Trad-folk’s golden boy and one of the UK’s preeminent nature writers have produced a lockdown-borne collection of heroically upbeat musings
Of course trad-folk’s golden boy and one of the UK’s preeminent nature writers are pals. This lockdown project between Johnny Flynn and Robert Macfarlane is the Countryfile of collabs: a cosy, verdant thing that feels as restorative as a breath of fresh woodland air. And, if you listen closely enough, you might just learn something.
Though he might have spent the past few years setting out his stall as a master of both stage (a delicious, double-demin-ed turn in Sam Shepard’s True West in the West End) and screen (a period gent in Autumn de Wilde’s 2020 version of Jane Austen’s Emma and a louche shagger in STI sitcom Lovesick), Johnny Flynn will always be the bright-eyed and bushy tailed acoustic songsmith who broke through with 2008’s poetic ‘A Larum’. Preceding Mumford & Sons world-conquering sound by a full year, Flynn’s brand of folk was always a more rugged, complex beast, plugging into middle ages melancholy as much as it did the 1970s bounce of Fairport Convention.
In an extract from his new memoir Richard Thompson remembers how the iconic band came about, recalls their early gigs and looks back at the motorway crash that killed his girlfriend and their drummer
How the band came together
I met Ashley “Tyger” Hutchings through my schoolfriend Brian Wyvill, who lived a few doors away from him in Durnsford Road, Muswell Hill. Brian had been recommending us to each other for a while, so it was inevitable that we should cross paths eventually, and it finally happened one sunny afternoon across a suburban garden gate. You could bet your life that any band run by Tyger in 1966, of which there were several, would have an obscure repertoire. For Dr K’s Blues Band, he used to track down and play B-sides by artists who had been mere footnotes in blues anthologies, and for the Ethnic Shuffle Orchestra he revived the 1920s repertoires of Gus Cannon and the Memphis Jug [ . . . ] Subscribers to THE TIMES continue
The duo’s new collection is shot through with a deep longing for home
Two years ago their Grammy-nominated album There Is No Other laid the ground for an intensely productive partnership. Now, Rhiannon Giddens and Francesco Turrisi have released an album that somehow manages to distil the essence of what many are experiencing in this pandemic: a longing for home and a grappling with death on a scale and in ways living generations hadn’t imagined before 2020.
The American-Italian duo, both long resident in Ireland, give voice to their longing for home, drawing from the American bluegrass and folk canon, Italian opera and folk traditions, English folk and a sheaf of original songs and tunes. Few artists have processed the challenges of pandemic living with such pin-prick precision and raw emotion. This is an album that interrogates our notions of home in this particular time – its emotional lure, its geographical inaccessibility and, unsurprisingly, its ultimate meaning: death.
Giddens and Turrisi don’t shirk the discomfort and disquiet of these times. This remarkably cohesive album of 12 wildly disparate tracks cuts to the heart of what isolation and distance might mean. They draw on the bluegrass tradition for their opening title song, written by Alice Gerrard, and end the collection with a powerfully wordless reading of Amazing Grace, Turrisi’s frame drum and Giddens’s lilting, nay, crying of the melody more lonesome than any lyric. In between the pair draw on the spare contributions of Niwel Tsumbu on guitar and Emer Mayock on pipes and flute, to exquisite effect. Mayock’s pipes on Amazing Grace are lonesomeness personified.
Their cover of Pentangle’s When I Was in My Prime strikes a beautifully spare pose, baroque in tone. Giddens’s pacing is
Transatlantic collaboration between Nora Brown in Brooklyn, NY and Hannah Read in Edinburgh, Scotland. The Hills of Isle Au Haut by Gordon Bok and learned from Jody Stecher’s version from his 1977 album Going Up On the Mountain. (split screen created April 2021)