The Norfolk Broads – I love that name – are Eleanor Dale, Daisy Johnson, Anna Cornish and Helen Cherry from East Anglia; I’m not going to spell it out for you. Yonder Green Grove is their second album of traditional songs. Essentially they perform unaccompanied in harmony but they employ minimal accompaniments from Nick Hart and Tom Moore on five of the nine tracks.
The stories all feature a female protagonist, naturally enough, and most of the titles are familiar but I wish we had some indication of the sources. Take the opening song, ‘Fennario’, for example. It’s origins lie in a long Scottish ballad but it has frequently been Americanised. From the twelve verses of the Scots song, Joan Baez got through the story in five and Bob Dylan rewrote the ending. The text used here is none of these but is an amalgam of many. It sounds more American than British and Dylan gives up his final verse for the cause. ‘Fennario’ is related by one of the captain’s men but the heroine is undoubtedly pretty Peggy-o.
‘Slieve Gallion Braes’ is a lovely Irish song of emigration and the Broads have modernised it a little and added a verse. So the oral tradition continues. ‘Geordie’ is another very well-known ballad but I confess that this text includes verses that I haven’t heard before. I suspect it owes something to Harry Cox. ‘Bay Of Biscay’ is a classic night-visiting song
The lovely ‘Fear A’ Bhàta’ has been much reworked with verses sung in English and the chorus in Gaelic. The Broads’ version uses some phrases from a standard translation and quite a lot from Sandy Denny’s version. The verses are mostly floaters anyway and the song has the feel of a rowing shanty – if such a thing exists. You can almost feel the movement of oars through the water. ‘Lovely Johnny’ is also an amalgam of texts which suggests that the heroine doesn’t know that she’s been conned. Her fate is not as bad as that of the ‘Young Girl’ who should have been prescribed salts of white mercury before things got as far as this.
There is some welcome humour in the Irish novelty song, ‘Dingle Puck Goat’, written by Johnny Patterson and telling the unlikely tale of riding a goat, or perhaps a goat possessed by a spirit, ending up in Tralee. Finally, ‘Rambling Woman’ is a railroad song apparently related to ‘500 Miles’.
The Norfolk Broads have covered a great deal of ground in a relatively short album. Yonder Green Grove is the length of an old-fashioned LP and at first I thought it was going to be too short. I was wrong – it’s perfect, leaving you wanting more but not unsatisfied.
Artists’ website: https://www.norfolkbroadsmusic.co.uk/
‘Bay Of Biscay’ – live: