HONEY AND THE BEAR – Away Beyond The Fret (own label)

Away Beyond The FretAway Beyond The Fret, the third album from Suffolk-based duo Lucy and Jon Hart, continuing the trend set on the previous releases (Aker, Roke), the title comes from an East Anglian term for evening mist or fog drifting in from the sea while the songs, written during lockdown, are inspired by both the natural beauty of their home county and the fact they’ve recently become parents to daughter Gracie.

Joined again on the album by Lost Boys members Toby Shaer on fiddle and harmonium, percussionist Evan Carson, accordion player Archie Churchill-Moss and cellist Graham Coe as well as Kelly Bayfield on harmonies, it opens to the sound of bouzouki with Lucy singing lead on ‘Dear Grandmother’, a sprightly, upbeat number exploring the biological connections between three generations of women (“You’re the potter, our mind is the clay/You’ll bend us, you’ll shape us/You’ll show us the way/ Look in the mirror, I’m here with you now/A voice from your future, somehow”).

Not exactly a Suffolk tale, the staccato, percussive, fiddle, ukulele and double bass throbbing ‘5500 Miles’ is based on the true story of José Salvador Alvarenga who, in 2012, was lost at sea with a fellow shipmate after his boat sank and “baking under the sun, no motor and no flare gun/Frozen under the moon, but for the warmth of the icebox we’d be doomed/Rainwater we drank, and fresh blood from the turtles bank”, was rescued 438 days later (minus shipmate) after drifting some 5500 miles or more.

It’s back home, though, for the folksy ‘Silverlace Green’ with its nimble fingerpicking and whistle which celebrates watching the seasons change from their cottage, the local connection continuing with ‘The Mighty Oak’ which, Jon on electric guitar, concerns the Aldeburgh RNLI crew and a superstition dating back to 1899 when a rescue mission took six lives (a seventh dying as a result the following year), survivor August Mann convinced he owed his life to the three acorns he carried in his pocket for luck, the same acorns having been carried aboard every lifeboat ever since.

Lucy once more playing ukulele, the rhythmically scampering bluesy ‘Head In The Stars’ again draws on a real figure, Wendover-born astrophysicist Cecelia Payne who, in 1925, proposed that stars were composed primarily of hydrogen and helium, her conclusions rejected by her misogynistic male colleagues and not recognised until the 50s by which time she was a professor at Harvard, the song written from the perspective of her proud father who advises her, and other such rebuffed women, “Expect no rewards, girls, no money, nor fame/Stay true to your aim/You’ll get what you’re owed”.

Edging towards the six-minute mark, from the title you might assume the gently swaying ‘Daughter’ to be about theirs, but it is, in fact another expression of paternal pride for a female pioneer, Elizabeth Garrett-Anderson, a suffragist who, in 1865, became the first woman in Britain to qualify as a physician and surgeon, the co-founder of the first hospital staffed by women, the first dean of a British medical school, the first woman in Britain to be elected to a school board and, in another local link, as mayor of Aldeburgh, the first female mayor in Britain.

The family get another shout-out on the moody, strident and percussion washed ‘Over Land, Over Sea’, the Garrett family founding the Leiston Engineering Works in Suffolk in 1778, manufacturing steam engines and creating the first ever engine production line. The title’s a reference to the company’s living vans, which were towed behind engines in which the drivers lived, sometimes for years, when delivering overseas. Unfortunately, on arrival, they had to leave it there and, as Lucy does, whistle their way back home,

Their twin voices accompanied solely by muted bodhran with Bayfield on harmonies, the brief slow march ‘Do You Keep It Underneath’ concerns the infamous 18th century smugglers the Hadleigh Gang and also throws in a reference to The Black Shuck, the legendary East Anglian ghost dog. The tempo ignites for ‘Finn’s Jig’ which featuring bouzouki, accordion and whistle, was written for and about a boy with a limb difference the pair met at a festival and soars as a defiance of the odds (“Don’t count all our differences/Not one human’s the same/We’re not here to point fingers/We’re not here to be shamed/We’re here to climb every mountain/To sail over the seas/To fly around the world like we’re heroes”).

The second track to push past five minutes, the broodingly swaying ‘The Trying’ is about making your own luck and dreaming big (“Just be kind and humble, love/You’re sure to find your voice/We can be part of the problem/Or we can be part of the cure”) dipping into bluesy tone midway before Shaer’s fiddle gathers it to a climax. As per the title, arranged for accordion, guitar, whistles, flute and percussion with their twin voices in harmony, ‘The Suffolk Hero’ celebrates another local figure, 19th century longshoreman and unlicensed pilot (as in boat not plane) Joshua Chard, who saved 100 lives at sea (and had a gift “for losing the excise men”) on which they’re joined by the massed voices of Pop Chorus, a self-described “feel-good adult contemporary choir”, as the number soars to the skies.

Away Beyond The Fret draws to a close back at the family hearth. First comes the bouzouki driven ‘Make This Land Our Home’, inspired by how Lucy’s family have farmed the land surrounding her home for 110 years but, with her father and uncle now retired, there’s no one to carry on the family business (“The hands that built it turned to dust/Who knew that we’d be down to two men?/The time has come, leave we must”), the song recalling the changes in farming from “heavy horse and scythe in hand” to “Tech advances help us sow”, a bittersweet song of beginnings, endings and belonging. It ends, finally, with a song for Gracie, Bayfield on harmonies on the gently lullabying ‘Stay With You’ as, thoughts of mortality arising from having recently lost her aunt, Lucy sings “Before I leave this earth, I want to know you/Know that you have everything you need/Before I leave this earth, I want to see you, grow into a person I’d be proud to call my own/Before I leave this earth, I want to know that, you’ll be ok without me, that you’ll never be alone” and that “Your tender heart will cope with knowing mine is here no more”. If you’ve not got a tear in the eye by the end, you should check your pulse. To borrow the vernacular, this album is a real notchet.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website: www.honeyandthebear.co.uk

‘Dear Grandmother’ – official video: