It seems that English folkies are taking a leaf out of their Scottish counterparts’ book by swapping musical partners like a barn dance’s introductory mixer. For fans it means more and different music and we can all applaud that. The latest pairing matches Granny’s Attic’s George Sansome and Dovetail Trio’s Matt Quinn making their recording debut with Sheffield Park. All the songs are traditional, with some input from Alf McLoughlin and Shirley Collins, and performed very simply – just two voices and two instruments.
Several titles will be familiar, others disguise variants of other songs as is the way with the tradition. George and Matt start with ‘Tyne Of Harrow’ which George first heard by John Faulkner and I heard by Peter Bellamy. It’s the splendid tale of the exploits of a highway – and exploits he had a-plenty – but, sadly, he comes to the inevitable grim end. George learned ‘Tailor In The Chest’ from Bandoggs and, by coincidence, Jon Wilks has recently recorded it as ‘The Boatswain’. It’s another amusingly boisterous song with, again, the protagonist coming to an unfortunate end.
George and Matt’s voices blend superbly with George taking the higher line and Matt the bass part when they sing together. Their unaccompanied version of ‘I Live Not Where I Love’ is the exemplar here. George’s guitar and Matt’s mandolin also fit together well, sometimes very simply and sometimes robustly as displayed on ‘Thornaby Woods’.
The title track, ‘Sheffield Park’, is led by Matt and, despite the title, it was collected in Hampshire. It’s the first of the potentially lachrymose songs here but, as Matt remarks in his notes to the non-supernatural ‘Night Visiting Song’, if nothing bad happens is it really a folk song? ‘I Once Loved A Boy’ rejoices in five other titles and it tells of a love separated by a cockerel – I suspect that some important verses have been lost.
‘The Fox And The Grey Goose’ is a very English version of the familiar story. You can tell it’s English because it doesn’t have the jolly chorus the Americans insist on and the fox is killed at the end. ‘My Son In Amerikay’ is the one genuinely funny song here and suggests that postal services have never been great. Then we return to tragedy, firstly with ‘Lost In A Wood’, Shirley Collins’ version of ‘Babes In The Wood’ a song better known as part of The Copper Family repertoire. Finally we have ‘The Death Of Andrew’ in which plenty bad things happen. The death toll is only two but the method of despatch in the second case more than makes up for the paucity of corpses!
Sheffield Park is the sort of collection of folk songs that we used to be able to take for granted. George and Matt let the songs tell their own stories…and what stories they are.
Artists’ website: https://sansomequinn.bandcamp.com/
‘Sheffield Park’ – live: