Lakeland singer-songwriter Mike Turnbull is no stranger to these pages. Tracing his ancestry back to the reivers – or perhaps their victims – Mike has a great affinity with his homeland and its myths and stories, both old and new. He’s a multi-instrumentalist and is supported by his live band, The Safe Kings – Suzanne Ambrose and Dave Pennington – and some guest musicians, notably Lukas Drinkwater. I’ve compared Mike with a certain singer-songwriter from the opposite end of the country before and that comparison is as valid as ever on Two Kingdoms, a new collection of songs culled from the north-west of England.
The opening track, ‘Runaway Corpse’, isn’t quite as grisly as it sounds. It’s actually about a bolting horse which had a body tied to it and if you’re wondering why that should be, Mike has helpfully added an uncredited track at the end to provide insights into the songs. From an old story to a more modern one: in ‘Harvest Lost’ Mike recounts the tale of the sinking of the Solway Harvester, lost with all seven crew members in 2000.
Further back in time, ‘Sails & Oars’, is a rousing song imagining Viking invaders crossing the cold North Sea and with ‘Eagle & The Child’ Mike rewrites the story behind the pub sign. I imagine that everyone with an Eagle And Child in their vicinity will claim the story for their own locality but Mike got there first with this song. ‘Pendragon’s Hill’ tells of an unsuccessful attempt to divert the River Eden to fill a moat and ‘Shipwreck Rats’ explores the idea that many islands became infested with the rats that escaped from sinking ships – something I hadn’t considered before. ‘Reivers’ Steel’ takes us back to Mike’s putative ancestry.
There are two songs rooted, not in legend, but in the land itself. ‘Ghosts In The Grass’ comes from Mike’s wanderings along canal paths and ‘Slate Blue, Slate Green’ imagines the life of an early slate miner somewhere around Coniston.
Two Kingdoms is another splendid collection of songs. Strong melodies, fascinating stories and dynamic arrangements make for an album that entertains time and time again.
Artist’s website: www.miketurnbullmusic.com
‘Shipwreck Rats’ – live: