A rising star on the folk circuit, produced by Phil Beer Needle & Thread, the second album by the Southampton-born singer-songwriter, features three original numbers alongside seven traditional, variously performed solo or with contributions from Odette Michell, Tom Evans (melodeon), cellist Joely Koos from the City of London Sinfonia, and Rowan Piggott and Rosie Hodgeson from The Wilderness Yet on harmonies with Beer adding fiddle. Prag’s brother Rich is also behind the drum kit on one number.
It opens with two solo-performed traditionals, first his robust arrangement of the transportation broadside ‘Van Diemen’s Land’ with a circling guitar pattern, followed by a near six-minute fingerpicked reading of ‘Lovely William’, learnt from the singing of John Doyle and set to the folk ballad tune ‘The Maid Of Culmore’. He’s joined by Piggott and Hodgeson for an a capella rendition of ‘Foster’s Mill’, a song celebrating the Luddite riots that described how, on April 9, 1812, a three hundred-strong mob stormed the Wakefield mill of the title, smashing machinery and attempting to set the building on fire.
It’s back to just his voice and dramatically strummed guitar for ‘The Brisk Lad’, sometimes known as ‘The Dorset Sheep Stealer’, which, dating from the early 1800s, recounts the plight of a desperate man forced to break the law to save his family from starvation. Further social injustice fuels the next two songs, both related to the mining industry. Written by Tommy Armstrong, and here given a romping Music Hall style arrangement with harmony vocals from Beer and Michell and Tim Evans on accordion, ‘South Medomsley Strike’ concerns the clash between the miners and the bosses of the County Durham colliery in 1885 over pay and conditions, the workers being threatened with eviction if they did not return. The catchy refrain “They ‘re gannin’ te boil fat Postick and his dorty candy crew” is a reference to the heavy-handed Consett bailiff, James Frostick, employed by colliery manager Wilfred Fisick to organise the evictions by his candymen enforcers, though the song doesn’t mention that his crew refused to carry out their orders and turf families out into the snow. It did, however, only delay the inevitable, with some 60 miners losing their homes in a second attempt at evictions in March 1886. The same issue is also the subject of ‘Oakey Strike Evictions’, another Armstrong song, this about the 1885 stoppage in the North West Durham coalfield and apparently written in a local pub as a duel with fellow miner poet William Maguire, Beer and Michell again on vocals and Rich Prag’s drums driving it along to a leg slapping folk-rock rhythm while fiddle dances in and out.
Koos brings her cello to the first of the original numbers, ‘The Shoemender’ a five-minute waltzing comment on the decline of the high street and the trades they held which, featuring guitar, fiddle and cello, carries over into the self-penned instrumental ‘The Shoemender’s Tune/George Brabazon 1st Air’, a sprightly courtly styled dance tune that segues into the jig written by the blind Celtic harper Turlough O’Carolan.
The final two numbers are both by Prag, first being the anthemic ‘Come All You Fine Young People’ with the strings (Piggott this time on violin and viola) interwoven between the harmonies and fingerpicked guitar, a song about community and community singing being the glue that keeps us together, ending with the six-minute title track benediction, just voice and fingerpicked guitar, about sometimes feeling overwhelmed in the face of complicated societal problems and lacking the means or energy to fight harder, but consolidating your strength and emotions by understanding that, at the end of the day, all you can do is “do what you can do and follow your heart” and that you don’t have to do it alone, stitched to others by the needle and thread of community. His first album announced Prag as a name to watch. On this he’s got it sewn up.
Artist’s website: www.domprag.com
‘The Shoemender’ – official video: