Songhive is a folksong project concerned with raising awareness of the current plight of the bees, but now it’s time to raise some money as well! We are soon to release a compilation album of Beelore and Folksong in the British Isles, all the proceeds of which will go to The Bee Cause. The following questions were answered by Rowan Piggott, the project founder.
Tell us a little about the project? Why bees?
Bees are responsible for 80% of pollination in the UK, are essential to biodiversity, and ultimately the future of humanity. Despite all this, we continue to obliterate the pollenrich plants they depend on, and our governments insist on legalising pesticides that do them harm.
Folk music has long been fraught with political dissent and attended by social change; perhaps this collection will serve to highlight how the decline of bees has entered the public consciousness. Here isn’t the place to wax lyrical, but hopefully this small project can raise some money for our friends; “the little musicians of the world”… (The King & The Hermit, 10th c. Irish Verse).
How did it start?
The project began as I noticed more and more folk artists including songs and tunes in their sets which referenced the bees… it seemed to me that almost every album I bought in the last year has had some mention of them. Who’s to say whether this was a result of the stories that reached mainstream media or the fact that folkies are generally more interested in conservation, but either way, a pattern emerged! For all the ages of man, bees have been revered & respected: honey was the nectar of the gods, bees were thought to carry human souls, every culture had important bee gods and traditions… to reach a time when we care about them so little that we’re not worried about them becoming extinct is dreadful.
You were awarded a creative bursary by EFDSS for your writing on the project?
It was great to have the backing of EFDSS and really helped give us the resources to write new material! You can hear a couple of my original songs on the compilation album (Queen& Country and Soul Wake Dirge) and I actually collaborated on nine of the eleven tracks, whether writing lyrics, playing fiddle or singing harmonies. It’s been a very exciting project to be part of and I’m looking forward to debuting some of the songs live at a gig at Cecil Sharp House on 6th June.
The Songhive Album
With tracks from Nancy Kerr, The Rheingans Sisters, Rosie Hodgson, Nick Burbridge, The Georgia Lewis Trio, Ray Chandler, Duo Keryda, The Hivemind Choir (a scratch choir put together through social media for a mournful choral contribution) and of course, project founder Rowan Piggott, it looks to be a varied and musically exciting selection from all corners of the folk scene.
When I first heard the Rheingans Sisters I hoped that they might bring something new to the folk music of Derbyshire where they grew up. Instead, they have fixed their attention on composition and songwriting and the result is their third album, Bright Field.
The sisters are much travelled. Anna now lives in France and Rowan is a go-to violin-player for many distinguished musicians as well as being one third of Lady Maisery and one-sixth of Coven. This album was recorded in Wales under the supervision of Dylan Fowler who also adds bass guitar and tabwrth when required – and if you’re wondering what a tabwrth is, so was I – it’s a small drum or tabor.
There is a wildness, an exoticism about Bright Field. It opens with Anna’s tune, ‘Glattugla’, which was inspired by a winter spent in Trondheim and has an unmistakeable Scandinavian vibe about it, as does ‘Swinghorn’ which was also written in Norway. Snow and ice features quite a bit. The first song, Rowan’s long ‘This Forest’, is nothing less than a history of the planet in the form of a dream and she envisages the end of our world under a blanket of snow. It’s a superb song and probably the highlight of the album.
Anna’s French influences are present in the shape of two bourées and a song, ‘Appel’, which is about wanting to go south because the north wind is freezing her – and that’s as far as my French takes me. Finally in this Francophile segment comes ‘Lo Segoner’, a traditional branle. The title track is a long instrumental written by Rowan terminating in a poem by R S Thomas read by Dafydd Davies-Hughes. I particularly like ‘Edge Of The Field’ which I’m guessing is the final plea of an old horse for a dignified ending. It’s remarkably moving.
There’s a lot to listen to on this album and much to enjoy and the sisters’ current tour would make for an excellent night out.
Musicians, composers and folk music scholars The Rheingans Sisters release their third album Bright Field on 23rd March 2018, on Rootbeat Records (RBRCD39). Since their award winning album Already Home (2015) the duo have cemented their reputation as an unmissable live act on the folk and world music stage, captivating audiences across the UK, Europe and Australia. As full-hearted and graceful performers, arrangers and on-stage improvisors, theirs is a rich artistic approach to the deconstruction and reimagining of traditional music via the adventurous use of fiddles, voices, banjo, bansitar, tambourin à cordes, poetry and percussion. Their poignant compositions have also gained them many new fans and a busy night at the 2016 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, where they won the prestigious Best Original Track award for their song ‘Mackerel’ alongside a nomination in the Horizon category for Best New Act.
While Anna Rheingans lives and works as a musician and violin teacher in Toulouse, Rowan Rheingans is one of the most in demand musicians on the UK folk scene today. She has been kept busy with no less than four other notable releases over the past two years; her trio Lady Maisery’s critically acclaimed third album Cycle as well as Nancy Kerr’s astonishing Instar, Welsh songwriter Gwyneth Glyn’s debut album Tro and the remarkable Songs Of Separation project, which won the BBC Radio 2 Folk Award for Best Album in 2017.
A spacious, adventurous and quietly revealing album, Bright Field is The Rheingans Sisters first collection of newly composed music. If Already Home told listeners where the fiddle-singing duo were coming from, both in their pan-European musical scholarship (Anna and Rowan have studied in France, Sweden, Norway and Ireland) and in their vivacious nurturing of connections between the folk music of different geographical origins, then Bright Field tells us where they are going and explores more deeply than ever the grounded yet experimental artistic approach with which they travel. It is also a more reflective album, drawing on their own personal experiences of the world and finding expression for this via their unique take on musical knowledge passed down through generations.
Although Bright Field is a powerfully personal album, Rowan and Anna’s approach to telling their own stories remains one of openness; just as their performances leave room for spontaneity, their compositions leave room for new interpretations. It was after the success of their award-winning song ‘Mackerel’, which was based on a specific true event and yet evidently resonated with so many, that the sisters’ realised the artistic power of harnessing this musical space:
The sisters’ divergent but symmetrical musical journeying, in Southern France and Scandinavia in particular, remain a central thread of inspiration for Bright Field. For example, Rowan’s dark poem-song ‘This Forest’ – an existential lament on the idea of humanity’s historical progress – is intentionally constructed along the lines of a traditional French Rondeau, giving the song a fittingly relentless cyclical rhythm which carries on in the mind long after hearing it. Likewise, ‘Green Unstopping’ teases listeners with a dreamlike series of half-seen images of environmental catastrophe and potential for redemption. It toys with the comforting form of a traditional dance melody, but refuses to let listeners settle via deftly changing time signatures and a fluidity of genre eventually leading to a pop sensibility almost reminiscent of Swedish pop giants (and fellow folk fans) ABBA.
Anna’s recent travels also permeate her compositions. Bright Field’s sparse opening track ‘Glattugla ‘was written last year while Anna was studying in Norway. A contemporary, almost minimalist piece inspired by a dark winter spent in the far north, it is imbued with the stylistic elements of Scandinavian fiddle playing while half retaining the shapes of old dance music from Anna’s adopted home in South West France. Similarly, her poetic song ‘Appel’ (the long-awaited solo of Anna’s soft and almost bluesy vocals, accompanied sparingly by Rowan on an earthy low strung baritone banjo) captures a timeless yearning for other landscapes.
fRoots magazine once commented that The Rheingans Sisters “inject genuine freshness into well-worn themes and ideas” and this remains a central endeavour on Bright Field. Unable to resist including one traditional melody, Anna and Rowan efficiently deconstruct and rebuild in their signature style ‘Lo Segoner’, a Branle from the Béarn region of France. It soars under the wings of Anna and Rowan’s spirited playing, punctuated by the low drones of Anna’s Ttun-ttun, a Pyrenean string drum, and high pitched flabuta (a three holed flute played simultaneously). This old melody, joyfully stretched and pulled, becomes something quite different when the sisters’ vocal chorus climaxes over raw, muscular fiddles and an ancient, gut-strung bassline. ‘Xaviers/The Honeybee’, both newly written bourrées, retain the very best of these infectious, energetic old dance forms while Rowan and Anna use them to explore new rhythmic and harmonic places. Once again, The Rheingans Sisters’ music is anchored in tradition but never, ever bound.
Produced by the sisters themselves, Bright Field was recorded and mixed in Abergavenny by Dylan Fowler, also responsible for their critically acclaimed 2015 album Already Home as well as other recent records from the more innovative end of the British folk scene, such as Lady Maisery’s Cycle, Gwyneth Glyn’s Tro and Hannah James’ Jigdoll, as well as world music star Tcha Limberger and folk-rock legend Robin Williamson. As can be expected, Rowan and Anna play a plethora of instruments on Bright Field, many of them handmade by their luthier father Helmut Rheingans. Musically it centres around the sisters’ expansive and imaginative use of their fiddles, banjos and voices, but they also invite in other sounds such as Dylan Fowler’s subtle percussion and the peaceful voice of Welsh storyteller Dafydd Davies-Hughes.
Bright Field goes beyond bonds to specific traditions while remaining unquestionably steeped in the The Rheingans Sisters’ life-long love and study of traditional music. Fans of Rowan and Anna’s previous albums will welcome this richly detailed, poetic and timely record dedicated to the duo’s considerable skills as composers of arresting instrumentals and writers of timeless songs. This is the kind of record many folk fans will have been hoping The Rheingans Sisters would soon create. New listeners can look forward to a wholly different kind of introduction to these two musicians at the height of their powers.
The winners of this year’s BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards have been announced at a spectacular event held at the Royal Albert Hall, London.
Now in their 17th year, this major event in the specialist music calendar saw accolades presented for Folk Singer of the Year, Best Duo, Best Album, Musician of the Year and many more, as well as Lifetime Achievement Awards for songwriter Joan Armatrading and traditional folk legend Norma Waterson.
Also on the night some of the most exciting acts in the folk music scene took to the stage for magical performances to celebrate the vibrant folk music scene in the UK and beyond.
The evening kicked off with an electrifying performance by the John McCusker Band, and throughout the evening the audience were treated to performances by Grammy Award and BRIT Award nominee Joan Armatrading; British singer, songwriter, guitarist, record producer and film score composer, Mark Knopfler; Mercury Award nominated Sam Lee, Dublin folk band Lynched; a special tribute to Sandy Denny by Rufus Wainwright and many more. The evening culminated in a rousing performance by acclaimed Northumbrian group The Unthanks.
Singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright performed a special tribute to Sandy Denny who was inducted into the Folk Awards Hall of Fame. For the rendition of Sandy’s classic ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’, Rufus was backed by musicians including some who were members of Fairport Convention alongside Sandy in the 1960s and 1970s.
Awards were presented by a host of famous folk fans, including actors Martin Freeman (The Hobbit, Sherlock, The Office) and Matt Berry (The IT Crowd, House of Fools), musicians Richard Hawley and Graham Coxon from Blur, War Horse author Michael Morpurgo and 1960s star Sandie Shaw.
The night also saw the presentation of the annual BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award, which has been finding and championing young folk talent for 18 years. The four nominees in this category also performed live during a special interval programme presented by Radio 2’s Simon Mayo and top folk musician Kathryn Tickell.
Bob Shennan, Controller BBC Radio 2, 6Music and Asian Network and Director BBC Music, said:
“What better way to celebrate the thriving folk music scene than a wonderful night in the impressive surroundings of the Royal Albert Hall. It was a fitting way to recognise the huge wealth of talent and I’d like to congratulate the winners of these prestigious accolades. Here’s to next year!”
The awards will be available to watch on the BBC iPlayer from today and will be broadcast on the BBC Red Button from Saturday 30 April until Thursday 5 May.
The full list of winners:
FOLK SINGER OF THE YEAR
Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman
BEST ALBUM Mount The Air – The Unthanks
MUSICIAN OF THE YEAR
BEST ORIGINAL TRACK
‘Mackerel’ by The Rheingans Sisters
BEST TRADITIONAL TRACK
‘Lovely Molly’ by Sam Lee
BBC RADIO 2 YOUNG FOLK AWARD
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
GOOD TRADITION AWARD
HALL OF FAME INDUCTEE
Well, if that was not exciting enough, then why not create your own Albert Hall replica out of those discarded food/ electrical cardboard boxes lying around the house, sit on your favourite cushion, grab a glass of something special and re-live it all again here at: