It feels a long time ago, the opposite end of the year's cycle, when four of us set off for Snape from SE22 for the concert where this music was given its first public airing. The concert was helpfully staged at 3pm on a Sunday, making it viable to travel the 110 miles up and back in a day. What we hadn't counted on when we booked the tickets several weeks in advance was that the whole of the country would be covered in snow through the end of November and first few days of December. Three or four days beforehand, it looked like we might have to call off the whole trip. But happily there was a slight thaw, and, by leaving early, we were able to have a gentle journey, pick up another friend in Ipswich, have a leisurely lunch by the Woodbridge tide mill — framed by the low winter sun over the River Deben — and still arrive in good time.
It was a good show — the details recorded by someone with too much time on his hands — and a great day out. One of those days whose trace grows richer with the passing of time. And this beautiful album, which features the same songs as the show and which I think was recorded the morning after, serves to enhance the memory even further.
In this incarnation, Concerto Caledonia is quite a large ensemble: eleven players, including the three folk singers, Olivia Chaney, Alasdair Roberts and Jim Moray (who stepped in at the last moment for Martin Carthy, who was tending to a sick wife). But everyone seemed to muck in be equally good at supporting, when their turn came, and leading. In the notes, CC leader David McGuinness refers to "reclaiming some traditional songs from recital room culture" which is where the Revenge of the Folksingers title comes from. In person McGuinness was a great host/MC, with a warm wit, and made the same point more bluntly: Benjamin Britten's folksong arrangements missed a large audience when sung in that "refined" style by "trained" voices.
So what you get in this repertoire is a combination of the early music instruments and Scottish compositions that are CC's raison d'être, a little bit of Britten's folky side (Snape being his manor), plus the original songs of Alasdair and Olivia. One reason that it all seems to fit together so naturally may be that two of the three folksingers (Olivia and Jim) were classically trained, but no matter. In fact Olivia Chaney has the highest profile of any writer/performer here, with four original songs (the first commercial recordings of her work beyond her self-released EP) which are very well suited to this setting.
Miscellaneous other joys:
- I think this was the first time I'd heard a hurdy gurdy up close as a featured instrument — I love the grainy, wheezy texture.
- As anticipated, a recording of my favourite song in Alasdair Roberts' traditional repertoire, Bonnie Susie Cleland, and
- the long list of Alasdair's unreleased original songs is also depleted by one.
- Mostly, though, it's being led down a beguiling path to fields of music that I know little about — with beautiful tunes.
Amazon seems to think Revenge of the Folksingers isn't released until August, but I ordered it direct from the Concerto Caledonia website and it arrived a couple of weeks ago. There's still at least one berth left in my Top 50, and I think this belongs there — if only to prove that I'm not just wedded to the music that came out when I was a young man.
Just a couple of weeks now and Alasdair and Olivia will be recreating a miniature version of this collaboration in the intimate Green Note Cafe. That'll be a treat, too.