Duos come and duos go. And some nurture and fine tune their art and watch it grow into something totally original, captivating and award-winning. Bonded by an unseen alchemy, Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman have entwined their professional and personal relationship into an enviable class act of imaginative songwriting and musicianship.
The Dartmoor-based husband and wife have twice won the coveted Best Duo title at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards (2016 and 2013), consistently delivering assured, distinctive performances whether live or recorded.
Over two decades of performance they have never been trapped in a groove – always bold and innovative, mixing traditional song arrangements with (increasingly) their self-penned material which reels from the bitter to the sweet, the wry to the sad, the political to the passive, across folk, rock, country and blues genres.
A deft acoustic and electric guitarist and slick producer, Lakeman’s feted skills are matched by the exquisite voice and fluid piano and flute playing of Barnsley-born Roberts.
After a break to have their twin girls the former Equation band members returned in fine form with two acclaimed albums – Hidden People (2012) followed by Tomorrow Will Follow Today (2015). The 2012 release included their outstanding song about the South Yorkshire 1980s miners’ strike ‘The Ballad Of Andy Jacobs’, nominated for Best Original Track at the 2013 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.
Personae, their landmark fifth studio album is an eclectic emotional see-saw of material, melding ten tracks of traditional ballads and their own versatile material, not surprisingly produced by Sean.
The album opens with a rousing, percussive folk-rock version of the Child Ballad ‘The Knight’s Ghost’, with Sam Kelly on guest vocals.
It leads straight into one of the stand-out tracks of the album – the plaintive original song ‘Independence’, about the relationship between parent and child and finding your way in the world, with its Kate Bush echoes.
The inspiration for their songs is often unexpected and quirky. ‘Tribute Of Hands’ is a fast-moving original song for a city – the giant-killing legend of the founding of the Flemish city of Antwerp.
Kathryn’s sublime vocal tackles Sandy Denny’s strong and elusive torch song ‘Solo’ in the one cover on the album – her favourite Denny song from the time she joined the Fotheringay reunion line-up in 2015. The mood then flips completely with the jaunty tongue-in-cheek Roberts/Lakeman number ‘The Poison Club’ – shades of Sergeant Pepper delicately laced with cyanide, arsenic and hemlock!
The poetic Seasons is an arresting short journey mirroring love with the turn of the calendar and the duo again unearth unusual subject matter with ‘The Street Of The Cats Who Dance’, inspired by the true story of a change of Breton law in 1772 when they ceased using a pack of English Mastiffs to police the nightly curfew in St Malo after the grizzly death of a naval officer.
Two contrasting songs bound by a common theme follow – Kathryn’s multi-tracked voice telling the story of ‘Boney’s Defeat ‘before moving to the duo’s wonderful country-style song about another St Helena resident.
While TomorrowWill Follow Today featured ‘52 Hertz’ – a song about a lonely misfit whale -here they revisit the animal world with ‘Old, Old, Old’, a quirky anthem written from the perspective of the 185 year-old giant Seychelles tortoise Jonathan with Seth Lakeman adding his fiddling skills.
The album closes with the beautiful and enigmatic ‘Goddess Made Flesh’. Asking the question “was she an icon or was she a fraud?” it’s a pensive piece rueing the loss of many young talented performers and wondering how their lives may have unfolded.
Once again Roberts & Lakeman have created an album by turns curious, thought-provoking, moving and magical – a complete cornucopia astutely delivered by one of the most intriguing, uninhibited and popular duos on the scene. Most definitely not personae non gratae.
Personae is released on the Iscream label on March 9th and distributed by Proper Records.
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The Company of Players is an assemblage of young musicians brought together at the behest of Jess Distill of Said The Maiden, in order to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 2016 by putting together some songs related to his life and work. And one of the fruits of that collaboration is the CD Shakespeare Songs. Participants are Jess Distill (vocals, flute, Shruti box – a drone instrument somewhat like a harmonium), Hannah Elizabeth (vocals, violin), Kathy Pilkinton (vocals, clarinet, spoons, mandolin), Sam Kelly (vocals, acoustic guitar, mandolin, percussion), Kelly Oliver (vocals, acoustic guitar, harmonica), Lukas Drinkwater (vocals, electric guitar, double bass), Chris Cleverley (vocals, acoustic guitar, banjo), Kim Lowings (vocals, dulcimer, piano), Minnie Birch (vocals, acoustic guitar) and Daria Kulesh (vocals).
And a very interesting set it is, too. Knowing nothing of the project, I was, I suppose, expecting performances of songs that actually feature in Shakespeare plays (‘The Willow Song’, for example) or settings of his words, possibly accompanied by instruments from the period – which would have been fine by me! – but there are no lutes or viols here, and the range of material is both wider and in many cases more modern than I expected.
‘Black Spirits’, by Kathy Pilkinton, takes its title and lyrical content from Macbeth: specifically, Act I Scene I, and Act IV Scene I, taken verbatim from speeches by the Three Witches. It starts with minor-key, dirge-like close harmonies from Said The Maiden over an instrumental drone, then picks up the pace with percussion from Sam Kelly, while the harmonies of Jess, Hannah and Kathy are augmented by the voices of Sam, Chris, Kelly and Minnie.
Minnie Birch’s ‘Up And Down’ borrows ideas and imagery from Midsummer’s Night Dream, and even the chorus is based (though not verbatim) on the words of Puck:
‘Up and down, up and down,
I will lead them up and down.’
The sound, however, is very ‘modern folk’. In fact, it reminded me a little of Megan Henwood, which is certainly not a complaint. A very pretty tune.
‘Gather Round’, by Kim Lowings, draws on ideas and imagery from The Tempest. However, the expression is unashamedly modern, and would not sound out of place on Radio 2. (Hey, that’s not a criticism: I often listen to Radio 2!)
While the title of Chris Cleverley’s ‘But Thinking Makes It So’ comes from Hamlet, Prince of Denmark – “for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” the song seems to be a more general musing on the human condition and psychological frailty, no doubt influenced by the well-known soliloquy. Very attractive.
In contrast, ‘Method In The Madness’, by Jess Distill and Kim Lowings, is clearly based on Hamlet (perhaps somewhat influenced by the Icelandic Amlóði or the Amleth of Saxo Grammaticus, somewhat less conflicted precursors of Shakespeare’s Prince of Denmark). It’s curious that such a dark, corpse-strewn play should attract such light music. While this doesn’t have the levity of Adam McNaughtan’s ‘Oor Hamlet’ (chanted or sung to ‘The Mason’s Apron’), its sprightly tune, married to instrumentation that would not be out of place at a bluegrass festival, could certainly be described as toe-tapping. In fact, the tune would fit nicely into that group of American songs including ‘The Roving Gambler’, ‘Poor Ellen Smith’, and ‘Going Across The Mountain’. I’m almost tempted to describe it as fun.
‘Song Of The Philomel’ is a gentle song by Kim Lowings: the slightly archaic expression in the lyrics recalls Titania’s lullaby in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. (Philomel is both an old name for the nightingale and a 19th-century instrument somewhat related to the violin, though Hannah’s fiddle here doesn’t have the philomel’s shrill tone.) I particularly like this track.
‘Interval’ is a brief instrumental track, not listed in the sleeve notes or lyric booklet, but its mournful, slightly dissonant tone serves very appropriately as an introduction to the next track, ‘Lady Macbeth Of Mtensk’. Amusingly, the press release ascribes its inclusion to Midsummer’s Eve mischief-making by the Fairy Queen and her followers. However, there’s nothing light-hearted about either track.
Daria Kulesh’s ‘Lady Macbeth Of Mtensk’ draws its story, as the title suggests, from the novella Lady Macbeth Of The Mtsensk District by Nikolai Leskov (and the source of an opera by Shostakovich), rather than directly from Shakespeare. Darla’s dramatic delivery of a melody fittingly reminiscent of Russian folk music is almost operatic in its intensity.
By the way, the Russian word прощай, which appears several times in the lyric, generally means something like ‘farewell’ or ‘goodbye forever’, but can also mean something like ‘forgive’, which perhaps echoes the more sympathetic portrayal of Katerina in Shostakovich’s opera. Just a thought.
‘You Needs Must Be Strangers’ takes verses from Sir Thomas More. The authorship of this play is, to say the least, complicated. But it is generally accepted that 147 lines added to the play in 1603 were contributed by Shakespeare in his own handwriting. Its meditation on the plight of the exile has an all-too-apposite resonance in the 21st century, reminding me a little of Martin Thomas’s ‘The Exile’.
‘It Was A Lover And His Lass’, by Hannah Elizabeth, sets the song from As You Like It described by Touchstone as “untuneable”, though Hannah’s setting (like Thomas Morley’s long before it) disproves that description. A great tune, though the extended playout is a little overlong for my taste.
The lyric to ‘Jessica’s Sonnet’ is actually not quite a sonnet, but then it isn’t by Shakespeare either, being credited to Kelly Davis, Kim Lowings and Sam Kelly. It does, however, represent the thoughts of Jessica, the daughter of The Merchant Of Venice, just before she elopes with Lorenzo. The vocals are credited to Sam and Chris, but there’s a strong female vocal there, too, plus other harmonies that seem to be from the whole Company.
This certainly isn’t the sort of music I was expecting, but I certainly can’t say I was in the least disappointed by what I heard. Good solo and harmony vocals, excellent instrumental work where technique serves the interests of the songs but never overshadow them, and some very attractive tunes. If you’re among the many people who were completely put off The Bard by unimaginative English lessons, don’t let that put you off this take on his life and work. And if you love Shakespeare but are open to alternative ‘takes’ like West Side Story you may well like this.
Based in Bristol, but born in Norfolk, Kelly stakes a claim for a Best Album nomination in next year’s Radio 2 Folk Awards to add to this year’s Horizon win. Backed by his six-piece live band, comprising Jamie Francis on banjo, fiddler/guitarist Ciaran Algar, percussionist Evan Carson, Graham Coe on cello with Toby Shaer and Archie Churchill-Moss providing woodwind and melodeon, respectively, Pretty Peggy their first album together, also features contributions from folk stalwarts Cara Dillon, Damien O’Kane, Mike McGoldrick and Geoff Lakeman.
Save for three numbers, all the material is traditional, refashioned and refurbished, opening with a rousing haul away tempo take of the whaling shanty ‘Greenland Whale’ that can’t help but bring Seth Lakeman to mind. Dillon and McGoldrick’s Uillean pipes complement ‘Bonnie Lass Of Fyvie’, the pretty Peggy-o of the title, a jaunty Celtic-hued version that successfully avoids sounding like any of the many previous recordings.
A tale of lost childhood love regret, the equally lively, thigh-slapping, fiddle-driven ‘Angeline The Baker’ has Appalachian roots and then comes the first of the original numbers, ‘When The Rievers Call’, a Jamie Francis song about the raids on the Scottish borders during the middle ages featuring, unsurprisingly, some fiery banjo work and again recalling that Seth Lakeman sound.
Returning to the traditional repertoire and featuring O’Kane on electric tenor guitar with a melodeon solo, ‘If I Were A Blackbird’ is a lovely, lilting and gently ripping take on the Irish love song, reversing the lyric’s genders and set to a tune based around Chris Wood’s ‘Ville De Quebec’. This is followed by the darkly menacing ‘The Shining Ship’, a suitably spooked and nervy six minute tale, sung in low, at times whispery tones with swirling sonics, of a woman lured aboard a ghost ship by her long lost lover and based on the 17th century Scottish ballad ‘Demon Lover’.
Featuring himself on piano and Shaer on fiddle, the only Kelly original is ‘Chasing Shadows’, another lively tune about understanding that “the deepest dark comes just before the dawn”, and one of the more contemporary sounding tracks. Then comes the comic relief, ‘The Close Shave’ being New Zealand singer Bob Bickerton’s variation of the traditional romp, ‘Barrack Street’, about a gold miner relieved of his treasure by a man posing as a woman.
The obligatory instrumental track comes with ‘Shy Guy’s Serve’, a jaunty fiddle medley of Shaer’s ‘Josh’s Slip’ and Algar’s ‘Rookery Lane’, before they dig into the more obscure pages of the Dylan songbook and turn up the volume for ‘Crash On The Levee’, a punchy and driving version of ‘Down In The Flood’ off The Basement Tapes. The penultimate number is another traditional English folk song, drums, fiddles and flutes pumping along sexually euphemistic ‘The Keeper’ with its call and response derry derry down chorus, the album ending with the intitially subdued but gradually gatheringly strident strains of The Rose, Kelly’s translation of the French song ‘Le Beau Rosier’, originally by Belgian outfit Naragonia with whom he played mandolin last year.
Having practised his art as a youngster singing to the family’s cows, in 2012 Kelly was a finalist for Britain’s Got Talent (the one won by Pudsey), at which time he said “I don’t want to make a mediocre album of covers just to sell as many as possible on the back of BGT…musical integrity is really important to me.” He’s clearly lived up to his words.
Paul Johnson and Darren Beech caught up with Sam backstage at Cropredy 2018. It was the last interview of the weekend and a lot of fun! Have a listen below:
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Pretty Peggy, the much-anticipated second album from Sam Kelly and the Lost Boys is released on 6th October, so Folking.com caught up with Sam, freshly arrived back at home in Cornwall, to find out more.
“I’ve not been back for about two months”, Sam admits, as The Lost Boys have busy been cementing their award-winning position as a firm festival crowd favourite, gigging every weekend over the summer.
“We’re having loads of fun doing it and having a great time and I think that comes across in the live shows”, says Sam, conceding that it’s not necessarily the healthiest of lifestyles and he’s “always one of the last to quit and go to bed”.
Still, it must be nice to get home and recharge, sit around in your pants, catch a bit of rubbish tv, maybe read a book or play a video game? Well, yes. Except that what was meant to be a brief respite before the album launch will, for Sam, revolve around moving house instead. So much for relaxing. Fortunately, though, Sam sounds as though he’s taking this, and everything else, pretty much in his stride.
Remarkably, it’s already two years since The Lost Boys’ debut album was released. Although an acclaimed album, in retrospect it seems that the band was still finding its feet.
“With the first album it was obvious that we were going to call it The Lost Boys as an introduction to the band.
“I always wanted to get a band together. I always heard songs with a full band arrangement in my head. At first we couldn’t afford to do other than a trio: we could all go in one car – nice and easy! There was always going to be a full band when I could afford it – and when I met the right musicians. I wanted it to be collaborative, not a ‘backing band’”.
Looking back, Sam reflects on the less-than-ideal recording conditions. A piecemeal affair, fitting around the band members’ day jobs and wherever they could set up their equipment, it involved such unglamorous distractions as having to wait for Gatwick planes to pass overhead between takes.
“With the first album, there was no other way of doing it. We were all working full-time. It broke the immersion in the process.
“I was pleased [with the album], but it felt quite rushed compared to this album, and the EP we did at around that same time, Spokes. Listening back, Spokes better represented the band’s sound. I would change lots in terms of the nitty gritty – mixes – and, also, some of the songs didn’t quite reach their potential, as they’d been in my head. It’s all part of the learning process”.
Additionally, as the album was effectively a calling card to attract bookings, it tried to capture something like the band’s live sound, leaving little room for studio ingenuity.
When it came to recording Pretty Peggy, however, the band opted for a dedicated period of studio time, staying there full-time so that they could all concentrate fully on it and be more experimental. Not that getting all seven band members together was a simple business.
“We only had two rehearsals with everyone together, it’s so difficult to get time. It was at Jamie’s parents’ in Cumbria – which is a hefty drive from Cornwall – so there was not much chance to get together and write. We worked on a few of the tracks while chilling at festivals. Stuff happens organically like that, but it can’t always, because you can’t always find the time”.
Just as well, then, that they have an established habit of recording demos as they go along, working on songs, thrashing out the basics of tempo and arrangement. It helps speed up the recording process, which is useful considering the expense of studio time.
“This was all recorded in Cornwall in two weeks. We all had the time booked off and knew most of the songs anyway. We sat down and allowed ourselves to be creative for a couple of weeks. The tracks are presented in a way that suits each track more. We had more time to step back and listen to what each song needed.
“Everyone has been involved in the creative process, in recording, instrumentation-wise, orchestration-wise. We lost our inhibitions of trying to do only what we can do live.
