Every so often a record comes along which is absolutely unique in its sound-world and equally uncompromising in its vision. Goshawk is one such record, and one which it’s impossible to ignore. But for sure, any listener who has more than a passing acquaintance with the halcyon days of acid-folk will have immediately pricked up their ears at the billing, on seeing the name of Carole Pegg, fiddle-singer and songwriter with a totally distinctive style (in all of those disciplines) whose first notable appearance on this country’s folk radar was spawned by her unforgettable presence in then-husband Bob’s English-country-village-band Mr Fox circa 1970/71. A year or so after the disbanding of that outfit, she released an incandescent “lost gem” of a solo album (Carolanne Pegg), then soon afterwards quit performing to pursue academic studies, a path which has led to her becoming a highly respected ethnomusicologist researcher and lecturer specialising in the traditional musics of Inner Asia and the UK.
A little over a decade ago, during the course of her researches into Tuvan music for the University of Cambridge, Carole met Tuvan throat-singer and musician Radik Tülüsh, who at that time was both directing the Tuvan National Folk Orchestra and a fully-fledged member of the influential ethno-punk band Yat-kha; recordings made by Carole of Radik exploring his musical connection with the spirits in his birthplace (in the remote Tagny Uula region of Tuva), became his first solo album. A 2007 UK tour to promote this record marked a further stage in the pair’s ongoing cultural exchange programme, during which they both grew more tuned in to, and increasingly appreciative of, the other’s indigenous music. This situation led (with the kind of inevitability which hindsight now illuminates) to a full-blown cross-cultural collaboration, The Goshawk Project.
Here, Arts Council funding has enabled Carole and Radik to experiment, play some exploratory gigs, and record this CD. The initial, prime catalyst was Carole’s iconic supernatural tale The Gay Goshawk, which originally could be found perched loftily astride Side 1 of the first (eponymous) Mr. Fox LP. An inspired revisit of this song, in all its heady, stately majesty, forms the lead track on the new CD, and well illustrates the close kinship between the respective cultural traditions, while the brilliantly focused and detailed recording places the spotlight on the intense bond between the two musicians and their strikingly complementary sensibilities.
English traditional and Tuvan nomadic musics are heard to have certain specific musical characteristics in common too: viz. firstly a tendency towards drone-based instrumental accompaniment, and secondly a vocal styling that majors on harsh, guttural timbres (here, Carole’s earthy, shuddersome, vibrato-edged delivery, with its impressive range, is balanced against, or in consort with, Radik’s sepulchral kargyraa throat-singing), with spectral harmonics and ethereal overtones. These methods of musical expression prove ideal for the principal subject-matter of Goshawk: ancient folklore in the form of dark, mystical myth and legend, either drawn directly from, inspired by, or couched in the spirit and manner of, deepest folk tradition. Carole’s special personal take on the raw southern English village fiddling style (learnt from “Jinky” Wells and Fred “Pip” Whiting), is at one with her gritty, uncompromising singing, making full use of the rich, brooding “total fiddle-singing package” that she’s made her own in order to bring alive in chilling, scary glory self-penned supernatural outings like the bold proclamation of shape-shifting power (I Am Hare), the epic tale of The Lady And The Well (a memorable version of which had appeared on the Carolanne Pegg LP), and a powerful shamanic invocation to a 2,000-year-old Siberian ice-princess.
These compelling creations fit neatly alongside the more overtly folk-friendly “alternative creation story” The Tree Of Life and a small handful of determinedly individual, and beautiful, treatments of traditional English folk songs. Two of these (The Roving Gypsy and Flash Company) were learnt by Carole when she was collecting songs in east Suffolk for her research doctorate, while the third (The Factory Girl), although based on the classic Margaret Barry version, derives further inspiration from a visit to a Nottingham church. Genius loci is also a very strong presence on closing track Nottingham Town, a disc highlight, where Carole spine-tinglingly evokes, through a potent combination of personal (childhood) and ancestral memory, the strange magic of the long misty lane to the city’s ancient Goose Fair – and, tellingly, does so through a curiously apt slinky, bluesy lounge drag-tempo. It’s here, and on Flash Company, where the coming-together of English and Tuvan musical idioms is most enterprisingly yet naturally integrated, and arguably at its most persuasive. The latter lament even manages so very believably, indeed almost seamlessly to segue into a Tuvan song of lost love, Turag Bashy, which Radik learnt from his grandmother.
Throughout the disc, the deployment of specific timbres and textures is both intuitive and imaginative, and the sheer force of sound conjured by the deft intermingling of respective fiddle styles, the key combination of swooning and spiky in the tonal characteristics of the Tuvan igil and byzaanchy, is further boosted on a number of tracks by the superbly resonant viola or double-bass playing of guest musician Richard Partridge. Radik himself also plays shoor (the Tuvan end-blown flute), khomys (jaw’s harp) and shamanic drum, while Dan Wilde contributes acoustic guitar and album producer Ken Hill jazz bass on two tracks apiece.
The CD comes complete with an eye-catching digipack whose design incorporates a sense of identity accurately mirroring the strength and originality of the music encased within. Goshawk proves a brave and exciting musical venture, truly exhilarating and at times also not a little terrifying; it’s idiosyncratic, sure, and not for the faint-hearted, but in the end quite magnificent.
Review by: David Kidman
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