A culmination of learning the disc boasts high-class collaborations, vocals like fireweed and a smooth, rewarding experience that builds on earlier work and honours the traditional
Ange Hardy and Lukas Drinkwater – http://www.angehardy.com/
Label: Story Records Limited
Executive Producer: Rob Swann
Released 14th September 2016, Live on BBC Radio 2.
In association and support from the EFDSS.
In the field of engineering and business collaboration it is important to get what you are doing right. As Henry Ford said,
“Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.”
If Ange Hardy and Lukas Drinkwater are anything to go by then in virtue of their shared love of bad jokes (so bad they are good) and self-deprecation on their extensive tour (see here), they are indeed making a success from their relatively new “duo” status and discovering a strength in each other’s talents. Part of the fruits of their twosome toiling is a new album simply called “Findings” with Ange Hardy taking the lead vocals, some harp, whistle and strings, and Lukas with vocals, guitar and double bass. Described as something that couldn’t have been accomplished by the artists alone, “Findings” has attracted some collaborations from other artists too based in the North such as Barnsley Light Kathryn Roberts along for some vocals, and Sheffield-dwelling celebrity Nancy Kerr who bring a little extra prestige to the mix. The attention and inclusion of these artists regularly attached to the BBC2 Folk Awards does tell of the quick ascent Ange Hardy has made in the last three years and of a growing musical influence she is having in the community at large. The album has featured highly on Amazon and sales are looking healthy but what is the album like itself?
A nice touch is the pervasiveness of how the theme of these connections is explored. It is “finding” in concept, sound and word but also surprisingly in action as a rather special added bonus of the CD. Each disc comes with a unique name and code imprinted on the album case with a game that you and other purchasers can become involved in. Each name is one half of a group or duo who have performed together; finding the person who has the matching name and code gives both individuals the chance to unlock some bonus material next year (my code is King Billy, please help me out). I have not come across such such a social event in a folk music release before, it is an interesting attempt to innovate and bringing an abstract concept and idea to life in a real way. Ange Hardy et al are becoming fully confident and immersed in the business of making music, it is thankful to know that such a thing is reinforced to an optimistic idea that builds on the central concept and adds interest in the work. It is like a more ethical version of viral marketing used in branding and film media except here they are creating new meanings in the work they do. The album case design itself is quite simple, yet clean with Ange’s historically influenced icon of a tree and roots in shining silver on a matte black background, it is clearly going for the pure approach instead of clutter and confusion.
The album musically expands on this purity of vision as it feels this time like the album is giving something back to history. Ange has done much original work previously and here with “Findings”, much like Confucianism’s honouring of the ancestors, the two writers are performing and writing to satisfy more traditional elements of the folk scene. It is this way that it is most surprising. After listening for a while I was rather amused to see reading the notes that many of the tracks were originally written work and are not from folk history, I could swear there was more traditional material here, but it plumps for influence rather than imitation. It amounts to an album that sounds deeply embedded in folk consciousness but does not come exclusively from history but also modern events which is a testament to the writing and sound that is contained within. It is not the literary-heavy reworking of Ange’s previous Esteesee, but the skills of textual adaptation can be clearly seen running through the album. If it close to any of Ange’s catalogue it is probably in sound nearest to the Lament of the Black Sheep with elements of her other work within but with a slicker sound depth that aims for a wider target audience alongside the rising production.
“True are the mothers” is an epic ode to motherhood that encompasses the aspects of protection “Many are welcome to Shelter all by my cloak”, family “none are forgotten for good is the home”, and provision “all of the little ones call on my care to feed from the fruits of the earth” in the form of trees throughout the song. It has a delicate yet strong arrangement, a spider’s silk of sanctuary spreading outwards. The sacred sense of the song is added to by some magical turns by Nancy Kerr and Kathryn Roberts as added vocals, and it all hangs together with some light harp, whistle, and treading double bass that form a soundscape of bright forest mornings, slender breezes, and venerable medieval folk. Despite previous consternation from myself that this album was unlike her previous, this track is quite stripped back in presentation, and infused with nature’s power much like some of the tracks on her “Bare Foot Folk” album, which is no bad thing at all. Another song on the album that mentions trees, though in a more metaphorical way is the duo’s version of “The Trees They do Grow”, a traditional song in every which way referencing medieval child marriage, and the shortness and brightness of the spark of life in those days. There is a nice contrast between voices here. Ange’s voice is searching, emotive, and expressive whereas Lukas in backing sounds like the voice of inevitability; like if gravel had legs and walked amongst us. It amounts to a searing and honest re-telling of a very famous folk song indeed, it fits right into place here and is a firm favourite.
