Comprising six full albums and bonus tracks, all well remastered and housed inside the box in individually slip-cased mini-repros of the original LP sleeves. Plus a 24-page booklet setting the scene of those now far-off days that includes a sizeable chunk of memorabilia from the Folk Forum of Melody Maker and other sources. They’ve done a good job.
This was the era during which John Renbourn emerged as a scorchingly talented guitarist, with a diverse range of sources and influences – particularly Davy Graham, Wizz Jones, Blind Boy Fuller and Blind Willie Johnson – before slowly getting diverted in a faux Elizabethan direction.
The three Renbourn solo albums here are his eponymously titled Transatlantic debut, its follow-up Another Monday and the oddly titled Sir John Alot Of Merrie Englandes Musyk Thyng & Ye Grene Knyghte. Another Monday is the best of that trio: gobsmacking though his playing was on his debut compared with most other things around at the time, it had got much more assured by his second outing and his rather haphazard singing in a notably dodgy London-American accent was slightly more on the case too. The oboe on One For William is also rather nicer than the flute on the next album, Sir John Alot… by which time he’d abandoned singing altogether. Continue reading →
Pop-up groups (let’s avoid saying ‘supergroups’) have been, well, popping up all over the place in recent years, presenting familiar artists in different combinations, line-ups and themes; the cynical might suggest this trend merely to be a convenient method of renewable energy – and marketing – to sustain interest in the artists concerned to counter the threat of fatiguing audiences who see the same names over and over again at all those festivals.
But chemistry is a wondrous and elusive thing and this Anglo/Scots alliance of Emily Portman, Lucy Farrell, Rachel Newton and Alasdair Roberts clearly have a natural empathy that works organically, seemingly without excessive effort. Now into their third album after five years and a BBC Folk Best Group Award in the locker, they’ve certainly earned their spurs as rather more than a passing fancy.
Sticking resolutely to traditional ballads from both sides of the Tweed, they have a very clear sense of identity, each approaching the music with a sort of easy yet cunning guile, while individually bringing something distinctive to the party; be it Emily Portman’s deceptively homely vocals and occasional banjo, Rachel Newton’s lyrical harp and fiddle or Lucy Farrell’s warm voice and viola (and, of course, let’s not forget that famous musical saw). All lure you into a disarming sense of cosiness as tales of blood, death, treachery and heartbreak emerge on powerful songs like My Son David [hear it on this issue’s fRoots 71compilation]The Cruel Grave and Down By The Greenwoodside while they musically skip between jaunty charm and disquieting weirdness.
The glue that holds them all together and provides much of the quirkiness that underlines them is surely the mighty Alasdair Roberts who, whether through persuasive voice or flowing guitar, emphasises the rare intimacy and occasional ghostliness of their sound, which is immeasurably enhanced by Andy Bell’s empathetic production. The songs are as old as the hills, the stories timeless and the treatment as fresh as the day.
None better than The Dark-Eyed Gypsies, arranged with the sort of backing harmony vocal arrangement that comes close to sounding absurdly twee, yet here raises a smile, the right sort of smile. I’m not entirely sure about their clippety-clop treatment of Come Write Me Down, but that may be due to over-fondness for the Copper Family version and you’ve got to love a banjo. There is much to commend them – Lucy Farrell’s unaccompanied opening to Davy Lowston introducing the sort of harmony singing in which they specialise and show again on Our Ship She’s Ready; the powerfully sparse arrangement that adds so much fuel to False True Love; Rachel Newton’s storytelling qualities on False Lover Won Back.
A rare band of distinctively individual singers and musicians who knit perfectly. It’s proper folk music – what’s not to like?
Some of the most refreshing music to be heard around the clubs in the past autumn was provided by a new dynamic duo in posing boots, June Tabor accompanied by Martin Simpson. Shortly after their initial run of dates together, June came down to Southern Rag Towers to take part in another of our series of mildly scurrilous interviews with people The Sun has never heard of.
After strapping her firmly into a chair still bearing marks of struggle from last issue’s Nic Jones encounter, Ian Anderson and Maggie Holland did most of the talking whilst Caroline Hurrell applied more subtle methods of persuasion in the form of rather too many bottles of red wine. The latter method proved more fruitful!
he first time I met you would have been around 1967 when you came down to Bristol with the New Modern Idiot Grunt Band. What were you doing in folk clubs in those days, were you already singing or just an audience person?
No, I sang the first time I ever went to a folk club, would you believe? I got taken along to one just opened in Leamington, I’d been known to sing all sorts of things at school. I went along with a school friend when I was about sixteen, and we walked in and she went straight up to the organiser and said “My friend sings, will you put her on?” I was hiding at the back thinking “Oh my God, what shall I sing? I don’t know any folk songs”. And my first public appearance in a folk club I sang Kumbaya and Michael Row the Boat Ashore, because that was all I knew. I’d been watching the Hallelujah programme on television, so I got up and sang and I’ve been doing it ever since. I got friendly with the resident group and started going round with them, and started to get hold of records and things and learn traditional songs.
How early on did you get interested in traditional songs, because at that time the clubs were fairly heavily into Bob Dylan and Bert and John?
Well the club I went to regularly, the resident group were very much into Irish stuff, Clancy Brothers, that kind of thing, but fairly soon after I started going I went into Dobells and acquired an Anne Briggs EP; that would be after about a couple of months of going to folk clubs, and I learned everything off that. I used to drive my mother mad by sitting in the bathroom learning how to decorate! And if you remember that particular Anne Briggs EP, it was the one with My Bonny Boy and Rosemary Lane and things like that; very, very highly decorated singing, so I learnt how to do that by copying Anne Briggs, and then I found out about Topic by getting that EP and I acquired the Belle Stewart (The Stewarts Of Blair) so my style evolved from a mixture of things, Irish decorated style and Scots tinker style.
That’s interesting because you must be one of the few people who went straight into singing British traditional songs rather than starting off in something else and then delving deeper into things. The next time I remember meeting you, you were at Oxford at the Heritage Society. I gather that had quite a marked effect on you. Was this where you ran across the old singers for the first time?
Yes, apart from the odd albums I’d picked up by looking in the Topic catalogue and picking out things that had female singers on, Lizzie Higgins, Jeannie Robertson, that sort of thing. Because the people I’d been mixing with up to that time had been very Irish orientated, or people like the Grunt Band doing blues and all that sort of stuff, then to go to Oxford and actually find this immense band of people who were really very much into Traditional with a capital T music and sitting in a pub playing tunes and English music. that was tremendous, I’d never come across anything quite like that before. And of course Peta Webb was at the same college as I was, and she was a leading light in the club at the time.