Now trading under a rather more attractive moniker (borrowed from a Scottish Child Ballad) than their previous appellation as Snufkin, guitarist Theo Passingham and percussionist Kerry Ann Jangle sharing lead, Liam O’Connell on double bass and harmonies, violinist Calum Smith and Rowen Elliot on viola, made their recording debut with 2016’s Live At The Fayre and Young Waters, recorded at Real World, is their first studio outing.
Describing themselves as twisted neo-folk, they hark very much to the late 60s/early 70s prog folk sound embodied by the likes of Incredible String Band, Comus, Dando Shaft and Trees with a dash of Phillip Glass and John Taverner for good measure. As such, they’re unlikely to tickle the fancy of your average folk club attendee, but those who fancy something more challenging and who have the patience to listen will find much to appreciate.
They open with one of six Passingham-penned numbers, mournful violin and double bass setting the tone for the sparsely arranged ‘Dust’ before his and Smith’s reedy vocals arrive along with lines like “We begin to rust/Return to dust/Just another day in the paradise circus.” It’s followed by the only cover, Smith taking lead on Jesca Hoop’s ‘Enemy’, taken a slightly slower pace than the original, the violin and guitar arrangement impart an almost Appalachian feel.
At just over four minutes, ‘Don’t Stare At The Sun’ is the shortest number, a fingerpicked filigree of acoustic guitar accompanying Passingham’s high nasal vocal and the pastoral wordless choral vocals on an Icarus-referencing lyric about mortality in which a doctor and a teacher introduce some youth to cigarettes and wine, respectively, a dose of cynicism trickling through the line “putting faith in medicine is just placing a bet.”
O’Connell’s bass starts ‘Bleary Eyed’ on a deceptive slow note before the rhythm picks up to a sprightlier, choppy tempo, with plucked strings and strummed guitar working together to create the kaleidoscope of musical colours. Smith’s violin taking the spotlight, ‘Weary Soul’ extends to over seven minutes of such Passingham musings as “I was born a weary soul/Already tired of this world/How did I end up here?” the interwoven vocals taking an almost liturgical form, the tempo switching from sombre to fiery fiddle passages.
The last of the studio recordings, the equally introspective, vocally clipped ‘Eternal Bliss’ again suggests a pessimistic worldview, underpinned by moodily wistful bass and strings as Passingham states his doubts of but need for a utopian relationship (“You wrote me a list for eternal bliss/But it didn’t exist/So we don’t need this”).
The last two tracks were recorded live in the nearby Norton St. Philip Church (a sort of home from home for Passingham who used to sing in a church choir), the first (giving rise to the album’s cover) being the traditional tragic accidental true love slaying Irish ballad ‘Polly Vaughn’, sometimes known as ‘The Fowler’ and ‘The Shooting Of His Dear’ or ‘Molly Bawn’, here featuring Smith singing a capella with Passingham on counterpoint harmonies.
It ends with another original, the medieval-tinted ‘Swimming Pool’, bass and strings first setting the scene before the interwoven vocals arrive, the rhythm and tempo again shifting course over the six and a half minutes of the self-questioning slightly ominous lyrics “If life is a swimming pool/How do I swim?/Something in the water makes my eyes sting so much/Is it me, am I the one who fought?/Or is there something wrong with the water?”
Take off the arm bands and immerse yourself.
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Artists’ website: www.youngwatersband.com
‘Bleary Eyed’ – live: