It has been frequently remarked that the future of folk music is safe in the hands of the younger generation, I’ve said so myself. But I find myself puzzled when a trio with the perfect credentials for breathing new life into old songs prefer to concentrate on their own material. So it is with The Wilderness Yet but it’s my task to review the album that is, not the one I might wish it was.
The Wilderness Yet is Rowan Piggott playing fiddle and double bass, Philippe Barnes on guitar, flute and whistle and one of our finest young vocalists, Rosie Hodgson, supported by Evan Carson’s bodhran. They take their name from a line by Gerard Manley Hopkins who also provides the foundation for the record’s title track As you might guess from all the clues most of the album is concerned with the natural world and it begins with the uplifting ‘The Beauties Of Autumn’ written by Rosie and inspired by her Sussex home. Rosie and Rowan both have such a feel for the forms of traditional music that it’s hard to stay cross with them for very long.
‘A Bruton Farmer’ is a variant on ‘Bruton Town’ and several other titles. An old murder ballad, its alter ego as ‘The Bramble Briar’ doubtless allows its inclusion in the wilderness. Rosie’s ‘In A Fair Country’ is an exploration of the folklore of trees and borrows its chorus from the tradition. If you didn’t know its source you’d be scouring reference books to find it. Rowan’s ‘Queen & Country’ was written originally for his Songhive project – I’ll leave you to guess what it’s about. Next come a pair of tunes. The first, ‘Chalice Well’, is written by Philippe and ‘The Welcombe Hills’ by Rowan.
Once upon a time Rosie’s ‘Woman Of The Woods’ would have been called a witch. I’ve just read Philippa Gregory’s Tidelands which tells the story of one such midwife and healer whose journey almost comes to the inevitable conclusion – Rosie’s woman gets away lightly. Eric Bogle’s ‘Song Of The Whale’ is at the heart of the album (you’ll have to buy a copy to see the inside artwork) made suitably gloomy by Rowan’s double bass. His fondness for Swedish music comes to the fore with ‘Hjältedyrkan’, a polska written as a birthday present. Aren’t they always?
‘The Thrush’s Anvil’ is a marvellously anthropomorphic tribute to a bird that is on the red list in the UK. It was written by Rowan who also put together ‘Of Men Who’ll Never Know’ based on a traditional Swedish tune. Give me time to figure out what it’s about. Next is a trio of tunes again written by Philippe and Rowan and finally we have ‘The Wilderness Yet’ – Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem with a melody and three extra verses by Rowan. I guess it sums up what they are about. I say “finally” but there is a semi-hidden thirteenth track, ‘Seán Ó Duibhir A’ Ghleanna’, an Irish rebel song translated by Rowan and featuring Charlie Piggott and Johnny Ringo McDonagh.
Despite my grumbles, this really is a splendid album. The Wilderness Yet know where their music comes from and respect their sources.
Artists’ website: www.thewildernessyet.com
‘The Wilderness Yet’ – live in the woods: