I’m not suggesting a trend, you understand, but there is some exciting music coming out of the west of England at the moment, not least this album. The Rowan Tree are a Cornish quintet: Tom Fosten, Neal Jolly, Richard Tretheway, Laura Garcia and Richard Morgan, Actually there are more than sixty musicians on Kolar’s Gold if you count Camborne Town Band and the record is part of a much bigger multi-media project.
I first listened to Kolar’s Gold while driving without reading any notes and was surprised by the blend of styles: traditional folk and rock alongside what you might call modern arrangements and the music of southern Asia. In fact, it tells the story of Cornish miners – Cousin Jacks – and their families who left home to work the Kolar Gold Field of southern India and also of the community into which they became integrated.
The album opens with the instrumental ‘SS Carthage’, named after one of the ships that carried the emigrants to India. The music here is western as the journey begins but the second track, a 19th century Cornish song features Venky DC on tabla and the traditional ’10,000 Miles’ has Harsha Ranjini sharing lead vocals with Laura. Now we are nearly there. ‘Lead Kindly Light’ uses only the chorus of the old hymn – Laura wrote the verses – and the arrangement is firmly in the hands of Venky DC. This time Nyla Saldanha shares the lead vocals over the drones of organ and traditional Indian instruments. ‘Miner Jolly’, an instrumental written by Neal, refers to an unpleasant story and although there are no words, I suspect that Venky DC’s “vocal percussion” may conceal more than he’s letting on.
‘Man Of Letters’ tells a happier tale but then we come to ‘And Am I Born To Die’ in tribute to the many miners – mostly Indian – who died in the gold fields. Originally an English hymn it is transformed by a chorus of Indian voices with flute, veena, violin and percussion. Finally, ‘Treasure’ completes the circle by linking the voices of two men and two women reflecting on their lives over Tom’s music.
Kolar’s Gold came as an unexpected delight and one that reveals its story slowly as the listener’s understanding grows. Hear it if you can.
Artists’ website: www.therowantreemusic.com
The story of Kolar’s Gold: