Fay Hield, or to use her full Sunday name, Dr Fay Hield, brought her band The Hurricane Party to The Met for the final date of a short but eventful tour promoting not only her 2012 second album Orfeo, but also in a celebration of traditional English music. Amongst other happenings the tour included a brief bout of pneumonia for multi-talented fiddle player Sam Sweeney, who being made of stout stuff and backed by Fay’s Yorkshire no nonsense up-n-at’em approach, found himself back in the fold after a few days of TLC.
The Met has become something of a home from home for Fay and her partner Jon Boden (of Bellowhead, Spiers & Boden and Remnant Kings fame). They have played at The Met in various guises, almost half a dozen times over the past twelve months, and they do use the opportunity to reference each other’s work – as of course you would, and as a pair they do seem to be becoming flag bearers for spreading the folk message to the masses and aiming to bring in a new audience. What you get with Fay is not just a set of perfectly performed traditional songs but almost a lesson in traditional folk music. It can be a complicated business, and one in which she has taken to academic status. To listen to her introducing the songs, telling of their origins and the ways and manner in which folk music is collected and passed on is a little like being back at school and also makes you feel quite humbled and almost embarrassed in just enjoying the songs for their own sake rather than seeing them as organic entities which have grown and developed over not just years, but in many cases with the songs she has sought, over a number of centuries.
The performance was made up of a set of songs which have been included on both Orfeo and her first album Looking Glass and ranged from her haunting take on the hugely popular yet typically disturbing ‘incest death ballad’ Henry which opened the second half, to an original poem by Henry VIII’s poet laureate set to music which was given a stately, almost regal backing. The lengthy Sir Orfeo was based on the tale of the 13th century retelling of the Greek story of Orpheus and there was the local reference to the ‘working girls’ (presumably the mill girls as opposed to how we might use the modern term – the ‘working’ girls) in The Old ‘Arris Mill. Coming a little more up to date there was also a take on The Briar And The Rose made famous by Tom Waits as an example of the more contemporary material which she sources
All this was backed by a band comprising some quality players – concertina player Rob Harbron will again be joining Fay (and others) in a commissioned collaboration later in the year and Roger Wilson is another of those multi instrumentalist folk musicians who ply their trade inconspicuously yet rather well. Decked out in all black and standing around Fay they provided both understated and sympathetic soundtrack to the songs as well as proving that they work as fine harmony singers. They took the opportunity to ‘folk out’ on a couple of tunes during both sets while Fay took a breather and were able to showcase their superb ensemble playing.
Fay Hield will be back at The Met in October with ‘Full English’ featuring not only herself and Harborn but a host of well known English folk names such as Seth Lakeman, Nancy Kerr and Martin Simpson in a project inspired by the EFDSS’s launch of the world’s biggest digital archive of English traditional folk and dance tunes. A mouth watering prospect.
Review by: Michael Ainscoe
Photo Credit: Michael Ainscoe