Comprising Georgia Shackleton (fiddle, vocals), Aaren Bennett (guitar) and Nic Zuppardi (mandolin and banjo), the East Anglian trio pay tribute to the titular area of heathland and woodland which lies to the north-east of Norwich, the perky opening fiddle and mandolin-led track noting there’s ‘No Road Across Mousehold’ (though there are paths and tracks),a number based on ‘Crackshots Of Norwich’, a broadside ballad from the 1800s warning travellers across the heath of the territorial army practising firing.
Another traditional-based number, equally musically bright and sparkling, ‘Little Wooden Shoes’ relates to the fact that, while levelling areas of the headland for development, working class labourers were made to wear heavy clogs to keep them focused. Opening with bubbling banjo and featuring fiddle and scuffed percussion, ‘Mandy Lynn’, one of three written by Zuppardi, illustrates the band’s sense of whimsy, being an instrumental dedicated to a bantam chicken, his two other contributions, both instrumentals, the first being the fiddle-driven ‘Byard’s Leap/Wakidoo’, the first part relating to a hamlet in North Kesteven and local legend about how a retired soldier rid the villagers of an evil witch called Old Meg, Byard being the blind horse he chose to ride on his mission, the second tune a duel between guitar and fiddle. The other, again with fiddle to the fore is ‘Hold The Line’, well-described in the insert as a lockdown earworm.
Returning to local legend, penned by Shackleton and set to a rippling guitar pattern with fingerpicked mandolin notes,‘Wild Man Peter’ relates the story of a feral child discovered in Hanover, Germany, around 1724 , communicating in grunts. Fascinated, King George I had him taken first to his court at Herrenhausen and then to St James’s Palace in London to be was exhibited to the English nobility, being christened and baptised as Peter in 1726 eventually, after the King died and interest waned, fetching up living wild in Norwich, being incarcerated in the Bridwell Alley house of correction before, once identified, being shipped back in 1751 to the Hertfordshire where he’d been staying, eventually dying in 1785 and buried at St Mary’s Northchurch.
Switching inspirations from local pastures to the Mississippi Delta, ‘Bird’s Nest Bound’ is Shackleton’s reworking and rewriting of the Charley Patton number, transposing the original blues to an English folksy sprightliness. Which brings us to the remaining traditional number, the mandolin plucked ‘Ballad Of Barton Broad’ which, collected in 1947 from Norfolk singer Harry Cox, is about ‘babbling’, the East Anglian method of catching eels, leading neatly into the final number, written by Shackleton, being the banjo plucked ‘Eel Song’, a celebration of (and sung in the voice of) the endangered European eel and a call to protect the habitats destroyed by polluted rivers and oceans (“Now there’s mills, weirs and sluices that slice through our home…I brawl with metal, that churns the river bed/Cuts through the water, and slices past my head cuts fish and vole, and creatures from the sea”).
The trio are promoting Mousehold on an extensive UK your until the end of August before dates in Norway and Denmark, and while you may not be able to drive across Mousehold, there’s sure to a road to get you to one of them.
Artists’ website: www.theshackletontrio.co.uk
‘Hold The Line’ – live: