A new addition to the folk family ranks, the Welsh Celtic-Classical crossover quartet line up, in age descending order, as Melody, Fantasia, Harvey and lead singer Titania, variously on violin, flute, piano, guitar and percussion, their debut album, Force Of The Tide, drawing on the stories and history of the British and Irish coastline.
Appropriately, then, Titania on crystal pure vocals, it opens with Fantasia haunting piano and Harvey’s violin notes of ‘Lovely On The Water’, a song collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams that, moving from summer idyll to the roar of cannons, comes from the fine tradition of a lass parted from her sailor lover by the call of war. Backdropped by rumbling bodhran and violin, a similar scenario provides the setting for ‘Maid In Bedlam’, the tragedy here being that, out of her mind at their parting, the unfortunate girl is locked up in the infamous mental asylum, intoning “I love my love because I know my love loves me.” Unusually, it all turns out well when her sailor returns and sets her free.
Featuring Melody on Irish whistle, Fantasia on piano and Harvey bodhran and mournful violin ‘Henry Martin’ is the Scottish ballad about three brothers, one of whom takes to the sea and eventually turns pirate to support his siblings, leading on to the Irish ballad ‘Maid Of Culmore’, again arranged around violin and piano with Melody on flute, Titania conjuring thoughts of Anne Briggs as she sings of a young lad, heartbroken that the Londonderry girl he’s fallen has gone off to America and vowing to follow and never return until he finds her.
Backed by violin and bodhran, everyone joins in for lusty take on the traditional shanty ‘High Barbary’, again a tale of sailors and pirates, only here it’s the former who have the upper hand, the musical mood shifting for a lovely piano ballad reading of ‘Lowlands Away’, Titania delivering the lyrics in a softly caressing lullaby style, complemented by dreamy violin and flute.
Things stay mellow as the girls’ joined voices croon the Welsh lullaby ‘Si Hei Lwli Babi’, remaining in the traditions of their native land for the first of three instrumental, the two-minute ‘Bedd Y Morw’r/Hen Ferchetan’, opening with Fantasia’s carousing solo violin before giving way to thumping bodhran, piano and recorder as it gathers to a climax. The second follows with ‘Heron on the Water’, perhaps better known as ‘The Swallow’s Tail’, a lively reel driven along on Fantasia’s violin and Harvey’s bodhran with a shake of tambourine from Titania.
Opening on and punctuated by dramatic guitar and piano notes before the fiddle carries things away, the album ends, Melody on in whistle, with the third instrumental, the traditional Irish jig ‘Dribbles Of Brandy’ with its shifting time signatures and tempo. Prior to that comes the album’s longest track, a five and a half minute ‘Spanish Ladies’, a slow and sombre shanty precursor dating from the late 18th century and relating British sailors sailing north from Spain to return home up the English Channel and having to determine their location by sounding the water’s depth, drowning their melancholy in in plenty of booze.
A mix of familiar and lesser known songs from the traditional repertoire, it’s a hugely confident and impressive debut that see them comfortably ride the tide to wider recognition.
‘High Barbary’ – live: