I quite liked The Drystones previous album, We Happy Few, although I wished for more songs and I was not as prepared as some critics to go overboard about them. I was disappointed when I saw them live although, by their own admission, they weren’t at their best but I was determined to approach Apparitions with an open mind.
Four of the tracks have traditional elements but, for the most part, the album is self-penned and again I would have liked more songs particularly along the lines of ‘Jack Crook’, which you might take for traditional if you weren’t told otherwise. There is a good deal of experimentation going on here from Alex Garden’s sawing fiddle that opens ‘Oscar’s Ghost’ to the mocked up radio announcements and field recordings and the way that the tracks sometimes meld into one another. Alex and Ford Collier are both multi-instrumentalists and seem to have assembled a whole studio full of conventional and unconventional instruments. With both of the playing synths it can be hard to tell what’s natural and what is synthetic at times.
Speaking of which, ‘The Story’ is a fine song about fake news and manipulation in the media – another reason why I wish they would write more songs. There are lighter moments such as ‘Nonesuch’, the Playford dance tune reimagined as a dance track in the 21st century meaning of the word. The last five tracks, beginning with the delightful ‘Daydream’ topped out with Ford’s whistle, are all instrumental and the boys really give themselves a workout. It all gets a bit heady as The Drystones rattle through eleven mostly self-composed tunes – something to break it up would have been nice.
The Drystones are two young chaps from Somerset: Alex Garden and Ford Collier; singers and multi-instrumentalists who made their debut album at age 16. Remarkably, this is already their third outing. On the surface, We Happy Few seems typical of albums of our age. Three songs and eight instrumental sets and, seemingly, I have dozens like it.
What singles The Drystones out is the imagination that has gone into the selection and arrangement of their material, aided by producer and percussionist Will Lang. They open with a pair of original tunes, ‘Green Room Strathspey’ and ‘Arc Reel’, together entitled ‘Treekend’. The second tune, written by Alex, has some rather odd progressions that immediately grab the attention. They then switch to a set of three Irish tunes featuring Ford’s whistles and that isn’t entirely expected. Admit it, you’re interested now.
The first song is ‘My Son John’. This is Martin Carthy’s version as rewritten for The Imagined Village and gives the duo the opportunity for some multi-tracking and Ford the chance to strap on his electric guitar and unpack every percussion instrument he owns. After this comes ‘The Cheshire Set’, rather more stately, and another original tune before ‘Man Of Words (And Not Of Deeds) a nursery rhyme from the 17th century. The words may have originated earlier or may be a satire on Charles II but we may speculate all we want. Again, this isn’t quite what we might expect.
‘Katy Cruel’ was originally heard from Fay Hield and The Drystones have tried to make an essentially American song sound English. Later we get as English as you like with ‘Hole In The Wall’, a hornpipe that may have been written by Henry Purcell, before a set of Irish and Irish-influenced tunes called ‘More Nyah’ and I’m going to wince at that.
This is a good album from two young performers but I could wish for more songs.
Somerset based young folk duo The Drystones have just recorded their third album entitled We Happy Few. Ford Collier and Alex Garden started performing when they were just fifteen. Six years on they have notched up performances at festivals and concerts including Glastonbury (where in 2013 they were Steve Lamacq’s “recommendation of the day”), Sidmouth Folk Week, and have supported Steeleye Span, Seth Lakeman, The Shires and Ray Davies. They were also Larmer Tree’s 2015 Breakthrough Music Award winners, and are now represented by Alan Bearman Music. All this whilst finding time to complete A levels and their degree courses in Music (Ford at Sheffield and Alex at Southampton)
Their first album The Album, Or What You Will was produced whilst they were only 16 and was made album of the week on BBC Somerset’s Emma Britton show. Their second album A Tale Of Sound And Fury financed by crowd funding was a more ambitious affair working with Will Lang as producer and Tom Wright as Engineer. This third album We Happy Few was again crowd funded and produced by Will Lang (known for his collaborations, Nitin Sawhney, PBS6, National Youth Choirs of Great Britain, Halsway Manor, has had airplay on BBC Radio 2, 3 and 6Music) and this time was recorded by Julian Batten at the Loft Music studios in Newcastle (Julian has worked with KAN, Kathryn Tickell, Bella Hardy and The Elephant Sessions).
Once more the album title is taken from Shakespeare (Henry V AI, SIII), but chosen to reflect the tone of the album being as Ford says “much cheerier!” than the last album. We Happy Few includes a mix of their own compositions, arrangements of traditional and current folk tunes, mostly instrumental but with three songs. Their cover of Martin Carthy’s reinterpretation of ‘My Son John’ is perhaps the darkest track on the album, but buzzes with energy and includes performances on tabla, kanjira and electric guitar as wells as vocals from both Ford and Alex.
They both feel that throughout the album they have been able to bring a lot of new influences from their time at University, as well as a new found confidence. You might be surprised to find Purcell alongside the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, but Ford and Alex have brought to the album their sense of fun that is always evident in their live shows. So although their style is unmistakable the album keeps surprising on you with its twists and turns.
We Happy Few is officially released on June 30th. The Drystones are playing festivals and clubs around the country this summer.