On their fifth album The Memory Band return once more to the ghost-lit back-roads of British traditional music where digital machinery and acoustic musicians congregate to make old music from the future.
The album documents much of their recent live work, some of which was featured in Children of the Stones, a live performance commissioned in 2015 by Birmingham’s Supersonic Festival in conjunction with the British Library Sound Archive. There are several uses of spoken word elements taken from field recordings including the voices of Vashti Vincent recorded by folklorist Peter Kennedy, Albert Hupton as recorded by writer George Ewart Evans and poet Basil Bunting reading from his epic poem ‘Briggflatts’ as can be heard below on The Mason and the Lark (our Song of the Day):
Those unfamilar with Bunting would do well to visit Bloodaxe Books founded in Newcastle in 1978 by Neil Astley who, together with Simon Thirsk, have revolutionised poetry publishing in Britain over four decades. Their Bloodaxe edition of Briggflatts (2009) included a CD with an audio recording Bunting made of Briggflatts in 1967 (from which the video above takes an extract) and a DVD of Peter Bell’s 1982 film portrait of Bunting whose genius went largely unrecognised until the publication of Briggflatts, which Cyril Connolly called ‘the finest long poem to have been published in England since T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets.
The album also features an extract from William Langland’s The Vision of Piers Plowman as read by Robin Kirkpatrick from a forthcoming film about the ancient Stourbridge Fair made by director Michael Hrebeniak. It is from this extract that the album takes its name.
“A fair feeld ful of folk fond I ther bitwene
Of alle manere of men, the meene and the riche,
Werchynge and wandrynge as the world asketh.
Somme putten hem to the plough, pleiden ful selde,
In settynge and sowynge swonken ful harde,
And wonnen that thise wastours with glotonye destruyeth”
Most of the songs were composed and arranged at a piano belonging to an elderly relative of Stephen Cracknell’s, surrounded by the remnants of a life spent among books and travelling across the world both far and near. The Memory Band navigate a dream landscape of fading identity, dredging up forgotten histories from old maps, half-filled diaries, government records and lists left inside magazines detailing obsolete television schedules. The music was fed by stories of magical hares and the recollections of ballad sellers bearing placards at the great fairs of times past, the fields of which now lie buried beneath leisure centres, electricity substations, and retail parks. It traces the connection between the headstone of a man killed in Norfolk by the sails of a windmill, the first observations of solar flares, incendiarism, council estates and an old man’s recollection of ploughing the land by starlight in another time.
Since 2002 The Memory Band has been producing its own modern recipe of traditional music with a rolling cast of contributors led by producer Stephen Cracknell. A Fair Field includes vocal contributions from Liam Bailey, Helene Bradley, Hannah Caughlin and Nancy Wallace and features the rhythm section of Olie Brice on double bass, Fred Thomas on piano and Tom Page on drums with strings by Lucy Railton and Rob Spriggs. The album will be released on vinyl by Static Caravan.
There will be a preview of A Fair Field during All The Right Notes Festival , Camden People’s Theatre – 25th November. Details can be found here: www.cptheatre.co.uk/production/the-memory-band
‘A Fair Field’ released 25th November 2016 on Static Caravan