Holly & The Reivers are a trio from the borderlands around Newcastle. Holly Clarke, Merle Harbron and Bertie Armstrong all enjoy solo careers but came together six years ago. Each has a different style which meld together in the band and Three Galleys is immersed in the darker side of folk music.
The album opens with a brief, almost mystical instrumental intro before heading into ‘The Three Danish Galleys’, a story of attempted matrimony which led to an international incident and several deaths. The song is based on Holly’s guitar and Bertie’s banjo with a wonderfully haunting fiddle break by Merle. Now things really start to get strange. ‘In Dublin’s Fair City’ isn’t the familiar story of Molly Malone but rather a murder ballad in which the ghost of the victim returns to haunt her killer who is tried and executed for his crime. It is a traditional song collected by Hamish Henderson but finding any trace of it on line was beyond me and I suspected that Henderson may have stretched the truth a little. However, more knowledgeable people that I have given me several references to it and I stand corrected. There’s always something new to learn.
‘Mary’s’ is an instrumental written by Bertie for his daughter – a little lightness here – before Mimi and Richard Fariña’s ‘The Bold Marauder’, as recorded years ago by Plainsong. This is about as dark as The Reivers get, a heavy arrangement bringing out some strange imagery although the song is actually a protest against the Vietnam war. ‘Last Chance’ is an old-timey tune followed by a short interlude which sets the scene for ‘Bleary Winter’. Written by Hugh Lupton and Chris Wood, this is another dark poem perhaps about the loss of land and freedom.
The railroad blues ‘Walkin Boss’ is another banjo driven song sung by Bertie, initially in the thin style of an old recording before someone turns the volume up. Finally we have two traditional songs. Firstly we have ‘John Randall’ one of many versions of the familiar story of the death of Lord Randall, a song originally from the trio’s part of the world, although they got it from an Irish collection. ‘Willie O’Winsbury’ is one of the great English ballads involving an unfortunate pregnancy and a nobleman in disguise – classic stuff. Holly & The Reivers treat it with respect while giving it all the welly it merits.
What I particularly like about Three Galleys is the fusion of styles, instruments and material. It brings their years of experience together in a quite remarkable debut album.
Artists’ website: https://www.facebook.com/HollyClarkeMusic
‘Bold Marauder’ – live: