Harrow Fair: Call to Arms
Roaring Girl Records – 19 May 2017
Harrow Fair is a Canadian duo comprising Miranda Mulholland (of Great Lake Swimmers and Belle Starr) and Andrew Penner (of Sunparlour Players), whose initial collaboration came while working with Toronto’s Soulpepper Theatre Company where they wrote music together. Sure, one could say there’s an element of theatricality to their music on the aptly named Call To Arms, where the primal, gut force of heavy kick drum propels the equally heavy violin and guitar (and an assortment of other sounds) along beneath the duo’s eerily wailing, rootsy vocals.
On the evidence of the album’s striking opening track, Hangnail, I might perhaps describe the ambience as brooding elemental gothic, but its dirty, gritty stomp, though clearly coming from the same musical gene pool as the ominous boogie of the title song and the pounding percussion call-and-responses of I Will Be Your Man, forms but one facet of the duo’s highly individual musical expression. Heck, the grinding violin-driven riffery of Bite Your Way even put me in mind of the early ’70s prog-rockers High Tide, with a slightly abrasive yet semi-opaque recording quality to match.
The other side of that coin, so to speak, is the sweet, tender, almost mournful balladry of tracks such as Held Tight and Emmaline, masterpieces of delicacy and haunting gorgeousness which demonstrate how peerless and symbiotic is the duo’s rapport and how skilled is their acute blending of voices and textures. The ultra-atmospheric How Cold, just past the mid-point of the disc, is quite literally chilling, with a keening, lilting melody line whose beauty fair grips the soul and mind. And closing track Been There Ways feels like a stylistic halfway house with a kind of mantra pulse that as much as anything else recalls early Velvets.
But whether gentle and plaintive or upfront and thrusting, the duo’s vocals have a feeling of being right there on the emotional edge, where the outcome could easily go either way (or else break down completely) – and that quality sure is tremendously exciting. The duo’s writing is also entirely in tune with the country roots tradition, as their ingenious lyrical adaptation of Hank Williams’ Told My Heart A Lie proves. Finally, in amongst the original songs, there’s a doomy little instrumental piece (The Hunt), while Harrow Fair Pig Auction turns out to be precisely that – one and a half minutes of high-speed auctioneering that sounds authentically recorded at the very location that gives the duo their name.
Harrow Fair have a most distinctive sound, and it’ll be interesting to see how that translates into the live gig setting when they tour the UK. They’ll be back for a more extensive run of UK dates in November.
Harrow Fair Tour Dates
MAY 3 – LEYTONSTONE EX-SERVICEMEN’S CLUB – LONDON, UK
MAY 5 – DUKE OF YORK (CATHEDRAL QUARTER ARTS FESTIVAL) – BELFAST, IRELAND
MAY 6 – BRONTE MUSIC CLUB (W MADISON VIOLET) – RATHFRILAND, IRELAND
MAY 11 – THE HYDE TAVERN – WINCHESTER, UK
MAY 12 – NEST COLLECTIVE CAMPFIRE CLUB – LONDON, UK
MAY 13 – SECRET SHOW!! PLEASE STAND BY.. – UK
MAY 14 – THE BREWERY TAP – FOLKESTONE, UK
MAY 26 – GRAVENHURST OPERA HOUSE – GRAVENHURST, ON, CANADA
MAY 31-JUNE 4 – DOWN THE HATCH MUSIC FESTIVAL – OUTER BANKS, NC USA
AUGUST 4-6 – SAWDUST CITY MUSIC FESTIVAL – GRAVENHURST, ON, CANADA
AUGUST 11-13 – KINGSVILLE FOLK FESTIVAL – KINGSVILLE, ON, CANADA
AUGUST 17-20 – PHILADELPHIA FOLK FESTIVAL- PHILADELPHIA, PA, USA
Harrow Fair also feature on Lost in Transmission No. 27. Listen here.