crowd. There’s no bells and whistles here, just two blokes with an extraordinary quantity of facial hair playing some decent tunes.”
For the record Paul Sartin and Paul Hutchinson are excellent musicians. It takes great skill to play as badly as they do on demand and snap back without losing the thread, morphing one tune into another. They proved the point with their first set of Playford tunes which incorporated their deliberately atrocious version of ‘Hunt The Squirrel’ – a tune they got bored with playing night after night on tour. By this time Paul Hutchinson had managed to insult people from Suffolk, the French, the Germans and the Irish – par for the course.
Contrast this with ‘The Cherry Tree Carol’ where Hutchinson produces such a delicate sound from his big piano accordion behind Sartin’s vocals. Then he drops in a deliberate false note, a C# against D, which jolts you out of your reverie before the oboe comes in sounding rather middle-eastern and mysterious. This being December, they drew heavily on their repertoire of carols and I have to say that the first half was rather downbeat at the end.
The second set was rather jollier with ‘Beethoven’s First Piano Accordion Concerto For Oboe’ as its highlight. Other sets started out as sensible tunes but then ran the gamut of music hall songs, carols, ‘Jingle Bells’ and ‘White Christmas’. Their final number was the Swedish/Portuguese ‘Hashbaz’ (don’t ask) which produced as dazzling as display of fingerwork as you could wish for. Yes, there was comedy, but there was also some wonderful music.