Fay Hield & The Hurricane Party
The Point, Eastleigh
Tuesday 26th March 2013
Fay Hield – vocals
Andy Cutting – button accordion, melodeon
Rob Harbron – English concertina, fiddle, vocals
Roger Wilson – fiddle, guitar, mandolin
Miranda Rutter * – violin, viola (substituting for Sam Sweeney who was in hospital)
Support: Louise Jordan
Lowlands of Holland
Promises Like A Pie-Crust
Stand By Me / House of The Rising Sun
Born to Wander
The Sally Gardens
It’s always galling to be billed as “+ Local Support” and Louise Jordan had the sense to distribute cards (scanned above) with her Facebook address and her name … I’ve seen a few supports who have failed to get their name across clearly. Her set was excellent and interesting. She has a classic folk pure voice, like a young Baez. She bookended the set with folk songs … Lowlands of Holland and Sally Gardens. Promises Like A Pie Crust is a Christine Rossetti poem she has set to music, then she did as a medley of the Ben E. King soul classic Stand By Me (Leiber & Stoller) which broke into House of The Rising Sun with altered words. Setting unexpected songs to folk arrangements is an Unthanks speciality too, and she did it well. This was followed by two of her originals: Born to Wander (her first composition) and Enraptured which she told us was about the New Forest (don’t forget LOCAL support). The Sally Gardens closed it off.
What interested me was that she is very much a folk singer, becoming a singer songwriter in a style I would have recognized years back: pure female voice accompanied by her own acoustic guitar. That brings up why Fay Hield (and the many related line ups: Bellowhead, The Witches of Elswick, Spiers & Boden, Sam Sweeney, The Demon Barbers etc) are so different and so intriguing …
Fay Hield & The Hurricane Party:
The Lover’s Ghost (Orfeo)
Naughty Baby (Orfeo)
Pretty Nancy (Orfeo)
The Parson’s Gate (Orfeo)
The Briar & The Rose (Tom Waits song) *
The Mad Family * (Looking Glass)
King Henry VIII & The Shipwrights (?, I think! Peter Bellamy / Rudyard Kipling) *
Wicked Serpent (Orfeo)
Oak, Ash & Thorn (Rudyard Kipling / Peter Bellamy song)
The Weaver’s Daughter (Orfeo)
The Old ‘Arris Mill (Orfeo)
Looking Glass (Looking Glass)
Tarry Trousers * (Orfeo)
Grey Goose & Gander * (Looking Glass)
King Henry * (Looking Glass)
Most of my reviews are rambling, but this will get to the concert in the end.
Every year or two I discover an artist, or related artists, and add them to my ever increasing ‘must buy every release’ list. It’s been going on for years, which is why the shelves are groaning with records and CDs, but every so often a special one comes along. A couple of years ago it was The Duke & The King, which led to The Simone Felice Band and Simi Stone. This year it leads to Bellowhead and related artists.
A short history of my relationship with traditional English folk. In the 60s, I dutifully attended a folk club in a dark cellar … the other six days it was the Disques A Go-Go, Bournemouth, hosting The Who, Manfred Mann & Rod Stewart & The Soul Agents. But one day a week we donned itchy polo-neck sweaters, and sat on the floor and listened to folk singers, one of whom was the young Al Stewart. Then we used to hitch to London and seek out the really purist folk clubs: the strictly no instruments clubs with even hairier polo necks. At university I saw a lot of folk… John Renbourn, Martin Carthy, The Humblebums, but while I bought Fairport Convention, Richard & Linda Thompson and Steeleye Span albums my attention soon drifted, and for decades the folk I listened to extensively was American, with Irish as runner-up.
I had a problem with traditional English folk of the Cecil Sharp House variety. I loathed (and still loathe) with an intensity the sound of Peter Pears’ tenor with a precise and articulate public school accent laced with condescending touches of Mummerset. Adding Benjamin Britten on piano compounded it. My one-time co-author, John Curtin, was also my boss, and as well as speaking six or seven languages fluently, being an expert puppeteer, and teaching singing, John was a great enthusiast for that sort of folk. When we were doing weekly theatre shows for foreign students, we had a house band (rock) and once or twice a year, they’d have a better gig (i.e. better paid) and John would fill in valiantly for us and do his Peter Pears’ thing on solo piano and we’d have Foggy Foggy Dew and The Raggle Taggle Gypsies instead of our more usual Summertime Blues, Bridge Over Troubled Water, It’s Too Late and Your Song. While grateful to cover our scene and sketch changes with music, I used to shudder in horror at the content.
Eliza Carthy switched me back on to the English form, then it was The Imagined Village and The Unthanks. Note, so far, and importantly, no one minded having a bass guitar or drummer, and a lot of the material was original composition rather than traditional songs. I’m working on a book on British record labels and I picked up The Young Tradition’s “Chicken On A Raft” EP because I was interested in scanning it for the Transatlantic section. ‘Make sure you listen too’, the seller advised, ‘This is an incredible record’. And the record is Peter Bellamy’s late sixties group … don’t worry we are eventually getting to Fay Hield … and Peter Bellamy is to Jon Boden, Fay Hield, and Bellowhead as Woody Guthrie and The Clancy Brothers are to Bob Dylan, or Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters are to The Rolling Stones. Peter Bellamy followed on from that serious folk tradition, researching song origins meticulously, but he also added, embellished and improved. And sung it, of course, with a bellow, not a strangulated RP tenor. He was also, like me, born in Bournemouth, but I only discovered that on a Google search while writing this. He grew up in Norfolk.
I discovered Bellowhead late, and made up for lost time devouring the back catalogue, which led me to Spiers and Boden, then Jon Boden solo. It’s a short step to Fay Hield. She’s a 2013 discovery for me. I picked up the Looking Glass CD in Bath, and had heard it twice through by the time I’d driven the two hours home. I ordered Orfeo the next day, then the first Witches of Elswick CD Out of Bed … we’d just seen The Demon Barbers and I realized that both Fay Hield, and Bryony Griffiths from The Demon Barbers had been in The Witches of Elswick. In the last six weeks or so, the songs from Looking Glass, Kemp Owen, Looking Glass and The Shepherd’s Daughter have become total ‘ear worms’ or songs I can’t get out of my head. We are now further into traditional folk. No bass guitars, no drums. Would you call it Nu-folk? It’s more traditional than most of what gets that tag applied to it.
At Eastleigh, Fay Hield announced that fiddle player Sam Sweeney was in hospital. Later, Miranda Rutter (hope I’ve spelled it right) guested on violin and viola, but the Hurricane Party were an important regular member short, at short notice. The Hurricane Party is even more removed from folk-rock than Bellowhead. English concertina and foot tapping on a box holds the rhythm with (mainly) fiddle and button accordion. It sent me thinking about instrumentation. Piano changed music because for once and all it fixed the interval between notes. Rigidly fixed intervals isn’t a folk thing, especially nt an English folk thing, though you do need to think about when a song originated. I would imagine most 19th century pubs would have had a piano, and in Fay Hield’s repertoire, I think piano would suit The Old ‘Arris Mill very well, but nothing else (though The Unthanks use piano sympathetically). Listening to the two instrumentals in the set was interesting. They were hypnotic, beautifully played, but no one took a solo in the rock or jazz sense. And this sort of material has rescued the various types of squeeze-box from the polka / Scottish country dancing ghetto which they’d become confined to. This will delight Garth Hudson, perhaps the most inventive and erudite accordion player of all. When he played The Forum, he regaled us afterwards with accordion jokes. The classic is the accordion player who left his convertible in the supermarket car park on a sunny day with the roof down. Halfway through his shopping he remembered that his precious instrument was sitting on the back seat and rushed back to his car. There were twenty accordions in the back. The joke also has a banjo version.
Fay Hield has great stage presence. Visually, she looked pre-Raphaelite in a long orange dress, and the band were dressed all in black, focussing attention. The introductions are confident, erudite and enjoyable. It’s very much a folk tradition saying where a song comes from, who found it, how it was adapted. I found the detailed notes on the Orfeo CD really added to the listening experience. Karen, my wife, was fascinated to find that The Weaver’s Daughter came from villages between Cricklade and Cirencester. When we had a brief interest in family history, every single link in her mum’s family came from a village in that area. Fay Hield mentions that Jon Boden was excited to find it, but she had told him it was also popular in Yorkshire. Ah! More family history. One of my great-uncles was fifty years older than my grandfather ( who was born when his dad was 71) and fled North Dorset for Yorkshire after “a duel” which sounds fascinating, but indicates how songs might not so much have seeped across the country, but made giant leaps. The history of the songs starts you thinking about all sorts of connections, which is why having the introductions add so much more than the mumbled rock star ‘This is a Jimmy Reed song,’ omitting the fact that he’d learned it from a heavy metal band’s cover of the Rolling Stones’ version.
The set concentrated heavily on the most recent album Orfeo, featuring nine of the eleven tracks, though typically three numbers from the earlier Looking Glass were among the last four she did … there’s a natural tendency to keep the better-known stuff, or the stuff that’s been out there longest, to the end. Additions to the album material were the two instrumentals from The Hurricane Party, and three more. Oak, Ash & Thorn appears on the Peter Bellamy tribute album of the same title, but on that album The Unthanks performed it, and Fay Hield did Looking Glass. She also did Tom Waits’ The Briar & The Rose, and that’s obscure Tom Waits too, though she explained it was the basic Barbara Allen theme. It was a beautifully balanced set, impeccably performed with a very good feeling from the audience. She sings with a natural feel to the lyrics, and is a great interpreter of a song. As with The Unthanks, having a natural Northern accent rescues her renditions from the Mummerset accent aspect of earlier academic investigations of the English folk tradition. We resolved that we had to see her again.
The Point, Eastleigh has excellent natural sound, and I’ve seen The Unthanks there twice. The audience size was disappointing. I’d only heard about it a week before the show, because I’d Googled Fay Hield, found her website and clicked on “Tours” not expecting to find anything, let alone something so close to home. So I’d say publicity was poor, which is a shame, because this was such a superb show, I’m keen to see her again with a larger audience and more atmosphere … The Point leaves the front three rows, which are below stage level, empty, then reserves the wide fourth for disabled access, meaning the audience begins a long way from the stage in Row E.
I asked in the interval, and Fay said they wouldn’t be doing Kemp Owen from Looking Glass, because they were restricted in material without Sam Sweeney. Noticeably, Sir Orfeo, which I think of as a companion piece with a fairy tale theme, was also not performed. Bellowhead a month ago missed out my two favourites, and yet the show had nothing lacking. Same thing here, it was all first rate and involving anyway. I was about to say not hearing the song Kemp Owen was like seeing The Band, and not hearing The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, but as they never did it again after 1978, you got used to it.
Both albums are highly recommended. If English folk begins and ends with Liege & Lief for you, it may take a couple of listens to adapt, because this is the real thing indeed, not a rocked up version.
REVIEW of The Full English 30th October 2013 here
See also my article on Fay Hield on The Toppermost site