BELINDA KEMPSTER & FRAN FOOTE – On Clay Hill (From Here Records SITW013CD)

On Clay HillAny recording that comes out of the Stick In The Wheel stable is worth listening to and if you’re familiar with their From Here collections On Clay Hill will delight you. If you aren’t acquainted with them, go and rectify that immediately. Fran Foote is SITW’s harmony singer and Belinda Kempster is her mother, making Fran the third generation of singers in the family (at least) since many of these songs come from her great-uncle, Ernie Austin.

So what we have here is a collection of traditional songs, many of which are Essex variants differing slightly from what we think of as the “standard” versions. The album begins with ‘John Barleycorn’, which Ernie recorded on Flash Company for Topic way back in 1974. The story is familiar but this version is new to me – don’t ever say that traditional music can’t throw up anything new. ‘The Sheep Shearing Song’ (otherwise ‘Rosebud In June’) is from the Copper Family and Belinda and Fran treat to a rather mournful shruti box accompaniment – the only instrument used on the record. ‘Dark Eyed Sailor’, ‘Bushes And Briars’ and ‘Female Drummer’ are all well-known but coming from a family tradition in this way gives them a special frisson. The harmonies on ‘Dark Eyed Sailor’ are wonderful.

‘Little Bugger’ is a song that Ernie wouldn’t sing in mixed company. The song is a version of ‘The Crayfish’ but Belinda and Fran gave it a new title from his version. ‘Dearly Missed’ is Ernie’s title for ‘The Blue Cockade’, performed with the drone of the shruti box and tight harmonies. In spite of the sad story it has a happy ending in the shape of a final verse that I hadn’t heard before. ‘Nutting Girl’ has an unusual chorus and ‘Knife In The Window’ is another song with several titles and shares a tune with ‘Hares On The Mountain’. There is still some confusion as to who’s small clothes are actually cut but never mind. ‘Bonny Labouring Boy’ and ‘Tarry Trousers’ both differ from more well-known versions.

The final track of On Clay Hill is ‘Ernie’s Song’, a brief snippet of him singing the first verse of a music hall song performed on the boards by Sam Mayo. It sort of brings things full circle.

Dai Jeffries

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‘Dark Eyed Sailor’:

Belinda Kempster and Fran Foote – album and live dates

Belinda Kempster and Fan Foote

From Here Records release On Clay Hill, Stick In The Wheel harmony singer Fran Foote’s debut album with her mother, Belinda Kempster.

Belinda began singing traditional songs in the 1960s:

“Our family has a history of farming and working on the land; these songs come from that way of life – at work and at play”.

She met her husband in a folk club, and Fran grew up immersed in the local folk scene, learning songs from her parents from a very young age. As mother and daughter, Fran and Belinda have sung together privately for years, but it’s only now we all have a chance to hear Ian Carter’s recordings of their unique interpretations of mostly Essex-collected traditional songs. Encouraged by band and label founders Nicola and Ian, they bring timeless renditions without frills or fuss to a repertoire that is rich and varied.

Many of their songs were learned from Fran’s great uncle and farm labourer Ernie Austin, who was recorded for Topic’s Voice Of The People release Flash Company in 1974. Austin lived and worked in the small village of Bentley, just outside Colchester, and sang songs related to his work and recreation. Stuff you’d sing down the pub.

‘Ernest Austin is now 83 years of age and he lives in a small village to the east of Colchester in Essex. He left school at 12 to work as a kitchen boy in a farmhouse, earning 3/6d in return for a 60-hour week. For most of his early life he worked on the land as a farm labourer until, with experience, he became an agricultural engineer, retiring at the age of 70.’ Flash Company, Topic Records sleevenotes

This collection of songs are made up of those taught to Belinda by Ernie and from private family recordings. Also included are personal favourites from Belinda’s repertoire: “we want our family’s music to be documented – this is the tradition of our family and singing these songs together feels like coming home”. Clay Hill Road is an area of Basildon that Belinda and Fran have always lived near.

Nicola Kearey and Ian Carter set up From Here Records to release their own Stick In The Wheel material. This has expanded into a label concerned with the transmission of English folk music and culture into the wider world, including the critically acclaimed and ongoing project English Folk Field Recordings, and now their harmony singer Fran Foote.

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‘Dark Eyed Sailor’ – official video:

Live Dates:

Sunday 15 September Cressing Folk Festival

Saturday 28 September Cellar Upstairs, London

VARIOUS – From Here: English Folk Field Recordings (From Here Sitw005)

From HereThey may be newcomers to the scene, but Stick In The Wheel are certainly making their mark, not just with their own recordings and associated artifacts, but in their involvement with the folk world in general, and the traditional in particular.

Band members Ian Carter and Nicola Kearey serve as curators, collaborators and producers for this collection of new live recordings by both the great and good and some of the lesser known luminaries in the genre. The remit for those involved was to record songs that explored either place or their musical identity, culminating in a gathering of field recordings captured in locations as diverse as a stone cottage in Edale, a bank vault and a garden at Robin Hood’s Bay using just two stereo microphones and with no subsequent overdubs.

As you would imagine, the tracks are stark and raw, first up being ‘Bedfordshire May Carol’, chosen by performer Jack Sharp, leader of psych-folk outfit Wolf People, as it supposedly originated just a few miles from where he grew up. Next up, Eliza Carthy leads a flurry of more familiar names with a self-penned number, ‘The Sea’, a new setting of the broadside ballad found in Manchester’s Chetham Library and featuring on her current album, the initial pizzicato fiddle giving way to more robust playing. She’s followed by one of the veterans of English folk, John Kirkpatrick, applying his accordion to a song from his lengthy repertoire and a folk club staple ‘Here’s Adieu To Old England’, while his sometimes musical partner, Martin Carthy, also chose a number he’s recently reintroduced back into his sets, ‘The Bedmaking’, a familiar tale of the abused and cast aside servant girl. fingerpicked here to a halting rhythm.

Sandwiched in-between is one of the rising stars of the few folk firmament, the Peak District’s Bella Hardy, who went to 19th century collection The Ballads and Songs of Derbyshire for ‘The Ballad of Hugh Stenson’, setting it to a more upbeat tune than the hymnal adapted by Jon Tams, while, another member of folk royalty, Jon Boden puts his squeezebox to work on a contemplative take on 19th century drinking song ‘Fathom The Bowl’.

There’s a couple of spokes from the Wheel, both unaccompanied, Kearey delivering glottal version of the much covered ‘Georgie’ and Fran Foote ‘The Irish Girl’. They’re not the only numbers to be sung naked as it were. BritFolk alumnus Lisa Knapp has a lovely treatment of the tumblingly melodious ‘Lavender Song’, while, also from the female side, Fay Hield tips the hat to Annie Briggs with her choice of ‘Bonny Boy’.

On the other side of a capella gender fence, Geordie folkie Stew Simpson mines his Newcastle roots for ‘Eh Aww Ah Cud Hew’ (which the accompanying booklet helpfully translates as “Oh Yes, I Could Pick At The Coals”), Sam Lee turns the evergreen ‘Wild Rover’ on its head to transform it into a slow, sad lament rather than more familiar rollicking rouser of Dubliners and Pogues note, and, from Wales, a deep-voiced Men Diamler closes the album with ‘1848 (Sunset Beauregard)’, a self-penned political protest ballad about Tory policies. The remaining unaccompanied track is actually a duet, Peta Webb and Ken Hall joining voices for an Irish in London in the 50s marriage of Ewan MacColl’s ‘Just A Note’, about the building of the M1, and Bob Davenport’s account of the dangers of ‘Wild Wild Whiskey’.

The three remaining tracks are all instrumentals. Bristol’s acoustic instrumental quartet Spiro are the only band on the collection and provide their self-penned ‘Lost In Fishponds’, apparently about getting lost en route to a gig, joined here by North Wales violinist Madame Česki, while Sam Sweeney brings his fiddle to bear on two tunes. ‘Bagpipers’, one of the first things he played with his band Leveret, and ‘Mount Hills’, an English dance tune from the 17th century. Which leaves Cumbrian concertina maestro Rob Harbron to provide the third with a pairing of ‘Young Collins’, a Costwolds’ tune learned from Alistair Anderson, and, another from the Morris tradition, ‘Getting Up The Stairs’, which, by way of a pleasing synchronicity, he actually learned by way of John Kirkpatrick on the influential Morris On album.

It more than does the job it set out to achieve, and, likely to loom large in end of year awards, fully warrants a place in any traditional folk fan’s collection.

Mike Davies

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Stew Simpson – ‘Eh Aww Ah Cud Hew’: