CHURCHFITTERS – Old Friends (own label CH110917)

Old FriendsHere is Churchfitters new double album, Old Friends. There is no UK release date, but it will be available from their website shortly. The album will, however, be released in France from March 1st (don’t underestimate the internationalism of Folking.com)

The album is a celebration of forty years of Churchfitters, founded in the UK in 1978 before the members moved to a Brittany base from 1993 (hence the album’s release in France). The current line-up consists of Rosie Short, her brother Chris and Boris Lebret who joined in 2004 and brought with him “an array of home made scrap metal instruments” as their website puts it. This trio is the core of the group; for percussion and on tours Margaux Scherer is a more recent addition. I last saw Churchfitters about three years ago in a village hall with an audience of primarily non-folkies/non-gig attending people from the village – they loved it, Lebret’s unusual instruments gave the band an immediate interaction with the audience.

The title, Old Friends, has a double meaning: that the songs are old friends and also that there are a number of old friends who are guests on the album (Frankie Banham, Pete Jack, Thomas Lotout, Dave Pegg, Eric Richard and Ronan Robert).

The 21 songs are a mix of those composed by the band and traditional songs. There is a bouncy version of ‘Johnny Was A Shoemaker’, a moving version of ‘The House Carpenter’, a haunting ‘Black is the Crow’, a driving ‘Open the Door’ and a rather splendid ‘The Parting Glass’ to finish the album. My favourite of the traditional songs, though, is a beautifully ethereal version of ‘She Moved Through the Fair’.

Of the tracks composed by the band, I particularly like the opening track ‘He Cut Her Throat’, written by Rosie Short, which has all that you need from a murder ballad: love, marriage, leaving, jealousy, throat slitting and a lively tune. Slower and more haunting is ‘Bleeding Heart Yard’ this time a contrast between the lily white purity of the heroine and the devil who is taking her heart. Of the others, perhaps the two most powerful tracks are ‘The Turning of the Tide’ and ‘Sing (For Our Time on Earth)’ – I instantly recognised them from the concert three years ago. These are two more of Short’s songs, the former jaunty and the latter a melodic piano piece.

If you want to get a feel for the band, the video below presents four songs performed at Cropredy by the Churchfitters four-piece where you can hear their style – and see some of the home made instruments. You’ll also see that it matters not whether it’s a village hall or 20,000 people standing in a field.

As for Old Friends the album, it gets better every time I play it – a double album of folk songs and instrumentals, both self-penned and from the tradition. For me it’s also been a great reminder of just how good Churchfitters are in concert. Dates (in both countries) are on their web pages.

Mike Wistow

Artists’ website: http://www.churchfitters.com/ehome.php

Churchfitters live at Cropredy: