Following swiftly on the heels of last year’s highly acclaimed Estesee, Ange Hardy’s now paired up with fellow folkie Lukas Drinkwater (marking his first time in the spotlight as writer and arranger) for Findings, an album of traditional and self-penned material that features Hardy on guitar, harp and whistles, Drinkwater on guitar and double bass with contributions from Archie Churchill-Moss on diatonic accordion, Ciaran Algar on fiddle and Evan Carson on percussion and backing vocals alongside Steve Pledger, as well as guest vocal appearances by Nancy Kerr and Kathryn Roberts.
The pair got together last December and, in February of this year they, along with Pledger, were awarded an EFDSS Creative Arts Bursary, spending a week at Cecil Sharp House where several of the songs took shape.
Hardy describes Findings as an album about “daughters and their homelands, wives and their husbands, sisters and their brothers, children and their parents, fathers and their grandfathers, mothers and their family, parting and joining.” So, plenty of grist for the mill there, then.
It kicks off with a self-penned threeparter, The Call, Daughters of Watchet and Caturn’s Night. The first part, written at Nancy Kerr’s EFDSS songwriting workshop, sung a capella, sets the scene for the steady rhythm of the second section telling the stories of the four titular women from the West Somerset former iron ore mining town awaiting their men’s return from work. It culminates in the sprightly instrumental celebrating Caturn’s Night, an ongoing annual tradition still which marks the gift of hot cake and cider to the locals by Charles II’s wife, Queen Catherine (pronounced by the locals as ‘Caturn’).
Drawing on songs found in the Roud folk song index (as do all the trad numbers), the second track, The Pleading Sister, features just a multi-tracked unaccompanied Hardy spinning the story of the ill-fated sister of Little Boy Blue (the nursery rhyme incorporated within) who falls fatally foul of his doziness. The first fully-fledged traditional number, another tragic tale, The Trees They Do Grow High, is a spare arrangement (their first together, Drinkwater introducing the mid-song time signature change). Things get more full-bodied as accordion and fiddle join them for the pulsing shanty Far Away From Land with its double chorus singing. Inspired by the ballad ‘The Sea,’ it is based on a newspaper account of Manfred Fritz Bajorat who chose to live his life at sea and whose mummified body was found, slumped over his radio, off the coast of Barobo in 2016.
The theme of loss of life at sea spills over into the beautifully and softly crooned By The Tides, a further contribution to the crowing catalogue of contemporary folk songs addressing the refugee crisis and, accompanied by just rippling fingerpicked guitars and double bass, unquestionably the album’s standout number.
The fall out of earlier historical conflict underpins My Grandfathers; Hardy’s a cappela riposte to a musician she said seemed to hold her forefathers accountable for the conflicts between their two countries. The lyrics plead that her farmer ancestors “had not a single intention to take or to steal or divide ,” the number rounded off with Bearded Ted of Raddington, a whistle, wheezing accordion and hand percussion-led Drinkwater jig in honour of his grandfather farmer.
Hardy takes up the harp for the courtly Renaissance-like True Are The Mothers, written for and featuring vocals by Nancy Kerr and Kathryn Roberts, two of her biggest influences, the mothers here not being actual women, but firmly rooted trees that serves as metaphor for both motherhood and the folk tradition. This is followed by an interpretation of the traditional The Berkshire Tragedy, itself a variation on the sororicide ballad The Two Sisters, though the arrangement here for guitars and double bass has a deceptively light air.
Originally starting life as a song in memory of her brother, when that proved too painful, The Widow, another madrigal-styled tune plucked on harp, morphed into one about a woman mourning her husband, while retaining the notion of how memories form and eventually fade (and quite possibly draws on the similarly themed poems of Thomas Hardy).
Basing the arrangements solely on the lyrics, Roud again provides the source for Bonny Lighter Boy, whistle and Agar’s fiddle prominent on a familiar tale of a lovers parted by a stern father, here having the lad pressed into the navy.
Stemming from the EFDSS residency, Invisible Child is the album’s other politically resonant song, stripped to just the duo backed by guitar and whistle for a poignant pastoral lullaby that addresses the shocking fact there are over 10,000 young carers aged between 5-7 in England and Wales, many of whom receive no support.
Staying with children, the gently cascading Daughter Dear Daughter, an open letter of wisdom and encouragement to Hardy’s own child, Amy, was originally intended to appear on her debut, Bare Foot Folk, but remained unrecorded until now.
Drawing to a close, the penultimate track returns to Roud for The Parting Lullaby, another mother-daughter song, the twin voices interlacing on the chorus, that interweaves a verse from the traditional The Parting Glass within its arms. Finally, the album returns to whence it began, in Watchet, for Fall Away, bidding goodbye to the four women as the day draws to a close, serving an unstated reminder of how, as in Watchet’s transformation from its mining and port heyday, time moves on and things change.
As the title suggests, the component parts form together to create a superbly wrought and finely crafted album, beautifully played by all involved, that is certain to loom large in the end of year folk awards.
Findings is out now via Story Records
Ange and Lukas are on tour now. Visit here for more details: www.angehardy.com/gigs