A starker sound and more personal focus characterise In the Furrows Of Common Place, the riveting third album from the Sheffield-born folk musician, one that puts greater focus on his singing than the previous, more instrumental material and embraces social-political observations rather than what he calls landscape sketches, drawing on both original and historical and traditional material with inspiration taken from the likes of John Clare, Robert Macfarlane and Barry Hines, the South Yorkshire author of A Kestrel For A Knave, filmed by Ken Loach as Kes.
Featuring his regular band, Neal Heppleston on double bass, violinist dbh, Sally Smith on trumpet and flugelhorn and percussionist Guy Whitaker, as his collaborators, he’s gone for a more aggressive, more direct live sound that reflects the concerns of the songs which address both hopelessness and defiance. It opens in sterling form with ‘Common Thread’, dbh’s violin dancing through the earthy, spirited rhythms and melody, the vocals bookending the track as the lyric draws on accounts of the industrial and agricultural heritage of the landscape where he was raised as the narrator recalls the loss of livelihoods of generations that relied on farming the common ground farming industries (“A barren hill just left to see/Once fields for those to eat”) as rights have been denied and the land privatised by corporate investment because “When there’s profit in the margins/The common thread is trodden on”.
A similar theme fuels the brooding near six-minute ‘The Lamentations of Round-Oak Waters’, which, backed by harmonium drone and muted drums and sung in a potent accent, is inspired by and adapts lines from the epic 1818 poem by the 19th century farm labourer’s son John Clare, commonly known as “the Northamptonshire Peasant Poet, in which the titular stream laments the effects of the enclosures on the common land (“The land and eddings are no more/The pastures too are gone/The greens, the meadows and the moors/Are all cut up and gone… There’s scarce a greensward spot remains/And scarce a single tree”) on which note, with an eco resonance that still applies today with Sheffield council felling some 35,000 trees, he concludes “Damned are the changes of the green/So to the life of man”.
It’s followed by the lively guitar and fiddle-driven instrumental ‘Mytholm, inspired by Macfarlane’s book Landmarks which explores the idea of Britain and Ireland’s lost language and dialects, the track title an Old English word meaning “two rivers meeting”, Mytholmroyd being a village in the Upper Calder Valley.
Another six minute track, accompanied by delicate fingerpicked acoustic guitar, the instrumentation gradually, subtly gathering, the mournfully sung ‘Stolen Ground’ extends the image of the enclosures and the hapless lot of the common man (“the landless weep on pastures cleared”) to a social commentary of in the age of austerity in contemporary England as he sings “They’ve uprooted this land from me/ And we’re voiceless from their policies/And we’re moved on for economy”.
There’s two non-originals on the album, the first being ‘Ah Cud Hew’ written by Ed Pickford, a singer from the North East of England, inspired by growing up in a mining village in 50s County Durham, about the loss of the coal industry (“Now me hewin’ days are through”) and a celebration of those who worked the dust-filled pits, and sung unaccompanied in a deep, throaty voice and broad Yorkshire accent, with the band providing the backing harmonies. It’s transfixing.
Split into two parts, one sung, one instrumental ‘Beneath The Willow’ arose from Ghedi being accorded access to the Barry Hines archives at the University of Sheffield where, skimming through, the phrase “This flimsy house is falling down, with us inside” stood out and eventually led to this rumbling, robustly sung, fiddle-grained, swayalong rhyhm number “formed from a collection of personal narratives, exploring childhood stories, the effects of being raised around alcoholism and witnessing loved ones broken by depression and mental health issues”. Telling of Young Henry born on a terrace yard, with lines such as “His dad once left when first was born/And mum’s on week binges and beats with scorn” and “Old friends now walk out at dawn/Looking for a branch to hang from” it’s a harrowing listen, segueing into the fiddle-dominant, tradition-steeped part 2, the potency calming towards the end to become almost a rural funeral march beat,
It ends with the second non-original, a sparsely arranged, eight minute reading of the traditional Scots murder ballad ‘Son David’, sometimes known as ‘Edward with accompanying change of name to the verses, sung in an eons deep and thick dialect and retaining some of the original Scottish words. Dating back over two centuries and long thought lost, Ghedi was inspired by Jeannie Robertson’s version on her Scottish Folk Songs & Ballads album from the 50s. Similar to ‘Lord Randall’ in as much as it’s a son talking to his mother, here, however, he’s not the victim but, as she asks where the blood on his sword’s from, he tries to fob her off first saying it’s from killing his horse, then his greyhound, before admitting it’s his brother’s and declaring he’s “gaun away in a bottomless boat”.
Impassioned, tortured, desolated, angry, sounding as ancient and as loamy as the furrows in the land he sings about, well-served by an intuitive collection of musicians, this launches 2021 with a thunderclap to the folk tradition that will reverberate for years to come.
Artist’s website: www.jimghedi.com
‘Beneath The Willow’ – official video: