Introducing The Food of Love Project, a compilation album featuring some of the great names of folk music performing a rich variety of songs either referenced or performed in the plays of William Shakespeare. The album was curated and commissioned by Sebastian Reynolds of PinDrop and Tom McDonnell of TMD Media to mark the Oxford Shakespeare Jubilee 2016, a festival programme of events exploring Shakespeare’s incredible legacy.
The Food of Love Project album is a treasure trove of varied interpretations and extrapolations of Shakespearean period songs. Opening with the orchestral drone folk chorus created by Dead Rat Orchestra with their version of ‘Bonnie Sweet Robin Is To The Greenwood Gone’, as referenced in Hamlet, the album gets off to suitably grandiose start. Steam-punk inventor/musician Thomas Truax reimagines classic English ballad ‘Greensleeves’ in a typically cosmic, surrealist light, and Oxfordian band Stornoway rework the old Gaelic tune ‘Eibhlín A Riún’ into a beautiful, sonorous nugget of pop gold. Talking about his performance of ‘Caleno Custure Me’, acclaimed Scottish folk troubadour Alasdair Roberts says:
“Of a couple of songs suggested to me in relation to this project, ‘Caleno Custure Me’ (referenced somewhat obliquely in Henry IV Part 2) was the most appealing. I appreciate the mystery of the uncertain etymology of the title/chorus line (although I suppose the most likely explanation is that it’s garbled Irish Gaelic). There’s a beautiful recording of the song by the late Alfred Deller, the great countertenor, who’s a singer I’ve enjoyed listening to a bit over the years. I thought that I would attempt to go ‘historically accurate’ with this new recording of the song and so I enlisted the services of my good friend and lute player Gordon Ferries.”
Having been commissioned and curated by Seb and Tom, stalwarts of the ever-thriving Oxford music scene, the Oxon crowd is well represented, alongside Stornoway, by local heroes Flights of Helios, Brickwork Lizards and James Bell. ‘The Children Of The Midnight Chimes’ is a unique collaboration between Seb (producer) and Tom (vocals), especially for the album. Their abstract, drone noise take on ‘Oh Death, Rock Me Asleep’ is fittingly atmospheric, considering that the poem on which it was based was allegedly written by Anne Boleyn as she awaited her beheading in the Tower of London. The album is completed by a magisterial take on ‘Farewell, Dear Love’ (Twelfth Night) by Rob St John accompanied by cellist Pete Harvey; a collaborative deconstruction of ‘Peg-a-Ramsey’ and ‘Yellow Hose’ (Twelfth Night) by Nathaniel Mann of Dead Rat Orchestra and folk guitarist Nick Castell; a sophisticated retelling of ‘Go From My Window’(Much Ado About Nothing) entitled ‘Strength In A Whisper’ by Scottish folk singer Kirsty Law; and a sprawling, ambient folk adaption of ‘Lawn As White As Driven Snow’ (A Winter’s Tale) to close the album by singer and experimental musician David Thomas Broughton.
The album is dedicated to the memory of John Renbourn, who had committed to participate in the project before he passed away in 2015.
The Garden is the second album from a young singer-songwriter from Glasgow. He plays acoustic guitar and harmonica and is supported on one track by Pete Harvey on cello. I like the record but I’m also troubled by it and I’m going to say at the outset that this album needs a lyric sheet.
The title track, which opens the album, is ostensibly about boxing so ‘The Garden’ is presumably the one in that now stands on Pennsylvania Plaza. Of course, it could be about Vincent Van Gogh so there are multiple meanings; a deliberate ambiguity. Robin exhibits a rather Dylanesque turn of musical phrase here. The melody is, in places, a second cousin to ‘Chimes Of Freedom’ but none the worse for that. He switches immediately to a lighter romantic mood with ‘Paint Me The Day’, ‘Keep Me’ and ‘Troubled Skies’. I’m generally too old for this sort of thing and I might have given up on the record at this point but the last of these has a haunting quality which draws you back to it. I’ve re-evaluated this song several times.
Robin’s Dylan streak re-emerges on ‘Right To Run’ which borrows from ‘Walls Of Red Wing’. It’s a good song though, for me possibly the best on the album, with a complex message and here’s one place where I want to read his words as well as hear them. The same is true of ‘Street’ and ‘Holy Smoke’ (the song with the cello) – there’s poetry here that I need to assimilate.
If it’s true that an artist’s best material goes into the first leaving him or her scrabbling around for material when it comes to the second then Robin has done a fine job here. Let’s see where it takes him.
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Not since the first time I heard the distinctive vocal of October Project’s Mary Fahl singing “Return To Me” have I come across a vocalist with such unique character. That’s not to say Iain Morrison sounds like a girl it’s just meant as a pointer to how such a distinctive sounding voice can lodge itself in your memory…for all the right reasons. This is a tremendously enigmatic recording performed by an artist who, although bleak in outlook creates pictures that are as stunning as his birth place on the Isle of Lewis. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve never visited the Isle of Lewis but in my own personal opinion I consider Morrison conveys bringing his feelings to the surface having been at one with nature and soaked up the culture of an island rich in mysticism and allowing the space for individual thought. When you’re sitting in a flat in Croydon looking at all the activity surrounding you escapism is a word I look forward to (particularly at 3:29am) and trust me when I say that Iain’s writing will put you in a different place altogether with sparse but well mapped arrangements featuring guest musicians Michael Chorney (guitar), Robinson Morse (double bass), Geza Carr (drums) and cellist Pete Harvey. If you’re looking for something different although by no means outlandish you’ll find it here. A subjectively stunning masterpiece!
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