THE LOST WORDS – Spell Songs (Folk By The Oak QRCD004)

Having held the unofficial job title “wordsmith” in various contexts for several decades, I was not going to miss the opportunity of hearing and reviewing an album with the title The Lost Words: Spell Songs. Especially as one of the highly-talented musicians involved in the project is Karine Polwart, whose Laws Of Motion CD I reviewed with some enthusiasm here.

It turns out that this is a multi-faceted project with a complicated backstory. Some years ago, the Oxford Junior Dictionary began to replace some of the words it defined with words that were considered to be more in keeping with the lives led by children today, so that words relating to religion and to the natural world – like bird and flower names – were replaced by words related to various aspects of information technology (for example). Robert MacFarlane was one of 28 authors – among the others were Margaret Atwood, Michael Morpurgo, and Andrew Motion – who wrote to Oxford University Press asking them to reconsider, specifically with reference to words “associated with nature and the countryside“. (I don’t intend to get into that argument here, but the OUP’s argument is that while the number of words included in the OJD is a limiting factor, the kind of words that critics want restored do feature in their much-expanded range of dictionaries for children.)

MacFarlane then went on to write a poetry book called The Lost Words: A Spell Book, published by Hamish Hamilton/Penguin, with watercolour illustrations by Jackie Morris. As it says on the web site, the poems in the book “are called ‘spells’ rather than poems as they are designed to be spoken (or sung!) out loud in order to summon back these words and creatures into our hearts.” The book has inspired a number of musical and multi-media projects, but Spell Songs is the result of a collaborative project commissioned by Folk By The Oak. The CD is available in a hardback book format (a limited-edition double vinyl album box set is also available and includes the CD book).

Sadly, the review CD is a promo copy without the book, but it looks from the web site as if the book would be worth the money for the illustrations alone. But while I haven’t seen the ‘spells’ in isolation, the music certainly sets them off beautifully. Here’s the track list.

  1. ‘Heartwood’
  2. ‘Selkie-Boy’
  3. ‘Kingfisher’
  4. ‘Heron’
  5. ‘Little Astronaut’
  6. ‘Acorn’
  7. ‘Ghost Owl’
  8. ‘The Snow Hare’
  9. ‘Conker (Magic Casket)’
  10. ‘Papa Kéba’
  11. ‘Charm on, Goldfinch’
  12. ‘Willow’
  13. ‘Scatterseed’
  14. ‘The Lost Words Blessing’

The eight musicians all contribute vocals, but also contribute individual instruments as follows:

  • Karine Polwart: tenor guitar, Indian harmonium
  • Julie Fowlis: shruti box and whistles
  • Seckou Keita: kora
  • Kris Drever: acoustic, electric & bass guitars
  • Kerry Andrew: melodica
  • Rachel Newton: electroharp, fiddle, viola
  • Beth Porter: whistling, cello, ukulele
  • Jim Molyneux: piano, Rhodes, synth, accordion, drums, percussion

With this range of singers and instrumentalists, there is much more variation in the material presented here than you might have expected, given their common source, though that unifying theme gives each piece an emotional impact that goes far beyond the introspection of run-of-the-mill singer/songwriter fare. The arrangements, singing and playing are all excellent. And I think I know what one of my wife’s birthday presents is going to be this year. That way I get to read the book as well as hearing some very beautiful music.

David Harley

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Artist’s website: https://www.thelostwords.org/

[Book ISBN13: 9780241253588]

‘The Lost Words Blessing’ – official video:

Elliott Morris announces debut album

Elliott Morris

Lost And Found is the debut album from singer/songwriter and guitarist Elliott Morris. Recorded at Caribou Studios, Scotland and produced by Mattie Foulds, the album is a melting pot of folk, rock, blues and country. Blending progressive, contemporary ingredients with still vibrant British folk and roots traditions, this is folk music for the 21st century.

The album showcases Elliott’s expert percussive acoustic guitar playing, swooping and soulful electric solos, heartfelt lyrics and strong, honest vocals.

And he’s put together an all-star ensemble. Playing alongside are Paul Carrack (Ace, Squeeze, Mike + The Mechanics, Eric Clapton) on Hammond organ, Paul’s son Jack Carrack on drums, Innes Watson (Treacherous Orchestra) and Mike Vass (PRS Scots Trad Composer of the Year, SAY Award Nominee) on fiddles/strings, Laura-Beth Salter (The Shee) on mandolin and vocals, Lisbee Stainton (Seth Lakeman Band) on guitar and vocals, Jim Molyneux (4Square) on piano and Fender Rhodes, Alan Thomson (The John Martyn Band) on fretless bass and Elliott’s brother Bevan Morris (Dallahan, Pons Aelius) on double and electric bass.

Music blog WriteWyattUK proclaimed that Elliott Morris “redefines folk…with a little John Martyn influence delivered in Seth Lakeman style” and BBC 6Music’s Tom Robinson described him as “absurdly talented”.

Lost And Found is released both on CD and on iTunes worldwide on 16th June 2017. Elliott plays a special launch gig at Cecil Sharp House in London on 21st June, and at Café Portico in Lincoln on 30th June.

With hundreds of gigs behind him – and a coveted Danny Kyle Award from Celtic Connections 2013 – Elliott Morris has a formidable reputation as one of the hardest-working and most sought-after young artists on the acoustic scene.

The singer-songwriter, featured in Acoustic magazine as “The Next Big Thing”, taps the strings and beats the guitar’s body to create an intricate spectacle, together with an original and unique sound integral to his songs.

Half English, half Scottish and raised in Wales and Lincolnshire, Elliott is continuing this journey by means of his almost constant touring schedule. He plays across the British Isles, from Orkney to Plymouth, Boston to Llangrannog, Belfast to Clonakilty.

Elliott’s original compositions marry intricate guitar lines with heartfelt, honest vocals and clever wordplay, combining elements of folk, roots, jazz and country, all the time embracing the traditional and the contemporary.

Elliott has honed his craft on the road, regularly clocking up 120+ gigs a year. He has headlined in Germany, Holland, Ireland and Upstairs at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London, as well as performing at major festivals such as Cambridge Folk Festival, Hop Farm, Towersey Festival, The London Acoustic Guitar Show and the Ullapool Guitar Festival. He scooped a prestigious Danny Kyle Award at Celtic Connections in Glasgow, and last year BBC Alba broadcast a duo performance with Dougie Maclean at Perthshire Amber.

Elliott Morris twice toured the UK opening for Paul Carrack (Squeeze, Mike + The Mechanics, Ace, Eric Clapton), taking in over fifty major venues including a show at The London Palladium.

He has also supported a seemingly endless list of other respected acts, among them Frank Turner, Andy McKee, Seth Lakeman, Lau, Big Country, The Levellers, Ed Sheeran, Cara Dillon and Eddi Reader. But now Elliott moves centre stage, the spotlight focused on him.

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

‘Sirens’ and Elliott’s tour video: