BEN WALKER – Echo (Folk Room FRR1902)

EchoBen Walker is known as a guitarist, composer, arranger and producer but he is neither a lyricist nor a singer. For his debut solo album it would have been easy to re-run his first EP by recording a set of instrumentals and, to judge from the examples included here, it would have been very good. But it would not have been the statement that Echo is. Ben has gathered lyrics from a number of sources and recruited musicians and singers to perform with him and the result is stunning from start to finish.

The opening track is a sparkling instrumental, ‘Afon’, and if you didn’t look at the sleeve you’d be expecting more of the same. The piece ends with an almost triumphal chord and everything changes. Next is a song from William Blake’s Songs Of Innocence And Of Experience sung by Thom Ashworth and the tune that Ben has given to ‘The Ecchoing Green’ sounds perfectly traditional. ‘Ha’nacker Mill’, sung by Laura Hockenhull, was written by Hilaire Belloc and comes from Bob Copper’s archives. I’d never heard it before. ‘Rings’ is essentially an instrumental led by Basia Bartz and Anna Jenkins but it starts with a snippet of an archive recording of George ‘Pop’ Maynard. It’s not quite what Chumbawamba did on Readymades but it tips its hat in that direction.

Hazel Askew sings ‘Let Me In At The Door’, in fact a mysterious poem called ‘The Witch’ by Mary Elizabeth Coleridge. I can’t help but think that it’s an example of no good deed going unpunished but I’ll leave you to decide for yourselves. The song is enhanced by a moody, unsettling accompaniment which continues via Jo Silverston’s cello into ‘Cross Fell’. ‘On Humber Bank’ comes from a broadside ballad. Sung by Laura Ward, its accompaniment seems to reflect the sound of a heavy engine although that may be anachronistic. Jinnwoo sings another broadside, ‘How Stands The Glass Around’, which has an interesting history beyond the scope of this review and Bella Hardy takes the lead on ‘The Island’ from a poem by Dorothy Wordsworth. I’m sorry but I’m afraid that you must look this one up, too – it’s rather too metaphysical for me to explain. Then we return to Blake in the company of Kitty Macfarlane for ‘Nurses’ Songs’ before Echo closes with a final instrumental, ‘Eostre’ for which Ben is joined by Katherine Price’s oboe and Laura Ward’s flute.

The recording is immaculate, as you expect, with Ben mixing field recordings with his music to produce haunting, atmospheric tracks. There is more to Echo than that, though. The songs and poetry are deeply thought-provoking and, if you’re anything like me, you’ll spend a good deal of time reading about them.

Dai Jeffries

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Artist’s website: www.benwalkermusic.com

‘Rings’ – official video:

THE ASKEW SISTERS – Enclosure (Oakmere Music OMCD001)

EnclosureEnclosure is the fourth album from The Askew Sisters, five years since the release of the award winning In the Air Or The Earth.

Both sisters have been busy with other projects in between albums, with Hazel working with Lady Maisery and The Coven. Emily through her solo album Alchemy has been working with early music with the likes of Jamie Roberts, Simon Whittaker and also John Dipper, who recorded and co-produced Enclosure with Emily and Hazel.

The album has a very traditional feel, but somehow feels modern as well. I must confess to being more on the contemporary side of folk, but I really enjoyed the arrangements whether it be fiddle and melodeon with Hazel’s haunting voice on ‘The Wounded Hussar’ or the singing of Hazel with the cello and harmonium on ‘My Father Built Me a Pretty Tower’.

There is a wonderful medley combining waltzes, county dance and a minuet in ‘Zodiac/Joy After Sorrow/Minoway’. ‘London’s Loyalty /Heady Days’ is a second one which came from a 1651 hornpipe and the excitement of creating new music.

I especially enjoyed their take on the tale of Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight with “Castle By The Sea”, having originally heard the story on Kadia’s Outlandish Collection EP.

This album certainly grew on me the more I listened to it and I’m very tempted to make room in the diary to go to the album launch at Cecil Sharp House on 24th April. If I don’t make it I’ll just have to content myself with seeing Hazel with Lady Maisery in Harwell on 10th May.

Duncan Chappell

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Artist’s website: www.askewsisters.co.uk

‘Goose & Common’ – official video:

The English Folk Dance and Song Society announces its autumn education programme

Education

The English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) has unveiled its programme of activities for the autumn season (September to December) at Cecil Sharp House in London.

Activities on offer include classes, courses and workshops based on traditional English folk arts for children, young people, adults and families.

Highlights of the season are:

·      The chance to try a sampler session for the London Youth Folk Ensemble on September 17

·      An Introduction to Folk Song in England workshop on November 19

·      October half term folk music making and dance courses for children and young people

·      A youth ceilidh for 12 to 19-year-olds on November 12

·      A chance to dance the night away and see in the New Year with a ceilidh on December 31

·      Regular music and dance classes, catering for all ages and skill levels

Cecil Sharp House, England’s national folk arts centre and home of EFDSS, is located between Camden and Primrose Hill within easy reach of public transport. It has step free access to all levels.

A full list of classes and courses at Cecil Sharp House can be found at: http://www.cecilsharphouse.org/csh-whats-on

Children & Young People

For more information about all the summer holiday courses and booking: https://www.cecilsharphouse.org/csh-learning/holiday-courses-cecil-sharp-house

Fun With Folk

A lively day of folk dance, music and song for 6 – 8 year olds
Monday 23 Oct, 10.30am – 4pm
Course fee: £30 | £20 concessions (advance booking required)

Enjoy a lively day exploring folk dance, music and song.  The course ends with a chance to perform your new skills to family and friends.  No previous experience of folk dance or music required.

Get Your Folk On! Juniors

An exciting introduction to all things folk for 9 – 12 year olds
24 October, 10.30am – 4.30pm
Course fee: £30 | £20 concessions (advance booking required)

Musicians of all instruments and levels are welcome to come and enjoy playing, singing, dancing and creating fantastic folk music. The course ends with a chance to perform your new skills to family and friends. No previous experience of folk music or dance needed.

Get Your Folk On!

A creative folk course for 12 – 19 year olds
25 – 27 October, 10.30am – 4.30pm
Course fee: £90 | £60 concessions (advance booking required)

Explore traditional folk music and dance from the British Isles with inspiring professional folk musicians.  Choose your sessions, with options to try new skills and instruments, learn and arrange tunes, songs or dances and much more. The course ends with an informal concert for family and friends. No previous experience of folk dance or music required.

Get Your Folk On! Plus

A creative folk workshop for disabled 12 – 24 year olds, their siblings and friends
26 October 2pm – 4pm
Course fee: £12 | £8 concessions (advance booking required)

Explore and create folk music and song together in an inclusive, sensory environment. All abilities and levels of experience welcome. No prior experience of playing music required.

London Youth Folk Ensemble Sampler Session

Sunday September 17, 2 – 5pm
Free but pre-booking necessary, as places are limited

If you are interested in joining the London Youth Folk Ensemble come to the sampler session, the first of the year. Meet the tutors, learn some tunes, and find out more about the coming year’s plans and events.

London Youth Folk Ensemble 2017 – 18

Various Sundays 2 – 5pm (17 weeks including Sampler Session)
For 12 – 19 year olds
For more details visit: cecilsharphouse.org/lyfe

Welcoming young musicians who want to create and perform amazing folk music together! The Ensemble meets regularly from September to July, led by professional folk musicians, and performs at exciting events across London and beyond. Open for improver to advanced level musicians of any instrument. London Youth Folk Ensemble is an annual commitment, for which there is a fee.

Youth Forum

For 14-21 year olds (disabled young people up to 24 years old)
Various Wednesdays 5 – 7pm

Are you passionate about the folk arts? Join us and get your voice heard at EFDSS and Cecil Sharp House!  Gain experience in producing and marketing youth events, meet folk artists, attend gigs and tell us what you think.  The Youth Forum meets monthly at Cecil Sharp House.

Membership of the Youth Forum is free but places are limited. Apply to join at: efdss.org/youthforum

Youth Ceilidh

Sunday 12 Nov, 6–8pm
For 12–19 year olds
Tickets: £6

Dance your socks off to some energetic English ceilidh music with musicians Nick Hart and Dave Delarre and caller Gwennie Chatfield. Come with your friends or on your own. Suitable for all levels of experience as a caller will show you the moves and the dances will be walked through. Refreshments available.

Family

Family Barn Dance

Sundays 8 Oct | 12 Nov | 10 Dec, 3-5pm
Tickets: £7 adult | £5 children | £2 for under 2s

Bring the entire family and take part in lively dances from the British Isles in a supportive and fun environment! Live music inspires the dancing and expert callers guide the moves with simple instructions.

Groups should include a minimum of one adult for every four children. Children under 5 should be partnered by an adult and may need guiding or carrying through the dances. No unaccompanied children or adults!

Advance booking recommended.

Dance

New Year’s Eve Ceilidh

Sunday 31 December, 8pm – 1am
£30 | £20 under 26s (tickets available in advance only)

Dance away the old year and welcome in 2018 to the irresistible sounds and lively dances of an English ceilidh! With driving music from the Will Pound Band, caller Sheena Masson will show you the moves as the dances are walked through and called. Come with your friends or on your own—suitable for all levels of experience. Recommended for everyone over 10 years (not suitable for young children). Bar open and refreshments available.

Classes, Courses & Workshops

Monday Folk Choir Workshops

Mondays 18 Sept | 2, 16 Oct | 6, 20 Nov | 4 Dec, 7 – 9pm
Term fee: £60 | £48 concessions
(advance booking required)

Explore choral folk song arrangements in a relaxed and friendly environment. These 6 sessions are suitable for singers of all abilities, without the pressure and commitment of public performance. All material is taught by ear.

Morris Dancing

Tuesdays 19 Sept – 12 Dec
Beginners: 6.30 – 8pm
Improvers and advanced: 7 – 9pm
Term fee: £91 | £71.50 concessions (advance booking required)
Carnet of 8 tickets: £60 | £48 concessions (advance booking required)
Drop-in: £8 | £6.50 concessions (payable on the night)

This mixed level class is based on the popular and lively Cotswold morris tradition, in which dancers perform with handkerchiefs and sticks. Led by tutor Andy Richards.

Please note: these classes are designed to overlap. This allows beginners to be taught on their own first, and then learn from more experienced dancers in a mixed session from 7 – 8pm

Cecil Sharp House Choir

Wednesdays 20 Sept – 13 Dec (no session 25 Oct), 7- 9pm
Term fee: £82 | £66 concessions (advance booking required)
Sing traditional songs from the British Isles and beyond, in a cappella harmony arrangements, by choir leader Sally Davies. For confident singers, who can hold a tune and are keen to perform.

English Country Dancing

Thursdays 14 Sept – 14 Dec, 7.30-10pm
Term fee: £98 | £77 concessions (advance booking required)
Carnet of 8 tickets: £60 | £48 concessions (advance booking required)
Drop-in: £8 | £6.50 concessions (payable on the night)

Learn the steps for English social folk dancing with tutor and caller Mike Ruff – country, ceilidh and barn dancing – and related styles from further afield such as American Contra. Musicians welcome to join the live band led by Ian Cutts. No need to bring a partner and open to dancers of all levels of experience including absolute beginners!

Saturday Folk Music Workshops

9, 23, 30 Sept | 14, 21 Oct | 4, 18 Nov | 2, 16 Dec, (the course continues Jan – April 2018); times vary depending on workshop
Term fee per workshop: £131 | £90 concessions (9 week term, advance booking required)

Discover your inner folk! Fun, welcoming and expertly taught workshops at different levels in accordion, banjo, fiddle, guitar, melodeon, penny whistle and mixed instrument classes, led by our team of expert folk artist tutors including Hazel Askew, David Delarre, Beth Gifford, Ed Hicks, Paul Hutchinson, Jacquelyn Hines and Laurel Swift.

An Introduction to Folk Song in England

Sun 19 Nov, 10.30am – 4.30pm
£45 / £36 concessions

Internationally published folklorist Steve Roud presents with Laura Smyth, EFDSS’ Library and Archive Director, this popular introductory level day exploring the history of English folk song. Topics will include: the many possible definitions of ‘folk’, the songs themselves, the singers, the places and times for singing, the music, cheap printed broadsides and other sources from which people learned songs, the folksong collectors, the scholars and the beginnings of the post-War revival. The course is aimed at beginners and will not presume any previous experience or knowledge.

Conferences

Traditional Tunes and Popular Airs: History and Transmission

Friday 6 – Saturday 7 October, 9am–5pm, £45 full weekend | £30 one day

Researchers have long been fascinated by the recurrence of tunes in all manner of musical styles and genres, performance contexts, levels of society, historical periods, and geographical locations. But how are we to understand this phenomenon?

The 21st century has seen a renewal of interest in the history and comparative study of melody, and the study of musical perception and memory. This conference brings together those working on ‘traditional’ and ‘popular’ tunes across multiple contexts. Topics include: tunebooks ; composers, arrangers and collectors ; song tunes in performance ; melodic traditions ; dance tunes, and much more.

Art

Kissing the Shuttle by Caitlin Hinshelwood

27 September 2017 – 28 January 2018

An exhibition of new large-scale textile banners created in response to research from the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, the Working Class Movement Library and the People’s History Museum.

The work explores the qualities of protest and resistance present in working and industrial song and union and protest banners, as well as drawing on the folk practices, sense of community and forms of communication that come from work and the work place.

Imagery touches upon the use of gestures, signs, symbolism, speech ways, and customs performed primarily in the textile trades and industries of the North West and Northern Ireland, alongside folk traditions that came directly from the mills or were closely connected to those communities.

The banners are screen-printed on silk using embellishments of rosettes, ribbons, ruffles and fringing, adopting the visual language and craftsmanship of historic banners and associated folk costumes.

Caitlin Hinshelwood is a London based artist and textile designer interested in the narrative possibilities of textiles; how textiles can be used to communicate and how they act as repositories of personal or social history.

Entry: Free during opening times of the building

Booking information:

Advance booking is generally required for courses and workshops. Please visit www.cecilsharphouse.org to pay and enrol. (There are no transaction fees for classes and courses).

To pay for drop-in classes, pay the tutor cash on the night.

Tickets for events can be purchased from the reception desk at Cecil Sharp House (in person only), Monday – Friday, 9.30 – 5.30pm, with no transaction fee.

Adult Learning

Unless stated otherwise, classes are open to everyone over the age of 16 years. Advance booking is required for some courses and drop-in is possible for others – please check the details against each relevant course.

Youth

All youth courses must be booked in advance. Concessions are available to young people in receipt of free school meals.

Refund policy

All EFDSS courses are non-refundable unless the course is cancelled by EFDSS.

Concessionary Policy

You may apply for the concessionary fee for any EFDSS classes and courses if you are:

In full-time education
In receipt of Job Seekers Allowance
In receipt of Income-Based Benefit (including Income Support, Housing or Council Tax Benefit, Working Tax Credit, Pension Credit)

COVEN – Unholy Choir (own label COVENCD01)

Unholy ChoirIn case you haven’t been paying attention, let me explain. Coven combines the prodigious talents of Belinda O’Hooley and Heidi Tidow, Lady Maisery (Hazel Askew, Hannah James and Rowan Rheingans) and Grace Petrie. They have worked together, when commitments permit, for about three years having got together for International Women’s Day but Unholy Choir is the first time they have recorded. A word of warning, though, this six-track EP will only be available at gigs on their tour starting on March 1st.

Much of the material is drawn from back catalogues but these are all new recordings that combine the power of six voices and their instrumental skills. The opening track is ‘Coil & Spring’, written by O’Hooley and Tidow with the assistance of Boff Whalley about the Pussy Riot protest. I must have chosen itself as it gives the EP its title. Next is ‘Bread & Roses’. Rowan has given the song a new tune which makes it less of a march with a much more English feel. An inspired move.

‘This Woman’s Work’ is an obvious choice and Kate Bush’s song gives the group something to get their musical teeth into but, being old and male, I prefer ‘Quitting Time’ by the late Maggie Roche. Its footloose feel is enhanced by Belinda’s rolling piano but softened by the sweetness of six voices in harmony. Grace wrote ‘If There’s A Fire In Your Heart’ and she sings it an appropriately confrontational style. The message is simple: get out there and do something, however small.

The final track was recorded live. It’s Pat Humphries’ anthemic ‘Never Turning Back’. It’s a song I didn’t know from a writer I hadn’t heard of but I wasn’t surprised to learn that Pat knew Pete Seeger. Coven sing it a capella (the way Pat does) using the natural acoustics of Cooper Hall where they made the record and it brings the set to a rousing, optimistic close.

You have twelve chances this year to hear Coven live and acquire a copy of Unholy Choir. Don’t miss out.

Dai Jeffries

Tickets: www.ohooleyandtidow.com/gigs

‘This Woman’s Work’ live:

Belinda O’Hooley talks to Folking about Coven

Coven
Photograph by Elly Lucas

There’s a new gang in town and if their publicity photographs are any guide they mean business. Coven combines the talents of O’Hooley & Tidow, Lady Maisery (Hazel Askew, Hannah James and Rowan Rheingans) and singer Grace Petrie. Belinda O’Hooley explains how it all came about.

“We were introduced to Grace’s work by Huw Pudner at The Valley Folk Club in Pontardawe. He was raving about her, and around the same time, Jude Abbott from the No Masters Co-op was also singing her praises. We watched some of her stuff on YouTube and thought she was such a firebrand, standing up for what she believes in and doing great things for women. We spent a summer doing the same concerts at festivals as Lady Maisery and were blown away by their live show. We got to know them along the way. Heidi and Rowan chatted about doing something as a collective at some point, and here we all are!

“Coven was Heidi’s idea. She had previously set up a Women Make Music night in Huddersfield and had experience of this sort of thing. Both Lady Maisery and Grace Petrie were well up for forming a collective with us and celebrating International Women’s Day in a series of concerts. The first Coven tour was just three dates which all sold out. The second year, we played ten dates and this year, we’ve got twelve.”

The name could be something of a hostage to fortune. Whose idea was it?

“I can’t remember who thought the name up, it wasn’t me. I think it suits us; a gaggle of witches.”

I couldn’t possibly comment on that but the press photos seem to suggest that Belinda and Heidi are the dominant force. Either that or it’s a case of big’uns in the middle and little-uns on the ends.

Coven
Photograph by Elly Lucas

“Ha! I think it looks like me and Rowan have got married and the rest of Coven are our bridesmaids. Elly Lucas took the photo at Kellam Island in Sheffield. We love the way she utilises the background of a rusty metal fence with the sunlight, to create texture and atmosphere. She’s a bit good. Looking at that photo, I wouldn’t want to mess with any of us.”

Again, I couldn’t possibly comment but what can we expect from a Coven gig?

“The show consists of us performing separately in our bands and also collectively together on existing material and also songs that Coven members have brought to the group. Over the course of the last two tours, these songs have taken on a life of their own and it has been very rewarding and exciting to record them and make an EP.”

Having developed rather below the radar over the last couple of years, Coven are embarking on a fully-fledged tour in March. Can we take it that Coven will be an on-going project?

“I think all of us want Coven to be an ever developing project as we all have so much to give to it. We all seem to get on really well and there is room for creativity and expression both individually and as a collective. It helps that we all like vegan food too. Hannah James is the most wonderful vegan chef, and kept us all fed beautifully for the five days we spent at Cooper Hall, Frome recording the EP. Fay Goodridge invited us there, and through their bursary scheme, we were able to record in their extraordinary venue. This EP, recorded by me and Heidi and mixed and mastered by Neil Ferguson will be available initially exclusively on the tour”

And that’s something else to look forward to.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ websites: http://ohooleyandtidow.com/ https://www.ladymaisery.com/about
http://gracepetrie.com/

VARIOUS ARTISTS – Songs of Separation (Navigator NAVIGATOR094P)

Songs of SeparationAn ambitious project, this is the brainchild of double-bassist Jenny Hill who, in the period running up to the Scottish independence referendum in 2014, found herself frequently on the road away from her Scottish home. As such, and being English, she was struck by the different messages being directed at and from the two nations and decided to address the notion of separation through a musical project. Recruiting Eliza Carthy, Hannah James, Hannah Read, Hazel Askew, Jenn Butterworth, Karine Polwart, Kate Young, Mary Macmaster and Rowan Rheingans, a posse of female folkies from both Scotland and England, they holed up on Isle of Eigg last June to write, rehearse and record (in just six days) what would eventually become this album, its theme of separation embracing the personal, political, social and cultural as well as touching on matters of family, gender, communication, supernatural, home, work, identity and the land.

Polwart taking the lead vocal, it opens with a reading of the traditional number, ‘Echo Mocks The Corncrake’, an appropriate choice given that Eigg is one of this migratory bird’s remaining habitats, its distinctive call introducing the track and echoed in the percussive beats, the lyrics about the separation of two lovers serving as a metaphor for the rural depopulation of the Highlands during the 18th and 19th centuries. It’s a robust treatment involving harp, scraping strings bass, double bass and a rousing wordless vocal refrain.

The album continues in traditional mode with Read’s bluegrass-tinged arrangement of Burns’ ‘It Was A’ For Our Rightfu’ King’, a gently yearning melody picked out her acoustic guitar and completed by harp and banjo, followed by the equality and love themed ‘The Poor Man’s Lamentation’ with its urgent rhythm, swirling violins and a capella ending. Further birdsong and the sound of a storm heralds the wholly massed a capella lament ‘Sad The Climbing’ (or, since it’s sung in Gaelic, ‘Trom An Direadh’), recorded live, like the album’s other a capella number, ‘Unst Boat Song’, in Eigg’s acoustically striking Cathedral Cave, itself not far from the site of a 1577 massacre of the MacDonald population by the MacLeods of Harris upon which the lyrics treat.

Driven by choppy percussive arrangement and gathering to a chanted climax, things remain in Scottish Gaelic for the near six-minute ‘Muladach Mi ‘s Mi Air M’aineoil’ (‘Sad Am I And In A Strange Place’), a call-and-response waulking song about a woman and her two daughters being separated from their people and their home.

In contrast to the bulk of the album, ‘Cleaning The Stones’ is an original number (a fish’s love song) penned by Eliza Carthy. Opening with a chamber folk arrangement, it waltzes dreamily on wings of plucked strings and harp arpeggios like something from the music halls. A little more birdsong, and it’s a journey way back in time and to the far reaches of the Shetlands for ‘Unst Boat Song’, a prayer for the safe return of fisherman sung on the original Norn with Polwart taking lead.

Sung by Hazel Askew with the others providing harmonies, the lullabying music hall tune of ‘London Lights’ may be more familiar as ‘Just Before The Battle Mother’, an American Civil War song written by George Root, the lyrics here about the destitution fate of abandoned single mothers. Heading into the final stretch, the harp shimmering ballad ‘Sea King’ is a handclap backed intricate setting by Kate Young of a poem by 19th century Danish poet Adam Oehlenschläger, a variation on the selkie myth about a woman who, years after being transformed into a mermaid, returns to shore, human again, only to find she has now has no home on either land and the sea.

Lady Maisery’s Rowan Rheingans steps up for another original, the strings-swathed ‘Soil And Soul’, a song inspired by both the hills known as The Old Woman of the Moors on the Isle of Lewis and the translation of the Gaelic for Eigg, The Island of the Big Women (a reference to the 7th century female Pict warriors sent to rid the island of Christianity-peddling monks), while the title (and the theme) stems from a book by Scottish environmental campaigner Alastair McIntosh.

Concerned with separation and loss as a result of conflict, personal or otherwise, ‘Over The Border’ weaves together a number of traditional tunes and a collective original, among them ‘The Flowers of Knaresborough Forest’, ‘Blue Bonnets Over the Border’ and pipe lament ‘The Floo’ers of The Forest’, plucked harp and Indian harmonium drone giving way to shared vocals by Polwart and Carthy before the ensemble joins in and violins, guitars and percussion lift the tempo for a rousing dance reel and the optimistic refrain of ‘the gates and the borders will all fade away’.

Finally, Robert Frost’s classic poem ‘The Road Not Taken’ provides the inspiration for’ Rheingans’ ‘Road Less Travelled’, her vocals joined by Polwart and Young (who also lent a lyric hand) on an suitably banjo-dappled accompaniment behind which, recorded in the open air, birds trill and the wind blows as they exhort “lay your cares and troubles down” and “sing your own way home”.

There’s no better way to end this than by quoting Hill’s words in the booklet:

Songs of Separation is an ‘SoS’, reminding us that this connection between people, and between people and place, is the key to overcoming the challenges we face, both in our communities and in this fragile world of which we are temporary custodians.” Come together, right now.

Mike Davies

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Website: http://www.songsofseparation.co.uk/

Cathedral Cove: