Will Noble is known widely as the Holme Valley's foremost ambassador for English traditional song. He comes from a solid South Pennine family of farmers and builders, but it's as a champion drystone waller that he's made his reputation world-wide. The craftsman's approach also characterises Will's equally renowned singing, as can be heard on a (surprisingly small) handful of earlier recordings, basically just those with The Holme Valley Tradition and the classic duo record with John Cocking (Yon Green Banks, available from Veteran).
This brand new recording, done at Brian Bedford's studio, finds Will in good voice, his commanding rich baritone treating us to a selection of songs he's never recorded before. Not that he needs to justify himself, but he expounds his open-hearted attitude to repertoire thus: "They were never precious about the repertoire at the old singing dos; you could sing anything". So here we find succinct accounts of Child ballads (including Two Sisters, Little Musgrave and The Outlandish Knight) alongside humorous broadsides from the repertoire of the irrepressible Lodge Moor source singer Frank Hinchliffe (It Hails, It Rains and Nothing Else To Do) and a couple of delectable music-hall pieces (Watercresses, Jepson Brown). Watter Rattle, learnt from the singing of Arthur Howard, is a version of Hear The Nightingales Sing, while the humorous hunting-song Doctor Mack and the tale of The Brown Hare Of Westbrook (a poem by Saddleworth's "Moorland Poet" Ammon Wrigley) are both sourced from the Holme Valley Beagles' 1975 LP anthology.
But of most interest, perhaps, are the songs that have connections with Will's own home turf, and specifically with his own trade. In the latter category are two settings of poems by Bury's magnificent poet Keith Scowcroft: Walling Song, with tune by Derek Gifford and subsequently "modified a little bit" by Will, is already a folk club standard, and its third verse supplies this disc with its title, whereas the tune for the lusty, proud Boys Of Marsden was actually made up by Will himself.
One final point to mention is that Will's not quite on his own on this CD; his son Cuthbert and daughter Lydia, who are both keeping alive the family traditions of walling and singing, are here credited as "providing vocal encouragement" on the various choruses and refrains (though I'm not sure I can actually hear Lydia), while they sing in unison throughout Walling Song (which to me rather misses the point of Scowie's powerful tribute to the solitary craft). But happily it's Will who remains the focus, and this new CD is a fitting celebration of his signature vocal art - so you can forgive the poetic licence of the liner note when it proclaims: "everything on this recording, whatever its origin, comes out sounding as if hewn from the very millstone grit of the Yorkshire Dales".
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