The Landworkers’ Alliance is a union of small-scale and ecological farms drawn from all corners of the British Isles, and, like many unions, traditional song forms a strong part of their identity. As such, these farmer-musicians have banded together folk community stalwarts Ewan McLennan, Nick Hart, Sid Goldsmith and Jimmy Aldridge for Stand Up Now, an album recorded at barns, farms and cow sheds, comprising both original material and reimaginings of well-known classics about the land and hope for better times.
It opens with a twin female voice rendition of Peter Bellamy’s arrangement of Rudyard Kipling’s celebration of good old English trees and pagan midsummer ceremonies, ‘Oak And Ash And Thorn’, that begins a cappella before muted double bass and percussion lend their rhythm.
Save for a faint background drone, written in Hampshire in 1909, ‘Sing Ivy’ is wholly unaccompanied, sometimes known as ‘An Acre o’ Land’ and about a series of arduous tasks the narrator has to perform to win his love, though here sung by one Kerry Ann Jangle. One of the collections best-known tracks, the strummed lollop and fiddle curls of ‘Lark In The Morning’ is recast by Eggclab 7 as a defence of the wild and the feminine in a world of domestic abuse, state oppression, and the rape of the land in a world ruled by blokes. Sociopolitical concerns continue with McLellan’s circling percussive strummed and darkly sung arrangement of the evergreen poaching ballad ‘Rufford Park Poachers’, switching thematic tack to a coppicing romance about marrying above your financial station, ‘Green Brooms’, arranged and sung a capella by the wryly named female quartet The Northfolk Broads.
The honest sweat of a farmhand’s brow as opposed to the greed of commerce and Empire is celebrated with Hart’s simply fingerpicked swayalong arrangement of ‘The Faithful Plough’ while, shifting from traditional pastures, accompanied on banjo, ‘We Want The Land’ is a shanty-like linked arms swaying protest number (“we want folk in the fields and smoke in the lanes/Not villages left empty by commuter trains”) written by Essex outfit King Driscolls and channelling the likes of Bragg and Rosselson in a call for a “real rural life, not a picture postcard”. And mentioning Rosselson and Bragg, further down the track listings they do indeed include Goldsmith and Aldridge on ‘The World Turned Upside Down’.
Before arriving there, however, Owen Shiers offers up a pulsingly strummed ‘Trecadwgan’ sung in Welsh, followed by a rewrite of Irish immigrant labourer Packie Manus Byrne’s poem ‘The Drover’s Song’ sung in raw form to a drone backing by Humphrey Lloyd, while, a song about changes in work patterns and the adaptions each new generation brings, written in the late 70s by Matt Armour, sung accompanied by Ed Hamer, the tune of ‘Generations Of Change’ will be familiar as ‘The Streets Of Laredo’.
A reminder that the struggle for decent housing continues, Anna O’Neill’s self-penned ‘O’Halleran Sisters’ recounts the true story of three sisters from Co. Clare who fought to resist eviction by their landlord, sung to a stirring marching beat stomp backdrop.
Which leaves two new but sounding traditional numbers, the fiddle coloured sway of ‘Ballad Of Hawkswood’, Robin Grey’s account of the origin of Organiclea CSA, one of the UK’s most prominent urban farms, which untypically of the genre has no death or disaster, offers the sage wisdom that “I’ll be good to the land and the land will be good to me”, and a cappella female trio Polly Gone Wrong’s ‘Hedgerow’, an ambiguous number about living like with a respect for nature (“I take what I need giving only what I owe”).
It ends with another classic, Rita Oldenbourg’s haunting solo voice arrangement of Richard Farina’s hymn to our commonality, The Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood that gives Marina Farina’s original a run for its money.
Stand Up Now ploughs rich soil and the crop is well worth the harvest.
Artists’ website: www.landworkersalliance.org.uk
‘Oak And Ash And Thorn’: