The pastoral sounds of Rob St. John return tomorrow with a stunning special Mayday release on Song, by Toad Records which I have to admit I have been bowled over by. It’s a gorgeous double A-side single (both physically and sonically) titled: Charcoal Black and the Bonny Grey / Shallow Brown. Simple Folk Radio featured the tracks as part of a session which we broadcast in October last year. Charcoal Black is a Lancastrian industrial folk song and Shallow Brown is another tradtional tune that fans will have heard frequently at the end of his shows.
On Charcoal Black and the Bonny Grey the old mechanical beats which sound like an old loom working were in fact played out on a pommel horse and give the track an uncanny life-like quality with very strong imagery of a past industrial age and a communal life of hardship…it captures a moment in time in all its glory that a narrative could never capture alone.
Shallow Brown is a more plaintive offering, a song that many folk song lovers will know. Rob St. John’s version is achingly heartfelt, these two tracks work perfectly together as a release and there is an immense sensitivity to the subject of these songs. His best yet and I can’t recommend it enough…they don’t get much better than this!
The artwork is was done by David Barker who runs Folklore Tapes (another great project) and it really does look great, like a vintage Topic records release.
Rob St. John – Charcoal Black and the Bonny Grey (Live)
After a year and a half away, writing, recording and curating projects, Charcoal Black and the Bonny Grey/Shallow Brown 7” will be Rob’s ﬁrst release since Weald. It follows recent work on Lancastrian history, myth and folklore with the Folklore Tapes label in Manchester, curating the successful Pendle, 1612 project (in collaboration with Dylan Carlson, Dean McPhee, David A Jaycock and others). This release, orchestrated by the Coven Choir of Tom Western, Bart Owl, Malcolm Benzie and Owen Williams, continues in the same exploratory sonic vein.
Charcoal Black and the Bonny Grey is a Lancastrian song originally sung to Cecil Sharp by J Collinson of Casterton, Lancashire in 1905. A song of the Industrial Revolution: crumbling mill towns butting up against moorland and trees growing out of chimneys. Recorded in a north Edinburgh living room, drums pick up a faint motorik beat on a pommel horse and cymbals strewn across the ﬂoor; organs wash in a lysergic smear of 60s psych-folk; recorder and ﬁddle pick a factured Maher Shalal Hash Baz-esq melody; and a chorus of voices sing together.
Shallow Brown is a West Indian sea shanty collected by H.E. Piggott and Percy Grainger fom the singing of John Perring in Dartmouth, Devon in 1908. The spirit of this version traces an imaginary line to Sunderland Point on the tip of the Lune estuary in Lancashire, a thriving port for slave ships and press gangs until siltation forced a steady decline in the late 1700s.