The Elizabethan Session


“I hear tell of London, Buildings seven houses high, The perfume of the ladies, All the ways a man can die. And the Woman King, she’s ten feet tall, She dresses all in white, They say she shines all over England, Though I’ve never seen the light” (London by John Smith)

This 14 track CD showcases the multi artist commission from Folk by the Oak and the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) inspired by the music, the people, the myths and the stories of the Elizabethan age.

From John Smith’s darkly brooding track ‘London’ reflecting on life as a peasant in Elizabethan England to Nancy Kerr’s deeply moving ‘Shores of Hispaniola’ examining the era’s slave trade The Elizabethan Session is a ground breaking album of exceptional new music that beautifully conjures up the spirit of the age.

It reflects the collective talent of some of the cream of the contemporary folk world, who lived and worked together for five days in March 2014, absorbing the spirit of the era and translating it into outstanding new music.

The work was premiered at Hatfield Old Palace where Elizabeth I held her first Council of State, and Cecil Sharp House, home of EFDSS and the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. It was also performed at the festival Folk by the Oak, held in the field with the oak tree where legend claims the young Princess Elizabeth learnt of her ascent to the throne.

Produced by Andy Bell (The Full English) and recorded at Hatfield’s Old Palace and Cecil Sharp House, The Elizabethan Session is set to create its own place in musical history when it is released on September 8.

Featured on BBC Radio 3 In Tune and the BBC Radio 2 Folk Show, and reviewed in The Guardian, Times, R2, fRoots, Living Tradition and Songlines, The Elizabethan Session was supported with funding from Arts Council England and the PRS Music Foundation.

“Alchemy yielded gold from the very beginning… a stunning and unforgettable evening” Clive Davis, The Times *****

“An evening of unexpected songs…I look forward to the album” Robin Denselow, The Guardian **** 

“An exciting project…It promises to be, to borrow another phrase from the Bard, a concord of sweet sounds” Martin Chilton, Daily Telegraph

Track Details

1. The Shores Of Hispaniola Kerr
A female perspective on the trade that saw Africans sold into slavery during the Elizabethan age, an established trade endorsed by the Queen

2. London Smith
A brooding take on the dangers and challenges of being a commoner in Elizabethan England

3. Christopher Marlowe Simpson
In memory of the poet and playwright, Christopher Marlowe who died when he stabbed in a pub in Deptford, aged 29, reflecting his past times of fighting and counterfeiting coins, his outspoken atheism & espousal of homosexuality.

4. Love-in-Idleness Hardy
A lament for Hermia, inspired by William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

5. Eve’s Apology in Defence of Women/Gather the Owls Newton
Aemilia Lanyer was the first woman to be deemed a professional poet and this song uses verses from her fairly radical poem for the time. The tune is named after the distinctive owl mugs used to drink copious volumes of tea during the residency.

6. Broadside Kerr/Smith/Simpson
A three-way composition reflecting the maritime trauma that was indicative of the generation

7. Elizabeth Spells Death Simpson
The troubled musings of a queen who must sign the death warrant of her own cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots

8. Come Live With Me Trad/Newton/Askew
Words from Christopher Marlowe’s poem The Passionate Shepherd to His Love and Walter Raleigh’s response The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd, set to the tune of The Woods So Wild, thought to be a favourite of Henry VIII.

9. The Straight Line And The Curve MorayJohn Dee, mathematician, astrologer and scientist to the court of Elizabeth, studied algebra and was responsible for huge increases in accuracy of navigation using the stars. This song looks at how he pushed the bounds of the sciences into occultism and magic

10. True Lover’s Knot Untied/The Great Hall Askew
The Great Hall tune is written in the style of a Galliard, a popular Elizabethan dance, and modified into a waltz. Affectionately named after the large sitting room where the artists gathered to share music during the residency.

11. The Monnington Pavane/Ortiz Ground Askew
The Monnington Pavane (named after the hamlet where the residency took place) is based on a popular dance tune of the era. It is followed by a ground bass from the time, layered with an improvisation and one written by the composer Diego Ortiz.

12. The Oak Casts His Shadow Kerr
Inspired by the conspiracy theory that Elizabeth I was in fact a man, this song examines the role of gender in people’s expectations of a public figure.

13. Hatfield Hardy
An examination of childhood and loss, sparked by the memory of an older sister’s childhood portrayal of the young Queen at a performance at Hatfield.

14. Suspicious Mind Smith/Kerr
Based on two of Elizabeth’s own poems – one, a condemnation of the suspicion and conniving ambition she was surrounded by, and the other written as she bade her last ‘official’ suitor, the Duke of Anjou, farewell.

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