VARIOUS ARTISTS – From Here – English Folk Field Recordings Volume 2 (From Here Records SITW011CD)

From Here Volume 2Curated by Ian Carter and Nicola Kearey of Stick In The Wheel, the second volume of From Here is every bit as intriguing and entertaining as its predecessor. Recorded wherever the artists were with just two microphones, these performances are sometimes raw and earthy and sometimes delicate and beautiful. Some of the artists are well known, others less so and same is true of the music.

There is a sort of chronology about the album. It begins with what Nancy Kerr calls a mediaeval song, ‘Gan Tae The Kye’, which she pairs with a popular north-eastern tune ‘Peacock Followed The Hen’. From the same geographical area comes ‘The Sandgate Dandling Song’ sung by Rachel Unthank and I must admit that I’ve never really listened to it properly. It’s a lullaby, yes, but with a very hard story wrapped up in it and Rachel’s matter-of-fact delivery emphasises the hardship. The first instrumental set is the delightful ‘Cottenham Medley’ by C Joynes, about whom I know almost nothing.other than the fact that he lives in Cambridgeshire. The other two sets are from the north-east: Kathryn Tickell’s dazzling ‘Bonnie Pit Laddie/ Lads Of Alnwick’ and ‘Nancy Clough’ by Sandra and Nancy Kerr, who thus gets to open and close the set.

The chronology begins to break down now. Richard Dawson’s ‘The Almsgiver’ sounds old but which Richard wrote recently and is perfectly in keeping with the feeling of the project. You may think you know ‘Barbera Allen’ but this version by Mary Hymphreys & Anahata will be new to most listeners. Coincidentally (or not) it also comes from Cottingham. June Tabor revisits ‘The Kng Of Rome’ and rising star Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne tackles ‘Two Lovely Black Eyes’. There are two distinct versions of this song, both by Charles Coborn, and Cohen goes for the political one. Both this and ‘The King Of Rome’ are set around the turn of the 20th century even though the latter was written much more recently. Appropriately, they are followed by Grace Petrie’s ‘A Young Woman’s Tale’, her updating of a song that began with the words “At the turning of the century…”, a clever juxtapositioning. Politics – although with a small “p” – return with Chris Wood’s ‘So Much To Defend’ which would appear to be made up of true stories.

Other, but not lesser, artists are Cath & Phil Tyler, Laura Smyth & Ted Kemp and Belinda Kempster, who is the mother of SITW’s Fran Foote and a very fine singer, now working as a duo with her daughter. That sort of emphasises the idea that we’re listening to a continuing tradition that has been caught in a moment of time.

Dai Jeffries

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Nancy Kerr – ‘Gan Tae The Kye/Peacock Followed The Hen’ – the video of the recording:

CATH & PHIL TYLER – The Ox And The Ax (Ferric Mordant Records Fe10)

The Ox And The AxCath and Phil are based in the north-east – Phil is from Newcastle upon Tyne – but you wouldn’t know it from their music. Their greatest influence comes via Cath who was a member of Cordelia’s Dad back in the 1990s and has absorbed their take on traditional music from America. It also explains the spelling of ax. The Ox And The Ax is their third album but their first in almost a decade.

The majority of their songs come from across the Atlantic although several are known in the UK, often under different titles. The first, ‘The Two Sisters’ is sufficiently well-known not to need description but this version comes from New England via the noted collector Helen Hartness Flanders and owes its roots to several more familiar versions. ‘Finest Flower’ is a variant of ‘The Unquiet Grave’ using a tune from the southern harmony tradition and from there on we are breaking new ground. ‘Rainbow’ is a variant of ‘Locks And Bolts’ very different from the British versions but ‘Rained A Mist’, a song new to me, comes from Arkansas and is a variant of ‘The Jew’s Garden’ which is usually called ‘Little Sir Hugh’ for obvious reasons. I’ll leave you figure out the others.

I’m not sure about the thinking behind supplying a new tune to Ernest Jones’ ‘Song Of The Lower Classes’ given that the familiar one has served so well for so long. It is rather downbeat – understandably – and Cath and Phil’s new setting gives it rather more backbone, more anger.

Cath and Phil build their sound around Phil’s guitar with a heavy emphasis on the bass line, Cath’s fiddle and banjo. There’s a little percussion and trumpet on ‘King Henry’ from Glenn Bruinewoud. I have to confess that I find it a little ponderous at times although the music matches the frequent mood of death and despair in the songs. This isn’t a record to set your feet tapping but if you enjoy the cross-cultural fusion of traditional music between England and its former colony you’ll really enjoy it.

Dai Jeffries

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Artists’ website: https://www.facebook.com/cathandphiltyler/

‘The Two Sisters’ – official video: