James Findlay, Bella Hardy, Brian Peters, Lucy Ward
Album: The Liberty To Choose: A Selection Of Songs From The New Penguin Book Of English Folk Songs
Label: Fellside
Tracks: 16

When I met up with folksinger Lucy Ward at the Bothy Folk Song Club in Southport at the beginning of April, she told me, excitedly, about some recent recording sessions in which she had been participating, along with Brian Peters, Bella Hardy and James Findlay. Lucy told me that these sessions were for an album of songs selected from the recently published New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs ["the New Book"] and how she was delighted to have been invited to take part. As I reported in my review, in these pages, of Lucy's performance that evening, she sang "a lovely version of "The Trees They Do Grow High" from that album". Now, two months later, the album has been released. It features sixteen songs from the New Book.

In case you are wondering, the New Book is not a reproduction of the original Penguin Book of English Folk Songs by Ralph Vaughan Williams and A.L.Lloyd, which was published in 1959. No, this is a completely new selection of songs chosen by Steve Roud and Julia Bishop and it was published in association with the English Folk Dance and Song Society [EFDSS].

The New Book is beautifully produced and is an essential collection of English Folk Songs about love, sex, betrayal, loss, murder and piracy. Following the publication of the original Book, A.L."Bert" Lloyd [1908-1982] recorded an LP and EP of songs from the Book. Brian Peters, the highly-respected folk singer and musician, thought that it would be a good idea to follow this precedent by recording a selection of songs from the New Book. Brian approached producer Paul Adams with this idea and so this project was born. Brian and Paul agreed that Brian would act as musical director and that they would co-produce the album. They then set about compiling a "wish list" of rising stars who are making their mark on the current folk scene. The "dream team" that they assembled was Lucy Ward and Bella Hardy [both, coincidentally, from Derbyshire] and James Findlay, all three of whom are winners of BBC Folk Awards.

Brian's intention was to present the songs in a variety of arrangements, ranging from unaccompanied voice, to voice and solo instrument and small band arrangements. No arrangement has more than three instruments present.

The result is that the songs are presented in an authentic setting, as they would have been performed in their heyday [the century from 1870 to 1970]. Only acoustic instruments are used [guitar, fiddle, melodeon and mandolin] and no modern production "gimmicks" are employed.

Like the New Book, the cd is beautifully produced, with notes on all of songs. Like the New Book, the cd cover features a lovely illustration ["Stallion and Groom"] by that great Cheshire wildlife artist C.F.Tunnicliffe, which fits the atmosphere of the music perfectly.

As one would expect from artists of the calibre of Brian, Lucy, Bella and James, the singing and playing on the album is of the highest quality. Each of them has a fine voice, whether singing unaccompanied or with instrumental backing.

It goes without saying that this album will appeal enormously to those who are already devotees of English Folk Song but if you are one of those people who believe that traditional folk music is all about Men With Beards in Arran sweaters, with their fingers in their ears, quaffing from pewter tankards of real ale, this album will make you think again.

I would urge you to do two things -firstly, read the New Book and then listen to this album. You will discover something vibrant and vital - the rich and varied musical heritage of this country , as performed by some of its leading young practitioners.

Peter Cowley