MIKE TURNBULL – …In So Small A Compass (own label MTM03)

In So Small A CompassMike Turnbull’s debut, Circlet Of Gold, was a delightful vignette that began with the landscape of his native Lake District and told stories from here, there and everywhere. He sang and played every note but it was inevitable that he would stretch his metaphorical wings. …In So Small A Compass is produced by Lukas Drinkwater who also plays bass, guitar, banjo and percussion with Ciaran Algar on fiddle and Ewan Carson on bodhran.

On the first play I just gathered impressions. Mike hasn’t strayed far from the landscape – and seascape, for that matter – and birds feature heavily as a motif. Indeed, the sound of chattering birds leads into the opening ‘Seek Thy Brother’ which takes as its starting point the children’s magpie rhyme and maybe the old adage that if you see a lot of crows together, they’re rooks. Of course, it’s all a metaphor. ‘Boat Thief Song’ seems to stem from a memory of youthful mischief and is decorated by country tinged fiddle from Ciaran. Memories and birds appear again in ‘Heart Shaped Wood’, somewhere Mike probably knows well just like the landscapes he’s walking in ‘Between Breaths’ and ‘Sycamore Gap’, a song about the building of Hadrian’s Wall.

Mike is a fine story-teller, as his debut proved, so ‘Louisa’ isn’t about a lady but the famous overland launch of the Lynmouth lifeboat to Porlock in the teeth of a gale back in 1899. I’ve compared Mike to Seth Lakeman before (although I’m not sure he agrees with me) but this is just the sort of song that Seth would write. Sorry Mike. …In So Small A Compass is rather more poetic than I was expecting so ‘Edge Of The Map’ could be a tale of mediaeval sailors or, more likely, a metaphor for striking out in a new direction. There is nostalgia in ‘Lakeland Heart’ and romance in ‘Seabirds’ Call’ but also a sense of practicality – the couple are on the sea in a small boat travelling “once around the island” so there is no time to be soppy.

This is clearly a big step forward from Circlet Of Gold – much as I liked that record – but what is most impressive is the fact that Mike’s songwriting has maintained its quality. …In So Small A Compass is all meat and no filler.

Dai Jeffries

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Artist’s website: https://www.musicglue.com/mike-turnbull

‘Lakeland Heart’:

MIKE TURNBULL – Circlet Of Gold (own label)

Circlet Of GoldI started to listen to Circlet Of Gold and got so wrapped up in the opening track that I had do some research and by the time I’d done that I had to start listening again. No bad thing, actually. Mike Turnbull is a singer-songwriter from the Lake District whose main instruments are tenor guitar, octave mandola and tenor ukulele. Their sound coupled with the sources of his songs suggests Seth Lakeman and, in truth, that isn’t a bad comparison. He certainly has the same drive and energy.

That opening track is ‘The King Of Dunmail Raise’ and if you’re local you’ll know that Dunmail was the last king of Cumberland, killed by the English and buried under a cairn above Grasmere. There is also a shopping mall named after him in Workington but we’ll let that pass. Mike weaves into his song the legend of the warrior spirits who offer Dunmail the crown every year only to be rebuffed.

There is nothing parochial about Mike’s songwriting although you could find a link to ‘Fields Of Heavy Dew’ in any community. The song is set at the end of the Great War with soldiers looking forward to returning home. ‘Heart Of The Sea’ is about the whaling trade while ‘The Mountaineers’ recounts the tale of Mallory and Irving, lost on Everest in 1924 and ‘Ghost Of The Brown Lady’ is a ghost story from Norfolk.

‘Drowning Valley’ comes closer to home with story of the drowning of Mardale Green to clear the valley for Haweswater reservoir but the most fascinating song is ‘Will I Save The King’ in which Mike explains the origin of his surname which dates back to the 14th century. I think that every songwriter should be required to carry out the same exercise.

I believe that Circlet Of Gold is Mike’s debut album and if that’s so I hope it does really well for him.

Dai Jeffries

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‘The King Of Dunmail Raise’: