THE TEA CUPS – In Which… (Haystack HAYCD014)

In Which...In Which… is The Teacups third and as it transpires final album, the Newcastle on Tyne a capella quartet deciding to call it a day after ten years. Alex Cumming, Kate Locksley, Rosie Calvert and Will Finn go out on a high with this rousing collection of seafaring songs and other ditties, both traditional and self-penned.

They set sail with ‘Agamemnon’, Paul Davenport setting to music the words by Scottish poet Hamish Maclaran about Lord Nelson’s favourite ship, named after the mythical Greek king and built in Henry Adams’s shipyard. They turn then to one of two hunting songs, ‘Three Jolly Huntsman’ set to the dance tune ‘Star Above The Garter’, the other being the swayalong ‘The Valentine Day’s Hunt’, though, while they enjoy the songs, it should be pointed out that the group are firmly of the anti-hunting lobby.

Returnings to sea-related material, ‘The Weary Cutters’ is a Newcastle ballad about losing your man to the press gangs to serve with Nelson, while elsewhere they ride the waves with the likes of the work song styled shanty ‘Shiny-O’ where the ship’s mate tries persuade his drunken captain to let him marry his daughter, crooned drowning spiritual ‘Deep Blue Sea’ and a rousing romp across the ‘Dogger Bank’.

Back on land, ‘Street Cries’ is just that, a collection of traders cries taken from a book of such being studied by Lockley and knocked into shape by Finn, the opening cry of Turkey Rhubarb being, for those curious, a reference to an East Indian variety of the knotweed family. The male voices to the fore, nature’s produce is also to be found in ‘Man Of The Earth’, a song written by Bernie Parry in the 70s about a pensioner who, kicked out of work when he reached retirement age, keeps himself busy – and helps the budget – by maintaining an allotment.

It’s preceded by ‘The Harvest Jug’, one of four brief vignettes scattered through the album, here words painted on a jug in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, the others being ‘Love Fain Did Try’, a vocally interwoven three line rhyme from the Bodlian collection, ‘This Too Shall Pass’ which comprises just those four words, as inscribed on ring given to King Solomon, and ‘The Goose’, two verses from ‘The Goose And The Common’, a 17th century protest against enclosures set to music by Cumming.

Opening with humming and sung by Cumming, ‘My Little Man’ is a variation on ‘Dance To Your Daddy’ while the longest track, at over six minutes, is ‘Morris Set’, an inspired wordless a cappela rendition of three Cotswold Morris tunes, ‘Oranges In Bloom’, ‘The Black Joak’ and ‘Blue Eyed Stranger’.

There’s two group originals, ‘Poaching Song’, a traditional styled number written and sung by Calvert in response to land subsidies for shooting game and framed as a comment on class inequalities. The other, after ten years, finally brings a song about the Englishman’s beverage, ‘Celestial Tea’ written by Cumming after moving to America and celebrating the many different herbal varieties sold by Colorado’s Celestial Seasonings, earning himself a year’s supply in the process.

It ends with, first, the achingly lovely American Civil War Confederacy hymnal-like song of loss from 1864, ‘Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still’, a lament as much for a land as a person, and, finally, an early seasonal contribution, an arrangement of ‘Sugar Wassail’ with a tune leaning on ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’.

Joyful and sad in turn, it’s a fine and fond farewell brew to keep them in memory and wish them good fortune wherever future paths may lead.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website:

‘Poaching Song’ – live: