Pilgrims’ Way – Stand and Deliver
Talking Cat Records – 20 October 2017
Folk music has a long history of concept albums, but it is probably a safe bet to assume that none have been so unpredictable as Stand And Deliver, the latest release from Pilgims’ Way. Highwaymen-related songs feature prominently in the English folk canon and the eleven tracks presented here draw a collection of them together, at times with a force that can leave the listener exhausted.
Following their nomination for the Horizon Award in the 2012 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, the original trio of Lucy Wright, Tom Kitching and Edwin Besant became a four-piece when they were joined by Jon Loomes. With the departure of Lucy, newest recruit, Jude Rees has brought new ingredients to the band by way of early woodwind, oboe, flute, vocals and bagpipes, thus bringing the total number of claimed instruments played on this release to a staggering 50.
The album is the brainchild of the aforementioned band member Jon, who admits that the collection may include interpretations which are less than serious in approach. Traditionalists be warned. With one exception all songs are Trad. Arr. Pilgrim’s Way, and whilst many of the titles will be familiar, those expecting conventional renditions may be disappointed, such are the liberties taken by the band, as musical styles as varied as Madchester, West End musical, disco and folk-rock are all referenced.
The opening track, Caveat for Cutpurses, from Ben Johnson’s Bartholomew Fair, is a warning to beware of thieves and is delivered at a tremendous pace, and serves as a good indicator of the swag to come. If proof were needed of the dangers inherent in finding a naked woman in a forest then the second cut, Ibson, Gibson, Johnso, which at times sounds almost madrigal-like, should serve as a warning to all.
More murder and mayhem follows with Shoot Them All (Box On Her Head), the everyday tale of a girl who, having killed a highwayman in self-defence, develops a taste for blood and murders three more. Whilst this ballad, variously known as The Undaunted Female, The Staffordshire Maid and The Serving Girl And The Robber, has been covered by the likes of Martin Carthy and Jackie Oates, and the recently Folk Radio UK-reviewed Rosie Hood also sang a version on her eponymous debut EP, the PIlgrims’ version, with their tumult of instruments draws greater comparison with the likes of Wolfstone or even Breton groups such as Bagad Kemper.
Cadgwith Anthem is more stripped back, with a more minimal accompaniment to the delicious harmonies, whilst Saucy Bold Robber delivers a far more threatening and darker mood as the narrative of a fight for survival at the hands of a desperate robber unfolds. More contrast follows, as Jon delivers an almost whimsical version of the Child ballad Robin Hood & The Bishop, before Tom delivers Gaol Song, in which our hero, is down on his luck and must survive hard labour in this brutal depiction of prison life. A strange, eerie track featuring the little known electronic Otamatone.
Turpin Hero is taken at a jaunty pace, reminiscent of Bellowhead, and with instrumental breaks which would not have been out of place in the Hampton Court of Henry VIII, courtesy of some fine crumhorn playing, this will surely be a live favourite. It would not take a great deal of imagination to visualize Adieu Adieu being performed in a stage review, almost Flanders & Swann at times, but without the humour.
The Elms Of Tyburn comes as somewhat a surprise, in contrast to most of the other tracks, instrumental accompaniment is minimal with Jon’s vocals being delivered superbly, complete with a haunting ending of drum beats as the victim takes his/her steps to the gallows.
The album concludes with a tongue-in-the-cheek take on the track that gives the album its name, Stand & Deliver – yes that one.
Overall, this is a theatrical offering which could have backfired, but it hasn’t. The enthusiasm and virtuosity of a group of musicians prepared to push the envelope in pursuit of something different is apparent and has resulted in a most enjoyable release.
A fine album which will raise the spirits and a smile or two – one that deserves wide exposure.
The album is released on October 20th and will be showcased on a UK Tour (dates below).
Pilgrims’ Way – Stand & Deliver Album Tour
October 28th – Ragged Bear Festival, Nuneaton
October 31st – Hoy at Anchor Folk Club
November 1st – Spalding Folk Club
November 2nd – Lyceum Folk Club, Newport (South Wales)
November 3rd – Square and Compass, Worth Matravers
November 5th – Foxlowe Arts Centre, Leek
November 6th – Green Note, Camden
November 9th – Florence Arts Centre – Egremont
November 12th – Halsway Manor, National Centre for the Folk Arts