FAREFELD – Game Of Halves (own label)

A Game Of HalvesHaving previously traded under individual names as Chris Elliot and Caitlin Jones, the Staffordshire duo have now restyled themselves Farefeld, a conflation of the old spellings of their Staffordshire home towns, KinFARE (her) and LichFELD (him), but still drawing on the folklore and history of the region, a mix of self-penned and traditionals, lead vocals shared between Caitlin’s winsome reedy and Chris’s more strident notes. The duo variously joined by double bassist Mike Seal, Euan Ritchie on guitar and piano, Craig Simmonds on melodeon and Lucy Simmonds on backing vocals and accordion.

Things kick off with Chris’s ‘When I’m Home’, Caitlin on whistle for a jauntily traditional flavoured folksy celebration of returning to their own ‘Holy Ground’ in Lichfield (“I’ve fallen for the Northern hills/And the golden Southern sands/The rolling valleys in the West/And the ancient Eastern strands/But for all the wonders that I’ve seen/It’s right here where I’ll go/My neighbourhood/My flesh and blood/The place I call my home”) that mentions Shire Oak hill, gives a shoutout to their favourite pub, the ‘Bittersuite’, and segues into lively Irish jig ‘Blackthorn Stick’.

In what is possibly the only song to ever mention Garretts’ Green in Birmingham, the fingerpicked ‘Somewhere Down The Road’ is sung in the voice of Chris’s great uncle Gerald who, having rarely ever left his boyhood home, one day “grew restless to explore”, upped sticks and, covering 30 miles a day, cycled to Barcelona before, over the ensuing years, moving on to Istanbul, India, Burma and even working on an oil rig off the coast of Australia. As he says, “there never was a moment that was dull”, a line that equally applies to the album.

Catlin makes her lead bow on her self-penned piano ballad ‘Queen of the Wych Elm’ a number that dates back many years to their days with Bric-A-Brac alongside Bella Gaffney and Heather Sirrel and draws on the mystery of the female skeleton discovered in 1943 by four young boys out foraging for eggs in the woods behind Hagley Hall, near Wychbury Hill. Investigations revealed that the body belonged to that of a woman, aged in her mid-30s, who had been dead for at least eighteen months, and had clearly been murdered. Unidentified, she became known locally as Bella, hence the graffitied “Who put Bella down the wych elm?” scrawled on a wall in Upper Dean St, Birmingham the following year. Theories have ranged from her being the victim of an occult killing to an executed German spy, but the song has a more romantic approach that views her as the spirit guarding the woods, though there’s a definite chill in the final verse of “So heed my warning son/When larking in full fun/Bella – she lies waiting there/In tales that we have spun/So run beside her fast/Her charms are unsurpassed/Run away boys, away home/She’s awake at last”.

The couple’s only co-write, sung by Chris the whistle-driven title track (which prompts glowing comparisons to Megson) is, as you might suspect, connected to football. A tribute to and sung in the voice of Jimmy Seed, a miner turned football player and manager to whom Caitlin’s nan was related and who, starting his career playing at Whitburn, Tyneside, racked up goals for Tottenham Hotspur in the First Division, with whom he won an FA Cup, as well as playing for England, the song draws on his autobiography with memories of his first sports teacher, Mr Grundy, how football soothed him after the horrors of WWI and the call to try out for Whitburn (“The manager told me/I don’t think that you’ll cut it/I’ll have to wait and see/My heart was racing at full pelt/As the crowd burst into song/I shot three goals into that net/And I proved the gaffer wrong”). Like pretty much all of the songs, it shows their skill in crafting an infectious melody and crowd-friendly chorus, though to be fair the rousing “Life is a game of halves/Sometimes you lose, sometimes you win/Lace up your boots, get on the pitch, and let the match begin” is actually lifted from Seed himself.

Another old song, and another linked to journeys, the slow swaying, wistful fingerpicked, piano tinted ‘Frowning Far Too Much’, which prophetically speaks of hair loss (he now looks like a younger bald Bob Harris), was written by Chris during his university band days in 2011 about leaving home, saying goodbye to friends and family, and growing older (“To the gallows we’re marching/This afternoon”) with its message to “make every hour count”.

With a cheery disregard for being either a month late or eleven early, the first of the traditional numbers is a rousing bouzouki ringing, tambourine shaking Span-styled romp through the seasonal Peak District and Yorkshire “girl-power” number ‘The Christmas Goose’ in which, having had his way with a pub chambermaid a year earlier and giving her a guinea for her trouble, returns the following Christmas to be given to be given unexpected change in the form of a “big fat bumping child”.

Returning to their own material, written at the start of 2020’s lockdown, Chris’s cascadingly picked and vocally harmonised ‘Silence On Our Street’ was written to capture those early feelings when it initially seemed like a chance to wind down and chill out when “ If I could make this last forever/Then I surely would/If your face was all I saw” and “I can’t wait to spend all day with you” seemed a blessing rather than a prison sentence.

The final original, by Caitlin and, with a singalong chorus, featuring her, Chris and Craig whistling, the bouncy ‘Go Along to Kinver’ is essentially a Black Country version of ‘Day Trip To Bangor’ inspired by the Kinver Light Railway which, between 1901 and 1930, ran between Amblecote and Kinver (“the Switzerland of the Midlands”) giving thousands of hardworking factory folk (“chaps and wenches/Kids and codgers too”) the chance to be out in the open air, away from the smoke and muck and “the toil and strife of Midland life”. Appropriately, namechecking pubs and village along the route, it’s joyfully sung in local dialect (“And we’re in want of some fittle and pop/We’ll go to Ison’s down the late/A penny’ll get you a cup/They’ll gie us some cake/A piece or two/And a lovely cup of tay/And we’ll eat like hoity toity on the railway”) and surely warrants being embraced by the long running Black Country Night Out variety show.

It ends with two final traditional numbers, first Chris’s arrangement of the whaling sea shanty ‘Old Maui’, the percussive circular notes version here, featuring Caitlin on flute, learnt from that by Jon Boden and then, dedicated to the late flautist and whistle player Chris Burton, a long-time supporter of the duo, Catlin on vocals and Irish whistle, it fittingly closes by raising ‘The Parting Glass’, a lovely grace note to an album that both underscores their well- established status in contemporary traditional-influenced folk and marks the start of an exciting brand new chapter.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website: www.farefeld.co.uk

‘When I’m Home’ – live: