Mischief Afoot are a trio of English musicians based in the Cotswolds and I think it’s fair to say that John Davis, Becky Dellow and Jeff Gillett are best known for the musicians they have worked with over the years. Their repertoire is largely traditional or tunes that have a known composer but have travelled far out of their hands – such names as Michael Coleman, Martin Mulhaire and Paddy Fahy. Their sound is all acoustic and delicate, partly because one of the two lead instruments is Davis’ recorder which could be easily lost under Dellow’s violin. Gillett is the soul of restraint as an accompanist although he gets to shine as the trio’s vocalist and, as ever with Doug Bailey’s productions, the elements are perfectly balanced.
That’s not to say that there is no excitement. Mischief Afoot have a penchant for speeding tunes up, sometimes beyond what is entirely reasonable. The first time they do this is with the set ‘Cats Of Camazan/Pressed For Time’ which is a whirlwind of notes and repeat the trick with ‘The Star Of Munster/Pigeon On The Gate’. They slow down ‘Tell Her I Am/Out On The Ocean’ allowing Becky to play some surprising sliding fiddle notes.
‘The Deserter’ is the best known of the songs and, although the story is familiar, Jeff has a version with elements that I haven’t heard before and that’s always a pleasant surprise. ‘Blow The Candles Out’ is a song I haven’t heard for a long time and a tale of love that’s definitely requited unlike that of the protagonists in the lovely ‘Bridget O’Malley’. ‘The Golden Willow Tree’ is an American take on ‘Golden Vanity’ that is becoming more and more popular and ‘Jimmy And Nancy’ is another sailor-coming-home-from-the-sea story, although he doesn’t try to trick her in this one.
If you like your folk music pure and uncluttered, Mischief Afoot is definitely for you. Come to think of it, that’s true of pretty much all of the WildGoose catalogue.
Young Jim Causley returns once more to the writing of his distinguished relative, Charles. I Am The Song, unlike the serious and sometimes mysterious Cyprus Well, is a collection of poetry written for children. As you might suppose many of the songs are quite short and Jim crams twenty-one of them onto the record. Equally, you might suppose that the poems are funny to the point of silliness and to an extent you would be correct but there are dark moments and the humour sometimes conceals a serious point.
The set opens with ‘Python On Piccolo’, a song about animals forming a band and typical of the surreal images in some of Charles’ poetry also represented by ‘Good Morning Mrs Croco-Do-Dile’, ‘Tabitha Tupper’ and ‘Mrs McPhee’. Next comes a bit of social observation in the shape of ‘Newlyn Buildings’ although the line “who had the top apartment no-one ever seemed to know” adds a frisson of mystery. ‘Here We Go Round The Roundhouse’ is a calendar song that will creep into the club repertoire before long I have no doubt.
Of the darker songs, ‘Lord Lovelace’ leads the way followed by ‘Lady Jane Grey’ and ‘A Mermaid At Zennor’, although Charles steers clear of being too explicit about the fate of the titular lady in the former or the churchwarden’s son in the latter. My personal favourite is ‘I Saw A Jolly Hunter’ which will make children laugh but says a lot about Charles’ views.
Jim’s accordion arrangements provide an appropriately jolly West Country lilt to the poems but he is exceptionally generous to his friends, notably Becki Driscoll and Nick Wyke, Keith Kendrick and Sylvia Needham and Mick Ryan who take a share of the lead vocals. Nick manages the most excruciatingly perfect flat notes on ‘The Money Came In’. Other players include Jeff Gillett who provides most of the finger-picked guitar, Matt Norman who plays various banjos and Mary Humphries and Anahata.
Charles Causley said that he could never decide which poems were for children and which for adults and this collection will prove that. The standard omission is ‘Timothy Winter’ which was included in the children’s collection but only because Jim recorded it on Cyprus Well. Buy this for the kids just before they grow out of nursery rhymes or buy it for yourselves because you’ll enjoy it too.
I know it isn’t done to review an event like this and I have no intention of doing so. But I do feel that a concert that meant so much to so many people should be reported.
Sarah Morgan died, suddenly but not unexpectedly, on 14th September 2013. In her last days she laboured to complete her doctoral thesis under the watchful eyes of her friends and her doctorate was awarded posthumously. That was the sort of her person she was. It transpires that the idea for a memorial event was discussed before she died and Sarah even made a list of the people she wanted to appear. It was thought by some – those who had given up singing seriously several years ago – that this was Sarah’s last little joke but not one person refused the invitation to appear. It fell to Sarah’s final musical partners, Moira Craig and Carolyn Robson to make the idea a reality on April 13th at Winchester Guildhall.
The Community Choir movement, with which Sarah was so heavily involved in recent years was represented by five groups: choirs from Winchester, Alton and Petersfield, The Spotlight Singers and The Andover Museum Loft Singers. I believe Sarah founded three of these and their repertoires included songs that Sarah arranged, published and sometimes wrote tunes for.
Friends old and new filled the bill. From the past we heard Val Higson, a member of Curate’s Egg alongside Sarah way back in the 1970s and Sheila March, formerly of Bread And Roses, Sarah’s first all-female group. Representing the younger generation was Susannah Starling who proved what a remarkable accompanying instrument the double bass can be. From America came Mary Eagle who first came here thirty years ago and captured everyone’s heart and her friend and fellow Appalachian singer Joe Penland. Sarah’s musical connections covered a lot of ground.
Major names who travelled across the country for their ten or fifteen minutes on stage included Lester Simpson, John Kirkpatrick, The Askew Sisters, Ron Taylor, Jeff Gillett, Eddie Upton and Grace Notes. Mary Humphreys & Anahata, Mick Ryan, Tom & Barbara Brown and Doug Bailey didn’t have quite so far to travel and neither did Belshazzar’s Feast who closed their set and the concert proper with ‘Home Lads Home’ – words by Cecily Fox Smith and music by Sarah Morgan.
No memorial is over without a big finish and ‘Only Remembered’, also sung at Sarah’s funeral, had become a sort of theme. “Only remembered, only remembered, only remembered for what we have done.” Sarah did so much.