I heard the title track of Field And Dyke on-line and at first I was convinced that it was traditional and probably Scottish in origin. That shows how much I know but also indicates how authentic the record sounds. It is, in fact, derived from an oral history project conducted in the South Holland region of Lincolnshire by Danny Pedler, who wrote most of the material in the manner of the Radio Ballads, using interviews with locals as the basis of the songs. South Holland is an agricultural area in the fenlands and as we know agriculture means migrant labour.
The album opens with ‘Down And Deeper’, a consideration of immigration topped and tailed with vox pops with Greg reaching the very bottom of his register. Pedler and Russell have built the songs around the rhythm of machinery and often use those machines as percussion. The second song is ‘Poverty Knock Retold’, modernised and recast. The background is the sound of an engine built by the Lincoln firm of Ruston & Hornsby and after about four minutes the sound is enough to drive you mad – imagine hearing it for ten or twelve hours a day, day after day.
‘S.K.Y.’ celebrates the flat landscape but also laments the changes that have occurred. The song incorporates the sound of a Lister engine, the type which was used to generate electricity in the middle of the fens. ‘Pigeon End’ also looks at changes as witnessed by a man who left the area to join the Navy and came back to unrecognisable scenes. Russell’s song ‘Ready Hands’ returns to the theme of immigration and his ‘Seas End’ looks to the locals’ desires for their futures.
There are two instrumentals. The first, ‘Knock On Wood’, is a love story without words but the title of the second, ‘Delta 3000 LD SB XY Plastic Presser’ grabs the attention. The sound of this piece of kit, used in food packaging, has replaced that of the steam and diesel engines in the ears of the workers. It’s not quite as bizarre as the machine used for the background of the title track – that sprays tomato sauce on unbaked pizza bases!
South Holland is rich is folklore but no songs were collected here and ‘The Boggart And The Farmer’ is an attempt to correct that oversight. Finally Pedler and Russell turn to the element that has shaped the landscape – water. As one interviewee remarks, they never had any problem with lack of water but sometimes there was too much of it. As ‘Water Makes This Land’ points out, that problem is, in part, man-made.
Field And Dyke will be launched in Spalding next month and will tour next January.
Project website: www.gregrussellfolk.co.uk/field_dyke.php
‘Field And Dyke’ – official video: