Fay Hield and the Hurricane party
The Convent, Stroud, Gloucestershire
Saturday 19th March 2016, 21.00
Fay Hield- vocal
Sam Sweeney – fiddle, viola,, nykelharpa, vocal
Rob Harbron – English concertina, banjo,fiddle, vocal
Ben Nicholls -double bass, vocal
Roger Wilson – violin, guitar, mandolin, vocal
Toby Kearney- drums, percussion, vocal
Little Yellow Roses
The Briar and The Rose
The Princess Royal
Queen Eleanor’s Confession
Go From My Window
The Raggle Taggle Gypsy
The Lover’s Ghost
When I Was A Young Girl
Long Time Ago
The stage at The Convent (before the show)
The Convent is a venue hidden deep in the countryside south of Stroud. It is also now a hotel and an excellent restaurant, so you can stay there and enjoy the concert in peaceful surroundings without driving home along the very narrow roads. The concerts are streamed directly to subscribers. Previous ones were playing in the bar and the picture quality was superb.
Visit the convent.net for details of forthcoming gigs, the hotel and the studio facilities.
This week was a contrast of two 19th century gothic halls, the Royal Albert’s magnificence for Natalie Merchant, and The Covent’s other-worldly intimacy for Fay Hield. It was a week of two female singers with totally different, but both instantly recognizable signature voices, and a week where both had mainly acoustic bands with outstanding double-bass players and drummers, and with the violin family heavily featured. Both also had crystal clear sound. Then you get to the contrasts. I was once asked to define the difference between a fiddler and a violinist. The consensus was that a violinist sits and reads, a fiddle player stands and doesn’t. At times, like Old King Cole, Fay has fiddlers three. Natalie Merchant is a major songwriter with her own material and dramatic, emotional delivery; while Fay Hield meticulously references the origins and sources of the songs and presents their narratives in a cooler style, letting the ancient lyrics speak for themselves. I sometimes feel that so much extra thought has been put into the arrangements and melodic interpretations of these songs that she could fairly claim them as entirely her own. What she does on the album sleeve is separate out the Words as “Trad” and the Tune is credited separately, sometimes as Trad. but the first two children’s songs, Green Gravel and Katie Catch have tunes by her, while Old Adam is tune by Jon Boden, and Willow Glen by Hield and Boden.
It is billed as the Old Adam tour to coincide with the new CD, and remarkably they played eleven of the thirteen songs, which is brave for a new album, though The Briar and The Rose is a song she’s done for some time. There were two from Orfeo; Tarry Trousers and The Lover’s Ghost, then one from Looking Glass, Little Yellow Roses and one from The Full English, the unaccompanied Awake Awake. Looking back at the 2013 and 2014 set lists here, it’s par for the course to play mainly different songs.
The evening began with just Fay Hield, accompanied by Rob Harbron on English concertina for Willow Glen, allowing full rein to her voice in the acoustic of what used to be the chapel, and which still has the altar and stained glass window, and indeed the atmosphere.
The full band joined them for Green Gravel, the opening track on Old Adam, and a notable start to the album with its deep bass and introductory drumming. The addition of drums (and what tasteful and varied drums too) is the major and spectacular change over previous incarnations of the Hurricane Party. Toby Kearney’s kit included a large horizontal bass drum, and he used sticks, padded sticks and flexible rods.
Katie Catch which followed, is another children’s playground song, which is bouncy and cheerful. If you go to the album you’ll see how carefully it’s annotated: Words: Trad. Tune: Hield. Source: Rev. Dr Gregor, Fraserburgh in Alice Bertha Gomme, The Traditional Games of England, Scotland and Ireland Vol.2. Iona and Peter Opie in The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes. For Bob Dylan that might have been Trad, but more likely would have been simply (Dylan).
The title track, Old Adam, exists in many versions, but this one has the hand of Jon Boden defining the melody. It is the major earworm of the album for me (reprising it at the end no doubt helped):
When Adam delved and Eve she span,
who was then the gentleman?
There’s a bit of Christian socialist politics on display. The lyric is fascinating, with its disapproval of roules, balls, plays, playhouses, frills and bows, gin … and even tea. As well as looking back on this Utopian classless society (of just two) it gets rid of dancing, theatre and stimulating (even though non-alcoholic) beverages. Fortunately, unlike the Taliban, music escaped the strictures of those singing it. It might just be ironic. I can see why it was the title track.
Anchor Song with its dominant double-bass part by Ben Nicholls, is a Peter Bellamy setting of a Rudyard Kipling lyric (from Keep on Kipling). I rediscovered Peter Bellamy via Fay Hield and Spiers and Boden introductions over the years. I’ve admitted this before, but after rediscovering Bellamy and The Young Tradition, I tried to recall when I’d seen the latter in the late 60s … once in London, I know. I finally found a late 60s diary entry from Hull which to my eternal shame reads “Young Tradition again. Still boring.” At the time, I didn’t like the strict discipline “no instruments, and certainly no technically sophisticated instruments” style. I was no doubt still smarting at a folk club which refused to let me accompany a folkie pal on amplified electric bass guitar. Perhaps that’s why I couldn’t take my eyes off Ben Nicholl’s fingers on the double-bass which was the best part of the song. My admiration for double-bass players who get such a clear sound is boundless.
Little Yellow Roses was accompanied by just Sam Sweeney on nykelharpa, as on the album. It wasn’t one of my favourites from Looking Glass, partly because I couldn’t stop playing Kemp Owen and The Shepherd’s Daughter. Here it shot up in interest value, and it’s been playing as I type this.
A Nyckelharpa- a Swedish instrument!
Awake Awake is from The Full English project and CD, and as on that has the whole band singing unaccompanied. After all four of The Full English are on the stage: Hield, Sweeney, Harbron and Nicholls, and a fifth, Martin Simpson, contributed to the Old Adam album.
Jack Orion came to my attention as the ten-minute long title track of the 1966 Bert Jansch album (I have an original vinyl copy), and the album was recently reissued too. John Renbourn plays with him, pointing the way forward to Pentangle. The song goes back far earlier. For a song about a fiddler, the intricate bluesy guitar on Jansch’s version doesn’t tie in to the lyric. Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick brought the requisite fiddle on their version. We got plenty of Sam Sweeney and Roger Wilson’s fiddles on this one. It’s less usual to see the Hurricane Party tackle such an often-covered folk song.
L to R: Rob Harbron, Fay Hield, Toby Kearney, Roger Wilson, Ben Nicholls
The Briar and The Rose fits so seamlessly into traditional folk that it’s still hard to believe that Tom Waits wrote it. His rough cigarette-voiced version (1993) with accordion sounded totally different, but he pinned the exquisite melody, and wrote it for the stage play based on a German folk story, The Black Rider. Fay Hield has pretty much claimed it as her own. If you look online, you’ll find a couple of versions of her singing it with Jon Boden. Here Roger Wilson did the honours.
Faye Hield left the stage for a “tune” led by Sam Sweeney, The Princess Royal, an Irish tune at that. The bass and drums waited till half way through, and when they came in, lifted it into a get up and move tune, except there were cameras, so nobody did.
Queen Eleanor’s Confession was sourced from Tim Hart and Maddy Prior, though traditional. More than any song on Old Adam it reminds me of the royal and knightly history songs in Looking Glass and I think it’s the melody as well as the lyric … For if the queen shall hear of this, then I’ll hanged I shall be …
Tarry Trousers is a sea shanty from Orfeo, and one where all three fiddlers gave her the fiddlers three.
Go From My Window … I loved the source credit “from Ian Giles in an Oxford pub.” Roger Wilson had moved to guitar, and Ben Nicholls gave a rhythm accompaniment early on by rapidly patting the bass strings.
The Raggle Taggle Gypsy is traditional, and it’s probably the one I knew best before I heard the album. It has a particularly interesting arrangement, not only the vocals, but bass and (I think) mandolin.
The main set finished with The Lover’s Ghost the dramatic opening track of Orfeo.
Fat Hield sang the first encore alone, unaccompanied. I don’t think she’s recorded it … When I Was A Young Girl. There is a 2011 version of her singing it at Bristol on YouTube. The best-known folk version is Barbara Dane accompanying herself on guitar, though Nina Simone’s version is the definitive one, with just tiny touches of piano. Unaccompanied it returns to its folk roots.
L to R: Sam Sweeney (fiddle), Rob Harbron (guitar), Fay Hield (vocal), Toby Kearney (drums), Toger Wilson (fiddle)
Long Time Ago is a jaunty sea shanty. It’s credited as words: Trad. tune: Trad, but it has such a Bellowhead pace and mood, I was surprised not to see Boden or Sweeney there on the credits. It’s a perfect ender.
It was a first rate show in a memorable setting. I look forward to he next one … though Sam Sweeney is due again next month with Bellowhead. Watch for the review.