The Woodbine & Ivy Band are a group of Manchester musicians who are not all from a folk background but the qualities they bring to this album are clearly mirrored in their arrangements and dynamics that call to mind the heyday of the 70’s folk rock revival. Although their influences range from Sandy Denny to Crazy Horse they are equally at home with the drone rock of Spaceman 3. The album has been getting blasted from our speakers on a daily basis since its arrival. We also have a very special Folk Radio UK exclusve re-mix by Pete Philipson below!
Most British folk ballads are not happy tales, witchcraft, supernatural forces, murder, betrayal, adultery, suicide, incest and a lot more besides often feature but that’s what makes them so intersting! Whether it is an effort to please the commercial consumer or an effort to copy someone from the past the singer and arrangements often betray the nature of the song. The Woodbine & Ivy Band and the guest vocalists were tuned into heart of these songs from the start. All songs were first sung in a cappella, this gave the band a greater focus on the mood which, through a series of late night sessions, they chose their choice of instrument and decided on a musical arranagement. A 12 piece vocal chorus was also added to the final recording sessions which adds an extra touch of magic to several tracks.
The band chose ten tradtional British folk songs from the English and Scottish tradition and then invited along ten well known folk music artists to sing them. Just the names involved in this release are enough to make any British Folk fan’s mouth water with anticipation. The guest singers are: Fay Hield, Jim Causely, Elle Osborne, Jackie Oates, Nancy Wallace, Jame Raynard (a man I’ve not heard from for a while), Rapunzel & Sedayne, Olivia Chaney, Jenny McCormick and Pinkie Maclure. If none of those don’t whet your appetite then how about the involvement of legendary producer Bill Leader who was standing by at te final recording sessions in North Manchester’s Limefield Studio to give his seal of approval! Bill was at the forefront of the 60’s / 70’s British folk revival producing names such as Davey Graham, The Watersons, Bert Jansch, The Young Tradition, Christy Moore, Pentangle, Nic Jones and Dick Gaughan…so this album sets very high expectations. The musicians and singers were gathered together under the direction of Peter Philipson and Michael Doward and include some of Manchester’s finest players in John Ellis, Rachael Gladwin, Luke Das-Gupta and Alan Cook.
The album opener is a classic from the folk song book of the Copper Family although most will know it as a John Martyn classic. Spencer the Rover is sung by the charmed voice of Fay Hield who released her debut album ‘Looking Glass‘ last year. There was clear intent in picking this as an opener…it’s where the band takes their name, Woodbine and Ivy, from… it’s not clear in this old song why Spencer is roving around England and Wales away from his family and wife, he may have been seeking work, in many ways it’s still a poignant modern day song that people can relate to. The arrangements reflect the misery he feels and it is a bed of Woodbine and Ivy upon which he sleeps and dreams:
The night fast approaching to the woods he resorted
With woodbine and ivy his bed for to make
There he dreamt about sighing lamenting and crying
To home to your family and rambling forsake.
but all ends well, the backing chorus and rising crescendo arrangements mark his return home to his family and children. In a metaphorical sense The Woodbine and Ivy Band are a bed upon which these tales of woe are re-told, a melancholic key to the past to re-tell from a modern musical perspective. Not surprisingly this is the first single to be released from the album which would make a fantastic Christmas No 1 (go on and buy it!).
The tempo rises to a rockier number on Alison Gross, a great scottish ballad about an ugly witch. It’s a child ballad (#35) that Steeleye Span made popular on Parcel of Rogues and, more recently, Malinky did a great version. Rapunzel & Sedayne carry this version off in great style!
Twa Corbies gets the the pedal steel treatment which is a perfect accompaniment to Pinkie Maclure as she unfolds the gruesome talk between two crows / ravens who are about to feast on the rich pickings from an all but forgotten slain knight.
The erotic Gently Johnny (make sure you check out the free re-mix below) gets a Crazy Horse sounding opener before Jenny McCormick works her magic. It later leads into a pagan sounding 12 part chorus as the tension heightens which harks right back to the original Wicker Man film (1973) which made the song so famous. The film also gave the incredible and burgeoning underground psych-folk music scene of the seventies a greater mainstream exposure (for better or worse depending on your opinion about commericialism of music).
Wicker Man Clip
It’s incredibly difficult to pick a favourite amongst these gems where do you start when you love each and every track? Poor Murdered Woman is a great moment of tradition meets alt-country on which Olivia Chaney sounds incredibly timeless. Elle Osborne is the perfect vocal carrier for Under the Leaves which has a very haunting and sorrowful arrangement. Whilst she is known for performing live against sparser arrangements a band that can creat atmosphere makes her voice really come alive as it did on her last album So Slowly Slowly Got She Up.
After hearing Jim Causley on Out with My Gun in the Morning you’ll be wondering why he doesn’t team up with this band on a regular basis. The rockier sound suits his deep baritone perfectly! As for Jackie Oates, well she should need no introductions, the best move she made (in my very biased opinon) was teaming up with Alasdair Roberts on Hyperboreans, she, like Elle Osborne, has a distinctive voice that suits an atmospheric canvas to really shine, The Woodbine & Ivy Band provide a gentle intro with a rising cymbal cacophony and subdued brass to announce the death toll for a condemed man on Derry Gaol.
The final two tracks were a surprising welcome from two artists I’d like to hear more from. Nancy Wallace sings a beautiful version of The Green Wedding. When we ran a gig in London this year she joined Jason Steel and they sounded great together, we want more Nancy (nudge nudge). Same goes for James Raynard, talk about a blast from the past. We used to play his debut album Strange Histories when we started the station. It was well ahead of its time for traditonal progressive British folk at the time, the scene then was nothing like it is now. The Roaming Journeyman is all his taking on this album and the synthesiser and accoustics create a psychedelic weave for him to indulge himself upon. A fantastic finale which really is best heard with the volume cranked way up there!
What sets this album apart is the arrangements used to reflect the character and feel of the songs. There has always been an interest in re-interpreting the British folk canon, some efforts don’t consider the words and story behind those songs and some fall into that over ploughed furrow mistakenly called tradition. At last we have an album that blazes away with some of our best traditional singers in tow and makes it all sound better then it ever has!
This is the best thing that has happened to British folk music in years and will be a key milestone for muisc historians of the future! Yes it was a bloody daring and an adventurous project, but they do manage to pull it off way beyond expectations…this is the finest album I have heard in years and I cannot appluade the efforts of all involved enough…emancipating and mindblowing!
Spencer the Rover (feat. Fay Hield)
This is by far the best release I have heard all year! For that reason, we have an exclusive re-mix for you of Gently Johnny. Folk Police Recordings described the remix as
not exactly Woodbine & Ivy unplugged, more Woodbine & Ivy going slightly feral at a free festival somewhere deep in the British countryside in about 1972…
The Woodbine & Ivy Band – Tracklisting
Spencer the Rover (sung by Fay Hield)
Alison Gross (sung by Rapunzel & Sedayne)
Twa Corbies (sung by Pinkie Maclure)
Gently Johnny (sung by Jenny McCormick)
Poor Murdered Woman (sung by Olivia Chaney)
Under the Leaves (sung by Elle Osborne)
Out With My Gun in the Morning (sung by Jim Causley)
Derry Gaol (sung by Jackie Oates)
The Green Wedding (sung by Nancy Wallace)
The Roaming Journeyman (sung by James Raynard)
The Woodbine & Ivy Band is available on the fabulous Folk Police Recordings (21st November). Buy it here.