Topic Records took the folk world by surprise with their signing of Fay Hield to their label with the release of her debut album Looking Glass. The last new artist that Topic signed was 10 years ago. Having said that, Fay is not a newcomer by any stretch of the imagination. She has been actively involved in the live music scene from a very young age especially at the famous Bacca Pipes Folk Club in Keighley which was formed in the late sixties. She was also instrumental in launching the Haworth Arts Festival and forming the female acapella group The Witches of Elswick who have featured on Folk Radio UK.
Her debut solo album “Looking Glass” has caught the hearts and imagination of many critics. Tony Engle of Topic knew Fay was something special after hearing her classic voice and unusual selection of rare material, the selection of which appears to be a familiar focus in Fay’s circle. Her partner, Jon Boden, launched his last project “A Folk Song a Day” back in mid-summer. Jon proved then that he had an extensive knowledge of song. Likewise, Fay is equally well versed.
There are tunes and songs included on the album which may, and has, fooled some into thinking she has chosen some familar songs. On a closer listen you’ll discover the different versions she has unearthed.
Aside from the songs and tunes, what really made this album shine for me was Fay’s voice and sparse arrangements. This could have been produced many years ago before we had the inclusion of commercial flourishes to folk that is so prevalent today. Fay’s voice has been compared to Anne Briggs…maybe if you cross that with June Tabor you get close but rather then try and apply some genetic musical make-up to her voice just accept it is unique and will certainly be one of her trademarks.
The Huntsmen opens the album with sparse, almost medieval percussion from Keith Angel. Boden and Sweeney on accompanying fiddle/Viola and harmony from Jess Arrowsmith make this a grand entrance of an introduction. Two Brothers is an altogether more hauntingly arranged track…the eastern percussion alongside fiddle/viola and Fay’s voice make this a spine tingling rendition of a variation of on a well known song. This was a big highlight of the album for me. Others include Banks of the Nile which has a subtle eastern intro before Fay sings without any instrumental support. King Henry has the familar hallmark sound of Boden style fiddle with Sam accompanying before being joined by the talented clogger, Hannah James. King Henry is the final track and ends on a high and humourous note.
In short, this is a landmark album for Topic. Fay’s decision to not commercially compromise her music was a wise move. There is no need to. This album shines very bright and I hope this is the first of many albums from a remarkable talent!
1 The Huntsman
2 Mad Family
3 Two Brothers
4 The Looking Glass
5 Little Yellow Roses
6 The Banks of the Nile
7 Kemp Owen
8 Sheepcrook and Black Dog
9 Grey Goose and Gander
10 The Shepherd’s Daughter
11 King Henry
Fay Hield vocals
Keith Angel percussion
Jess Arrowsmith vocals
Jon Boden concertina, fiddle, guitar and percussion
Hannah James clogs
Sam Sweeney fiddle, nyckelharpa and viola
Upcoming Tour Dates:
8 Dungworth: Hosting Royal Traditions – Nancy Kerr
21 Keighley: Bacca Pipes Folk Club [SOLD OUT]
22 Oxford: The Bullingdon Arms
23 Topsham: Topsham Folk Club
24 Portsmouth: Cellars at Eastney
25 Chichester: Chichester Folk Song Club
28 Bury St Edmunds:
29 Basingstoke: The Forge at the Anvil
Buy CD: Looking Glass
More dates and details: www.fayhield.com