“All my favourite albums are the ones that treated the recorded format as a separate art form. On the folk scene this is perhaps done less often, but that’s ok, too: people want to capture particular kinds of sound. But if the album’s treated as a separate thing, it’s different and exciting when you see it live: it’s a different show, wondering how they are going to do that live”.
From squeaky chairs, reverse voices and a fire extinguisher, to grand piano strings plucked with a plectrum, everyone has had a hand in offering up ideas and suggestions for the final mix. The Lost Boys are keen to emphasise their collaborative efforts and have clearly had fun exploring the studio’s possibilities for “headphone moments”.
“My favourite album is Grace by Jeff Buckley. I still listen to it through studio monitors and notice little things I never noticed before. There are little “Easter eggs” buried in the mix”.
Sam, Graham Coe and Jamie Francis also produced the album, allowing them full control over their sound and their treasure hunt of Easter eggs. Sam says he would prefer an external producer – Gerry Diver’s name comes up – but opted to self-produce this time rather than risk hiring someone who wasn’t quite right, given the short timescales involved. Sam enjoys producing, though, and is proud of his production duties for The Company Of Players, whose album is due for release next year.
Working with The Changing Room’s Tanya Brittain gave Sam the inspiration and confidence to ask for musical contributions from guest artists, including Mike McGoldrick, who, following a spectacularly late-night Costa Del Folk jam session, set his fee at “50p and a can of Red Stripe”. Cara Dillon added beautiful harmonies and vocals to ‘Bonnie Lass Of Fyvie’ (the source of the album’s title) and Damien O’Kane provided hot guitar on ‘If I Were A Blackbird’. Geoff Lakeman, dropping by to hang out as the studio was close to home, ended up supplying virtuoso spoons on ‘Angeline The Baker’.
“I didn’t realise then how willing people are to play on things. I forget that these people are all in it for the love of the music. All the people I’ve met on the folk scene are so supportive of young people and of the next generation coming through. It’s very inspiring. It’s the opposite of ‘never meet your heroes’”.
All these factors lend Pretty Peggy an added richness and depth of sound. It’s a heavier, altogether meatier album than the first one, but it’s evident that ‘Chasing Shadows’, the lead single, is quite different in tone. Consciously attempting to make something with greater mainstream appeal, the band then found that the 4-and-a-half-minute track couldn’t easily be edited for airplay. But with some radio play already, it still stands every chance of opening-up The Lost Boys to a wider audience.
Rooted in personal experience, ‘Chasing Shadows’ steps away from traditional third-person storytelling songs, evoking instead a contemporary, emotional mood.
“I’m not a prolific writer, I have lots of ideas that don’t materialise into full-blooded songs. But that one just came out. I didn’t think ‘I’ll write a song for a friend’. I was just moved by what happened and wrote it. If it helps someone stop doing something silly…” Only after he said this, did we realise it was World Suicide Prevention Day, adding a topicality to Sam’s words.”
It’s that ability to combine personal, contemporary songs with traditional material and have them sit seamlessly together that Sam most admires in his favourite songwriters, such as Chris Wood, Chris Drever and Karine Polwart.
For now, as the band prepares to tour the album in November and December, with a second leg to follow early in 2018, The Lost Boys are already beginning to think ahead to the next album. They know it will take time to come to fruition and they fully intend it to be another step forward in working together as a unit.
“We have big plans for next year to get together and write a whole new album with everyone involved in that process, to see what we come up with”.
So, the band continues to evolve and, despite his protestations that he is bad at planning ahead, there are clearly plenty of longer-term ambitions bubbling in the mind of Sam Kelly. He has the confidence and assurance of one who has come a very long way in a few short, hectic years. This is a young man determined to savour every moment and treat everything as a learning opportunity.
“I’m conscious of not looking too far ahead, and enjoying the present. When I first started, I was always looking forward to the next thing, but then I realised that gigs and things were going past too fast.
“I think back to when we first started playing 20-30 minute sets at our first festivals. We were keen to prove ourselves and worked on creating dynamic sets, hoping to blow the crowds away and win the audience onto our side. Now we like to have lots of fun and play up-tempo things to get people dancing. But we’re not really trying to please anyone but ourselves.
“We have more creative freedom because we’re not trying to please anyone. We’re known in the folk scene now and are more comfortable with where we are and what we’re doing. We’ve got a licence to be more experimental and creative with the music. It has been a kind of growth and realisation process.
“There’s always going to be something else I want to do, some other goal: wanting to be the best musician you can be.
“I’ve learned to trust my own ideas more. Even if I make a mistake, it’s my mistake. I would rather make things that are maybe not as successful or popular, but I can be proud of it because it’s mine”.
Having proved his credentials in the folk world, he has nurtured the band he always wanted and achieved goals he once considered unimaginable, let alone attainable. And it feels like he’s only just getting started.
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After coming across Tilly Moses online last year, her sound and emotive musical qualities immediately struck a chord with GingerDog Records. Since that first initial glimpse, their belief in Tilly and her music has increased two-fold and GingerDog Records are absolutely delighted to announce the release of her debut studio album Alight And Adrift.
The effortless way Tilly passionately tells stories through her music, and the unique and timeless sound of her voice, mean that this debut album is a both melodically charming and evocative at the same time. Full of twists and turns, unexpected eccentricities that push the boundaries of modern day folk music, as well as true-to-tradition elements, it all comes together to produce an authentic, clever and inspiring body of work which can stand up tall in the world of folk, but also cross-over into more mainstream mixes to introduce an entirely new audience to the world of folk music.
‘There is a depth to her distinct voice as there is to her writing, a tone that reaches beneath the surface. Tilly has set a very firm foundation with this album. With beautiful instrumentation and clever arrangements, a good mix of traditional and self-penned work and some prestigious guests, she is certainly making her intentions for a long and prosperous folk career clear with this debut.’ – Ange Hardy
While usually a solo performer, Tilly was delighted to collaborate with and be joined on the album by some exceptional talents, such as BBC Folk Award Winner Sam Kelly, BBC Jazz Award Winner and Mercury Prize Nominee Kit Downes, and the fiddle player James Delarre, from the BBC FolkAward nominated band Mawkin. Tilly was also joined by young, multi-instrumentalist and virtuoso recorder player Finn Collinson, from the rising young folk duo Shorelark, and the fantastically insightful singer/songwriter Samuel McKie.
Listening to Alight And Adrift it quickly becomes apparent that Tilly has been inspired and shaped by a wide range of talented musicians and when asked to give a little insight into this, Tilly had to say…
When I was growing up, Damien Rice’s O was played all the time in the house – I hope some of those deep cello lines and that intense passion are heard in this album; it’s certainly a homage to an incredible record. The Guillemots’ distinct weirdness and originality inspired me to try and create something unique and unafraid, as their music always was – something I hope I have succeeded in creating. Lisa Hannigan’s deep, subtle, powerful voice, extraordinary lyrics, and exquisite instrumentation never fails to take me back and make me breathless. I owe so much to her music, and I carry it with me always – my ultimate idol.
A skill I always aspire to is Karine Polwart’s way of approaching painful and difficult topics, with such stunningly beautiful words and arrangements and the way Rachel Sermanni unflinchingly sings of the darkest thoughts inside her head, with such magnetic charm, always has me wishing I could do the same.
The moment I heard Ida Wenoe’s music, it became an irreversible part of my musical experience. It is like nothing else I’ve ever heard, and I never want to stop listening. Sandy Denny, John Smith, Joni Mitchell, Mick Flannery, Ben Howard, Kate Bush, Paolo Nutini, John Martyn, Bellowhead, Mawkin, Ange Hardy, James Vincent McMorrow, Iron and Wine, and many many others also deserve honourable mentions for their huge influence on my musicality.
Massive thanks to them all. We’re so lucky to live in a world so full of fantastic music!
George Nigel Hoyle is a man of many incarnations. He started out professional musical life as bassist with late 90s outfit Gay Dad, a band briefly hailed as the saviours of British rock, going on to join Crispin Hunt of The Longpigs (of Richard Hawley fame) in a short-lived new outfit called Gramercy and wrote Lee Ryan’s first post-Blue solo hit, ‘Army Of Lovers’, before getting into folk, both as a genre and a culture.
Adopting the soubriquet Nigel of Bermondsey, he’s released three albums under the name and, in 2014, he formed GentleFolk, whose self-titled debut album was released last year, and also produced Katy Carr’s most recent album. In addition, for the past five years, he’s run the South East London Folklore Society (SELFS), meeting monthly for talks on a wide variety of folk-related subjects.
Which brings us to Cunning Folk, his latest venture, the name given to practitioners of folk medicine and folk magic (sometimes referred to as white witches), an album tracing a journey across the south of England exploring the history of its trees and local folklore and which, alongside Hoyle variously on guitars and shruti box also features Sam Kelly on drums, pianist Oliver Parfitt and Carr on backing vocals plus assorted uncredited musicians on strings and woodwinds.
Hoyle describes the aptly titled autumnal sounding opening number, ‘This Is How It Starts’, as an exploration of the island prompted by listening to Radio 4, a journey through other places, other histories and new traditions, “calling across the borders that we make in the land.”
The first call on the journey is ‘The Old Straight Track’, a five minute number that, named after the book by Alfred Watkins, opens with bowed cello and unfolds into a stripped back, acoustic accompanied dreamy song about ley lines. We’re then joined by a guide in the form of ‘The Modern Antiquarian’ (a nod to Julian Cope) who, in the company of pipes and strings, leads us “between the borders of then & now…over the field & hill”, a “pre-millennial odyssey From Knowlton Henge to Avebury” that also introduces the first hint of influences taken from The Incredible String Band.
From here we fetch up on the site of a ruined church on Cranborne Chase with its nearby Neolithic ramparts and ancient Yew for ‘What Has Been and Gone Before’, flute and a percussive beat permeating swirling tune the lyrics of which reference Augustine’s mission to bring the Christian faith to the pagan isles, a meditation on the natural process of change as the old gives way to the new, but remain a part of the spiritual legacy.
A more familiar landmark is found in ‘Chalk Horses’, a song about the mysterious ancient figures cut into the down and hills of southern England set to a funky rhythm with barroom blues piano. The catchiest and most immediate track is the rhythmically itchy, hand percussion and flute flourished ‘Uncommon Ground’ itself, strummed a celebration of Britain’s island heritage where “All the roads we run take us to the sea”, an invitingly singalong chorus rolling things along.
Britain’s past is again recalled in the ethereally sung, harp-clothed and floatingly melodic ‘A Brief History Of Agriculture and Mining’, which, charting history “from the stone to the clay to the bronze to the iron”, tips the hat to the farmers and tin and coal miners who worked the land.
The cunning folk themselves are the subject of the ISB-like ‘The Chime Child,’ a drone and harp-infused medieval styled tune that takes its title and swaying miasmal chorus from the belief that a child born in the chime hours, between midnight on Friday and the following dawn will be gifted with healing more and be “masters of music & finders of rhyme, & every beast will do what they say, & every herb that do grow in the clay.”
The warning that, for such folk, “to show too much may not be wise” is borne out in the following ironically titled track, ‘Lancashire, God’s Country’, an account of the 17th century Pendle witch trials where 10 of 11 accused were ‘witnesses’ coached by the clergy, hung for witchcraft, the other apparently vanishing from prison, Hoyle’s spoken delivery recalling that of Vinny Peculiar.
Things are more reassuringly peaceful and pastoral on the trilling flute-adorned ‘The Song of the Nidge’, an encouragement to get in the woods and the shipping forecast zones and listen to the birdsong. Ornithologists will tell you that the word nidge is likely a reference to the hummingbird, known as Kawis Nidges, but, more specifically the song directs you to the call of the yellowhammer (Emberiza Citrinella), the great tit (Parus Major) and the curlew (Numenius). And it’s another call to connect with nature that closes the album, ‘Walk Through The Juniper’ a slow gathering airy invocation of the Juniper forest of the Cairngorms, a wild place to understand our insignificance in the universe (“when I go I leave no trace”) and, lost in the modern world, follow the example of Nan Shepherd, the Scottish poet and author of The Living Mountain, get back in touch with who we are. Balm to the spirit and a hymn to the magic and mystery of the land, acquiring yourself a copy would be a shrewd move.
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