Fay Hield and The Hurricane Party started their spring tour at a brisk pace – seventeen songs, including two encores, in a tight ninety minutes. I can imagine there being a bit of tension in this situation particular as Fay announced that ‘Fair Margaret And Sweet William’ had been arranged by Sam Sweeney, Rob Harbron and herself only that afternoon. We probably wouldn’t have known if nothing had been said but it is rather impressive to write an arrangement and play it from memory a few hours later. Still, I do think they need to relax a bit.
Fay began, as his her custom, with ‘Willow Glen’ accompanied only by Harbron. The rest of the band appeared (Ben Nicholls being fashionably late) for the unusually jolly ‘Tarry Trousers’ and ‘The Weaver’s Daughter’. Fay did promise us a fair share of misery later and had also promised that she would bring her banjo on this tour. She was as good as word and proved to be a melodic player in what I suppose we must call the English style.
After ‘Old Adam’ it got an outing on ‘The Old Grey Goose Is Dead’ with a new sombre tune. I suppose that it’s a generational thing but Fay was surprised to learn that most of us knew it from childhood as ‘Aunt Nancy’ or ‘Aunt Rhody’ and I was surprised to learn that she didn’t. The geese got another name check in ‘The Grey Goose And The Gander’ and the first set closed with ‘Raggle Taggle Gypsy’.
The second half began in upbeat fashion with ‘Pretty Nancy Of Yarmouth’ and got back to the misery with ‘Green Gravel’ and the aforementioned ‘Lady Margaret’. The band took its turn with a version of ‘Bold Princess Royal’ before ‘Go From My Window’ with Roger Wilson handling second vocal and Sweeney switching to nyckelharpa. ‘The Lover’s Ghost’ made a suitably mournful closer.
The first encore saw Fay solo and unaccompanied with ‘Young Maid Cut Down In Her Prime’ with the Hurricane Party returning for ‘Long Time Ago’. The music was as splendid as ever and sometimes us oldies like to get home at a decent time but please guys, slow things down a bit.
Last year Fay Hield took her Hurricane Party on tour to promote her new album, Old Adam. They are on the road again soon so I had to ask if there was anything particularly significant about this tour.
“I’m hoping to bring my banjo along, actually.” I had to ask! “You’re the first person I’ve mentioned this to; not even the band yet. I’m hoping to do one solo, just me and the banjo and I’ll be bringing some older material back. There will be lots of Old Adam but lots of other things as well.”
The Hurricane Party will feature one line-up change. “The drummer will be Andy Tween because my regular drummer [Toby Kearney] is part of the Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra and he couldn’t get time off. So it’s Sam Sweeney. Rob Harbron, Ben Nicholls, Roger Wilson and Andy. He teaches at Wells Cathedral School and he’s great.”
As well as being an outstanding performer, Fay is also a distinguished academic combining her singing with teaching, writing and research which may explain why she works in a shed at the bottom of the garden away from domestic distractions.
“My Ph.D was about the folk scene and folk-singing communities and how they function – and why they’re brilliant because I was born and brought up into it. My family is the folk scene and I love it and get so much out of it. It’s what I like to do and it’s what I want to bring my kids up in and feel comfortable with. I wanted to understand why it’s so brilliant and yet why is everybody worrying about it dying out; why do people find it difficult to get in; why does it have a reputation for being a bit cliquey and how has that happened?
“My research is certainly not negative in trying to find all the badness in it and why it doesn’t work because it really does work for a lot of people. I’ve been working a bit on how audiences listen to folk music and I’m building that up into a book at the moment.”
Fay lectures in music management and ethno-musicology. “I love teaching. I cover all sorts of genres and parts of the world and it’s more about method and how to study music rather than standing there in front of a score.”
As a life-long devotee of folk music I still find it difficult to explain to someone who doesn’t get it what the appeal is. What does the expert think?
“Something in the songs catches me. Some songs you just think, ‘wow, that’s amazing’ and some songs you just have to sing over half a dozen times until you get inside it and then it doesn’t leave you alone. I find them very powerful, you build a bit of a relationship with them and you understand them – and you understand a bit about yourself because of how you understand them.”
And what about the melodies? To me, they just feel right, somehow. “A lot of people get very excited about modal tunes but a lot of them are straight major and the minor sometimes goes into Dorian. If I write a tune myself – I’m not a classically trained musician so I don’t really think in terms of major and minor – it doesn’t come out straight. It’s often pentatonic in a weird kind of way or there is something there. I do love that colour note stuff or when a melody drops and the bottom note is never the tonic, it goes to something a bit random but it fits.
“In classical music, if you put in a modal note it just feels a bit stuck in there but in this kind of music the tunes are so organic so they settle and fit – colourful but not in a dramatic way. People sing or play the tunes in a way that makes sense to them and rounds off the corners in different ways for different people so, yes, they do feel right.”
I’m not sure if any of that will help me. Perhaps I’ll just stick to ‘wow, that’s amazing’.
Fay Hield’s third solo album is all traditional except when it isn’t. That is, except when the tune is by Hield herself and/or Jon Boden or the song is written by Rudyard Kipling and Peter Bellamy or Tom Waits. Although not given full billing on the front cover, The Hurricane Party – Sam Sweeney, Rob Harbron, Roger Wilson, Ben Nicholls and Toby Kearney – are back alongside the aforementioned Mr Boden and Martin Simpson. Fay is scrupulous about crediting her sources and I do worry when those sources are singers I grew up listening to.
The opening track, ‘Green Gravel’, is described as a playground song although there is a misery about it that isn’t very childish but that mood is quickly dispelled by the jolly ‘Raggle Taggle Gypsy’ and ‘Katie Catch’. The title track is a non-Biblical account of the life of the first man, told as though the expulsion from Eden didn’t happen – it is said of Eve that “her neighbours she ne’er scandalised” and she is described as “the jewel of woman found”. Yeah, right.
The best version of ‘Queen Eleanor’s Confession’ I ever heard was by Rosemary Hardman and the version by Tim Hart and Maddy Prior, which Fay uses here, ignored the melodrama and inherent comedy of the song. Rosemary recorded the song nearly fifty years ago and perhaps sensibilities have changed but I always found Tim and Maddy a bit po-faced about the story as is Fay. ‘The Hornet And The Beetle’ makes a serious point and ‘Jack Orion’ is a famous tale of what? – not quite cuckolding although we can suppose that the countess is married so it’s probably adultery. Whatever, it’s a ribald tale but with murder in the final verse. Tom Waits’ ‘The Briar And The Rose’ seems an odd choice at first glance coming, as it does, from one his more difficult albums, The Black Rider, but strip away the preconceptions and you can see the traditional themes woven into the story.
Needless to say the arrangements are beautifully judged often casting a new light on a song and ‘Go From My Window’ is a perfect example. It can be a real dirge but the banjo and up-front percussion give it pace and the key changes in ‘Anchor Song’ seem to enable Fay to get through it in record time. Leaving aside personal preferences this is an excellent album by any standards.
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Following the considerable success of The Full English album and touring band, which she assembled, singer Fay Hield is due to release her 3rd solo album, Old Adam on Soundpost Records on 12th February 2016 and will tour in February and March too. Meanwhile, a digital single, taken from the album, featuring ‘Willow Glen’ and ‘Green Gravel’ is now available.
Old Adam is a fresh and original exploration of how we use stories and music to understand what it means to be human and combines not only Fay’s gift for unearthing striking material but also her distinctive and naturalistic delivery of it. These qualities have won her critical acclaim for her previous solo albums (Looking Glass in 2010 and Orfeo in 2012, both on Topic Records) including several BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards and a nomination for Folk Singer of the Year.
Old Adam contains 14 tracks, ranging from ‘The Hag In The Beck’ from the 1600s to ‘The Briar and the Rose’, a version of a Tom Waits song. The title track explores the oldest story in the book: the fantasy of a purity of life, before corruption and sin. “Perhaps it was a result of the developing sins that we have these songs to help us make sense of it all”, says Fay.
‘Willow Glen’ is taken from the Lucy Broadwood collection, while ‘Green Gravel’ (from Alice Gomme’ s Traditional Games of England, Scotland and Ireland) is an interpretation of a playground song. ‘Raggle Taggle Gypsy’ moves into the realms of fantasy, with an enticing glimpse of a world we could inhabit, if only we would follow our hearts. Themes of justice (and injustice) are explored in ‘Queen Eleanor’s Confession’ (from a version by Tim Hart and Maddy Prior) and ‘The Hornet and the Beetle’ is from the collection of Ralph Vaughan Williams. Many of the lyrics are adapted by Fay and she has written several tunes as has her partner, Jon Boden. The arrangements on the album are all by Fay Hield and The Hurricane Party.
Fay is accompanied on Old Adam by her stellar band, The Hurricane Party, which consists of some of the finest folk musicians working today; Rob Harbron (English concertina, fiddle, vocals), Sam Sweeney (fiddle, viola, cello, nyckelharpa, vocals), Roger Wilson (fiddle, guitar, mandolin and vocals), expanded to include Ben Nicholls (bass) and Toby Kearney (percussion) and including special guests Jon Boden and guitar maestro, Martin Simpson.
As well as enjoying a blossoming recording and performing career, Yorkshire born and bred Fay is also an academic, lecturing in Music at the University of Sheffield where she specialises in the role folk music plays in the construction of communities. With her unique combination of performance and academic talents, it was perhaps inevitable that she would be invited by the English Folk Dance & Song Society to head their ground-breaking Full English project. For the first time many of the finest early 20th century folksong collections can be found in the most comprehensive searchable database of British folk songs, tunes, dances and customs in the world.
Fay assembled The Full English Band, pulling together half a dozen of the top talents on the English folk music circuit, including Seth Lakeman, Martin Simpson, Nancy Kerr, Sam Sweeney, Rob Harbron and double bassist Ben Nicholls. This “supergroup” toured for two years and released a self-titled album, again on Topic Records, winning Best Group and Best Album at the 2014 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. Fay Hield continues in her passionate and engaging exploration of the repertoire of the English tradition. At times sparse and contemplative, at others, fired-up with a spirit lifting rhythm and plenty of rousing choruses, the music on Old Adam is both captivating and thought-provoking.
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Taken from her forthcoming album, Old Adam (out 12th February 2016), traditional singer and folklorist Fay Hield has selected the many versions of ‘Green Gravel’ recorded by Alice Bertha Gomme in The Traditional Games of England Scotland and Ireland and woven them together in a moving, atmospheric and affecting way. The song has links to burial ceremonies, with green gravel representing the newly turned grave, though there is no suggestion this rhyme was performed at burials, more that children took the ideas of life, love and death into their own sphere.
Fay’s third solo album, Old Adam, contains 14 tracks and is a fresh and original exploration of how we use stories and music to understand what it means to be human. Fay’s distinctive and naturalistic singing style has won her critical acclaim for her previous solo albums (Looking Glass and Orfeo both Topic Records) including several BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards and a nomination for Folk Singer of the Year.
Fay is accompanied by her stellar band, The Hurricane Party; Rob Harbron (English Concertina, fiddle, vocals), Sam Sweeney (fiddle, viola, cello, nyckelharpa, vocals), Roger Wilson (fiddle, guitar, mandolin and vocals), expanded to include Ben Nicholls (Bass) and Toby Kearney (Percussion) and special guests (Fay’s partner) Jon Boden and guitar maestro, Martin Simpson. Fay Hield will tour with The Hurricane Party in February and March 2016.
ESSENTIALLY INVISIBLE TO THE EYE is Karen Tweed’s latest recording and, in being entirely solo, is a departure from her extensive collaborative work which has dominated her career since the early 1990s.
Born in London in 1963 to an Irish mother and English father, Karen took up the accordion at the age of eleven. Since turning professional in the late 1980s, she has appeared on over thirty albums from her early days with The Kathryn Tickell Band to being a founding member of the pioneering all female Poozies, through the Anglo-Swedish ensemble SWAP, American collaboration Undertoe with Stuart Kenney, Marko Packard and Rodney Miller, to The Two Duos Quartet with Andy Cutting, Chris Wood and Ian Carr. Karen’s duo work with Ian Carr, Andy Cutting and also Roger Wilson and John Dipper has left many an audience mesmerised at her breathtaking musicianship, while her trios with Hannah James and Becky Price in Hell Said The Duchess and with Carolyn Robson and Kevin Dempsey are more examples of her diversity and creativity.
Her larger scale projects include Circa Compania, a 14-piece all-singing, all-dancing tour-de-force and The No 1 Ladies Accordion Orchestra where she has brought together accordionists from all over the UK. More recently she has been Musical Director of ‘Land of Liberty’ a community play directed by Philip Parr of Parrabola and her duo work includes singers Jackie Oates, Kevin Dempsey and Johnny Coppin. Karen’s teaming up with highly respected Finnish pianist and composer Timo Alakotila to form May Monday led to phenomenal praise and accolades for their artistic grace, beauty and breaking down of musical barriers.
Her playing has been described as mercurial, soulful, effervescent and sensitive, while as a teacher, she’s proved to be an inspirational and encouraging role model, whether teaching university students performance and arrangement skills or leading accordion workshops and master classes.
ESSENTIALLY INVISIBLE TO THE EYE, produced by Bruce Molsky, brings all of these influences and ideas from her career so far together and illustrates just how dynamic, sensual, joyful and inspirational she can be. Karen often cites those she has worked with as major influences and inspiration and this fine recording shows how she continues to incorporate and further develop those ideas. Following conversations with Bruce, Colum Sands and Lorraine Carpenter, Karen began to think about a solo project and their thoughts that her music could be seen as songs or stories without words rather than a collection of tunes, sparked off the seed for this CD.
Bruce Molsky was the perfect choice as producer, because of his diverse and superb skills as a musician and his understanding of storytelling through traditional song. The CD has five tracks, all solo accordion but performed as a suite of Karen’s much loved collections of tunes, a blend of original and traditional and intended to be played as one, taking the listener on a lyrical journey, sometimes autobiographical, sometimes whimsical but illustrating how much the accordion has become Karen’s voice and pen and muse.
ESSENTIALLY INVISIBLE TO THE EYE is possibly Karen’s most emotive work to date and will be toured in its entirety in 2012.