Another great track, “By the Tides” is an introspective look at the conscience of the nation as it explores the loss of human life in the Mediterranean Sea by people crossing to seek safety. It does not blast out it’s judgement but worries, wonders and asks. Like many tracks on the disc it is an acoustic marvel which dwells in the open away from an overwhelming or stuffed ensemble of instruments and takes the sharp tool of acoustic guitar, some double bass, vocals and does what it will with these. It is a song raising beacon on in exploration of the issue and has the subdtlety of lighting a candle amongst hope rather than a lighter at the fuel of anger around migration, asylum and fear. True with lyrics such as “will you still be waiting when the ignorance has gone?” it could be being forceful with it’s message but in it’s questioning lyrics and rhymes it seems to be pointing towards a welcoming answer rather than prescribing it too heavily. Beautiful in execution with a warming character it deserves more than a few listens. “Invisible Child” also tackles a societal issue, but one not so highly publicised. Written about young carers and the things they do for family member that are often unseen by greater society it considers the mind of the child and the simple day to day routines done without question in the heart of adult responsibility seen experienced in the life . There is little instrumentation like “By the Tides” and here it is tenderly sad, eliciting some heartfelt sorrow as you hear the voice and the joy the child has at doing these simple, essential things. A smile is raised at the end of the song when the whistle comes into play weaving the child’s imagination, fun and energy almost into a dancing jester, a remarkable remembrance of who they are despite the need to “be” an adult. It is a skilled use of candor as it defines and gently engages around a society-wide issue, and is a great track in it’s right. Even more disrobed of musical instruments, “The Pleading Sister” is a song that expands on the nursery rhyme “Little Boy Blue”. It is seamless how it is done, on listening one could imagine the story of woe from the perspective of the sister of the noise-making sibling who fatally falls victim to cattle being the actual missing verses. In sound it is simply told through Ange Hardy’s style of minor harmony with herself, and the mixing of voice is quite good. Much like an older family member held in wonder for repairing clothes, the song like the stitching repair with skilled hands is faultless, invisible; the writers’ hands move and the only uncertain thing is where the story starts and where it ends and working with old material such as this takes a very deft hand indeed.
Also on the album are some more heavily layered tracks drawing on more instrumentation. This serves to not only balance out the construction of the songs within but also showcase the learning that has taken place following Ange Hardy’s earlier albums and the influences she has developed over the years. She describes “The Widow” as her favourite instrumental arrangement on the album and it is hard to see how it couldn’t be. The role of memories and their changing nature both lightens and weighs burdensome amongst Evan Carson’s sparkling percussion, the dream-like accordion (Archie Churchill-Moss) and tragi-myth stylings of the fiddle (Ciaran Algar). An accomplished, mature work that burns the senses like spicy, mock turtle soup it has a classic refinement you find on the best folk tracks on the best albums being played in the best pubs. Another track, “Far Away from Land” also brings together some more instruments, this time in a very lightly nautical sounding song around a heavily nautical topic (the passing of Manfred Fritz Bajorat who moved away from land and his family to live the rest of his life at sea). The song based on the gentleman shows Ange at her most animated on the album, the song is cyclical and sounds much like the isolation and circling feelings of the sailor. It brings all the elements together in a pacier number that is 5 parts a story of legend, 2 parts a sad tale, and 3 parts of going out the way you say you will. The differing voices all come together well here. There is a tinge of madness in the loop, and the delivery seems to see the last days of the sailor as perhaps being more tormented than he might have imagined or wanted them to be. This is the artists’ imagining anyway for it is another mystery of the world for what those last days must have been like. The male backing vocals work particularly well in this song being stepped with the addition of Steve Pledger in backing being the coffee to Drinkwater’s black molasses.
Clean, professional and rewarding on re-listen, it has taken a while to see the different parts within this “Findings” album.
If her albums were professions this one would as literally described previously, the jeweller attaching a charm on to a loved and old charm bracelet: there are different parts which together jangle and bring memories of different people, times, and places.
Like some of the finest single malts, there are several touches and flavours to be borne from the finish; if I was to pair this album with a whisky it would have to be an Aberfeldy Single Cask balanced in spice and honey for the album is quite distinguished in it’s depth and harmony. The subject material is wider than previous albums, it’s appeal is probably wider too in terms of who will get the most from “Findings” and this can only be a good thing. One cannot fail to be impressed by what is done here and the intentions behind it, it’s concept is not overly laboured in the songs per se but done carefully and thoughtfully in the spirit and sun of the music inside. The execution of the “Findings” Game also show a clever mind at work and a lovely attempt to bring people together in the mood of the work at hand. There is a craft here that leaves a mark in the book of music that will hopefully run across the whole parchment of folk for years to come.
1. The Call/Daughter’s of Watchet/ Caturn’s Night
2. The Pleading Sister
3. The Trees They Do Grow High
4. Far Away Land
5. By the Tides
6. My Grandfathers/Bearded Ted of Raddington
7. True are the Mothers
8. The Berkshire Tragedy
9. The Widow
10. Bonny Lighter-Boy
11. Invisible Child
12. Daughter Dear Daughter
13. The Parting Lullaby
If you are still not sure check out the video below and head over for their album or tour, you will not be disappointed, here is my post from seeing them at Derby Folk Festival this year.