Reviews

Fay HieldFay Hield
Album: Old Adam
Label: Soundpost
Tracks: 14
Website: http://www.fayhield.com

It's a year away, but I'd lay odds that Hield stands a very good chance of walking away with the 2016 Fatea Tradition award on the back of this, her belated third album (her second, 'Orfeo', was in 2012), recorded with her band, The Hurricane Party, featuring Sam Sweeney on fiddle, Rob Harbron on concertina, bassist Ben Nicholls, Toby Kearney on percussion and Roger Wilson on guitar and fiddle and, although it doesn't indicate on which tracks, special guests Jon Boden and Martin Simpson.

All but two of the numbers are traditional (albeit some with tunes by Hield and/or Boden), the bulk from the Roud folk songs collection, the exceptions being Peter Bellamy's setting of the Rudyard Kipling poem 'Anchor Song', Hield initially accompanied by just Nicholls on upright bass with percussion, concertina and fiddle gradually joining in, and a lovely hymnal reading of Tom Waits' 'The Briar and the Rose', itself in a traditional Celtic vein, the fiddle and concertina arrangement bookended by a capella vocals from Hield and (I assume) Wilson.

Sourced from Alice Gomme's 'Traditional Games of England, Scotland and Ireland', the album opens with the robust ballad 'Green Gravel', bass, percussion and droning fiddle driving a playground song about mourning and marriage with Hield's pure voice delivering the lyrics in swayalong style. Also drawing on the Roud collection, the adultery-themed 'Raggle Taggle Gypsy' is undoubtedly one of the album's best known numbers, often known by its alternate title of 'Black Jack Davey', and gets a suitably frisky treatment as indeed, with its bowed bass and twin fiddles, does the equally familiar and similarly themed (albeit rather more lusty) 'Jack Orion' and its tale of a fiddler plucking his master's wife. Gomme's sourced again (this time Vol 2) for a new- almost Appalachian sounding - arrangement of 'Katie Catch', another playground song, this time of a rather more upbeat marital note, featuring an instrumental break of fiddle and mandolin.

Set to a fiddle heavy tune by Boden, the title track (which also closes the album in a different bucolic instrumental arrangement of repeated acoustic guitar line coloured by bass and concertina) muses on the division between the haves and have-nots and also interpolates the line "When Adam delved and Eve she span, who was then the gentle man?", taken from John Ball's 14th century sermon to the rebels during the Peasants' Revolt of 1381.

Fast forwarding to the 1600s, Hield provides the music for 'The Hag In The Beck', a Yorkshire tale of witchcraft, nyckelharpa, rumbling percussion and dissonant effects niggling away at the simple acoustic guitar and fiddle backing. Both Field and Boden provide the tune for gently paced romantic tryst of 'Willow Glen' which, in turn, gives way to 'Queen Eleanor's Confession', a Child ballad learned from Tim Hart and Maddy Prior's 1969 'Folk Songs of Old England Volume 2', but here with a full band arrangement, about the dying Eleanor of Aquitaine supposedly confessing about how she cuckolded King Henry II with his Earl Marshal, bearing his son, unaware they're actually disguised as the French friars to whom she's revealed all.

Collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams, 'The Hornet And The Beetle' is a midtempo guitar and fiddle Morris-style setting of a allegorical Costswolds fable about the 19th century justice system involving a woodpecker in addition to the titular insects. It's also to be found in the Roud collection, as are the remaining numbers, the Biblical-themed fiddle jaunty shanty 'Long Time Ago'. sometimes known as 'In Frisco Bay', and the soured love dismissal of 'Go From My Window' which builds from sparse nyckelharpa and fiddle melancholia to a faster and more full-blooded finale.

As with Ange Hardy and Kim Lowings, Hield brings a contemporary spirit to traditional material without compromising the original sensibility, respectful but never reverent to the point of ossification. Start polishing those awards now.

Mike Davies