THE LEGENDARY TEN SECONDS – Folk Rocktronica (own label)

Folk RocktronicaThe brainchild of Ian Churchward, a Torquay-based musician whose fairly prolific output revolves around songs with a historical basis, encompassing ones about Devon and Cornwall, the Wars of the Roses and, in particular, Richard III, not to mention, for the niche market, Mer de Mort, commissioned by the Mortimer History Society to commemorate the Society’s tenth anniversary and telling the story of the Mortimer medieval family from their roots in Normandy prior to the battle of Hastings and into the 15th century. Variously accompanied by Jules Jones and Elaine Churchward on vocals and one Lord Zarquon on bass, keys and programming, Folk Rocktronica comprises traditional songs given, as the title would suggest, an electronic treatment, mellotron often in evidence.

First up is the whaling shanty ‘The Wellerman’, a song that dates back to 1860. New Zealand, the title a reference to supply ships owned by the three Weller brothers, some of the earliest European settlers of the Otago region, who supplied the country’s whalers as well as shipping rum and gun powder, their employees known as “wellermen”.

Taken a slow military march beat with drums keeping time and the keys emulating a crumhorn, ‘The Keeper Did A Hunting Go’ dates back to the 14th century and, while originally about sexual pursuit, became well-known, largely down to Cecil Sharp’s bowdlerised version in School Songs, as children’s call and response number with its chorus of “a Hey down ho down, derry down down/Among the leaves so green-o”, building to a veritable orchestral flourish finale.

Composed by London music hall star Harry Clifton and first published in 1864, the original title referring to Paddington Green, ‘Pretty Little Polly Perkins’ is a lurching swayalong with synthesised brass in which a “broken-hearted milkman” bemoans how the young serving maid (“beautiful as a butterfly and as proud as a queen”) rebuffed his offers of marriage, but ended up wedding “a bow-legged conductor of a tuppenny bus”. Michelle Wren adds an extra verse in the voice of the “hard-hearted girl”.

Another of music hall provenance, and perhaps best known from The Pogues, ‘Man You Don’t Meet Every Day’ gets a harmonica-led 99 seconds drinkalong sway with Jones on backing vocals before Churchward steps up to take lead vocals on an aptly pastoral ‘Linden Lea’, a setting by Vaughn Williams of a poem by Dorset bard William Barnes, the keys providing a woodwinds feel and trilling bells, staying in place to sing backing on a suitably carousing if somewhat unseasonal New Year carol ‘Here We Come A Wassailing’, brass band given a fine electronic simulation. Equally belated or early depending on how you look at it, Guy Bolt provides electric lead guitar on a ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’, a swelling instrumental rendition of medieval persuasion.

With the sound of waves providing an introduction before the tapping percussion and synthesised strings and closing with howling winds, ‘Franklin’s Lament’, a ballad about the fate of Sir John Franklin, who perished in 1847 on the search for the North West Passage, gets two versions, the first with Churchward on vocals and the second, as a bonus track, sung in lighter tones by Jones in the voice of his wife.

She and Churchward share lead on ‘The Cruel Lowland Maid’, again with synthesised brass, a murder ballad in which, after rejecting his proposal on account of him being a poor sailor and then in turn being rejected for her falsehoods when he produces as bag of gold, the cruel Mary Ann and another suitor kill and rob him, only to end up on the gallows.

Wheezing accordion sounds open the galumphing almost shanty-like ‘Buttercup Joe’, another music hall number, about a country lad who, though he may be disparagingly called turnip head, knows how to guide a plough, milk a cow, can reap or sow.

It ends, still out in the fields, with the underpinning drums of ‘All Jolly Fellows’ (‘That Follow The Plough’ to give it the full title) which, dating back to the early 1800s, is about the working life of horsemen on an English farm and was used as a recruiting song for Joseph Arch’s National Agricultural Labourers’ Union, the ploughboy here standing up to his master who accuses them of shirking.

Many purists might shy away from anything with the folktronica label, but Churchward’s arrangements use it to augment rather the transfigure the material’s traditional roots and this most certainly wouldn’t go amiss in any collection that includes John Wilks, Chris Brain or Bella Hardy.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website:

‘Philippa’s Song’ – official video:

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