MOIRAI – Framed: The Alice Wheeldon Story (WildGoose WGS433CD)

FramedI’m sometimes amazed at the historical material that musicians succeed in writing about, from Gary Miller’s epic Mad Martins to Amy Goddard’s poignant ‘Remembering Aberfan’. I think that Moirai have outdone them all with Framed. It tells how Alice Wheeldon and members of her family were imprisoned for plotting to poison David Lloyd George and Labour party chairman Arthur Henderson. Now, Lloyd George was a somewhat controversial figure but thankfully Moirai spare us a chorus of ‘Lloyd George Knew My Father’, allegedly referring to his sexual activities. Alice and her family were pacifists, socialists and anti-conscription and the feeling now is that they were, indeed, framed. There is an on-going campaign to clear their names and you can read more about the story by following the link below.

Almost all of the album is written by Melanie Biggs, Jo Freya and Sarah Matthews. After Sarah’s ‘Prologue’ they further set the scene with ‘I Didn’t Raise My Boy To Be A Soldier’, a popular American anti-war song. They succeed in subtle ways to evoke the musical styles of the period – a brief borrowing from Harry Champion sets up ‘Proper Gander’, a description of the lifestyle pursued by Alice and her associates. That is followed by ‘DORA Is Here For You’; DORA being the Defence Of The Realm Act which was the blunt instrument used to bring the charges.

The songs are interspersed with instrumentals written to reinforce the changing moods of the album – do I need to tell you that the story doesn’t end well? ‘Twisted Round’, a piece in seven time by Jo, represents the confusion of the trial and ‘Win To Hett’ by Mel, is a melancholy tune representing their time in prison. There is defiance in ‘What Am I Here For?’, based on words taken from Alice’s letters and prison records but the story does end in sadness and Alice’s funeral.

I can’t help thinking that politics haven’t changed much over the last century. The government strengthens its grip on power and socialists are reviled, it all sounds so familiar. Framed may be a story from history but it’s also an album for our times.

Dai Jeffries

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MOIRAI – Here & Now (WildGoose WGS421CD)

Here & NowHere & Now must be the first album to open with a song collected from that bastion of the tradition, Facebook™. ‘Dust If You Must’ is an anonymous poem set to music, and while there is nothing wrong with it, per se, I’d rather have it as an encore than an overture.

Moirai are Jo Freya, Melanie Biggs and Sarah Matthews, multi-instrumentalists, composers and vocalists, and this is their second album. They have settled into their groove now; mixing original compositions with traditional pieces and a title track borrowed from Daz Barker. The ratio of songs to instrumentals is higher this time with Jo and Sarah handling the majority of the vocals. Jo’s history with Blowzabella and her penchant for reed instruments frequently give their music a continental feel and bourrees are often intertwined with songs. There’s a pair of mazurkas, written by Jo and Melanie, and Jo’s clarinet combined with Melanie’s rhythmic melodeon playing give ‘The Black And The Grey/The Green Ship’ a European vibe although I suspect that both tunes are British.

The first of two traditional songs is ‘Doffin Mistress’, learned by Sarah from Corinne Male and not quite like any other version I’ve encountered. I suspect that it’s closer to its Irish roots than some more popular variants. The second is ‘The Bedmaking’, combining tunes from Gloucestershire and Wales into a particularly fine version. Sarah’s ‘The Bellamont Sisters’ is an old Derbyshire tale of the building of the 13th century Swarkestone bridge that probably should have been a song but wasn’t and Jo’s ‘The Hare’ is a rather odd song about the origins of Easter eggs and bunnies. Best of all is ‘Rolanda’s Grandmother’. There is a back-story that I’ve been unable to track down but essentially it’s about the way the horrors of war never leave those who witness them.

Here & Now sees Moirai in a more serious mood that did Sideways and gives the impression of material gathered with the trio specifically in mind. There is some lovely playing from all three and everything just feels right.

Dai Jeffries

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‘Rolanda’s Grandmother’ – live (amateur video):

MOIRAI – Sideways (WildGoose WGS 410 CD)

SidewaysIt couldn’t really happen in any other sphere of musical life. I mean, you don’t get orchestras gathering at the pub after a festival for a session, do you? In the folk world it happens all the time and that’s how Jo Freya, Melanie Biggs and Sarah Matthews met and decided to form a group.

It feels natural. Their chosen instruments are sax and clarinet, melodeon and flute and violin and guitar – all basically smooth and melodic with nothing too jangly. Their repertoire came together in the same way – songs and tunes written or acquired over the years and dusted down anew. Without the sort of cross-fertilization that the folk scene encourages Melanie’s ‘Ufton Court Schottische’ wouldn’t have found a partner in Sarah’s ‘All Saints’.

Seven of the thirteen tracks are instrumentals beginning with a pair of bourrées written by Gilles Chabenat and moving through a mazurka, a waltz, a hornpipe and a reel as well as tunes written from a variety of inspirations. The songs tend to be light-hearted, the exceptions being ‘Garden Of Love’, a setting of William Blake’s poem by Dave Walters and Sarah’s ‘Candlelight’, brought out of retirement for the late Maggie Boyle.

The title track refers to a story that most of us would try to forget if it had happened to us but Jo has no such inhibitions and it has a hook that is guaranteed to have an audience singing along. I won’t tell you any more. ‘Twiddles’, by Janie Meneely, is a feminist variant on the sailor’s girl in every port story – think of Chumbawamba’s ‘Learning To Love’ – and ‘Bed And Breakfast’: well, if you’re a working musician you’ll know exactly what it’s about.

Sideways is a delightful, relaxing album. The instruments blend easily as do the voices – in fact, I’d like to hear more of their harmonies applied to something a bit weightier. But we mustn’t be greedy.

Dai Jeffries

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Coope, Simpson, Fraser and Freya: Hark Hark

CSFFHark Hark – a festive feast to send you into Christmas with a feelgood factor. A rich mixture of old and new with a firm foundation of traditional Yorkshire and Derbyshire carols, the album is augmented by spicy instrumentals showing the links between carols and dance tunes, along with humour, original songs and joyful instrumentals.

Christmas comes but once a year, which means we only get one chance annually to see the Coope, Simpson, Fraser & Freya Christmas show – a pity, since the eclectic, funny, poignant and clever mixture would work even stripped of its seasonal theme. Luckily, they are releasing an album which captures the magic of the show.

Hark HarkThis is not just a bunch of folk with good voices belting out traditional carols. It’s a welcoming hotch-potch of stories, poetry and jokes threaded through with carolling and wassailing, both acapella and accompanied by a proper bagful of instruments, blown, plucked, bowed and struck.

The show is rich in the Variety tradition – there are various nods to music hall – and steeped in folk’s past and present, and the way the show veers effortlessly between solemnity and silliness makes it a wonderful, and wonderfully warm, winter night out.

My favourite, favourite Carol Singers, (Natalie Wheen, Classic FM)

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