The Rachel Hamer Band – Hard Ground
Self Released – 2017
Formed by four musicians who met on the Newcastle University Folk Degree in 2011, The Rachel Hamer Band have been building something of a reputation for themselves, plying their trade at folk clubs the length and breadth of the country, with appearances at a number of festivals. Comprising Rachel Hamer (vocals), Graeme Armstrong (guitar/vocals), Grace Smith (fiddle/clog dancing), and Sam Partridge (flute), the band are more than just the sum of their parts. Although it’s Hamer’s voice that carries their songs, there is no doubt that the band provides more than just an accompaniment. This is particularly true on the songs Blue Sunset, Alice White and Hard Ground where they get the chance to shine really.
A number of the songs are connected by the theme of mining and mining communities, echoing the title of the album. Jean Ritchie’s West Virginia tells of a mining disaster, Ewan MacColl’s School Days Over remains a reminder of just how young an age miners started to work underground, and Billy Ed Wheeler’s Red Winged Blackbird shines a light on the fear of impending disaster that mining communities faced. While deep mines have all but disappeared from the UK, there are plenty of us around who grew up in communities like this.
For me, one of the standout tracks is the only self-penned number. Bevan Boys written by Rachel Hamer, it tells the story of men who signed up during WWII expecting to fight but found themselves sent down the mines instead. The ability to choose material worth writing about is just as important as having the skill to marry the words and the melody, and Bevan Boys sits perfectly in this collection of songs
Rachel performs the traditional song What A Voice (known variously as I Wish, I Wish and I Wish My Love) unaccompanied and reveals a voice that has depth and maturity. In Gypsy Laddie she creates an amalgam of a number of songs with a common source showing that she is also a true student of the history of songs.
The closing number, Will Jobling, written by Andy Dutfield, returns to the theme of mining and miners, telling the story of a strike, a man wrongly convicted and hung in a gibbet. With a rousing chorus, I suspect that this one goes down well at live performances. I hope I get the chance to see them before too long.
The band were awarded the Graeme Miles Bursary by the EFDSS which provided the funding to produce this, their first album. To say that I like this album would be something of an understatement. I’ve played nothing else for the last week!
Hard Ground is Out Now.